Introduction: Aquapipot: Waterplanter, Aquatic Flowerpot, Aquarium, Pipe Structure - Difficult to Describe, Just Look.

About: computer science student with interest in mechanical engineering

INTRODUCTION: With this instructable I show you how to build an aquapipot. An example will be built, but you do not have to stick to it, as it is fairly big and requires a lot of work. We will discuss that soon. However, I will provide generic design solutions with shape generators made via Tinkercad so you can easily adapt the system to your own needs: With your size, your plant, your construction and your whatever else may be in your mind!

Hi there!

Do you have plants in your room? Most people have, even students in their dorms. While those emersed air-breathing greenish organic things are growing everywhere you get, you very rarely get to see submersed plants, aquatic plants. Plants, which grow under and optionally also over water. Most people have them in an aquarium. But... what about using aquarium plants as houseplants? With a pot staying somewhere in your room? And the idea was born... .

IDEA: Take aquatic plants, put them in a transparent pipelike structure so they grow and place them anywhere indoor to have them being a houseplant. Sounds cool!

PROBLEM: What's about the "pipelike" structure? Yeah. That will take a lot of work. It has to look good, it has to met the needs of the plant and, the most important thing, it has to be watertight. Turns out requirement 1 and 3 are to hardest to accomplish. This instructable will present a solution for constructing an individual pipe-structure, flowerpot, aquarium or whatever you want to call it. Let's call it aquapipot, because it sounds cool and it makes the instructable more comprehensive.

So this instructable is not strictly bound to a specific thing but to a generic solution you can easily adapt to your own liking. I think that has major advantages, but it requires a little more pre-work to be done by yourself before you can get the parts and start building: Make your plan.

LET'S GET STARTED with the requirements and a presentation of the example plan!

Step 1: Choose the Plant for Your Aquapipot

PLANT: Which one do you prefer?

If you want to build your own aquapipot, you have to think the same way like when buying a pot for a "normal" plant: You need to fit the pot to meet the plant's needs. So go to your favorite search engine and look out for a cool waterplant!

My choice fell on Valisneria Gigantea (see image above). The plant can reach heights up to 2m and it grows straight upwards. It does not branch out over ground, so my aquapipot will be a long pipe at least 2m tall. However, the plant offshoots, so I need a larger diameter of the pipe. I choosed a pipe with 200mm outer diameter and 3mm wall thickness. We want the plant to have enough space to grow, because, you may have already guessed it seing the picture in the beginning, maintenance is not that easy (but there are solutions) :).

Step 2: Choose Your Material: Best Way to Go With Acrylic

MATERIAL: Go with acrylic :)

The plants needs light and water. To provide both, I will use acrylic pipes and fittings so that light shines through. However, you can also use glass pipes or something else transparent. You could even choose a non-transparent pipe if you install an artifical lightsource.

Acrylic has a significant advantages: It is widely available in different sizes and shapes (hemispheres, plates, rings, pipes, ...), it can be glued easily and with high strength, it can be thermoformed and it is a thermoplast of which filament is available to 3D-print fittings, flanges, joints and gaskets.

Tip: If you want to build a low-budget solution PET bottles can be considered instead of acrylic pipes. Just look out for a bottle with smooth walls.

Step 3: Choose Your Design and Cconstruction

CONSTRUCTION: Whatever the plant needs but make it watertight!

To prove that the design works, I pretty much maxed out the size for my 15 sqm room. Of course you can build anything you want - bigger or smaller. But seeing this example you get the idea and you have proof of concept:

With a pipe 2m long and put up vertically there are some major problems you have to cope with. All in all the water itself is the problem.

  1. You first want to keep it in the pipe, so you have to ensure your construction is watertight. This is more important the higher the water-level you have in your aquapot as pressure rises accordingly. E.g. in this example, you have a pressure of about 0.2 bar at the bottom due to approx. 2m water depth. You may avoid this taking a plant which grows more horizontally so you can choose and put up your pipe accordingly (maybe even horizontally).Aquatic moss would be an example.
  2. Second, you may want to have some kind of water circulation with a pipe that big. It would be easy to just hang a waterpump in there, but it would not look that good and still, circulation won't be optimal. That is why I choosed to adapt a very common design for a waterpump to fit my construction: The so called air lift pump. The idea is simple: Get a pipe in parallel and let air bubbles rise through it, creating a water stream upwards. Connect it to the big pipe with the plant at the top and the bottom and voilà, let the water circulate! Also, this looks really good :D but it needs more work. You may avoid this using pipes not that long or you just by placing the air bubbler in the main pipe.
  3. Third, the construction itself will get quite heavy in the example. However, you can just take a smaller plant and a smaller design. Makes everything easier :)

