Calendar icon February 6, 2023

Guide to Hydroponic Indoor Growing Systems

Indoor growing can be fast, easy, and fun with a DIY hydroponics setup.


Last month, we gave you the ins and outs of how to start your own vegetable garden. Now, with summer heat in full swing, toiling in that summer heat can be exhausting. So why not move the garden inside?

Move the garden inside? That sounds like a lot of dirt on the floor.

Actually, there is no dirt involved at all!

No soil in the garden? Do . . . do you not know how gardens work?

Of course we do. We're talking about hydroponics.

Ahhhhh yes, hydroponics. What's hydroponics?

Merriam-Webster's dictionary officially defines hydroponics as "the growing of plants in nutrient solutions with or without an inert medium (such as soil) to provide mechanical support." In layman's terms, it's the process of feeding plants the nutrients they need with a water-based solution instead of naturally through the soil.

Advantages of growing hydroponics

  • A plant growing in a hydroponic system can grow around 30% faster than a plant grown in traditional soil. This happens because the plant does not need to expend energy in search of nutrients within the soil continuously. Instead, the nutrients are carried right to the plant, and that energy goes to growth.
  • A hydroponic system can use as much as 95% less water than traditional soil-based growing methods. Since the system is enclosed, water used in the growing process is not exposed to the outside world, which reduces evaporation.
  • Environmental conditions don't play a large role in the success of your crop. Since your plants are growing inside, factors like weather conditions and soil type won't impact the growth of your crops. You have a lot more control over the growing conditions.

Disadvantages of growing hydroponics

  • Hydroponics can be an expensive hobby. There are lots of different types of hydroponic systems (we'll get into those later), but top-end systems can cost more than $500 alone. Fortunately, there are more affordable DIY options.
  • In traditional gardening, the soil stores nutrients that the plants can access on their own. In hydroponics, there is no nutrient storage. That means you're feeding the plants directly. If something breaks in your system or you forget, your plants will end up just like your Digipet.

As long as you can ensure that your plants will receive the appropriate amounts of nutrients and light, you can set up a hydroponics system pretty much anywhere, including in the comfort of your own home. Pre-constructed systems are available for purchase online, which can become quite expensive, or you can have some fun and make your own. The choice is yours.

Before we start though, here are a couple of terms you should know.

  • Growth tray - Where the plants themselves will sit
  • Reservoir - The bucket or tank that will hold the nutrient solution
  • Nutrient solution - A mix of water and key nutrients plants need to grow and will be supplied to the plant roots
  • Growing medium - the material that the plant will lay roots in (not present in every system)

How do you build your own system?

Building your own hydroponics system can be as simple or as complex as you would like. There are some really simple types of systems that require little effort to set up, and there are some really serious investments you can make. Deciding what kind of system is right for you is the first step. Since we're betting against most of you wanting to build a $5,000 hydroponics wonderland—because who has time for that?—we're going to focus on the smaller-scale systems that are best for building in your home.

Wicking systems

A wicking system is the most basic hydroponic system around and it's great for getting started in hydroponics. It has been called the "training wheels of the hydroponic world" and for good reason. It's easy to set up and use, making it the perfect system for first-timers.

This system has seen some innovation, but the general concept is older than hydroponics itself. All you'll need are two containers, your plant of choice, a growing medium, and a wick (hence wicking).

SN Tip: Growing medium is inert, which means it won't decay, and it provides no nutritional value to the plant. It exists to provide structural support, and that's about it. Common mediums include things like vermiculite or perlite, but just about anything that will give the plant support and allow it to root can function as a growth medium. Sand is another example.

This wick does not have to be anything particularly specific. A piece of rope or string will work fine. You set up the system so that the reservoir sits below the growth tray. You then run your wick or string from the solution in the bottom container up into the growing medium in the growth tray, as pictured.

SN Tip: The reservoir and growth tray can really be anything. As long as it can hold a solution, it should work. On a small scale, you can use bottles. Large plastic tubs will also work.
wicking system illustration
Source: offgrid.com
 

Fill the bottom container with the solution and the top with the growing medium and plants and you're done. Capillary action will move the nutrient solution up the wick and into the growth tray with consistency that will allow the plants to intake the nutrients and grow.

SN Tip: Capillary action has a very sciencey definition, but all you need to know is that it's the movement of water or another liquid across a surface against gravity. The physical properties of water make this possible and it's what allows a wicking system to work.
SN Tip: fill the bottom reservoir as much as possible in order to minimize the distance the solution has to travel.

