Introduction: How to Build a Home Hydroponics System

I show you how I set up my hydroponics system, and the parts needed, the tools used and where I bought them. I am no expert in the Hydroponics field, but I am quite happy to share anything I have learned with you here.

We will look at the lighting, the cooling system, a few safety features, timers, and the basic grow chamber (where the growing takes place).

If you already know how you want to set up your system, you may still get some good ideas from looking at mine. If you are a beginner there should be enough detail in the words and pictures to answer most of your questions. If you're like many you can just gloss over the pictures and get all you need.

With that out of the way lets get ready to make your house look like Sanford and Son.

Step 1: Making the Light Rack

I wanted to provide lighting for four plastic tub sized hydroponic units that I will show later. Those tubs side by side are about 60 inches wide. So I went with a rack 60 inches long as well.

The rack simply has no other purpose than to hang lights from. You can use a stick if you want to. It will do the same d#mn thing for you. But, I wanted to be crafty and thought an industrial looking truss shape would be way cooler.

For the rack you will need:

Little S hooks
Two 1"x2" wood sticks (I bought 2 eight footers for $1.40 at Home depot)
Two four foot 3/8" wooden dowels Lowes
Wood glue (I used cya glue slow setting) you can use any glue
3/32"" cable (vinyl coated or not) maybe 5 feet (Home Depot sells per foot)
1/16" aluminum crush ferrules (two doubles and two singles) Home depot has them
Four clothes line pulleys Harbor Freight
Small chain need aprox 30' depending on your ceiling Lowes
Expansion anchors Lowes
Rope cleats Harbor Freight (I found tiny ones from Home Depot)
Smoke detector 5$ at Home depot

Tools Required

Battery type drill
3/8" drill bit
3/16" drill bit
Phillips bit for the drill
Saw (circular or jigsaw)
Tape measure
Vice grips

Step 2: Layout the Rack on Paper

Make sure you read all the pictures they tell a complete story.

1. Take two or three poster boards and tape them together.

2. Draw a zig zag pattern as depicted in the picture. Make the height say 10 or 12 inches tall. This determines the height of your rack from the top piece of wood to the bottom piece.

3. Draw as many zig zags as you need to make the total length required. In my case 60 inches. At ten inches in height it works out that I made a down up then down up again pattern.

4. Lay the 1"x2" pieces of wood on top of the paper and mark your angles on the wood with a marker. Cut all of the wooden dowels to length using the paper pattern as a guide. They should all be the same size.

5. Mark the ends of the 1"x2" pieces of wood so they are the length you want. Make sure your dowel pattern will fit in the length of the top and bottom pieces. Cut your top and bottom pieces to desired length. In my case I want the top bigger than the bottom.

6. Drill the holes for the dowels using a 3/8" bit using the marks you made as a guide. Your going to have to "eyeball" your drilling work unless you have a fancy drill press. I held mine with my hands. It is dangerous and not the recommended way to do things. But, that's just how I roll.

6.5. Put glue in each hole. Assemble the top and bottom pieces with the dowels in place. Its tricky but I know you can do it. Push down on the top piece of wood so that you know the dowels are seated correctly. Then adjust the top versus the bottom so that they are parallel to each other. Then let the glue dry.

7. Drill your holes for the cables as shown in the drawing using a 3/16" bit. Cut the cables to desired length. Add the pulley to the loop you are going to make first. Make a loop around the pulley eyelet. Secure the loop with a ferrule at the top and use a ferrule at the bottom. You can skip this whole step if you just add two dowels in place of the cables on either end if you want. I just wanted to have a stronger rack than rely on wood glue for strength. The cable transfers the load from the top piece of wood to the bottom (which isn't very large anyways). You can make the whole thing out of wood and drill two holes at either end and make loops from rope.'''

Step 3: Hanging the Light Rack

1. Determine the center line where you would like to have the light rack hang. In my case I want to have the rack hang where the two tubs will join. I already had the tubs sitting on the floor where they will go, so it would be easier to judge.

2. Measure 8" on either side of the center line which will give you four dots on the ceiling 16" apart one way and 60" the other way (Look at the drawing). Make sure you have enough room away from the wall. I chose to be out from the wall 6".

3. Hammer in your 4 anchors using a hammer into the ceiling. Screw all four anchors down using the drill as a screwdriver. This will flatten them out, they are now permanent. Take those screws back out by reversing the drill.

3.5. Mount the rope cleats to the wall in line with both sides of the light rack. Mount them 48" from the floor using the same wall anchors. Hammer the anchors in then screw them down tight so they expand. Back the screws out all the way, then put them through the holes in the cleats and screw the screws back in.