DESIGN: To make the design look good in the end, you have to apply your personal design taste. I want to give the pipes an industrial look with flanges and screws and so on. To be honest, there is not very much of a choice as pipes with flanges just look "industrial". However, you could apply color or ornaments, e.g. to get a steampunk-design.

MAKE YOUR SKETCH! Above you see the example sketch. A very simple one indeed. But you not only see the principle of an air lift pump, you can also make out which parts you need.

Step 4: Substantiate Your Plan and Make Your BOM!

The next step is getting the parts. According to your plan, this will lead to a BOM with some acrylic pipes, rings, plates and maybe even hemispheres like in the example. To connect them with each other, you need fittings and flanges you can use with the parts. These are the parts needed for the example (of course you do not need that much filament and also not that much screws):

  • Material:
    • 2x 200mm hemispheres
    • 1x 200mm 2m pipe
    • 1x 50mm 2m pipe
    • 1x 1kg acrylic filament (PMMA from Material4Print)
    • 1x 250g flexible filament (White FlexiSMART from FFFworld, shore hardness 88A)
  • 3D Printing:
    • 2x 200mm glue flange
    • 2x 50mm glue flange
    • 1x 100mm glue flange
    • 2x 50mm glue sideflange
    • 1x 100mm glue sideflange
    • 2x 50mm flanged curved pipe
    • 4x 50mm flange seal
    • 1x 100mm flange seal
    • 2x 200mm flange seal
  • Mounting and fixiation:
    • 200x M4 flanged lens head screw + M4 flanged nuts (non-toothed!)
    • 3x 200mm clamp for wall mount
  • Plant and stuff:
    • 1x pack of Valisneria Gigantea
    • approx. 4kg fine sand
    • aquarium air pump (Schego WS2)
    • 8mm silicone tubing and bubbler

Depending on your construction there may even be fittings readily available for your pipe-diameters. However, the more individual approach is to 3D print your own fittings, pipes, flanges and seals. The usual workflow is to go into your preferred CAD editor and start designing. However, not everyone can use a CAD editor. And also because after my studies I want to have my future flat full of aquapipots, I went for a generic solution which makes the design process of different flanges and pipe-parts much easier. In fact, everyone can profit from it: Parametrized 3D models!

To be honest, until now with this instructable I never made any parametrized models. At least not intentionally as somehow every part modeled with boolean operations is parametric. Because of the planters challenge I took a look at Tinkercad a few days ago. To be honest, I once had done a few months before and I had closed the window a minute later because I thought it was a fairly simple online software which does not fit my needs. However, I was put right a few days ago, realizing you can write shape generators with javascript! And that is what makes this instructable generic.

Now I provide a few links where you see the flanges, pipes and fittings I have designed, like in the pictures. All of them are made with shape generators so they are customizable. Be patient when using the shape generator as I did not optimize the code, nor did I took a lot of care on the parameter naming. I hope it is self-explaining to some point, if not, just ask me. Here are the links to each part:

Glue flanges and seals (just make it flat to work as seal and make the bores a little smaller, see printed seals next step)

Pipe with one or two bored flanges

Angled pipe with flanges

(Angled) Side Flange for glueing in a hole in the side of a pipe

With those parts, you should be able to substantiate your plan. I would suggest to make a 3D model if the project is a bigger one. This way you really make sure all the diameters, thicknesses, flange widths and bores match with their counterparts. With this in mind, I think it is good to tell you some errors I made during the design process:

  1. Use straight numbers for the bore count. If you don't, you cannot rotate the flange in 90° steps.
  2. Make sure you have the right tolerances. You can see it when editing one of the glue flanges: The inner one is designed to be glued to a pipe with 50mm outer diameter and 3mm wall thickness. Notice the thickness of pipe in the sketch is 3.2mm to make it fit perfectly after 3D printing. The collar's main intend is to provide guidance when glueing and to mask up errors on the cut of the pipe. It has nearly no structural use unless you inforce it with triangles. So better take a tolerance too big than too short here.
  3. Double check wheather each part fits to its counterpart
  4. You may want to refine the parts using Blender or another software. It allows not only to refine meshes but also to add sweeps via the subdivision surface modifier by selecting the appropriate edge. Not necessary though.
  5. Reinforce heavy loaded flanges with side triangles. I did that on the big flanges. If there is demand, I would add it to the shape generator.

