How to set up water pump for hydroponics
The reason people choose hydroponics
Are you like many people who choose hydroponics? Do you lack space for a garden? Or is your soil poor quality? Do you want to grow in the off-season, for instance, wintertime? Is your environment too hot or cold for plants? Or, do you want to control the quality of your food and provide food with more nutrients for your family?
All excellent and valid reasons to develop a hydroponic system. Many hydroponics use less water than aquaponic systems.
Just a word about the various plant growing systems using water. So, what are the differences? Hydroponic systems involve water in motion. And typically need some type of growing medium and nutrients. The nutrient-rich water and oxygen are delivered to your plants.
Aquaponics adds fish to the system. The fish, eating and producing waste is the perfect fertilizer for growing plants.
Aeroponics cultivate plants by allowing the roots to be suspended in the air. The plants get their nutrients from a water-based solution delivered to the roots by a fine mist or spray.
Let’s find out what type and size pump we need for the different hydroponic systems. If you have done any investigating, you have found it confusing. Determining your pumping needs is taxing.
Popular Hydroponic Systems, Do they each need a different Pump?
When you choose your pump, you need to know how much water will be moving through your system. Also, you will need to calculate how high you will be pumping the water. And then, you need to consider how much velocity is lost in back pressure. These calculations can be very confusing.
1. We calculate the GPH, how many gallons of liquid the pump must move in an hour.
2. Calculate the head, how high the water has to go to get to the plants.
3. Loss of velocity due to back pressure.
In this section, we’ll consider the more popular hydroponic systems and each ones’ water usage. Hydroponic systems can be simple or very complex structures. Most need a reservoir of water mixed with nutrients where you’re pumping the water out to the plants.
● Nutrient Film Technology (NFT) system. – Is a horizontal system with a
gradual slope to drain the water back into the reservoir. It usually’s about
- Suppose you have a 50-gallon reservoir and you want it to circulate the water every two hours. Just divide your reservoir volume in half: 50 gallons / 2= 25 gallons. This calculation means you need to pump 25 gallons per hour (GPH).
● Vertical grow towers – these towers can be several feet high. Water usage
per tower could be the same as the NFT system.
- If you’re moving 50 gallons of water through every two hours. Then you need a pump to move 25 GPH.
● Deep water culture (DWC) – these horizontal tanks have floating rafts on top
which hold the plants. If the tank holds 50 gallons of water, you will need a
pump that will pump 50 GPH.
● Flood drain system. – Also called ebb and flow systems. These systems are
horizontal tanks filled with growing media. Such as -clay pellets, gravel,
crushed rock, etc. Once the tank is full of the growing media.
- Count how many gallons of water you added to fill it. Assuming you need 5 gallons and you want to reach the fill line within 10 minutes. Calculate as follows: 5 gallons / 10 minutes = ½ gallon. So, you need at least ½ gallon of water moving every minute. At ½ gallon per minute times 60 minutes, you have a GPH of 30 gallons.
Wow, so much math is involved in just setting up a garden. You may already have a hydroponics system that you intend to expand. You might be considering adding a different style of hydroponics to your system. If you change your system, you will need to re-calculate the water usage. And the head height to ensure the pump is adequate.
How to calculate the Head size to determine which Pump you need for your Hydroponic System
We already calculated the GPH gallons per hour for each of the four popular systems. The second calculation we need is the head size. Head means the greatest height a pump can raise the column of water.
Measure from the top of the water level in the reservoir to the highest level that the water must be moved. That is the head size. Then add 20% to allow for friction inside the pipes.
- If you’re pumping the water up to a height of 5 feet, then adding 20% should is calculated by converting the feet to inches. 5 feet = 60 inches x .20 = 12 inches, bringing the total head size to 72 inches or 6 feet.
But we are not done. Back pressure needs to be considered. This will affect the size pump you buy.
Hydroponic water pumps and back pressure
Water loses the power behind it as it moves upward. The higher the water has to travel, the less force it has behind it. The loss of velocity is called back pressure. Most pumps for hydroponic systems lose between 15-30% efficiency in the pumping process.
- Using a head calculated of 6 feet, add 30% to make up for back pressure loss in velocity. 6 feet or 72 inches x .30 = 21.6 inches (let’s go with 22 inches) 72 + 22 = 94 inches / 12 = 7.8 feet. This gives us a new head calculation. Choosing a pump with a head of 8 ft should be adequate in this case.
Take time to select your pump. Ensure that you get a good quality pump that will give you many years of trouble-free service in your system.
The box will show a graph with the head size at the top curving down to meet the GPH the pump will handle.
