So, you’ve selected where you are going to set up your indoor garden. Now it’s time to spec out exactly what you’re going to need to make it all happen! Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to provide your plants with all the light they need to grow and bloom, but .. and it’s a big BUT …. you need to maintain your indoor garden’s environment so that it is optimal for plant metabolism.
Here’s our guide to setting up a basic, conventionally ventilated indoor garden on a budget. We’re going to show the different ventilation requirements for a 2 light and a 6 light grow in the same space.
Big rooms need lots of lights with a high-powered ventilation system whereas small rooms will only need a few lights with a low powered ventilation system. All sounds like simple stuff, doesn’t it? But how do you work out exactly what your room needs? Here’s what you need to consider:
All of the equipment your new indoor garden will need comes down to the size of the room. So, the first thing you need to do is accurately measure it. You will need the length, width and height of the room.
The example shown has the dimensions of:
Length x Width x Height
24ft (7.2m) x 12ft (3.65m) x 8.2ft (2.5m)
Now before we get carried away filling this room with lights and fans, you have to consider the budget and ability of the grower undertaking this new project. A confident and experienced grower may well fill the whole room, but let’s not bite off more than we can chew. First, let’s create a smaller room within the larger room by sectioning off the back portion to give a working room size that is more suited to a beginner.
Length x Width x Height
12ft (3.65m) x 8ft (2.4m) x 8.2ft (2.5m)
You might well be asking, “What are the benefits of sectioning off the room? Why can’t I just hang the lights in the corner?” Well, by creating a room within a room you gain better control of the environment. With the sectioned off area you make the best use of the available light by having walls lined with reflective sheeting – this creates a bright well-lit environment for productive growth.
You can use various materials to section off the room but the better insulated, the better. A well insulated room will immediately lend itself to far easier environmental control.
If you have no interest in building your own indoor garden, or you’re not too confident with your DIY skills then don’t worry, help is at hand. You can purchase purpose-built indoor grow tents – highly recommended for all levels of grower! These come in many sizes, with one bound to suit your requirements, and it makes hanging lights, fans and filters a sinch.
Now you know the size of the room you’re working with you can calculate how best to illuminate it. The most widely used light source for indoor gardens is high intensity discharge (HID). They are widely available, competitively priced and produce consistent results. Two types of lamps are able to run in HID systems; High Pressure Sodium (HPS) and Metal Halide (MH).
HID lighting systems are available in many different sizes, but the most commonly used for indoor growing are 1000W, 600W and 400W. Each size light is suitable for a defined amount of floor space:
1000W = 4-5ft (1.2-1.55m)
600W = 4-3.3ft (1.2-1m)
400W = 3.3-2.5ft (1-0.75m)
One thing to bear in mind is that the more powerful the light, the further away from the tops of the plants it needs to be. This means that if you have a low ceiling height, you should consider using lower wattage lights. The example room has an 8.2ft (2.5m) ceiling height so we can use the 1000W lights, as long as the plans don’t get bigger than 5ft (1.5m) which is fine for most plants. Indoor plants want to be short and wide to make the most of the light available. The distance between the light and the canopy that most growers follow are:
1000W = 39-31 inches (100cm-80cm)
600W = 31-24 inches (80-60cm)
400W = 24-16 inches (60-40cm)
Please bear in mind that the above information is for horizontally mounted lamps in normal open or closed reflectors. If you are using parabolic reflectors with vertically mounted lamps or air-cooled reflectors you can allow the light to be closer to the plants as there is less direct radiant heat.
So the floor space available in our room is 12ft (3.65m) x 8ft (2.4m). You could try and squeeze as many lights as possible into this room, but as well as being productive, you want to try and make your room easy and comfort- able to work in. To do this you will need adequate access around your plants to make maintenance and inspections easy. Approximately 2ft (0.66m) around your plants is a good working area. Elderly or disabled growers may opt for considerably more space than this. In our first example we’re using 2 x 1000W lights.
If you want to make life difficult for yourself, you could fit a maximum of 6 x 1000W lights. In order to make this room work you would need to choose a growing system or technique that allows you to move the plants to gain access around the garden. This might be achieved by growing in pots/containers or movable beds.
Ventilation in your indoor garden comprises of two main factors: the removal of hot waste (CO2 depleted) air and the input of fresh cooler air. Hot waste air is removed actively using an inline fan, AKA the extractor fan. Fresh cooler air can either be drawn in passively through vents or pushed in actively using another inline fan AKA the intake fan.