Step 5: Aquire the Parts!

After you made your plan and designed the parts - maybe you even designed a full 3D model - you are ready to aquire the parts.


That means go shopping on Ebay,Amazon or Aliexpress. Also check local dealers, especially when you want to build something really big. As acrylic is a widely used material, there are online shops only selling acrylic parts like pipes, hemispheres, plates and much more in different shapes and sizes. My experience was them having more favourable and versatile offers than Ebay or Amazon.

The seals can be 3D printed with flexible filament by scaling down the glue flanges in Z. You can also make a silicon mold or you can buy seals.

Another important thing to aquire are the nuts and screws. Choose screws and nuts with (flat!) flanges or use washers instead. You also may want to get stainless parts. They look better and they are water resistant. When you are using saline water, e.g. to grow mangroves or for a marine aquarium, you better use a high-grade stainless steel which can withstand saline water. Not that the screws will not have contact to the water, but at least they are near to it and may get wet during maintenance. So be prepared. Above you see the screws used in the example.

Step 6: Print the Parts

If you have a 3D printer capable of printing up to 260 °C and with a heated bed reaching temperatures up to 100 °C, then you are ready to print acrylic. The filament can be named differently, e.g. acrylic filament, PMMA filament or even Plexiglas filament. Unfortunately it is not as common as PLA, ABS or PETG. However, it should be no problem getting acrylic filament, maybe even coloured if you want to give the aquapipe some colour features.

I used PMMA filament from Material4Print (M4P). I used the standard PETG settings which came with the Prusa i3 MK3 but I bumped up the hotend temperature to 260°C and the heatbed temperature to 100°C. Prints came out really nice. Possible failures or annoying things you may stumble into:

  • Make sure your first layer calibration is good. Too low or to high and it will not stick - yes, also when it is too low as the neighboured layers are lifted up.
  • To improve bed adhesion use a glue stick and use a brim.
  • Have an hermetically sealed enclosure or print in a well ventilated area. Acrylic smells pretty bad, even more intense than ABS. I have the misfortune to live in a dorm room so... .Just avoid the printer during printing PMMA. Go outside, have a walk, drink some tea or better make an hourlasting teaparty, you know what I mean. And leave the window open.
  • Dry the filament. PMMA or acrylic absorbes up to 1.x% water. If your filament makes brizzling noises during printing, dry it. Stop the print. You do not want air bubbles in your part and you do not want it to become less strong. Above there are some microscopic pictures showing a piece of extruded filament with and without air bubbles - the first was wet, the latter dry.
  • Print the parts with a lot of perimeters and 100% infill. You want the parts to be strong. Especially bores are stronger with more perimeters. I used a bit more than 10 perimeters in the example prints, with a 0.4mm nozzle.
  • If you have a bigger nozzle, use it.
  • Pay attention on warping. Acrylic warps quite alot although it is not like nylon or similar difficult to print filaments. It is even better than with ABS. Just use supports (strong ones!) and, if there are overhangs more than about 30 degrees, the trick is to print very slow.
  • Print the angled pipes like shown in the picture above, with a massive support. I tried several other ways and this one worked best.

Step 7: Machine the Parts!

The 3D printed parts need very little processing after printing. Only if you have printed a flange not in flat contact to the heatbed you have to grind it down to be flat. Also you may have to remove supports.

The other parts meaning the pipes and hemispheres need more attention. E.g. I needed to cut the pipes to a specific length and drilling holes in it. Before you start, you may want to read this very interesting document about joining acrylic. I will also provide very basic information about it.

Guidelines for joining acrylic (glueing, welding, tempering, ...).

Let's start!

