Updated: Jan 24, 2021
Home Farm Hydroponics DIY 24 plant indoor vertical hydroponic system (for under $250)
A professional hydroponic system from a manufacturer that is capable of producing the same amount of produce would set you back around $2k. To build your own affordable indoor vertical hydroponics farm at home you will need to purchase some commonly found materials at the local hardware store. In this article, I will explain step by step how to build a 24 plant system that takes up 3 ft x 5 ft area and is 6 ft tall so plants can be easily accessed and harvested.
The core components of the system are made from PVC plumbing piping. PVC is the best material to use since it's easy to cut and assemble, will not leak and can be found at any hardware store. The system is designed with many advantages that are not immediately obvious. For instance, the 4 towers sit freely inside the 3" to 2" reducer coupling and can be removed for cleaning or upgrading if necessary. The 27G water reservoir sits above the ground to avoid condensation/moisture buildup between the tank and the floor. The 2 LED grow lights can be moved down the notched ½ " pipe to get the lights closer to smaller plants or further away for larger plants. The weight of the water tank reservoir sitting on top of the base system maintains stability for when the plants get larger and heavier.
Since water is continuously circulated, the water naturally oxygenates as it passes down the tower pipes and back into a reservoir. Oxygenated water has many benefits including making it easier for roots to uptake nutrients and stay healthy.
MATERIALS LIST (24 plant system):
2 x (72" length) 2" PVC pipe
4 x (7 ½" length) 2" PVC pipe
6 x (1 ½" length) 2" PVC pipe
2 x (9 ½" length) 2" PVC pipe
2 x (18" length) 2" PVC pipe
2 x 2" PVC cap
5 x 2" PVC tee
2 x 2" PVC snap on tee
2 x (2" socket x ½" thread) PVC reducer bushing
2 x (2" x 2" x ½") PVC reducing tee
28 x (4 ½" length) 1 ½" PVC pipe
2 x (14 ½ length) ½" PVC pipe
6 x (2" length) ½" PVC pipe
1 x (43" length) ½" PVC pipe
1 x (50" length) ½" PVC pipe
1 x (4 ½" length) ½" PVC pipe
1 x (6 ½" length) ½" PVC pipe
1 x (13 ½" length) ½" PVC pipe
3 x ½" PVC ball valve
2 x ½" 90° elbow
4 x ½" PVC tee (2 x socket/1x thread)
4 x (½" socket x ½" thread) PVC male adapter
2 x ½" PVC snap on tee
8 x 2" 90° PVC elbow
4 x 3" to 2" PVC reducer coupling
24 x 1 ½" PVC wye
4 x 1 ½" PVC cap
27G storage tote
1 x (½" x ¼) nylon hose barb adapter
3 x (6 ½" length) 2" PVC pipe
2 x (2" x 2" socket) PVC tee
1 x ½" threaded nylon hose barb
½" irrigation tee connector
½" irrigation tap
4 x ¼" irrigation tap
2 x 4' T5 LED Grow Lights
Dual Air Pump with air stones
4' x ½" flexible vinyl tubing
4' x ¼" flexible vinyl tubing
2 x (⅝" x 1 ¼") rubber grommet
180 micron filter bag
Carbon water filter
PVC cement (for permanent seal OR silicon for non-permanent seal)
½" tube or hose clamps
Click here to see the full parts list and retail suppliers. At the time of publishing, all the above parts cost a total of $231.88 excluding tools below.
¼" drill bit
1 ¼" drill bit
2 ½" drill bit
Plumbing PVC cement
Half round file
Hack saw OR compound miter saw
(Optional) Silicon for systems that you may plan to dissemble and move
Consider these upgrades before buying your materials.
Replace part #19 to a larger 40G tank reservoir for fewer flushes or water top ups. Although 27G will run a fully grown system for up to 6 weeks without needing a refill.
Replace part #20 (½" irrigation tap) to a ½" to ¾" garden hose connector for convenient draining and filling if you have a garden hose and backyard close by.
Add ¼" inlet float valve to connect to kitchen fridge line for automatic water top up.