Now we know the size of the room, and the amount if light being used, we can now work out the ventilation requirements. In North America most inline fans are rated in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFM), whereas in Europe they are usually rated in cubic meters per hour (m3/hr).
The Extractor Fan
Firstly, we’ll work out what size extractor fan is needed. There are many ways to work out what size extractor is needed for a particular sized room, some equations are more accurate, others are overly complicated – the following method is very popular and straight forward and has served many growers well.
Required extractor fan size in CFM= Volume of active growing area (ft) x 1.25
Required extractor fan size in m3/hr= (Volume of active growing area (m) x 60) x 1.25
When we say the volume of the active growing area we mean the volume occupied by the lights and plants. To work out the volume simply multiply the length x width x height. In our example with 2 x 1000W lights this is 4ft (1.2m) x 8ft (2.4m) x 8.2ft (2.5m), which gives the volume of the active growing area of 262.4 cubic ft (7.2m3).
Once you have your volume, you need to multiply it by the amount of air changes needed per unit of time. For the majority of indoor gardens without AC or supplementary Co2, the rule of thumb is one air change per minute. For the CFM equation there is no need to multiply it as we already have the total volume in cubic ft which is needed to be changed every minute. For m3/hr equation we need to multiply the volume by 60 to step it up to the amount of air changes needed per hour.
Lastly, when using a carbon filter attached to the extractor fan we expect a drop in fan efficiency of approximately 25%. This figure is not fixed; it depends on the make and age of the filter and the length and course of ducting between the fan and filter and many more interesting factors that we won’t bore you with here. To step up this efficiency drop of 25% simply multiply by 1.25.
If we run this equation through our example indoor garden it gives us;
Required Fan size (CFM) = (Volume of Active Growing Area) x 1.25
(4 x 8 x 8.2) x 1.25 = 328 CFM
Required Fan size (m3/hr) = (Volume of Active Growing Area x 60) x 1.25
(1.2 x 2.4 x 2.5) x 60 = 432.
432 x 1.25 = 540 m3/hr
This final figure is the minimum size extractor needed. If the garden is in a very well insulted location such as a basement using this figure should be fine. If the garden is located in a very sun-exposed location such as an upstairs bedroom or attic then the extractor size may need to be increased by approximately 25%. More often than not, you will have to match your required extractor size to the nearest size avail- able. In this instance the nearest widely available inline fan size is a 6” (150mm) 390CFM (660 m3/hr) extractor.
Interestingly, if we work though the equation for the same room with 6 x 1000W lights it will give very a different answer;
Required Fan size (CFM) = (Room volume) x 1.25
(12 x 8 x 8.2) x 1.25 = 984 CFM
Required Fan size (m3/hr) = (Room volume x 60) x 1.25
(3.65 x 2.4 x 2.5) x 60 = 1314
1314 x 1.25 = 1643 m3/hr
In this indoor garden the nearest widely available fan size available is a 12” (315mm) 1000CFM (1700 m3/hr) extractor.
Many growers think ‘bigger is better’ when it comes to extraction but this is not always the case. By extracting air from the garden you’re removing the heat, but you’re also removing the hu- midity. This means that an oversized ex- tractor fan can often cause low relative humidity, which will create an onslaught of negative effects that will lead to poor plant growth.
‘Summer sized fans’ are also not always the answer to a warm indoor garden. There comes a point where it doesn’t matter how much air your extracting, if your incoming air is warm your room will stay warm. If you can’t keep the heat down and you’re changing the air in your garden more than three times a minute, you need to consider installing air conditioning or using air-cooled or water-cooled grow lights.
As mentioned earlier, we need to get fresh air into the garden. This can be done using two methods:
- By making passive vents (basically holes) through which fresh air can be drawn in.
- By installing active inline fans that push fresh air into the garden.
When using passive vents you have to ensure there is adequate fresh air outside the growing area. It’s no good if you’re pulling in stale or warm air. This means you may need to have a window open so fresh air can be drawn in from outside and into the indoor garden. As a rule of thumb, the passive vents should be two to three times the size of the surface area of the extractor fan outlet. This means if the extractor has a 6” (150mm) spigot size, the garden will need 2-3 x 6” holes or rectangular vents with and equal surface area. When installing passive vents always have the extractor fan at the opposite end of the room. It’s better to have oversized passive vents than undersized. If the vents are too small, the extractor fan will struggle to pull in sufficient quantities of fresh air.