It’s also important to consider the economic side of the pump. Pumps with built-in variable frequency drives are becoming more available. They are getting more affordable and are efficient.
Submersible versus Inline Hydroponic Pumps
Indoor hydroponic water pumps need to be protected from the elements.
Submersible pumps go in the bottom of the reservoir and have suction cups to hold them in place. Submersible pumps can be used indoors or outdoors.
Inline pumps are placed above the reservoir and draw water up from it. Systems larger than 1,000 gallons are better suited to inline pumps. Inline pumps tend to be indoor hydroponic water pumps. They must be protected from getting wet from rain and snow.
Inline pumps tend to leak. Thus placing them in a tray with a drain tube feeding the water back into the reservoir is a good idea.
Installation of your new hydroponic pump
Submersible pumps are pretty easy to install. Examine your pump, take it apart, so you know where the filter is. Clean the filter every couple of months.
1. Screw in the outlet adapter
2. Secure the feed line to the top of the outlet adapter
3. Place the pump on the bottom of your reservoir, keep the electrical plug
from falling into the water
4. Secure the suction cups to keep the pump from moving
5. Use a bit of duck tape to hold the electrical cord out of the way and
help keep it from moving around.
6. Plug the electrical cord into a wall outlet
Here is a video showing us how.
Inline pumps, also known as external pumps, are inserted in the line that feeds the plant system. Inline pumps are measured by horsepower (HP), not GPH. They are more expensive. Inline pumps need a line from the reservoir to the pump. And another line from the pump to the grow bed. Many also need to be primed.
● Prime the pump
● Screw the inlet adapter in
● Secure the line to the top of the inlet adapter to a tub of freshwater
● Screw the outlet adapter in
● Suck on the outlet adapter to get the water moving
● Plug it in. If the water is flowing, unplug it and continue with the install
● Connect the line to the reservoir to the inlet adapter
● Connect the line feeding your plants to the outlet adapter
● Plugin the pump
Do I Need A Hydroponic Air Pump?
Air pumps supply oxygen to the plants along with the water. Why use?
● Plant roots will drown without an adequate amount of dissolved oxygen.
Especially in systems such as Deep water culture (DWC ). Since the roots
are immersed in the solution.
● Helps beneficial microorganisms such as nitrogen-fixing bacteria to grow.
● Reduces pathogen growth that causes root rot.
● Works by aerating the nutrient reservoir with an air pump and air stones.
● Evenly blends the solution.
● Helps to dissolve minerals
● Reduces the growth of algae in the reservoir.
● Helps to maintain a consistent nutrient solution temperature.
Air pumps are needed with DWC systems. The air pump is attached to an air stone or bubbler. Place the air stone or bubbler inside the DWC tank. Air diffuses from the airstone and gives the roots oxygenated water.
How do I clean my hydroponic pump?
A vinegar and water solution at half and half works well to clean your pump. Use this to clean the reservoir also. Another option would be hydrogen peroxide and water at half and half. Both are effective cleaners. Soaking your pump for a few minutes in this mixture will kill bacteria. Wipe the pump and all its components down. Rinse any remaining solution off, and dry it. Rinse the filter well and soak it also. Rinse well again. Replace the filter every few months.
Inline pump cleaning. Use the same solution 50/50 mix of either vinegar and water, or hydrogen peroxide and water are effective. Take it apart, wipe down each component well. Rinse the filter and then soak it. Rinse well again before putting the pump back together. Replace the filter after several uses.
How long do water pumps last
That really depends on the water pump you buy. Check the warranty on the box. Also, it’s worth picking a pump with some safety features. One safety feature, in particular, is heat protection. Low-quality pumps are prone to overheating. Which could cause a short circuit in your system. It may also raise the temperature of your nutrient solution to hot for your plants.
Use a timer. This could extend the life of your pump. It’s recommended to use a 15 amp indoor/outdoor timer around a damp environment like hydroponics.
Choosing the right system for your home
We have covered so many hydroponic options and determined the type and size pump each one needs. What you need to decide is which system works best for you and your home.
The size of the area you have available for a hydroponics system will influence your choice. Tower-type hydroponics systems work in smaller spaces.
Putting your system inside or outside will make a difference too. Inline pumps are not outdoor-friendly.
Do you want to start small and get a feel for growing with hydroponics? Or do you want to invest in a more extensive system right away?
Who knew there was so much to learn about hydroponics and how each system affects the pump you buy?
I hope you found this information helpful. And it gave you some ideas of what you want to do with your hydroponic growing system.