Step 8: Drill/saw the Holes

The first step are the holes. In the example I had to make sure the inlet and outlet flanges for the air lift pump are aligned properly, vertically. I used a plumb bob improvised with a tape line:

When you marked the pipes with the positions of the holes you can start drilling. When you have a drill press use it as it not only improves precision but also makes it easier to ensure a slow feed motion so no cracks will occur. A milling machine would be even better if you have one. However, a power drill should also work. Just drill slow and with less pressure/slow feed(!).

Also drill the bores for the flange which are not 3D printed. In the example these are the two hemisphere flanges. If you print the 200mm flange you can lay it on the hemisphere and drill the holes. Although the result is quite accurate, I marked the relative position of hemisphere and pipe. I also marked each pair so I find the right pair if I would mix something up.

Step 9: Cut the Pipes

Now it is time to cut each pipe to the length you need. To make sure the pipe is cut orthogonally, you may use a thick glue tape for guidance like you can see in this picture.

The last picture also shows what happens when your feed motion is too fast or your saw speed too slow: Cracks. Acrylic is highly allergic to that.

So better increase saw speed and dedcrease feed motion. Also make sure to use the right saw blades, e.g. blades suitable for PVC. Blades for metal will be ok too. Be patient and it should work. However, when sawing the small air lift pipe I still got a crack. But as this was my only pipe and I could not make it shorter, I just increased the collar height of the glue flange to hide it.

Step 10: Finishing 3D Printed Parts

The 3D printed parts may need a finishing. E.g. angled pipes with flanges, as one flange may not be in direct contact to the bed and so they are not flat but rippled or wavy. See the pictures for an example.

That means the surface has to be finished by grinding it down so it is flat. Only then we can assure the sealing doing its job right later on.

Also you may have supports like in the example with the angled pipe. I went with a massive support because of several fails with the usual one generated by Slic3r. I removed it with the drill press as you see in the picture.

Step 11: Glue the Parts!

After you machined every part, you are able to glue them in place. When glueing, use an appropriate glue to make your bond seals very strong. I recommend using Acrifix1R 0192. It smells like hell but it does a great job. Stay away from the usual adhesives you use for paper and wood. Also, do not rely on resin or other fancy adhesives. Use adhesive for acrylic :)

Glueing the parts is more difficult than it seems. I would even say it is the most difficult step in this instructable: Too much glue and the bond seam looks bad, too little glue and it may be leaky and has decreased stability. In fact, better use to much glue than too little.

The collars on the flanges make glueing much easier as they hide the bond seam. But still it is a difficult job you may want to learn via practice on several examples before. If you need to wipe away glue leavings, DO NOT do it with your fingers nor do it with a towel or anything else which has no smooth surface! Use wrapping film or a scraper instead. This way, even when glue mets a visible surface, it will stay transparent and glossy so you will hardly notice it on the finished aquapipot.

However, I would only wipe away glue deposits in case of an emergency, e.g. when a glue drop begins to flow over visible surfaces. Here are some pictures of the glued example aquapipot.

The latter two pictures are quite important: They show the alignment of the two glue flanges to the angled pipes of the air lift pump. Forget this and the flanges do not fit later - so make test builds before you start glueing meaning arrange the parts to make sure they fit.

Step 12: Optional: Temper the Parts!

As this example is large and it comes with serious requirements considering stability and water tightness, I decided to temper all my acrylic parts. You do not have to do this in most cases. I just want to drive the safe way which means to reduce innerr stress of the parts to maximise the tensile strength.

You say you have no possibility to temper the parts? As said, I live in a dorm room and yes, there are possiblities. You don't need a few thousand dollar tempering oven. All you need is a wardrobe large enough to fit your parts in (I used an IKEA PAX) and a modified fan heater which allows reaching temperatures up to 80 °C. You also may want a PID to regulate the fan heater, but you can also do it manually.

First clear your wardrobe so that it is empty providing enough space for your parts. Place your parts in it. The best way is to hang them up on a wire or so. It was very tight fit for the big pipe but it works, see the pictures.

I used a PID first but then switched to manual control as the modified fan heater was switched on and off absolutely, which means the air convection stopped and the temperature difference between up and down inside the PAX became unacceptable. I managed to set up a temperature balance with some styrofoam and a scarf^^.

