PVC Hydroponic System

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By Chris Lipsey

While Amazon will offer you a million and one excellent pre-made hydroponic system options, the truth is, not all of them will fit into your gardening environment. So, why not build your own PVC hydroponic setup you can build it to be exactly what you need, and it’s really easy.

Also, it is worth mentioning that these designs and concepts can change drastically depending on the system you’re most interested in running.

For instance, a simple Kratky Method, ebb and flow, nutrient film technique (NFT), aeroponics, or any combination of these methods can be used with a PVC pipe system.

While there are many types of PVC to select from, you will only need the stock standard. If you were concerned by the thickness of the PVC piping walls, again, there is no need for concern with hydroponics.

We’d suggest the thinnest as your hydroponic system isn’t operating under any pressure, and you will need to cut into it.

But always take note of the width you’ve chosen as you will be required to mate joins to the system, and many options are available.

So, building materials will vary widely, but the tools required won’t.

Related: DIY Hydroponics

Tools Required to Build a PVC Hydroponic System

There are many systems you can build with PVC piping. For most jobs, you will need:

  • A drill (doesn’t need a hammer setting)
  • Hole saw (you will need to adjust according to pot size)
  • Tape measure
  • Hack saw
  • Marker
  • Sawhorse or miter saw box 
  • PVC weld (it’s a glue for PVC)
  • And a chalk line

While you can purchase higher-grade PVC weld, again, your hydroponic unit won’t be operating under pressure. So, it is up to you how much more you want to invest in the system.

Other items that might come in handy are marine chalk and plumber’s tape. Always have a plumber’s tape if you are joining two plumbing joints. Regarding DIY plumbing, all products will eventually produce a leak, so have a backup.

And when your system develops a leak, don’t stress. It happens to everyone. Bearing this in mind, always construct this system in an area immune to water damage, e.g., your backyard.

Also, depending on the size of the system you’re building, you might need ample space.

As you’re building your own DIY PVC system, you might be someone who wants to make their own net pots. We’d recommend purchasing these, as they are cheap enough as is. But if you are an eco-warrior, you can reuse party cups.

Just poke a few holes into the cup, and add your potting medium. We’d suggest using lightweight expanded clay aggregate (LECA), as it is easy to use and won’t fall through the DIY holes in the newly created net pot.

If you have a mesh shower rose, you can cut that apart and make small sacks for a net pot. The list of methods to create your own net pots is endless.

You should be good as long as the pot can hold your crop’s roots while allowing them to develop, and letting the water flow without impediments.

So, we said that you could build several systems. Let’s go into more detail about them now.

Building a Kratky PVC Unit

The Kratky hydroponic system works by simply allowing the plant’s roots to drink the water in the reservoir, naturally.

There is no need for air stones or a water pump. It is a cheap system to operate and only requires being monitored. While PVC piping won’t be the best reservoir for the nutrient solution, it doesn’t mean it is impossible.

Using the Kratky method with a PVC will require topping up with water often. But materials you’ll need are:

  • Four-inch PVC pipe
  • A female PVC cap stopper, 4”

And that’s it. This is perfect for those looking to grow small herbs on the windowsill of their apartment.

Before starting, measure the area you want to install the unit into. If the unit is to live on the windowsill, measure the length you’re comfortable with.

Firmly secure the PVC pipe in place and cut to length using your hack saw. If you can use a miter box, this will help to maintain a straighter edge. But as an FYI, the edges of the cut PVC pipe won’t be visible once the unit is finished so you don’t need to worry too much.

While the pipe is securely locked, you can drill holes into the PVC pipe with the hole saw. Always mark out clearly where you want the holes to be made. Using a hole saw might be intimidating for the novice, so go slow.

The hole saw will have a pilot bit (a drill guide). Place this firmly on the surface, and allow the drill bit to dig in and create a hole. When the saw blade hits the PVC, it can bite and snag, which can cause a bit of whiplash. This is why the pipe should be held securely, like in a vice or something similar.

When ready, sand off the rough edges and apply a layer of PVC weld to the mating surfaces at the end of the pipe. For clarity, this would be the pipe and male PVC cap. The weld takes time to be ready for mating. For exact timings, read the packaging, as this can vary.

If you are concerned, you can also apply a layer of marine chalk to ensure the joints don’t leak.

How you stabilize the hydroponic unit is entirely up to you. But you can use several options:

  • Gutter brackets
  • Homemade brackets
  • Four blocks of wood
  • A pallet (depending on the scale)

You will need to carefully consider how to secure your hydroponic system. Most important is to ensure it is level, as the water needs to be even.