Indoor gardens with active intake fans often run more efficiently than those with passive vents. By pushing in fresh air you not putting as much strain on the extractor fan and you also get to choose where to pull the fresh air from. During the cooler winter months its best practice not to pump in very cold air, so a lot of growers pull slightly warmer air from inside their home. If it’s a room you spend time in, like your bedroom or living room, it will also have the added benefit of the air being slightly higher in Co2. During the summer months its best to pull fresh cooler air in directly from outside as air from inside you house is likely to be warmer. Whenever you pull air straight from outside it’s best to use an intake filter or ‘bug screen’ to limit the possibility of sucking in pests.
The golden rule when installing an intake fan is to make sure you’re blowing in less air than is being removed by the extractor. This creates a ‘negative pressure’ and ensures that all the air exits through the carbon filter. If you input more air than the extractor can remove the air will start to build up and cause a ‘positive pressure’ forcing untreated air out of the garden.
When selecting an intake fan it should have a maximum capacity that is 10-20% lower than the actual output of the extractor. This will maintain adequate negative pressure while not putting too much strain on the extractor and intake fans.
To work out the intake fan size we will need to take the extractor fan size and apply an estimated reduction for the carbon filter- 25%. If our target for the intake fan is 15% less air than the exhaust we need to multiply the reduced output by 0.85. Below is a work through of how to size up the intake fan for both or the example rooms.
2 light room:
Extractor size – 390 CFM (660 m3/hr)
Estimated extractor power with carbon filter – 390 x 0.75 = 292.5
Reduction to ensure negative pressure = 292.5 x 0.85 = Intake Fan Size 249 CFM (420 m3/hr)
6 light room:
Extractor size – 1000 CFM (1700 m3/hr)
Estimated extractor power with carbon filter – 1000 x 0.75 = 750
Reduction to ensure negative pressure = 750 x 0.85 = Intake Fan Size 638 CFM (1084 m3/hr)
When installing the intake fan, make sure the extractor is at the opposite end of the garden. It’s a good idea to split the intake air with a solid ‘T’ or ‘Y’ piece so that the cooler fresh air is distributed evenly. Using air socks or longer lengths of ducting with holes in is a good way of evenly distributing the incoming fresh air.
One last factor to consider is that inline fans are better at pushing than pulling air through ducting. This means than when positioning your intake fan, it’s better to place it nearer the source of fresh air and push it towards the indoor garden. To make the air reach the garden efficiently, make sure the duct runs are as smooth and straight as possible.
Moving the air within the garden is of utmost importance. A light breeze moving air over the plants’ leaves refreshes the CO2 depleted air, gets rid of heat and humidity and encourages transpiration. The area of an indoor garden where most unwanted heat will accumulate is between the lights and the canopy, so it’s absolutely crucial that this air is removed to avoid heat build up. To achieve good air movement between the lights and the canopy you can install fixed or oscillating air circulation fans. These can be wall mounted or floor standing and should be powerful enough to mix the air well, while not causing the plants to be blown too vigorously. You want to move the air, not your plants! If you point strong air circulators straight at your plants the air will move past the leaves so quickly that it will strip away the humidity surrounding the leaf and encourage rapid transpiration. This leads to the leaves losing water rapidly and can cause them to appear burnt at the edges crispy to touch; this is known as ‘wind burn’. If you need to enhance the air movement around your plants, it’s a good idea to point air circulators towards walls rather than directly at the plants to mix the air adequately while not causing the plants to be flapping around in turbulent wind.
To avoid unnecessary heat transfer, any equipment that generates heat should to be stored outside the garden. Most notably, the power packs (aka ballasts) that can get quite warm need to be situated outside the garden on a shelf or any non flammable surface. Having them outside the room also is best practice for electrical safety as they won’t be operating in a warm and humid environment and will not have risks of stray foliar sprays landing on them or accidental splashes of nutrient solution.
Nutrient solution will also benefit from staying outside the garden. Your reservoir will quickly heat up under the direct light from your grow lights so its best practice to locate your reservoir outside the garden.
Any liquid nutrients and additives should not be stored in hot or cold environments. It’s best to consult the packaging and see what the best environment is for your products but most appreciate a constant moderate temperature. This should again be outside your garden.
Following the above principles you can construct your- self a great, budget indoor garden, suited around you, while creating the ideal environment for your plants. All you need to do after this is choose a method to grow your plants whether it’s growing passively in plant pots, or using an active hydroponics system such as an Ebb and Flow, Drip, or NFT – all will flourish in your well planned indoor garden.