An aquaponics system is a great source of joy, food, and income for many people, worldwide. However, despite its glaring benefits, one of the major factors that stop people from getting involved is the cost of the system. Like any system, it costs money to set up but how much exactly does an aquaponic system cost?
An aquaponic system costs between $2,000 to $20,000 to start. If you plan to start a backyard aquaponics system for yourself or your family, then you’ll generally be at the lower end of the scale. However, more intensive aquaponic systems will cost significantly more.
There are a lot of things to consider when starting an aquaponics system and among these, cost is one of the most important. If you’re interested in starting your own aquaponics system or just curious about how much it costs to set up the whole thing, then this guide will take you through everything you need to know.
Why an Aquaponics System Costs So Much (Cost Breakdown)
Although it might seem excessively expensive, the cost to set up an aquaponic system isn’t arbitrary. Rather, the cost of setting up the system is depending on a suite of factors.
It would be nearly impossible to give you a quote without understanding exactly what you need. As a result, this guide, rather than just throwing out random figures, will give you a clearer view of the cost of each section in your aquaponics system and possible options.
Approaching the problem of cost this way will give you enough information to make educated choices on each section of the system so that you can optimize costs as it fits you and come up with a quote for yourself once you’re done.
That said, if you would rather have a premade quote for a price, then this guide will also cover that and draw up a few quotes for some standard aquaponic systems.
Type of System
The first thing to consider when starting your own aquaponics system is the size of the system you plan to build. Of course, all aquaponic systems follow the same general rule which is a union of hydroponics and aquaculture to create a symbiotic system.
However, within the general aquaponic culture, it’s important to understand that there are two broad categorizations of the type of system you want.
The first type of aquaponic system and likely the one you have heard most about if you’ve been doing personal research is the backyard system. You might know it as something different like ‘DIY’ aquaponics.
Regardless of what it’s called, the more important thing is to understand what it is. A backyard aquaponics system is (usually) a small-scale aquaponics system. Generally, these are smaller aquaponics usually made to provide food for a person, or a small group of people. That said, size isn’t always the defining factor here as you can have a relatively large backyard system.
If you’re just getting started in aquaponics, I’d advise that you first try out a backyard aquaponics system before the alternative. Because of the nature of it, any mistakes made here generally don’t have far-reaching consequences.
A good beginner backyard aquaponics system will set you back about $1,500-$2,000. These types of systems are usually on the lower end of the spectrum. Backyard systems can alternatively go for up to $10,000 depending on the features you want in them.
A commercial aquaponics system is a significantly bigger deal than a backyard aquaponics system. Both provide food for people but usually, a commercial aquaponics system is both bigger and more intensive than a backyard system.
While a backyard system is usually created either for family or for your immediate circle, commercial systems are wider in scope. They cater to more people’s needs and usually require far more capital to start up as you need more space, equipment, aquatic life, etc to keep them up and running.
As a result, a commercial aquaponics system is a significantly more serious undertaking than a backyard system. This isn’t to say that backyard systems are easy. On the contrary, both backyard and commercial systems require a lot of maintenance.
However, commercial systems usually require a lot more attention than backyard systems. As a lot more equipment, time and labor go into them to maximize production and maintain profit margins.
The difference between both is far more than just size. While you can usually get by with having your system under open space with backyard aquaponics, if you plan to go commercial, it’s far more likely that you’d have to begin growing your crops under very controlled conditions.
The reason for this is that with commercial aquaponics where you’re making a product for sale, you must keep that product as close to optimal as possible. Many crops and fish have to endure stunted growth when raised in less than optimal conditions.
When you grow for yourself alone, it’s easy to overlook things like this. However, once you migrate from backyard to commercial, you must begin to make sure your system is maintaining constant optimal conditions to ensure that the crops you produce are as good as possible.
The minimum starting price for a commercial aquaponics system is about $20,000. This price is double what you’d have to pay for most high-end backyard systems and almost ten times more than a low-end backyard system.
There’s a clear difference in the commitment between a backyard and commercial aquaponics system and you must think about this difference when you factor in costs. Do you want to produce for yourself or would you like to mass produce for sale?
The size of your aquaponic system is also quite an important thing to draw attention to when thinking about setting up your aquaponics system. Having divided aquaponics into commercial and backyard, you might think that that’s all there is to it with respect to size.