The advantage of the wicking system is that it's super easy to set up and maintain. The disadvantage is that it won't supply nutrients to the plants at the same rate as some of the more complex systems, so the variety of plants that can be grown in a wicking system is a little smaller. Plants that don't "drink" as much, such as smaller plants like lettuce or different types of herbs, grow best in a wicking system.

SN Tip: Wicking systems also don't require the use of a water pump to deliver the solution to the plant roots, making it a "passive system." Those that do require a pump to move the solution to the plants are referred to as "active systems."

Deep Water Culture (DWC) systems

A DWC system is a little bigger and a little more complex than a wicking system, but all in all, it's still relatively simple. This system differs from a wicking system in that it submerges your plant's roots in solution 24/7 instead of a growing medium that is supplemented by the nutrient solution.

deep water culture illustration

Image: offgrid.com

 

Because of this, it is critical that the aquatic environment the plants live in is properly managed. pH and oxygen level management are quite important with the DWC. An oxygen pump is necessary to ensure that oxygen levels remain sufficient.

Setting up a DWC only requires one reservoir and does not need a growth tray. The reservoir is filled with a nutrient solution, and the air pump is installed to ensure the appropriate amount of dissolved oxygen.

SN Tip: Smaller DWCs are harder to manage because it's challenging to keep nutrient concentration, dissolved oxygen, and especially pH levels consistent.

The plants themselves are suspended above or on top of the liquid solution in net pots. Net pots are simply pots with holes in them that allow roots to sit underneath the pot and submerged in the solution. There are several different ways to install the net pots in a DWC system. You can float them, where you attach a flotation device to each pot and allow them to rest on top of the solution. The second option is to suspend your plants in the air above using a brace or a roof with holes in it. The actual process of doing this depends on how you construct your reservoir, but the image below will show you a good example.

 

Image: aquaponicsexposed.com

 

Nutrient Film Technique (NFT) systems

An NFT system is among the most popular hydroponic systems. It's an active system that requires a water pump to run, but other than that it is set up very similarly to a wicking system.

 

Image: offgrid.com

 

Like the wicking system, an NFT has both a reservoir and a growth tray. Unlike the wicking system, a pump is used to move the solution from the lower reservoirs to the growth trays (or upper reservoirs), where it flows across the tray and drips back into the lower one. The system also requires an air pump to ensure the water is properly oxygenated.

NFT, like any active system, requires a little more maintenance because the water does not reach the plants naturally. You're dependent on your pumps to keep the plants receiving the nutrient solution. If a pump goes out, your entire garden is at risk. Thankfully, this isn't common (pump technology isn't particularly complex), but it is something to stay aware of.

Other systems

An ebb and flow system and a drip system are similar to NFT systems, with the lone difference being how the solution is supplied to the plant. An ebb and flow system uses a pump to flood the growth tray the plants reside in periodically, draining it shortly thereafter. It's like an NFT except it doesn't push the solution through continuously. A drip system is also similar to an NFT, but instead of filling the upper reservoir with nutrient solution, the solution is trickled from drip lines on top of the plants in the growth tray, where it then percolates through a growth medium and falls back into the reservoir.

SN Tip: Because of the recirculation of these systems, pH and nutrient amounts can change frequently, so consistent monitoring is recommended.

How do I manage pH?

pH is an absolutely critical element of a functioning hydroponics system. A pH level that is all out of whack can cause plants to die from insufficient nutrient uptake or, believe it or not, too much nutrient uptake.

For anyone who didn't pay attention in eighth-grade science class, pH is a measure of the acidity of a liquid. The scale runs from 0–14, with lower numbers being more acidic and higher numbers being more basic. For reference, battery acid has a pH of 0, water has a pH of 7, and drain cleaner has a pH of 14.

 

pH scale

 

The reason this is so critical is that the solubility of nutrients changes at different pH levels, which affects the ability of the plant to absorb these nutrients. If the plant has trouble absorbing nutrients from your solution, growth will be stunted, and the plant will eventually die. If levels are too high and the plant absorbs higher than acceptable amounts of nutrients, it can die from poisoning. You can have the coolest hydroponics setup in the world, but if your pH is off, all your plants will still die.

