Tuesday, March 8, 2011

To Build Or To Buy? Part 2

The question quickly presented itself….to build or to buy? I began searching those retail websites I had previously disregarded for their products and designs. If they can sell a system for $100, $200, $1000 or more, there must be something to it. I surfed retail sites and visited hydroponic shops for design, size, features, and drawbacks.

I was interested in Ebb and Flow and Deep Water Culture systems, so that is where I focused my searches. There were plenty available in all price ranges, capacities, and durability. The common thread was reservoir and growing tubs and fixtures/connectors.

I copied measurements and capacities from websites and catalogs and set out to the local box stores to buy the pieces of my systems. Virtually all retail hydroponic system parts can be replicated with non-hydroponic specific parts. Reservoir and growing tubs are by far the biggest cost savers from 20% to over 80% of retail systems. Drain fittings and tubing are roughly the same cost as hydro-specific, but money can be saved there as well. Common aquarium and submersible pond pumps are an easy substitute over hydro specific, but these require some shopping around as well. Net pots, grow medium, and nutrients can be substituted, but I left those to hydro dealers as I didn’t see a cost savings over non-specific substitutes and the time required to replicate them. This is especially true for my approach for nutrients.

As I outlined in an earlier post, the cost savings of building my own systems have been substantial. If this were strictly a hobby with an unlimited budget, a retail system would easily be my choice as so many are “plug and play”. There are some proven designs that really influenced my systems and there are several more I am copying for future expansion to include Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) and drip systems.

Although building my own systems fit my needs, don’t discount retail systems and retail websites and vendors. Comparing retail systems is an education in itself and it seems I am always stumbling over a new design or way of solving a problem. I will continue to build my own, but with a close eye on the experts.


  1. I would have to agree with the building, to me that would be more fun!!! I bought the plug and play system, sold it, and now want to build one!!!LOL If I would have known then what I know now.....

  2. I definitely agree with the fun factor. It's so much more rewarding seeing something you build come to life.

    My one recommendation for someone thinking of building one would be to research, research and just when you think you're done do a bit more research. There are so many different methods and techniques out there. I found myself a couple of times halfway through building a system, finding a new way of doing something online and really having to force myself not to start over using the new method.

  3. Thanks Al and Alistair. I enjoy the build process and the research process equally as much. I have gained some great ideas from manufactired systems and those I find on the net as well. Nothing like seeing your creation come alive and produce!

  4. For me, building my own system was half the fun! And building a DWC system is super-easy too and doesn't require a lot of skill. Rubber tote, air pump and a decent bubbler (or maybe even a not so decent one.. I did buy a nicer micropore bubbler for mine).

    You know what got me interested in hydroponics? EPCOT =) I did the behind the scenes walking tour of the greenhouse at "The Land" pavilion back in March, and started researching hydroponics later that night! They even gave us a little flyer on how to build a home hydroponic system out of a 10 gallon aquarium (a DWC, of course).