Building a DIY Hydroponics System

Building a DIY Hydroponics System

We've been using this very streamlined, simple hydroponic rail system to grow lettuce in our 2 bedroom townhome, and if we can manage it, so can you! It's built using items that can be easily purchased online and requires only basic tools and DIY skills. With this system we have found we can grow enough lettuce for our family, year round (which is significant, since we live in the midwest, which means it's winter approximately 3/4ths of the year). Best of all, it requires very little maintenance, which in our book is non-negotiable. No constant monitoring, no weeding, no bunnies eating all of your produce. This is gardening simplified. We've created a full set of instructions for how to build this system yourself! We broke it down into 7 parts, each focusing on a different part of the system.

NEW! We've created a full video course going through all the steps of building and setting up a 2 or 4 rail home hydroponic system. We show you every step as we build it and we think you'll find it very helpful! We've also slightly updated the design to reduce the cost of fittings.

If you'd like to try the video course for free, we've also posted the course to Skillshare where you can sign up for a free trial.

We've also created a video course on growing hydroponic lettuce including troubleshooting for common problems you may encounter. Our goal with these courses is to make hydroponics simple. We want you to succeed!

4 Heads of Lettuce per Week

Maintenance Time:
Less than 1 hr/week

2 Rail System Cost (USD):

Total System Cost: $165-$200

Other Costs:

  • Grow Light: $80-$280
    • LED is in higher end of the range, but less ongoing cost
  • Electricity: $8-$15/month
    • Differs based on grow light choice and local energy rates
  • Supplies: $10/month
    • Seeds, Nutrients, Growing Medium
  • Support Structure: Varies
    • Could be 0 if you already have a good spot to place your system
    • Wire or wood racks can be $50-$250
    • Can also make support structure out of leftover materials from other projects to reduce cost

Note: These prices will vary depending on location and demand. A 4 rail system will cost more but will be less than double these costs since some items remain the same for 2 or 4 rails. If you have space for it and want to grow a lot of produce, the 4 rail system is most cost-efficient.

Articles in this Series:
Part 1: The Rail System
Part 2: The Support Structure
Part 3: The Reservoir
Part 4: Lighting
Part 5: Nutrients
Part 6: Planting
Part 7: Harvesting
Frequently Asked Questions

Design Overview

Hydroponic systems work by flowing nutrient-enriched water over the roots of a plant until it's ready for harvest, eliminating the need for dirt (and the risks associated with it) altogether. Our system does just that - it grows awesomely fresh & tasty lettuce by pumping nutrient-enriched water from a reservoir up into 2 rails of lettuce at all stages of growth (some seeds, some sprouts, some full heads, etc). A pump pushes water up a tube into the end of one rail and drains out the end of the other rail back into the reservoir. Each rail has holes on top where the lettuce grows in net cups, which sit inside the rails with roots growing out of them. The water flowing through the rails comes in contact with the plant roots, keeping them happily watered and fed at all times. The system is designed to allow for lettuce to be harvested throughout the month, instead of them coming to maturity all at once, so you'll be able to pick fresh lettuce whenever you need it.


  • No separate seeding required - you can plant seeds into a growing medium directly in this system
  • Utilizes space well as plants grow - since seeds, little sprouts, and very young heads don't need much space, those holes in the system are closer together.
  • Low mess - NO DIRT! I repeat: NO DIRT! (which means no lettuce recalls, no salmonella outbreaks, no e-coli bacteria!)
  • Nice appearance, both the system and the lettuce. Home decorators say you should have green in every room - you'll definitely have that covered 😉
  • Low algae growth - small holes in the rails keep light from getting through to the water, which means algae is kept at bay. This helps to keep the inside of your system clean.
  • Can be quickly disassembled for cleaning or transport

Ready to grow some lettuce? The first step is to build the rails.