4. You should have two pieces of chain about 15 feet long each. Mount the end of each chain to the outer 2 anchors. Just put the screw through the last link of the chain. Then screw the screws back in on both sides. You should have now two lengths of chain hanging straight down to the floor.

5. Now mount the two pulleys to the other two anchors closest to the wall. You can use a small length of chain through the pulley eye then use the screw to form the loop by putting it through both end links of the chain. Then screw it back in the ceiling anchor.

6. Take your light rack, with the two pulleys mounted to it and string the chain through the pulleys. Take the ends of the chain and string them through the pulleys on the ceiling (on their respective sides).

7. Secure the chain to the rope cleats you have mounted on the wall. You can see in the picture the chain goes from the ceiling down to the light rack pulley, then up to the ceiling pulley, then back down to the rope cleat. You have to do this for both sides of course.

Step 4: General Power / Controls Layout

The general layout of the electrical system is shown below. A thermostat controls the main power strip. Everything shuts off if the temperature reaches a certain level (that you choose).

The Power strips I used.

The Timers I used.

Safety Features
I was really afraid to run lights like these unattended. They put out so much heat by themselves. If any of them were to fall down you know what can happen. I felt the need to ensure things would be safe at all times.

The thermostat is super nice from Kkontrols and is industrial quality. You plug it into the wall and the appliance you want to control plugs into the back of the same plug "piggyback" style (in my case its a power strip plugging into the plug). Then the long cord allows you to position the thermostat wherever you want.

This is a dangerous part here so use common sense. You should have basic understanding of electricity. If you're afraid don't do it.
I also added two thermal overload switches to two of the light housings. I bought them from All Electronics for dirt cheap. They are specified to trip (open up the circuit) when the temp hits 100 celsius or 212 degrees F. I have found that this temperature works well with my lights with no false trips. I left the florescent light alone as it doesn't get very hot. Should the lights get too hot for any reason...Bamm.... shuts em' down like Emeril. I also tested the switches with an ohms tester and a lighter. They trip as expected and reset without failing (out of five times I did it anyways).

I show you what I did to install the overload switches in the following drawings. You have to prepare them before they go in the light housing. It's easy don't worry. You just have to crimp two wires to the body of the switch, and then shrink wrap the whole thing. Otherwise the body of the switch is bare metal and will short out when it touches anything metal.

1. Once you have prepared the thermal switch, it should be already shrink wrapped with 3/4" wide heat shrink tubing and have two wires sticking out. Now your ready to open up the light housing.

2. Danger. Make sure the lights are cold and haven't been plugged in for some time. Mine were new out of the box. Otherwise the capacitors can zap you.

If your light has the ballast contained inside the lamp (all in one unit). Open up the light housing to gain access to the inside point where the cord comes into the light housing. Save the screws and remember where they all go.

If your light has a separate ballast housing. It probably already has a thermal overload installed in the ballast box. But you can install the thermal overload switch in the reflector housing (where the light bulb is). This is what I did for my 400 watt light. If you choose to, you can use the same method to put the thermal switch in your ballast housing too. It will have the same three wires (green, white and black).

3. The black wire will be wire nutted to another black wire very close to the hole the power cord came in through.

4. Take these two wires apart and connect one wire to one wire on the thermal switch and the other to the other. You may need to strip the wires with a wire stripper if you had to cut them apart. It doesn't matter which wire goes to which side of the thermal switch. As long as the circuit looks like the one in the drawing we are good.

5. Just leave the thermal switch to "float" inside the light housing somewhere nested alongside other wiring. It should be fine as long as it isn't touching a transformer or capacitor or whatnot.

6. Close it all back up. This part is done.

Step 5: Lights and Fans

Three Lights

1. The first I will speak of is a four hundred watt construction light from E-conolight. It comes with a protective cage which I threw away. It is a pulse start metal halide light which is supposed to be a better type than a regular start type. You can read about that somewhere if you want. It came to about 100 bucks after tax and shipping. It also came with the bulb. I wanted a good lamp housing, not an ugly one that just has a plain aluminum reflector. So I got one from a local shop Gardeners Edge That was another 100 bucks.

2. The second light is a 150 Watt High pressure sodium light from Gardeners Edge

3. The third light is a clamp light from Harbor Freight with a bulb from Lowes. I took the clamp off and am hanging the light by its cord using a zip tie. This light throws out some serious light. Especially for only $25 or so.