Double the total system plants to 48 by replacing step #2 below with 24 x 1 ½" pieces and purchasing 24 more 1 1 ½" PVC wye and cement glue it at 45° to each other. Each tower will be 12 plants instead of 6. This is a good idea for growing smaller plants like herbs but will get very crowded for larger leafy vegetables like collards.
STEP BY STEP ASSEMBLY
(Note: if you plan to dissemble or expand the unit in the future, use silicon instead of plumbing PVC cement to ensure a good hold but so you can still take it apart.)
Step #1 - Frame
Since the hardware stores sells 2" PVC pipe in 10' lengths, you'll need to cut the 2" pipe into the required lengths as described in the part list. Use the plumbing PVC cement to glue together per diagram #2.
Note that you want the part #7 (2" 90° PVC elbow tee) connected to part #31 (2" x 6 ½ pipe) that will drain into the reservoir to be on a min 3° angle to ensure water does not drip out of the tank. All other angles are 90°.
Step #2 - Towers
Cut 1 ½" PVC pipe into 28 x 4 ½" lengths. Use the plumbing PVC cement to glue the 28 x 4 ½" PVC to each of the 24 PVC wye's per diagram #2.
Step #3 - Water inlet pipe
Cut ½" PVC into the required lengths as described in the part list. Use the plumbing PVC cement to glue the sockets together per diagram #2 OR plumbing tape for all threads.
Step #4 - Drill the caps / Cut the tube
Drill ¼" holes in center of all 1 ½" PVC caps (part #28). Cut ¼" flexible vinyl tubing (part #41) into 8 x 5" inch lengths. Assemble per diagram #3 below.
TIP: Dip the tube in hot water to soften before going on barb.
Step #5 - System Assembly
You should now have all the parts ready to build your indoor vertical hydroponic system. To see how it is built, watch the video guide embedded below. Assembly took me just over 45 minutes to complete. Feel free to provide your feedback in the YouTube description.
Reference the video above together with the alphabetically labelled diagram #4:-
00:01:20 - Push B & C snap on tees firmly onto A
00:01:30 - If you purchased the boxed kit, glue parts E together with the 90° elbows pointing the same direction. Otherwise, part #1=E
00:01:40 - Glue parts D & E together and place aside while you assemble the base
00:01:50 - Place F and G on the ground with the 90° elbows facing up and the opposite 90° elbows facing away from each other
00:01:55 - Glue B & C to A
00:02:05 - Glue E to B & C
00:02:26 - Use plumbing tape on the threads of H and I. Tip: Tape counterclockwise to the thread so it does not come loose when tightening
00:02:30 - Thread H & I to A. Tip: You can choose which side but you want H (2 valves) to be threaded onto the same side as your tank holes and water source. This is specifically designed so you can place the unit against a wall and access the water source easily
00:02:32 - (not videoed) Use plumbing tape on H & I and thread into D
00:02:35 - Glue L to J and K. Make sure you point the water inlets to the rear as these are specifically placed to help balance/hold the towers in place
00:02:36 - Push H & I snap on tees firmly onto L
00:02:40 - Use plumbing tape on M (diagram #3)
00:02:42 - Thread M into J
00:02:46 - Place O (all towers) into A, resting the top of the tower against inlets on L. The towers are designed to be leaning slightly towards to front the system and that is to ensure the water flows over the front of the wye connector as shown at 06:20 min. If you do not see the water at the front like this then you can manipulate the ¼ hose at the top of the tower or rotate and tilt A (the base) to adjust
00:03:08 - Place all vinyl tubes (N) into hot water to soften the hose so it can be pressed onto ¼" inlets on L easier and gently place caps on O (towers)
00:03:35 - Drill 1 x 2 ½" hole in the center of the tank as close to the top with the lid on. Drill 2 x 1 ¼" holes into the top of the reservoir in a convenient location that you plan to feed the pump cable/air line and water outlet line. Ideally 1 hole where your electrical outlets are for the pump cables and the water outlet line closest to J
00:03:45 - Use box cutter or file to clean up burrs around all 3 holes
00:03:50 - Move reservoir into place, slotted into the water inlet hole
00:03:55 - Assemble water pump per manufacturer's instructions and use the provided ½" connector and feed the power cable through your cable hole. Place ⅝ rubber grommet over cable and mount to reservoir hole
00:04:13 - Assemble air pump and feed the air lines through the power cable hole