SN Tip: There are multiple ways to test your pH. The easiest and cheapest are pH test strips, which are extremely quick and easy to use and available at any gardening or pet store. You simply dip the strip in the solution, swish it around for a manufacturer-specified amount of time, and then match the color it turns to the color on a corresponding table that comes with the test strips.

As you'll see below, many plants prefer a slightly acidic nutrient solution. It's necessary to continually test your solution to ensure it remains at the right pH. If you find it needs adjusting, you have a few options. The easiest is adding "pH up" or "pH down" chemical solutions. These are readily available at the store or online. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for how much to add and be sure to check your pH frequently.

What can you grow in a hydroponics system?

You can grow just about any type of fruit, vegetable, flower, or herb. Ideal growing conditions will vary by plant, and some are more suited for specific system types because of it, but almost anything can be grown with hydroponics.

Hydroponic lettuce and hydroponic tomatoes are some of the more common items to "plant" in your system. Lettuce, in particular, is one of the best plants for beginners looking to dive into the world of hydroponics. The leafy green is easy to grow, will grow in a wicking system, and can be harvested in just one short month.

Fruits like strawberries and the aforementioned tomatoes (a tomato is a fruit, deal with it) have a slightly longer grow time, but are good starter crops as well. Below you'll find some popular plants and key details needed to succeed at growing them.

Lettuce

  • pH range: 6.0-7.0
  • Grow time: 1 month
  • Difficulty: Easy

Tomatoes

  • pH range: 5.5-6.5
  • Grow time: 2 months
  • Difficulty: Easy

Strawberries

  • pH range: 5.5-6.5
  • Grow time: 2 months
  • Difficulty: Easy

Spinach

  • pH range: 6.0-7.0
  • Grow time: 1.5 months
  • Difficulty: Easy

Bell peppers

  • pH range: 5.5-6.5
  • Growth time: 3 months
  • Difficulty: Easy

Hydroponics is a fun way to grow your own fruits and vegetables from the comfort of your own home. It can get complex and expensive, but it doesn't have to be if you don't want it to be. Simple and easy systems exist that will allow you to enjoy fresh homegrown produce at your dinner table.

You know what else you can make simple and easy in your home? Air filters, with Second Nature. Never forget to change your filter again.

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Chambers Theory Endorses Second Nature’s Resident Benefits Package

Chambers Theory is a world-renowned property management team with clients in more than 30 countries worldwide. They specialize in serving the U.S. military, State Department, and Foreign Services families. Their motto “Real Estate With Intelligence” is more than just a saying. It’s on full display through the introductory videos for landlords and residents on their website in seven languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Vietnamese, French, Croatian, and English) - all spoken fluently by their own property management (PM) team. Since its founding in 2018, Chambers Theory has been achieving extraordinary performance benchmarks. They’ve led the marketplace in delivering the “Golden Triangle of Success” to their clients, which means the lowest vacancy, the highest average rents, and the highest quality of tenants of any property management firm in its same service area. They’ve also donated over $100,000 to local charities and community organizations, while also leading the way in promoting sustainability practices in real estate and property management services. Their outstanding team attributes their success to their ability to develop and utilize their emotional intelligence skills to capacity to care with all their interactions with both landlords and residents. That’s why they fully endorse the Resident Benefits Package at Second Nature! Find out more about what a Resident Benefits Package is, its benefits, and how it can help create a Triple Win for you, as well as your residents and investors. Related: The State of Resident Experience Report

Calendar icon July 18, 2024

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Investor Experience Platform™️ IXP™️