All together I have 615 watts of light and it cost me 315 dollars. I believe that I would rather have bought this setup from Plantlighting Hydroponics. A better deal for only 179$. You get 1000watts and it includes the bulb. I have a more versatile setup with the three lamps however. I can move the different color lamps to whichever side I need them and I don't have to pay for wasted energy I am not using.

Two Fans and a Blower

You can probably use fans you already have around the house. I did not have any extras myself. So I got cheap ones. One fan fits inside the duct of the 400 watt light housing. It fits right in perfectly with no ties required. I got it from WalMart for 7$ its a 4" size Massey brand with a metal body and blades.

The other fan is a Lasko fan from Home Depot for 15$. It was on sale. Such a bargain. They are $20 dollars now. Anyhow, its nice because it oscillates back and forth to supply all the plants with fresh air.

I am using an Ecoplus Blower to exhaust hot air to the outside. It is controlled by an additional Thermostat from Kkontrols. I mounted the blower to the wall using this Adapter. It serves as a mounting bracket and allows you to connect two 4" dryer vent hoses. I have connected the two dryer hoses to two dryer vents installed through the wall. I have a frame wall so it was easy. The whole thing is mounted up high as to collect the risen hot air.

Basic Operation

The timer turns on the lights and the fans for 14 hours per day. When the lights are on the two fans are on. I have read on the General Hydroponics website that 14 hours a day is ideal. Any longer and you don't see noticeable gains in growth. So I went with that. The blower is controlled by its own thermostat.

Step 6: Water Pumps and Air Pumps

I have two air pumps running air to air stones in each of the four tubs/reservoirs. I got them here at Plantlighting Hydroponics. They run all the time. For always and forever until they break.

I have a water pump in each reservoir from Harbor Freight (four total). This pump is overkill and does a huge amount of flow at 258 GPH. However, I like the big one because it has a foam pre-filter inside. You can use this kind as well Harbor freight. The little 66gph is cheap and also a good choice if you use the donut type assembly that I make for water distribution, and not the sprinkler kind. The sprinkler converter has a regulator in it that limits water flow too much for the small pumps to handle. Anyhow, the pumps all have ceramic parts inside so they won't corrode. They are quite comparable to the eco-plus brand. They might even be the same pumps. My pumps run at half time during the day (half hour of every hour for 14 hours) while the lights are on. When the lights are off they run 15 minutes of every hour. It produces good results for me.

Step 7: Making the Hydroponic Grow Chambers / Tubs

To make the grow chambers were going to need a few materials and a few tools:

Required Materials

Drip irrigation kit from Harbor freight. Mainly you get 100 feet of 1/4" size tubing for six dollars.
1/2" inside diameter clear tubing from Lowes.
One package of 25 straight hose barbs 1/4" size for drip irrigation Home Depot
Five Packages of 10 each 90 degree 1/4" elbows for drip irrigation
One hole punch tool for drip irrigation (metal tip kind) from Home Depot
Can of flat black spray paint 99 cent kind from Home Depot
One hole saw kit from Harbor Freight
One 1/2" Toro funny pipe tee from Home Depot
One big bag of Hydroton from Plantlighting Hydroponics
23 net pots from Plantlighting Hydroponics
One Package of two aquarium air stones from WalMart
One 27 gallon size Best Plastics heavy duty Tote from Home Depot

Required Tools

Cordless Drill
15/64" Drill bit (go figure this odd size works perfectly)
Wire cutters or knife

1. Take out the 3" hole saw from the kit and cut your 23 holes. Center them in the diamond shapes of the lid the best you can and use the pictures as a guide. Read the comments.

2. Fit a net pot in a hole so you can tell how wide the rim of the pot is. Then keep away from the edge with the drill at least that far when you drill for the water lines. Making room for the pot rims drill all of the water line holes close to the edge of the larger holes with the 15/64" drill bit.

3. If your lid is opaque you don't need to do this part. Spray paint the lid flat black so no light at all gets through the lid. You don't want algae to grow in the water. Use up the whole can of paint and make sure its an even coat. Hold the lid up to a strong light, or sunlight, to see where the light comes through and you need more paint. Paint more where you need it. Then let the lid dry. Better yet, find a tub with an opaque body and lid. I happened to like the heavy duty tubs that I found, but they had yellow tops. So I opted to paint them. I have used other totes which had black lids. However the walls of those totes bulged out when full of water. So I searched for heavy wall totes.

4. Get out the 1/4" black tubing from the drip irrigation kit. Cut 23 separate pieces 18 inches long. Set them to the side.