The temperature stayed at 76°C constantly in the whole wardrobe. That is what you need: Between 70 and 80 °C for at least two hours. Depending on material thickness, you may need longer. In the in the last step provided document (Joining PLEXIGLAS) you can also find detailed information about tempering acrylic.

When you are done with it, you can go to the next step where we will test our seals!

Step 13: Test Your Parts!

Before you plug everything together I would recommend to test your seals. I used the long small pipe to build up pressure on the sealing like shown the picture.

You may also want to test your bond seams to be watertight, but that should be no problem. To the next step!

Step 14: Mount Your Aquapipot and Start Planting

After all your parts are finished, you can assemble your aquapipot. Also, you can mount it to the wall if you want, like in this example.

You can now start planting: In the example I took sand as I had good experience with Valisneria growing in it. I removed any bigger stone to have more space for the roots.

Start filling it with water a bit, then plant your plant.

After every plant is placed properly, you can fill up the rest of the aquapipot with water - this was necessary in my case as the only access I had was the maintenance opeding in the photo above. If you have a smaller aquapipot you may can fill it completely and then place your plants.

Step 15: Arrange the Air Lift Pump

When the aquapipot is full of water, you can arrange the air lift pump. Place the bubbler inside the small tube which needs rising bubbles.

If you haven't an air lift pump, you can skip thiis step.

Make sure the pump is strong enough to overcome the water pressure. I had to search quite a long time until I found an air pump strong enough for 2m of water. I buyed the Schego WS2.

When everything is installed, start the pump and be pleased about a working air lift pump!

Step 16: Close the Lid, Enjoy the Result!

I decided to just lay the top hemisphere down on the flange. It makes maintenance easier, does look good and holds the water inside.

Considering maintenance:

With this example it is only possible to reach the ground with your hands when removing some water so that the maintenance opening is free.

However, you can arrange the rooted plants with a metering rule quite good. Especially the metal ones made out of spring steel are working well. Just be sure to wipe them dry before coiling up again.

What is next? You may guessed it: To make maintenance easier, you can put snails and freshwater shrimps in it. I would not advise you to put fishes in the pipes unless you build a larger area horizontally so there is space to swim. Also, fishes produce much more detritus which may result in the need of a biofilter.

If you plan to put a living being in the pipe, make sure the environment fits its needs - not only space and water quality need to be taken into account but also water temperature, hidings, light, other living species and so on. That is why the aquapipot system is intentionally not designed for being an aquarium except snails and shrimps.

I will report about maintenance issues in future updates or on demand. That's it! Enjoy your aquapipot!

Step 17: Update: Short-term Experience

As promised I will provide you with a small update considering the aquapipot. I placed post horn snails and shrimps in it since about 2-3 weeks now.

Until now, there is no algae. However, "bladder snails" (Physidae) accidentially moved in with the valisneria.

It is very important not to add too much fish feed to prevent a snail plague and algae. Most people facing such problems do feed too much. Let's see if it stays like that.

I also discovered some nematodes and I am thinking about adding some very small fishes. Mid- and Long-Term Updates with pictures then. Bye!

Step 18: Mid-term Experience (after About 5 Months)

Hi there,

just a brief extension to the instructable because of the valisneria gigantea growing breaking a height of 1m!

I know the pictures are not that good, but you see the growth process if you look at the pictures from the start of the project.

The shrimp and snails are still alive. Algae growth is not visible at first glance, but if you look very closely you can see some - as long as it does not influence the optical appearance to much all is okay as it is needed for a good micro climate and as food for the living beings inside.

I did feed only very little fish food and cucumber, also tomatoe. All in all about 50 grams in those 5 months - you see, this aquapipot does not need very much maintenance. None, to be exactly, apart from refilling 150ml of water in those 5 months.

One mistake made by me was to put the plants in another aquarium whilst building the pipot. Although it was only for 3 days, Helena (carnivourous snails!) did lay some eggs. So I had 5 Helenas in the pipot killing my great ramshorn. It took me a month of steady look around in the evening, waiting for them to get up to the top, which happens very rarely. I still did manage to put them all out. I also could save some great ramshorn to get the population up again. The Physidae did survive without any loss, because they are much faster than the Helenas (and there was great ramshorn to hunt for them anyways).

I have a surprise by the way, an extension to the project. It will be added soon, making it look really wonderful!

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