When running a commercial grow operation, your grow room setup and design is everything. With the right space, organization, equipment, and environment, you can maximize your yields and your profits. However, if any of these pieces aren’t done correctly, you could be leaving money on the table.
One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen is how little thought goes into a grow room setup and design. There was a time where we got most of the answers from the local grow store. Unfortunately, the grow store started on the premise of small grows that a single person would do in their house or on their property. Grow stores have improved over time and they deal with a lot more commercial growers, but they are also limited in their recommendations by their suppliers. Not saying this is true all the time, but there might be some bias on what equipment is recommended because grow rooms only supply what their suppliers let them. This isn’t always the best recommendation. I could go on and on but I will save that rant for another day.
When designing a grow room, you need to focus on what is most important, and with the wealth of options on the web it is hard to know what will work best. Every market and supplier out there knows their product and would love to make it to the top of the list, so it can be tough to find what will work best for your operation.
So here is a quick overview of my recommendations from my experience on how to navigate your grow room setup and design. I will be adding sub-topics in the near future to dig more into these ideas but for now here we go.
The Most Important Factors for Your Grow Room Setup and Design
Let’s assume that we have a building lined up, and it’s completely empty. Now we get to build out our grow room design from scratch. We can design everything from the floor to the ceiling (with limitations) exactly how we have always pictured it. Just remember that this takes time, and you’ll want to take things piece by piece, one foot in front of the other, or you will be waiting on doing a project because another project has been delayed.
Here are the most important things to consider when planning for your grow room setup:
The Size of the Grow Room – Don’t Get Too Large
Although it is tempting to make a giant grow room in a building so you don’t have to deal with a lot of walls, I think that a moderately sized grow room will have better results. Why? A grow room that is 100ft x 100ft is like one big factory full of future issues. It can be done but it is very challenging to control the environment. The larger the room, the harder it is to control humidity, temperature and airflow.
When a 100ft x 100ft room runs into an issue (and all rooms at some point will), it is much harder to do damage remediation. Let’s say you got spider mites that snuck in on your workers pants because he took a nice siesta outside on break and laid under a tree. I realize there are ways to stop that, but people are notoriously unpredictable so, yes, it does happen. Now try to fight a large room with a spider mite infestation with limited types of pesticide that is allowed based on your state. The stress it causes the plants could ruin your grow. Yes, you can survive it but the effects are so much larger than if you can quarantine a smaller room.
An ideal room would be roughly 30ft x 50ft. This is large enough to really show some mass production but small enough where you can close down the room and quarantine so that you do not spread the problems to other rooms.
What about watering a large room? I have a lot to say about this but I will keep it short and save that content for another day. Simply said, trying to water a room that is large has its challenges and the best way to attack it is to set up manageable zones.
The amount of water running into a room with 6000 plants at 2 drippers per plant and 0.5gph flowing through a 1-inch pipe is simply just not adequate and some areas will drip faster than others. A balancing act is almost impossible with some of the standard pipe sizing that I have seen, typically ¾ to 1 inch PVC.
The simplest solution is to balance out your watering by zone and by room size. In my experience, a smaller room is just a better option. With the right equipment it can be done but with a standard set up it is very challenging.
Electricity Needs for Your Grow Room
Electricity is one of the most important factors for your grow room setup and design. As always, electricity is what will make everything run smoothly, so you’ll want to make sure you get it right. Here are my best suggestions:
First, contact an electrician to see your electrical options. Find out if you are set up or need to install more power for single-phase or 3-phase power. 120, 208, 240, 277 or 480 volts, get familiar with these terms and know what your power is capable of when you are purchasing your equipment. I would recommend that if you have the option to get 480V 3-Phase power, you should absolutely get it. With this higher power factor, you use less Amps and have a more efficient power supply.
To get the right electrical load setup, you’ll have to make a few decisions about how you’re going to set up your grow room first. You have decided what room size you are going with so now it is time to figure out how many grow tables go into that room. Are you going to double stack or use a bench system? What brand of lights, hvac, pumps, fans, dehumidifiers, humidifiers are you going to use? Your electrician will need all this information to do a load calculation.
