Build a Grow Light System for Starting Seeds Indoors

I look forward to starting seeds indoors under lights each spring. Growing your own transplants offers a number of benefits. It is less expensive than purchasing nursery seedlings, there is a greater selection of seeds available in comparison to the standard plant varieties at most nurseries, and it provides a little gardening therapy during the winter months when the ground is under a layer of snow.

In order to grow healthy seedlings, you will need some supplemental light. When I first searched online for growing stands for starting seeds indoors, I quickly discovered that they cost way more than I wanted to spend. A two-shelf unit with 4-foot fluorescent lights was well over $400. If you have the money to splurge on a grow light system, this 2-Tier Garden Grow Light Kit from Gardener Supply is a dream.

I was unable to afford such a unit this required some creative thinking to figure out a less expensive option for starting seeds indoors.

You can assemble your own inexpensive grow light system that will serve well for starting seeds indoors or growing an indoor garden.

I shopped around for a wire-shelving unit that would accommodate a 4-foot shop light. I wasn’t able to find one locally, but I did find some 23-inch 3-Tier Shelving Units. Two of these units placed side by side are the perfect size to hang two 4-foot shop lights across each shelf. The shelves are 13-inches deep and two standard seedling trays fit perfectly on each shelf. Plus there is room for two shop lights on each shelf if more light is needed.

These 3-Tier Shelving Units can be found in big box stores or online. Be sure to select units that measure around 23in x 13in x 30in.

The shop lights I use are your standard 4-foot fixtures found in big box stores or online for around $20. These come with chains and a couple s-hooks. You will need to pick up extra s-hooks to hook the chain to the wire shelving. The power strip with a timer is also available in big box stores or online.

Here is how I built my seed growing area for starting seeds indoors:


How to Build a Grow Light System for Starting Seeds Indoors:


2 3-Tier Shelving Units
2 4-Foot Shop Lights
4 Fluorescent Light Bulbs
1 Outlet Strip with Timer
4 Extra S-hooks


  1. Assemble shelving units per instructions. Since these shelves are adjustable, make sure they are at the same level for both units.
  1. Locate your seed growing area near an outlet. Place the shelving units side by side. I situated the shelves on a little used workbench, but they could also be raised up on a folding table to make it easy to tend to the seedlings.
  1. Use the chains and S-hooks that came with the shop lights, plus the extra S-hooks to hang the shop lights from the top and middle shelves. Plug the lights into the Power Strip Timer. Plug the timer into the outlet.

Tips on Lighting for Healthy Seedlings:

  • Check the packaging of your 4-Foot Shop Lights to be sure you are buying the correct bulbs. Some require T12 and some T8.
  • Fluorescent tubes come in cool, warm, or full-spectrum. Full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs provide a balance of cool and warm lighting that represents natural lighting. Cool white bulbs provide blue/green spectrum while warm white bulbs provide red/orange spectrum. Full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs were more difficult to find locally so I use the standard cool white bulbs. Most seedlings and greens do well with cool white bulbs.
  • Fluorescent tubes lose intensity over time with continued use and should be replaced every two years with fresh bulbs. I continue to use the older bulbs in other shop lights around the basement.
  • Seedlings require at least 12-16 hours of light each day. I set my Power Strip Timer for 16 hours on, then 8 hours off.
  • Keep the lights about 2-inches above the seedlings. Adjust as the plants grow.