However, even within both categories, you still have to factor in how large you want your setup to be. Different things determine the size your setup will be and factoring in everything you want will determine the final size of your system. Also as you factor in the features, also take note of the area of land you’re working with.
It would be a waste of effort to do all the calculations involved and arrive at the final size and cost, just to realize that you’ve gone over the limit of the amount of space you have available.
Hence, you must think about size as a separate, standalone feature. If you want a commercial aquaponics system how many people do you want to produce for? How many tanks do you need? How many fish are you aiming for and what’s your projected crop output?
If you’re starting a backyard system, there are also things you must consider. How large is the area you want to use? Is it in your actual backyard and will you need to split the area up for use? How intensive do you want it to be? Will you use a greenhouse or not?
This is just a shortlist of questions that you’ll need to ask yourself when trying to figure out the cost. Each question is important but this list is by no means exhaustive.
Don’t worry, if you don’t know the right questions to ask yet as this guide is here to teach you how to factor in these costs. Reading through the rest of the guide will give you the rundown of other factors that will determine the cost and final size of your aquaponic system.
For now, think of size as the first limiting factor in your aquaponic system. It’s not so much a feature as it’s an overarching theme for you as you make your choices.
The next thing that’ll account for a potentially large amount of your capital is the level of technology you’d like to use in your system. There’s a wide range of options on offer with many of the best being focused on automation and increased efficiency.
Although some are essential, not all technology is a must. A good example of this is an automated fish feeder. An automated fish feeder could potentially reduce the amount of time you spend on feeding each day by doing it for you. However, it’s not a necessary expense.
In contrast, a water pump is extremely important. The water pump is essentially the driving force of the whole system. The whole essence of aquaponics is recycling water and nutrients to create a symbiotic system. However, without a water pump, the water and nutrients have no way to move between your hydroponic and aquaculture setups.
That said, the cost of your water pump can still vary depending on how much you’re willing to part with for incremental benefits.
In terms of technology there’s a lot to think about but if you’d like a list of some of the most common equipment in an aquaponics system then here it is:
- Water pump
- Grow bed
- Mechanical filter
Again, this list is by no means exhaustive but it begins to paint a clearer picture of what you’ll need if you plan to start an aquaponics system. Each item must be carefully considered for cost and efficiency.
For example, water pumps come in many shapes and sizes each with different features. To choose the best one for you, it’s important to first understand what the pump does and how it does it.
As previously mentioned, the water pump moves water between your hydroponic and aquaculture setups. The important thing to understand here’s that how well it does its job is dependent on two main factors:
- Flow rate
- Head height
The flow rate is simply how fast the pump can move water and it’s measured in liters per hour(L/H) or gallons per hour(G/H). Generally, faster is better but this isn’t always so. To get the perfect sweet spot for your setup, you should aim for a pump that can fill your entire tank in 2 hours. For example, if you have a 2000 liter (528.34 gal) tank then you should aim for a pump with at least a 1000L/H (264 G/H) flow rate.
Once you have the flow rate down. The next thing to understand is head height. Head height is an easier concept to grasp and is essentially the difference in height between the pump, which is usually lower, and the height of the tank.
As with everything else, water is subject to gravity. Consequently, a pump can only carry water to a certain height efficiently before it begins to falter.
Both the head height and the flow rate are crucial to choosing the right pump. However, in your search, you’ll still meet a slew of features that’ll make your life easier.
For example, the VIVOSUN Submersible Pump, comes with a 3000L/H(800G/H) and a 10ft (3.05 m) head height. These features alone already tick the boxes of our important section. However, it also comes with 3 muzzles with different diameters, a long power cord and is shaped to make placement easy.
Depending on the shape of your tank and its distance to the outlet the extra features could take this over the top for you.
It would be impossible to talk about aquaponics without also factoring in how much your aquatic life cost. Your fish will be the backbone of your aquaponic system so choosing the right ones will make your life a lot easier going forward.
Although it might be tempting to immediately choose the cheapest fish, it’s not always the best option. Like almost everything else mentioned in this guide, it’s important to find a balance between price and efficiency. Although fish are living creatures, the rule still stays the same for them.
Different fish respond differently to different environments. Some are a lot more sensitive to changes in pH, water quality, flow rate, and the amount of fish in the tank. As a result, the type of system you want to run will indirectly influence the amount and type of aquatic life you want.