Pick the right electrician. It might be a little cheaper to go with a small company, but 2 people wiring your building for 2 months can really drag on your timeline for getting production started. I think a larger company that specializes in commercial operations with a dedicated large crew will do the same job in a much shorter amount of time. Don’t forget to plan ahead. With the global pandemic it could take months to get some of the transformer parts that you need to complete your buildout.
Grow Benches and Vertical Racking
Something I have often seen and heard is that figuring out the grow shelves and tables is the last step to the design process. I do think it is the overlooked part of the design and here is why.
Most rack and bench companies design in 4’s and 8’s, with some deviation. Grow rack manufacturers either come in bench form, in a vertical form, or a mix of the two. The factories predict what sizes are standard, for example a 4’ x 8’ bench is a common size. So with this prediction they order their raw steel far in advance to get certain sizes so that they can get a discount, which means a discount to you, the customer. This is how they keep prices down.
It’s important to know early on what dimensions your grow tables or racks will be, so you can plan ahead. Grow table manufacturers produce common sizes most likely in 4’s and 8’s. There are variations but you will be surprised how challenging it is to source the stock. Grow lights are often sized in 4 foot footprints. So it makes sense to find out what your size options are early, and I suggest sticking with the more common dimensions. It’s true that anything can be made to fit your room, but the less common the size the more likely it is to be a custom fabricated product. With a custom product now your price could be raised by 25 to 30 percent.
Final note on this, and it will be repeated through the blog. Plan 3 to 6 months in advance. With a global pandemic around us, shipping times and sourcing raw materials is getting harder and more expensive.
Grow Room Plumbing
Plumbing seems simple: get water to the plants. But there is so much that goes into planning an efficient plumbing layout so that all plants get the same amount of nutrients in a large production facility.
Get with an expert on this. Plan in advance. Know how many plants go into the room, and how much water each one needs on a daily basis, based on the strains you’re using. A good plumber will ask you all these questions, so be prepared. A plumber can help design a pump that can take care of all your needs in a single location, and also plan how your pipes should be organized to keep watering consistent across all your grow tables.
Remember that contractors are notoriously late and with a global pandemic and supply shortages it is best to not be caught with your pants down and your investors wondering why your site is not making any money yet. Plan this plumbing out far in advance so you do not have any hiccups.
I will talk about more in depth plumbing practices in a future blog.
HVAC for Your Grow Room
You will need to contact a qualified HVAC contractor to get the right amount of cooling/heating and sometimes even humidity out of the room. If you know what lights you are using and all your other equipment, the designer can do a BTU calculation, and add 20%. This is a very crucial step to plan for the future when you do this.
If you are single level and are planning on going to a double level, then you need to plan your HVAC for that. It is not always as simple as adding a little bit more BTU output, it could be very expensive to change it and very hard to work in a room that already is filled with equipment. When planning your HVAC, make sure you take your future growth into consideration.
Make Sure You Plan Your Grow Room Setup and Design as Far Ahead as Possible
The best piece of advice that I can give is to make sure that you plan as far ahead as possible. With sourcing and manufacturing shortages, the longer the better. Plan for delays and do your best to surround yourself with the experts in their fields. It’s worth the extra investment. They can not only help you pick the right equipment but you can build a relationship with people who have far more expertise than yourself on specific subjects. Let them figure out the small details so you can focus on what you do best.
Build a relationship with a cannabis advisor, the amount of money you can save on design mistakes will be small in comparison to the costs of design flaws. Don’t forget to check their references. Stick to what you do best and let the experts do the rest.
Ryan is a master grower and builder of commercial cannabis operations, having designed and grown in a 10,000 square foot warehouse for 7 years. He uses a science based approach to growing because of his training while receiving his degree in Biology from University of New Mexico.
Ryan is the father of two college students, enjoys writing, and makes State Fair-winning pickles and sausage on his free time. He is an avid disk golfer and loves fishing when he can get away.
Ryan has earned Bachelor Degrees in Biology and History from the University of New Mexico.
“I am a failure; I have failed everything I have tried at least once. My success is attributed to accepting that about myself and learning from my mistakes to help others achieve better results. Without failure success loses its sweetness.”
The profile picture is from when he was the first grower in Oregon to put flower on the Oregon state capitol steps.