00:04:32 - Press the ½" flexible tube onto M. Tip: If difficult to push on then use hot water to soften the flexible tube. Fasten with ½" hose clamps
00:04:38 - Push fit the ½" flexible tube into the ½" irrigation tee
00:04:42 - Feed the ½" flexible tube through the water outlet hole and connect to the ½" water pump outlet
00:04:52 - Measure the required length of flexible tube. Cut the remaining excess off and push fit into ½" irrigation tee (#34)
00:04:55 - Cut approximately 6" of flexible tube and connect to the irrigation tee (#35) and the irrigation tap (#35). Close the tap as this is only opened when draining or flushing the reservoir
00:05:04 - Fill reservoir with water and check the 2 red valves at the bottom of J & K are OFF and the top red valve on J is ON
00:05:30 - Plug in the water and air pump into a surge protected power board or GFCI circuit electrical outlet and turn ON
CHECK FOR WATER LEAKS
00:05:41 - Insert carbon water filter (#41) into the 2" water inlet and tie 180 micron filter bag over the 2" pipe ensuring the carbon filter does not get pushed out
00:05:55 - Check the tower water flow and ensure the tower pipes are angled slightly forward so that the water flow is closest to the front of the wye. This will make sure plants with smaller roots have plenty of water running over them. If you cannot see the water as shown in the video, manipulate the tower cap and tube as well as the tower itself until you see the water flow as shown
00:06:00 - Open the 4' T5 LED grow lights and assemble per the manufacturers instructions. If you choose different LED lights, just make sure they are 4' long and can be effectively cabled to hang from parts H & I
00:06:40 - Hang the LED grow lights over parts H & I. Use the filed slots on H & I to move the lights closer or further away from the plant towers.
You now have your own indoor hydroponic vertical farm and can grow a constant supply of fresh and super healthy leafy greens at home. The next step is to start growing some new plants and I'll cover some of my techniques and set ups in another article. Subscribe to Home Farm Hydroponics YouTube channel for more updates.
Like all professional hydroponic systems, the towers are removable for cleaning if required. Also, in the rare case that the towers leak from a water blockage because roots have aggressively grown inside the pipe and caused a blockage, the water is designed to run down the pipe and back into the 3" coupling and into the reservoir. This should circumvent any issues with water leaking inside your house. If you want extra piece of mind, you can buy some very cheap WiFi water sensors like the Govee WiFi Water Sensor (100dB Adjustable Audio Alarm and Smart App Alerts). There are many advanced toys you can plug into this system to make it more fully automated and remote controlled but the core principal is to build a reliable indoor system from common and local found materials while keeping the costs to a minimum.
I hope this video was useful to all the green and black thumbs out there. Please feel free to email Home Farm Hydroponics with your new setup and I will post them in the blog.
The future... In the 1860's, physicist Joseph Swan created the electric light bulb. It would be 30 more years before that technology was refined in conjunction with Thomas Edison to create a commercially viable product that would eventually replace the oil and gas lamp. Mains electricity was born to supply every household in the world with light after dark. Drawing an analogy from this, I am inspired that we future buildings will be pre-designed to automatically grow food indoors using hydroponic technology. Imagine a future where every house has an abundance of fresh produce grown from hydroponic PVC systems inside the walls that utilize aesthetically pleasing household lighting systems. Where rainwater is captured on the roof and stored in the attic before running down an intricate piping system inside the walls of our homes before finally being recycled in the basement together with household grey water and pumped back up to the main reservoir. Where renewable electricity is captured solar panels and stored onsite in batteries. All homes could essentially be pre-built to supply all it's occupants with hydroponically grown edible and decorative plants. All remotely controlled and monitored while you are vacation so you can return to a house full of fresh and healthy produce.
Published 1.14.21. *updated links 1.24.20
Full list of materials and retailers: https://www.homefarmhydroponics.com/the-system
Purchase a DIY kit: https://www.homefarmhydroponics.com/store