4.5. Cut a one inch diameter hole in the wall of the tub towards the top. This is for the electric cord and air tubing to go through. I cut my holes halfway behind the handle (another words half the hole is hidden behind the handle and half you can see below the handle. The hole is lower than the handle obviously.

4.6. Cut a length of the 1/4" tubing about 6 to 8 feet long for your air stones. Make it as long as you need to reach from the tub to the air pump. Put a tee at one end and connect two air stones to the tee using two short pieces of 1/4" tubing. Fish the end of the air line through the hole you made in the tub. Then of course hook the other end up to your air pump. The stones should be inside the tub with the air line running out through the hole.

5. Get out the 1/2" inside diameter tubing. Cut a piece about 24 inches long. Fit both ends to the 1/2" tee making a donut shape. Look at the picture to compare. You can make a smaller hoop. Use your judgement. Mark out 23 dots equally spaced on the top ridge of the donut. I say top ridge but you can imagine a ridge where the barbs will fit in holes and all face straight up. Once they're marked with a marker, cut the holes with the punch tool at each mark you made. Press down with the tool while twisting it. It will eventually go through. Don't worry about any tags hanging, you don't have to pick them out. Don't poke through the other side of the tubing though. You kind of have to use one hand to smash the tubing to form a ridge where you want to make the hole. The other hand pokes with the punch tool. You should have 23 holes.

6. Push the straight barbs in each hole you made in the donut, all twenty three of them. I licked each one to make them slide in easier. I liked it.

7. Connect the 23 total 18" pieces of 1/4" tubing that you cut to each of the straight barbs on the donut.

8. Poke each end of the 23 tubes you just connected to the donut through the 23 little holes you made in the lid of the tub. Try to spread them out in a pattern for example tubes going to opposite ends of the lid should go to opposite ends of the donut. If you don't feel like being biggie.

9. Cut an 8 inch piece of 1/2" tubing and connect it to the donut tee. Connect the other end to the water pump.

10. Pick up the lid with the pump and big rats nest of tubing and put it inside the tub. Pull the cord through the hole in the tub wall. Close the lid.

11. Now you can make the hangman style injectors at each pot using two 90 elbows and a short length of tubing. You may as well cut out 23 short lengths of tubing the same size. Just figure out how long they need to be so that the nozzle hits the center of the pot.

Now its time to fill the tub with water and nutrients, fill the net pots with Hydroton, and plant the plants! Hooray for me... Sorry that was a little feminine.

Step 8: Basic Operation of the System


I am using Maxigrow powder for my nutrient solution. It happens to be the best deal I could find in nutrient supply per gallon and price. I also plan to use Maxibloom next for my flowering vegetables. The package gives you a guide to measure out the powder per gallon of water. I add powder at the specified ratio and then adjust the level of TDS (Total Dissolved Solids) to 1480ppm with my TDS meter. My tap water is 80ppm (parts per million) by itself so I add another 1400ppm to it. I am getting about two weeks from this mix before my PH goes to crap. Then I have to refill the reservoir with fresh solution.

I also add Subculture. It is a beneficial "bio fungal bacterial" culture. It is supposed to colonize on the plant roots and grow in the water. I only add this at a rate of half of what is specified because it costs too much. I figure that the culture of whatever beneficial fungi and bacteria is in there will multiply and grow anyway. I also believe that this "good stuff" will dominate the "bad stuff" and starve it to death thereby warding off any diseases. So I don't get super concerned about sterilization. That doesn't make me a lazy pig does it? I don't know. I could be wrong, and I am dead sure one of yous' guys/gals will tell me.

My TDS meter is cool and cheap from the Science company. It allows you to monitor the nutrients. I have found it to stay accurate when putting it in the calibration solution. I use a cheapo PH test kit from WalMart to test PH. It covers the range of PH that you will require to run your system. It is a little hard read PH lower than 6.5 with it. But it works.

Water Changes
Putting a drain valve on your grow tubs will be a nice feature that you can add easily for around 5 dollars. I found this Liquid-Tite Fitting at Home Depot that you can use as a bulkhead for the tub. I can't seem to find it on their site though. It is a cheaper alternative to buying a 10 dollar fitting from an aquarium supply house. And you wont have to wait for it to be delivered. Using teflon tape around the threads of the fitting screw on a 3/4" pvc ball valve.

If you don't like the valve idea. You can simply get a long length of 1/2" tubing and hook it to your existing pump. Then you can pump your water outside without having any special installation. You can be busy scrubbing the inside of the reservoir with a sponge and a garden hose while your pump is pumping out the waste. Church.
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