An Investor Experience Platform™️ (IXP) in property management is a suite of products, services, and benefits offered by property management companies to property investors. Just like a resident benefits package is a way to drive value for residents, investors, and property managers, the IBP™️ is an innovative approach to property management that focuses on driving value for an investor's assets and turning that value into profit for the property management company. In this article, we’ll dig into the different features that an Investor Experience Platform™️ can include, and how those benefit not just investors, but property managers and residents, too. What Is an Investor Experience Platform™️ (IXP)? As stated above, an Investor Experience Platform™️ (IXP™️) is a comprehensive suite of services that offer property investors higher quality property management, stability, and profit. An IBP™️ typically includes concierge-level services beyond basic property management – such as property insurance policies, eviction guarantees, rent guarantees, maintenance plans, asset performance reports, etc. These services are aimed at maximizing the investor’s assets, stability and convenience, profitability, and peace of mind in managing their properties. They're commonly managed through an investor experience platform to securely manage and monitor the performance of these assets online, which we'll discuss later. The first step to outlining an IBP™️ is to define what your basic management fee means and covers. If the answer is, it’s collecting rent, handling maintenance, and general communication – does that include maintenance coordination or is that a separate fee? Does it include asset reporting or is that an additional service? In your management agreement, define what the management fee is, what it covers, and how much it is. 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According to Eric Wetherington, VP of Strategic Initiatives at PURE Property Management: “As property managers, we need to think more like asset managers. This client made an investment, and we should be guiding that client through managing that investment, not just collecting rent.” To build and manage a winning IBP™️, property managers need an Investor Experience Platform that unlocks scalable product and service customization, digitized onboarding, accounting policy automation, and more. In addition, Investor Experience Platforms provide transparency and convenience for your investors. Here are some of the most valuable services that property managers can offer through an innovative Investor Experience Platform™️. Property insurance program Similar to offering a renters insurance program through an RBP in the lease agreement, property management companies can offer an insurance plan to investors to cut costs and ensure the safety of their assets. Most management agreements will include the requirement that the investor carries insurance on the property and that the property manager is additionally insured. But what if you as the property manager could help manage that for the investor – at scale? Property Insurance for investors should have dynamic pricing based on individual investors’s property portfolio and needs. The benefit beyond flexibility is the savings they’ll see on their premiums while also getting insurance that’s tailored to the needs of their specific property class. At Second Nature, we work primarily with single-family rental properties and small multi-family residences. Property Insurance Programs can bring scale that will drive economic value for the investor over what they could get retail on their own. They’d still have the option to go get their own insurance that meets requirements, but they can pay you a small fee to manage it for them. 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Eviction protection guarantee An eviction protection guarantee also goes beyond the normal scope of property management services and can be used as a secondary source of revenue. Eviction Protection is a service provided by property management companies to property investors that offers additional security and financial protection in the event of an eviction. Under this guarantee, the property management company assumes the costs associated with the eviction process, including legal fees and court expenses. It helps alleviate the financial burden on property investors and provides peace of mind by ensuring that they are safeguarded against potential losses resulting from resident evictions. The eviction guarantee helps protect property owners from the complexities and potential costs associated with evictions, ensuring a smooth and efficient resolution to tenant-related issues. Pet guarantees & other guarantees A pet guarantee is a service offered by property management companies to property investors that aims to address any potential issues related to allowing pets in rental properties. It typically involves implementing policies and procedures to ensure responsible pet ownership, such as thorough pet screening, pet agreements, and collecting additional pet deposits or fees. The pet guarantee may also include services like pet damage insurance or assistance with pet-related issues during the lease term. It provides property investors with a framework to accommodate residents with pets while minimizing risks and maintaining the condition of the property. For many residents, finding a pet-friendly apartment increases retention and profitability. They’re willing to stay longer and pay more for a pet-friendly place. And–get this–pet damage is less likely to happen than damage from kids! It’s not a huge risk to the asset, but can provide a big benefit in terms of satisfied, longer-term residents. Maintenance plan Home warranties are a four-letter word for property managers. They’re a massive headache to deal with, and yet there’s high demand for them among property investors. Because of that, most property managers charge a fee for home warranties, for each they have to file. Imagine if there was a world where home warranties weren’t needed. Here’s the thing: Professional property managers already have the vendor network and the know-how to coordinate maintenance jobs. What they don’t usually have is a product that’s priced to give the investor the experience they want. Let’s say right now an investor is paying $50 a month for a cheap home warranty. The warranty only covers 40% of issues and it creates all these extra people and friction in the middle. 