As with any DIY project, you can add new functions, like a more accessible place to put in nutrients and water. Or, if you want to add an airstone to boost productivity, you can drill a hole in the reservoir to feed the tube. This would essentially be a deep water culture, except it would be shallow.

Things become a bit more complicated if you’re planning on building an ebb and flow system.

Building an Ebb and Flow PVC System

Building an ebb and flow system out if PVC will require the addition of a number of materials. These include:

  • PVC elbow joints
  • Submersible pump
  • And reservoir (this can be a large plastic container)

Depending on how you want to set up the system, we’d recommend laying it flat and snaking it over a surface with a gradual incline from the feeding inlet at the top to the drainage point at the bottom.

With an ebb and flow system, you will be introducing the plants to water when they require it. This timing will vary widely depending on your crop.

To create this system, you will need to measure your PVC pipe lengths and follow the steps from above to create holes for the net pots. But don’t seal off the ends of the pipes.

At the ends, you will want to attach your elbow-shaped PVC joins. Each end of the pipe will require an elbow with a small piece of PVC pipe. The length of these joining pieces of PVC piping will vary depending on your system’s size.

All joins will require PVC weld. Make sure to clean the pipes before applying the glue.

Next you will need to plan where your reservoir is situated, as it has to supply water to the top of the system and flow back into itself.

With ebb and flow systems you will be required to ensure that the net pots and your plant’s roots are submerged when the nutrient solution is running.

Finding this balance can take time. But once mastered, you can be sure to enjoy a healthy crop.

However, if your plants require a lot of water and nutrients an NFT is a better option.

Building a PVC NFT System

NFT systems are a combination between ebb and flow and the Kratky method, as the plant’s roots are always submerged in a nutrient solution.

Construction of this system is the same as an ebb and flow system, but it will require some damming in the pipes. There are multiple methods of achieving this, but for now let’s single out one method.

What you’ll need is:

  • Female PVC end cap
  • Smaller PVC elbow joints
  • And a smaller PVC piping

When attaching the end cap to your pipe, determine the height you want the water level to stay at in the pipe. Using a smaller hole saw, create an inlet point and an outlet point on either cap. Your input point should be higher then the outlet to ensure that there’s damming in the pipe.

This means your outlet point will determine the level of the water when it’s dammed. Once these points are created, it’s time to attach the PVC piping and elbow joints.

We’d recommend using additional plumbers tape around the pipes being inserted to ensure water doesn’t leak out.

Another solution is to switch out the PVC elbow joints and pipe with hose attachments. This would then allow the user to attached pipe lengths with ease.

What you’ll need is:

  • Hose piping
  • Tap Connector
  • Hose connector
  • Hose pipe

Insert the tap connectors into the inlet and outlet points. Attach hose connectors to lengths of hose and snap into place along the system. This won’t work on the last length into the reservoir, so you will need to have a larger PVC pipe into the reservoir, or just allow some air into the pipe to ensure water flow.

While easy to move around, it is more costly, and won’t allow for fast flow of water. Blockages can also be an issue. But this method will allow for easy maintenance, as well as elimating elbow points cracking when stretched.

Now, we also mentioned areopnonics…

Building a PVC Aeroponics System

A subdivision of hydroponics, aeroponics works by spraying water onto your plant’s roots. But when spraying this water, you add air to the mixture – lots of air. This, in turn will boost the production and growth of the plants.

What you’ll need to create this system is:

  • Irrigation piping
  • Fine misters

Start with constructing the pipes with net potholes, attach the female caps, and drill a hole for the irrigation piping.

Feed the piping into the system and attach misters under each plant. Drill drainage hole at the bottom of the system to allow for maximum drainage.

Attach drainage pipes and feed to the reservoir. The misters will be fed by a high-pressure pump, and excess water will flow back.

It’s also best not to use any growing medium but rather have the plants’ roots completely exposed. You will need to monitor nutrient levels closely as well as check for blockages in the sprayers.

But if done correctly, you will have created a hyper-efficient system. This is system for professionals, and those who are not afraid to fail.

Building A PVC Hydroponic System Is All About Experimenting

Building any PVC hydroponic system will be a journey with unique issues. This means you will need to constantly tweak and adjust.

If you think your plants could do with more of a boost, adding some air rocks first will assist with nutrient uptake. When plants are drying out, you might want to increase the frequency of the ebb and flow system, or changing it to an NFT.

And if you’re ready for major jump, modifing your PVC Kratky method system into an areoponics system is a great way of upping your game.

Then there’s addition of lighting, pH monitoring, and nutrients. At the end of the day, when you start building a PVC hydroponic system you’re beginning a journey of discovery.