Ikea Shelf Turned Into an Indoor Aquaponics System




It is November and temperatures are dropping below zero (centigrade) already, I need to move the fish from my balcony aquaponics system (as introduced here) indoors.
Instead of putting them in a common aquarium with a standard filter, I decided to build an indoor-aquaponics setup instead. As this system will be located in my apartment, appearance and design are equally important as functionality. Therfrore, I decided to build the system based on an ikea shelf that matches my other furniture.

Take a look at the technical demonstration in this youtube video here:

Parts needed:
- 1 Ikea Besta shelf (120x40x40cm) or any other shelf according to your preferences - €20,-- (2nd hand from willhaben.at)
- 4 furniture wheels plus screws - €25,-- (Obi)
- 1 Aquarium (max 110x35x35cm - in my case 60x30x30cm equalling 54 liters) - €10,-- (2nd hand from willhaben.at)
- 1 aquarium pump (I ordered the smallest one I could find on Aliexpress.com, 200l/hour, 3W) - €4,--
- 50cm Aquarium tube (8mm) - €1,--
- 30cm standard pvc-drainage pipe (25mm) plus matching uniseal - €3,5
- One or two 100cm flower box for balconies - free
- piece of wood to screw the wheels on
- white wood color or duct tape
- hydroton (or other media for the grow bed)
I like the idea to reuse and recycle, therfore I tried to use as many 2nd hand parts as possible.

Tools needed:
- jig saw
- screw drivers
- elctric drill
- ruler, sharpie
- whole saw bit (matching the diameter of your drain pipe)

With this, we are ready to start our build.

Step 1: Dismantle the Shelf

Disassemble the shelf (given you use one that has been assembled already) by losing the plastic screws at the inside of the three vertical side-panels. Take the top-panel off, then the three side panels.

Step 2: Cut the Shelf Into Suitable Pieces to Fit the Fish Tank and Plumbing In

We need to adopt the shelf a little in order to fit the fish tank and the plumbing in.

Let's start with the main compartment for the fish tank: To do so, draw a mark at the second vertical panel (the one in the middle of the cabinet) 4.8cm from the back-facing end. Cut the panel in two pieces with your jig saw. The smaller part (4.8cm wide) we will use as support beam at the backside of the shelf as shown on the picture.
insert picture!

That was the tricky part for me, as I was not sure about the material and inner structure used for the panels. Turns out that it consists of two layers of 5mm chipboard filled with paper in a honeycomb structure as support.
I was afraid that the saw could destroy or at least destabilize the remaining parts but that was not the case. At the pictures you can actually see, how the boards are built and that it is no problem to cut them as described here.
insert picture!

Now we need to cut holes in the top panel. At first find the appropriate places for the holes to be cut by placing the flower boxes on top. You want to have your flower boxes covering the holes in the end, so experiment a litle to get everything in place as you like it. I figured out, that two rectangular holes (20x8cm) work best for my flower boxes - big enough to access the fish tank from the top and small enough, to remain completely covered by the grow beds. Mark the holes and use your drill bit to cut two holes and then extend it with your jigsaw to its final rectangular shape.

Finally, I used a 5cm drill saw bit to cut a couple of holes into the upper end of the two thin back panels of the cabinet. This allows some light in and allows also to put the power cord for the pump in.

At first I planned to paint the sides of the panels I with white paint but then found a roll of white duct tape - much quicker and easer to apply!

Step 3: Re-assemble the Shelf

Put the two side panels back in, then the support beam we cut out of the third panel. This goes at the back side of the shelf. Put the two back chipboards in. Mount the top panel.
Then turn the whole cabinet upside down and mount the wheels. We want to avoid to directly mounting the wheels on the bottom panel because of the limited amount of support structure the chipboard provides to the screws. Therfore I put a thicker piece of wood in between which I screwed into the already availabale threads Ikea put in to mount legs on the shelf.

Step 4: Plumb in the Fish Tank and Install the Grow Beds

Put the aquarium into the cabinet. Now we can assemble the grow beds. To do so, we need to cut holes in the bottom of the flower boxes using the hole saw bit of our power-drill (I use a 30mm bit which is the perfect size for my 25mm pipe plus the uniseal).

Put your unisieals in the holes and then insert the pvc-pipes. Due to the small dimensions of the system, I decided not to add a syphon to drain the water out completely of the grow beds but to have only a pvc-standpipe which will keep a constant water level in the beds. You want to experiment with the height of the standpipe within the growbed. I mounted mine 4cm from the bottom of the growbed. This leaves another 10cm to the top of the growbed to aerate the roots of my plants. To protect grow media from falling through the standpipe, I added a media guard made out of a small white plastic container (actually an old bottle of vitamin pills). I cut out the bottom with my hole saw bit and lots of 6mm holes at the sides. I also drilled a hole in the cap to run my water tube trough.

Technically you are now done with your project. Add the pump, water, grow media, plants and fish and your ready to go!

As to the pump: I wanted to mimimize energy consumption, therefore chose the smallest pump possible - a 200l/h 3W pump with 50cm head height. I figured 50cm would be enough to lift the water up into the grow bed. Also, to simplify plumbing, I ran the water tube from the pump into the grow bed through the drain pipe. Therefore I did not have to cut any additional hole. So far it works great. I'll need to see over time, if the pump is strong enough or if any cloughing caused by fish waste occurs. In this case I would upgrade tho a biger pump and tube diameter.

Good luck with your project and thank your for posting your comments & questions!



    • Tape Contest

      Tape Contest
    • Paper Contest

      Paper Contest
    • Weaving Challenge

      Weaving Challenge

    9 Discussions


    5 months ago

    I love aquaponics, but please, improve the life of your fishes, be nice with them. You chose the wrong kind of fish for your project. Never use goldfish if it's not in a pound. They really need a lot of water to be healthy and not get place-inducted dwarf. It causes domage to their organs. And they are too many in the place where you put them. Choose guppies or other fish instead, Please, study well the needs of the fishes before electing. The same way your choose a cat, a dog or a rabbit bread. And your fishes do need hiding places.

    Akin Yildiz

    3 years ago

    very cool. i really like the idea of it being on wheels, very mobile :)

    you can easily attach a custom plant light bar on top of your setup - are you familiar with my work.?

    great stuff, thank you for sharing.!

    1 reply
    leftfootmorerightAkin Yildiz

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks for your comment and for sharing your great projects! I'll probably add a grow light, should the sunlight from the window not suffice. Actually this is part of the experiment, to see if the plants can survive through winter without an artificial light source.


    3 years ago

    Awesome! You have a vote from me. One question: is there a reason you don't have any substrate (river rock, decorative gravel) on the tank floor? My mom owned an aquarium business when I was growing up and the only tanks that never got "decorations" were the feeder tanks ....I assume so people wouldn't think the fish were too cute. Just curious if there's a practical reason for no decor in a hydroponics setting.

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    Thanks for your comment. Without the decorations the tank is easier to clean, that's all. However, I noticed that the fish are much happier (less nervous), if there is something to hide and play in the tank, therefore the plant (it also catches most of the fish waste solids on the floor). I will also add a clay pot for the fish to hide.


    3 years ago

    Great idea! I really liked it. one question though, do you have any problems with odor with this system?

    1 reply

    Reply 3 years ago

    thanks! The system is up and running no for four weeks. Odors are not a problem at all, because the water level in the growbed is constantly kept at 5cm below ground level. The surface is completely dry (except for the water outlet of course).

    Will post a system walkthrough video of the final setup later on.


    This is a brilliant way to liven up your living space. You should really enter this in the Furniture Hacking contest.