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Think about any investment app, like Robinhood, Acorns, etc. You can log in to these apps any time, 24/7, and see how your stock and investments are performing. In most investment classes, you can see in real time how your assets are performing. Why shouldn’t property investors have that as well? An IBP™️ can include exactly that: a dashboard or online portal that shows investors regular reports on how their property is doing. They could get updates on the value of their home over time, the home price appreciation, rent price over time, and project rent growth, typically maintenance costs and how they’re doing against that, and more. Resident Benefits Package Another piece to include in your IBP™️ is to highlight the benefits of your resident benefits package to your investors. Explain how features like a filter delivery program protect their assets and reduce HVAC repair costs. Show how a renters insurance program can ensure coverage and protection. Give numbers on how credit reporting incentivizes on-time rental payments and helps ensure financially stable renters. Explain how a movie-in concierge saves both time, headache, and money. Each of the pillars of an RBP is critical to encouraging better resident behavior, increasing renter retention and lease renewal rates, reducing vacancies, and more – all primary goals for a property investor. A note about Rent Advance Programs There’s been due buzz about “Rent Advance” offerings, though many advise caution when approaching this financial product. It works in some ways like cash advance programs, which can satisfy urgent needs, but not be more valuable for anyone long term. The way it works is PMs offer to send a year of rent upfront to the investor in a big chunk, and collect monthly from the resident. The investor typically pays a 5-10% premium on the advance, which can be their entire expected return. So the question becomes, where do they put that cash to get a better return instead? Another thing to think about is who would actually use this product. Investors who don’t have enough cash on hand? How does that benefit anyone in the long run? What happens when there’s a big maintenance bill later? Does this encourage better decisions and practices by the investor? To date, there’s been pretty low adoption of this program, which is another sign it may not be hugely beneficial to everyone involved. But plenty of innovations start that way, evolve, and find traction. One case where it might be a value generator is if an investor is looking to take a cash advance and put it toward a down payment for another house. That would benefit the property manager as well, promising more business, and the PM could offer a lower rate for getting more properties to make the financing more attractive than hard money loans or other alternatives. The jury is still out here, it’s an interesting one to track. How Can Investors and Property Managers Benefit From an Investor Experience Platform™️? Investors and property managers can benefit from an Investor Experience Platform™️ in several ways. They’re also great for residents in the sense they build more stability and quality into the renting process. Here are just some of the benefits of an IBP™️. Enhanced investor attraction An Investor Experience Platform™️ provides incentives and advantages that can attract more investors. Financial guarantees and protections against the risks associated with evictions or late payments can increase stability, while services like a maintenance plan can ensure premium care of their property assets without increasing their workload. By offering attractive perks, property managers can differentiate their offerings and generate greater investor interest. Increased investor retention Both IBP™️s and RBPs help build loyalty with residents and investors. By fostering a strong relationship and demonstrating ongoing value, property managers can build trust and loyalty among investors, and retain them over the long term. IBP™️s help establish the stability, transparency, and asset growth for a real estate investment that an investor hopes to achieve. Improved property performance An Investor Experience Platform™️ can also contribute to improved property performance. For example, by offering discounted property management fees or access to professional services at reduced rates, property managers can help investors optimize their returns and reduce costs. Additionally, incentives such as rent guarantees or eviction protection can mitigate risk for investors and attract more capital to the property. Streamlined communication and transparency A well-designed Investor Experience Platform™️ facilitates effective communication and promotes transparency between property managers and investors. This can involve regular reporting on financial performance, property updates, and the sharing of relevant market insights. Transparent and consistent communication builds trust and confidence among investors, fostering a positive and long-lasting relationship. Competitive advantage A comprehensive Investor Experience Platform™️ can give property managers a competitive edge in the market. When investors have access to exclusive benefits and advantages, they are more likely to choose a property managed by a company that offers a compelling package – and to recommend it to others. Say hello to increased investment inflow and a stronger market position for your PMC. Should You Make an Investor Experience Platform™️ Mandatory? The first thing most property managers ask us when we’re talking about an RBP or an IBP™️ is: Should I make this mandatory for all investors or do I make it a flexible opt-in/opt-out program? Unlike RBPs, where best practices are more proven and established, different PMs are taking different approaches with their IBP™️s. Some have a mandatory level of service set at a flat price. Others may say they’re fine offering a base level of service without these differentiated products, giving investors the choice to simply pay a baseline management fee and opt out of the IBP™️ premium service. Some may offer a baseline to all investors and then give them the chance to opt in for premium IBP™️ services. There are a lot of ways to do it. With the RBP, we’ve found that making it mandatory does not generate nearly as much pushback as people expect – and can be a strong value add overall. Final Thoughts About an Investor Experience Platform™️ The Investor Experience Platform™️ is an innovative way to generate ancillary income and create more value for investors and residents. Similar to Second Nature’s premier Resident Benefits Package, the IBP™️ can deliver high-quality service for investor experience – and help create a triple win for investors, residents, and property management companies. The IBP™️ reinforces the value of a professional property management company for investors and helps differentiate you from the crowd. Stay tuned to learn more about the latest in the IBP™️ space, or learn more about how a resident benefits package can launch a whole new level of value for your PMC.

Calendar icon July 17, 2024

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