Do you want a massive tank to run commercially and a proportionately large amount of fish to fill the tank? If this is you then you’ll have to pay significantly more than someone that wants the opposite.
On the other hand, you might want a smaller setting but with more exotic fish. Although the smaller size will mean lower costs, depending on the type of fish you choose you could spend the same or even more on your system.
With these two examples, it becomes easier to see that your fish plays a big role in your overall capital requirements. Also while the size of the system you want is important for the cost of the fish, it’s not the only defining factor.
A good rule of thumb to follow when choosing the amount of fish you want is to account for 1-2 fish for every 10 gallons (37.85L) of water. This allocation is optimal and will avoid overstocking.
For beginners, it’s best to follow the overstocking rule and go with hardy, easy to rear fish. Once you have the hang of the system then you can start to go for more expensive variants.
Here’s a list of fishes that do very well in aquaponic conditions:
The price of each fish can vary but generally, you should be able to find them for less than $40 per fish from a reputable breeder.
Your plant life is similarly important. However, if you play your cards right, this could be the cheapest part of your whole system. Crops are generally affordable with seeds being even more so.
As a result, you usually have the pick of the litter when choosing your plant life. Because cost isn’t as important here, the main thing to consider when choosing your plant life is to choose good, hardy species of crops that do well in aquaponics.
One thing to note is that the cost as it relates to plants doesn’t end with just the plants. Depending on the type of system you’re running, your requirements might change. For example, if you want to run a Nutrient Film setup, then you’ll have to worry about the cost of the extra piping. Similarly, if you want a grow bed then you have to factor that in too.
There’s no wrong or right way to build the right setup for your plants and a lot of it is up to your discretion. However, the plants alone are generally very affordable and should typically cost less than $100 for a backyard setup.
If you plan to set up a commercial aquaponic system then the cost of labor could be an extra thing that you have to worry about. Although you’ll probably get by just fine in a backyard setup, the same isn’t always true for commercial systems.
Due to the amount of work required to maintain a large aquaponic system it might be more efficient to hire one or two laborers to manage it in your stead or along with you. Although the costs add up over time, you’ll generally make it back with each harvest as opposed to losing money because you didn’t have enough hands.
Aquaponic depends on the fish waste to keep the plants growing. If there’s no food for the fish, then there’s no waste for the plants and your system will fail. This cost will be ongoing but you will need a few bags to start with so it comes under capital costs.
Once you have everything sorted out then you’ll likely not need to spend anything outside of ongoing maintenance costs. Depending on the type of system you have in place, these costs can add up and it’s best to always set a little of your profit aside in case of an emergency.
Setting Up an Aquaponic System: A Cost Breakdown Guide
Now that everything has been covered. There’s a clearer picture of everything you’ll need to set up your own aquaponics system. As stated earlier this guide is in place to help visualize how the costs come about rather than just the rattle of different prices. It’s important to know and understand each aspect before attaching a cost to it.
Approaching the problem this way will help you spend less in the long run and understand how the system works better. As a refresher, the following table will give a quick rundown of the costs covered above and highlight a few costs for some preset aquaponic systems.
|Backyard Aquaponics System||The Courtyard||The Entertainer||The Backyard||The Family||The Deluxe|
|Estimated Cost of Power (Table 1)||$39.00||$39.00||$41.00||$112.00||$112.00|
|Estimated Cost Fish + Fingerlings (Table 4)||$220.00||$440.00||$660.00||$880.00||$1,320.00|
|Estimated Cost of Seedlings (Table 5)||$60.00||$120.00||$180.00||$240.00||$360.00|
|Estimated Cost of Water (Table 6)||$0.70||$1.10||$1.80||$2.50||$3.60|
|Total Other Costs||$320.00||$600.00||$883.00||$1,234.00||$1,796.00|
Each category; The courtyard, entertainer, etc is an arbitrary name given to different levels of the backyard system by Richard Chiang.
Note: These costs are estimates and are based on different variables. The only way to have a quote for yourself is to factor in everything you want in your system.
An aquaponic system is a great investment. Although the barrier to entry is quite high, you can still set one up for just over $1000 provided you’re fine with missing out on a few things. Generally, the price for a backyard system starts from $1000 and can go up to over $10,000.
The price for a commercial system is significantly more, starting from as low as $20,000. Regardless of which setup you choose to go with, you’ll always get a good return on your investment provided that the system is managed properly.