10 Questions to Ask Before Buying an Aquaponics System

By: Tawnya Sawyer

Purchasing an aquaponics system can be a daunting and expensive venture, and, unfortunately, there are a lot of big claims being made by other aquaponics businesses about their systems.  Before you buy a “cheaper” aquaponics system that you may regret PLEASE ask the following questions:

  1. 1) Is shipping and/or local delivery included?  aquaponics system shipping
    Our systems include free shipping, and we have been palletizing and shipping large aquaponics systems all over North America for over two years.  This insures that your aquaponics system will arrive safely and quickly.
  2. 2) What are your Grow Beds made of?
    Please stick to UV resistant PE or HDPE only!  IBC totes will fall apart in a couple years unless they are painted, and that paint is maintained.  While wood may look nice when it is new, it breaks down quickly in sunlight unless it is constantly maintained.  Avoid lined beds!  There are far more things that can go wrong with liner in a container than a solid, single piece that was designed to be a long-lasting grow bed.
  3. 3) Does your fish tank have smooth sides and corners, and no “feet” or “pockets” in the bottom?
    Fish tanks need to have smooth sides and no “pockets” or “feet” in the bottom.   If they do, solid waste will accumulate in those spaces, become anaerobic and ruin the ecology of your system.  Avoid any aquaponics system that features a fish tank that does not have a smooth, ridge-less interior throughout.
  4. 4) Do you utilize sump tanks?AquaBundance Bountiful system
    Avoid any aquaponics system that does not include sump tanks and has a ratio of grow bed volume to fish tank volume that is greater than 1:1.  Why?  Consider the example of a competitor’s system that has 64 cubic feet of grow bed area and a 300 gallon fish tank.  Every time the grow beds fill, they pull approximately 200 gallons of water out of the 300 gallon tank!  The calculation goes as follows: 64 cu ft of area * 7.48 gallons / cu ft = 480 gallons.  Figure about 60% of that space will be displaced by the grow media, leaving you with approximately 191 gallons that will be pulled directly from the fish tank when the grow beds are simultaneously full (a condition that will occasionally occur).  That is 2/3 of a FULL fish tank!  Imagine if some water had evaporated off – those poor fish will be swimming on their sides, which can be very stressful for them, and possibly fatal.We employ the time-tested CHOP design principles – Constant Height in the fish tank, One Pump in the sump tank – for our larger, Modular aquaponics systems.  While more expensive than sump-less systems, the extra water volume insures that they are also far more stable and enable much more grow bed square footage for any given-sized fish tank than systems without sumps.  And with the CHOP design, we eliminate all water-level risk to the fish.
  5. 5) Why is your system able to produce so many more fish than other media-based aquaponic systems?  Unfortunately the FCC doesn’t monitor “truth in advertising” laws on the internet so many aquaponic systems developers grossly exaggerate how many pounds of fish they can produce.  The answer is that they cannot.  All well-designed media-based systems can produce about a pound of fish for every 5 – 10 gallons of water per year and less than that with no sump tanks.  Raft systems with full, multi-level filtration systems can stock more densely, but they require far more maintenance than media based systems.  Please read our blog post on Fish Stocking Densities for more information.
  6. 6) How can you claim to “feed a family of XX” when you don’t know anything about my family?Aquaponics eggplant
    This is another exaggerated claim that drives us a little crazy.  Media based aquaponic systems that are properly designed grow plants approximately twice as fast as comparably sized soil-based gardens, and you can place your plants approximately twice as close together.  Beyond that, we have no way of telling you how big of a system you need to buy in order to feed your family.  That depends on the size of your family, what they like to eat, your skill at planning and growing the plants and handling insects, the environment your system is in, the amount of light it gets, etc., etc. Whenever you hear a claim about number of people fed, or number of pounds of product per square foot, be sure to probe further.  What is that based on? Where is the data? Are they talking about lettuce? Tomatoes? Pumpkins? Please read our blog post titled “Setting Unrealistic Expectations for Vegetable Production”, and don’t be fooled!
  7. 7) Can I expand this system in the future? How flexible is your design?
    Our Modular AquaBundance aquaponics systems are designed with expansion and flexibility in mind. Only have the budget for a 4 bed system, but are considering expanding to an 8 bed next year?  No problem! You can add what you want, when you want and without financial penalty! Plus, you can arrange your grow beds and fish tanks anywhere in your greenhouse you want, so long as they are higher than your sump tanks. We have also designed our Raft Bed additions so they can go anywhere you want to place them – they don’t need to be adjacent to a media bed.  By comparison, our competitors say things like “media beds must sit to the left & right of the fish tank and a floating raft tank must feed off of a media bed.”  The only “must” with our design is that the sump tank needs to be lower than the fish tank and the grow beds.  That’s it!
  8. 8) What if I don’t want to pay for grow media and grow bed stands?Bountiful grow bed stand
    We could have built the cost of grow media and grow bed stands into the cost of our  aquaponics systems, but decided not to.  Why?  Because we’ve found that some customers would rather put the money they would spend on grow media into purchasing a larger system or upgrading components and use less expensive gravel instead.  Same with the grow bed stands.  Many of our customers have built the support for their grow beds right into their greenhouses and would rather not pay for our stands.  That’s perfectly fine – we aren’t offended!  Our goal is to set you up with exactly the system that best fits your needs and budget.  Along these same lines, other optional items that you can build into your system order are a larger or smaller fish tank, a larger pump, lights, and light moving rails.
  9. 9) How long have you been doing this? If not for very long, why should I be confident that the system I purchase will work as advertised?
    We have been in business since November, 2009, and have been selling the highest quality aquaponic systems to thrilled customers since the summer of 2010.  Our founder, Sylvia Bernstein, has been designing and perfecting home-based soil-less gardening systems since 2003. We have great number of very satisfied, large system customers including home hobbyists; many, many schools from elementary through college; and growers combining food production for themselves with that for local sales.
  10. 10) What can you tell me about the company that will be supporting me and my system? The Aquaponic Source team
    We are a 10 person company (including an engineer, a master plumber, and an aquarium expert). We focus on one thing: serving the needs of the home and school aquaponic gardener. We operate in a 7600 sq. ft. facility that includes a retail center, warehouse, manufacturing shop, and R&D laboratory. We are designing and building aquaponic systems and supporting our thousands of very satisfied customers every day.  We wrote the best-selling, award-winning book “Aquaponic Gardening”, run the Aquaponic Gardening Community, which is the largest aquaponics forum in North America, and co-founded the Aquaponics Association. We want to bring you into our AquaBundance family, and view that as a long-term relationship based on trust that starts with avoiding exaggerated sales claims and ends with a low-maintenance, beautifully functioning aquaponics garden producing incredible healthy food for you and your family.