Pimp my Hypothetical Home Laboratory


Ever since I saw the painting shown above, I’ve wanted to suffocate birds in my very own home laboratory. As I got older, the desire to destroy life subsided, but the desire for a home laboratory remained. People have home studios, why not home labs? Obviously, the main obstacle to realizing this dream is cost.

So how much would a general purpose home laboratory cost? Internet searches provided little help, so I decided to compile a quote myself. I aimed to make the lab as complete and general purpose as possible, without being unrealistic in terms of cost (continues after the break):

Fixtures ($1350)
These are the non-negotiable essentials I see in almost every lab:

Phenolic Resin Lab Bench $400
Shelving $100
Sink $150
Fridge/Freezer $100
Mini Fume Hood $300
Light Cart (for plants) $200-300
(Even if you’re not a biologist, a light cart can be used for tanning single limbs, lighting your collection of igneous rocks, or growing inspirational plants)

Observation Tools ($2200)
Science being empirical and all, is important to be able to observe natural phenomena that are beyond the range of the human eye. The computer (“A bicycle for the mind!” – Steve Jobs) would obviously need to be running Scibuntu.

Compound Microscope $500-800
Dobsonian Telescope $400-800
A Mid-Range Computer $800

Bench-top Equipment ($515)
Since we’re going for a general purpose lab, we need general purpose equipment:

Glassware etc. ~$200
Distillation / Titration Apparatus $30
Bird Suffocation Apparatus $20 + $60,000 fine
Hot Plate and Magnetic Stirrer $100
Bunsen / Alcohol Burner $15
P100 Pipette & Tips $100
Electronics Equipment $30
Measurement Tools (calipers, tape measure) $60
Dissection Kit $20
Scale $50

Materials ($440)
Again, general purpose:

Chemicals/Media ~$200
Cultures/Insects/Seeds ~$80
Soil, Fertilizer, Feed $80
Electronics Parts $50
Notebooks, stationary $30

Safety ($240)
A jet of boiling 10M HCl is bound to spray directly into your eyes at some point, so its best not to skimp on safety.

Eye Wash Attachment for Sink $110
Lab Coat, Goggles, Nitrile Gloves $70
Fire Extinguisher $30
Pad Locks $30

Miscellaneous ($270)

Periodic Table Poster $20
Human Skeleton Model $200
Blackboard $50


Not bad! Totally out of any student’s price range, but considering some home theater systems can cost at least this much, its not a bad price at all. Plus, can you really put a price on being able to check your own sperm count? I think not.

Stay tuned for a follow-up post about amateur scientists: do they ever publish or is it all vinegar/baking soda volcanoes and home-made rockets?

27 thoughts on “Pimp my Hypothetical Home Laboratory

  1. This is great! I almost want my own lab at home now.

    Composer Edward Elgar had an amateur lab in a shed and blew it up by accident one day when he went back inside to work on his composing. I guess that’s making a case against amateur science, but I’m sure others were more successful. Wasn’t there an amateur astronomer who discovered something really important all by himself?

  2. The black resin counters are great but very expensive. In my first job in US our startup was very cash-stricken and we had our labs equipped with cheapo white-finish melamine kitchen countertops from Home Depot. We did chemistry on it – it stained easily but worked for the purpose. (The flammability was not an issue – you dont start fires in real lab on purpose. ANd you can cover it with metal sheet)

    The important thing is the fume hood: this is the really expensive piece, I think the price you are quote is very underestimated. Instead of buying fume hood for home lab I would try to build one, it should be much cheaper. The el-cheapo alternative is to have one bench table placed outdoor, just protected from the rain by some roof . I used to cook bromoacetone tear gas as a kid on the balcony of our flat (in a housing-project-like highrise)

    The problem with home labs is that the over-zealous meth/designer drug legislation are making it exceeding difficult to not to run afoul of authorities – even the simpliest piece of glassware or common chemicals can get you under heavyhanded scrutiny when purchased for home use. In most juristdiction just a posession of a sep funnel, rubber tubing and concentred HCl is a “sufficient proof” of intent to manufacture illicit stuff.

  3. The important thing is the fume hood: this is the really expensive piece, I think the price you are quote is very underestimated. Instead of buying fume hood for home lab I would try to build one, it should be much cheaper.

    I totally agree with you here. Building your own fume hood would be ideal, and the one I linked to is more of “Kids Own Fume Hood”-type product.

  4. Part of the reason my buddy and I got started in the used equipment business is cause I wanted to “pimp my lab”. I was playing with ceramics, making porcelain, and I wanted to work on glass ceramics. Ceramics is a lot of fun in itself because it involves very high temperatures, and if you want to mix your own stuff, no one complains but they won’t let you do it in their kiln.

    So the lab equipment I wanted was a scanning electron microscope. Bought it on eBay for $300, but it turned out to be highly defective, having been cut apart instead of disassembled by the seller, the State of Oregon. So we sold it back on eBay with a complete description and surprisingly got $700 for it.

    As far as fume hoods go, they are designed to provide “laminar flow” which I doubt that a home design is going to achieve. Consequently, it would be best to use a fan maybe twice the HP of the commercial one, and it will probably be noisy. You can find these at low prices regularly at auctions when a business closes shop.

  5. What about a spectrometer? Remember that high school girl who won the prize for making a $500 spectrometer out of a digital camera? I want a commercial version of one of those…

  6. Great List! You’re missing a dissecting scope, though. That’s another $300-600, and very important to have.

    I bought a compound scope last december, and almost wish that I had bought a dissection scope instead.

  7. Have you guys heard of the Society for Amateur Scientists? I am the President of the local chapter in Madison, Wisconsin (MAST-Madison Area Science and Technology). I am a professional amateur scientist who has given talks at the American Astronomical Society and Wolfram Research. Your site is interesting. I dislike Efston Science as I boughyt several thousand dollars worth of equipment, they screwed up the order and refused to refund my money! I just bought a dual core 3 GHz computer with 3 GB RAM and 640 GB HD with a 22″ flat panel monitor from HP for $1100. You can get a better than mid-range computer for $800. I would also recommend getting Mathematica if you are interested in serious data analysis.

  8. For statistical processing on your computer, I would put R (free, open source statistical software widely used in academia) ahead of Mathematica (cost: $1000 or so). For heavy hitting (novel statistical models, huge datasets) I still write my own Python scripts, but for reasonable data-sets and operations (anything which would appear in a stats textbook), I use R.

    Mathematica is very good at computer algebra; if you have to do complicated integrals, or solve messy equations, it does nicely. Matlab (or the open source version, Octave) is good at numerical simulations–ODEs, signal processing, etc. But for statistical analysis, there is no comparison to R (S-Plus is the commercial version).

  9. I think it makes more sense to start with the questions (which lead to hypotheses, which lead to experiments), then let that drive your spending. You might end up wanting a better microscope and not doing anything needing a fume hood, for example. I’ve posted my $250 alternative at This Week in Evolution. But I’m impressed by the range of scientific tools you have put together for less money than, for example, the price difference between a new and used car.

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  11. Awesome article! I But you have to use that auction site LabX at http://www.labx.com for buying cheap lab equipment. It’s even better than eBay becuase you’ve got all the REAL equipment. I’ve seen some amazing deals, and you can probably pimp a home lab for even less! Fume Hood, no problem you local used lab equipment dealer has oodles of them and they hate holding on to them becuase they take up room. Dirt cheap.

  12. I do not use most of these items, as a retired chemist
    I set up a small general purpose chem. type lab. in basement.

    For a bench, you only need a small one for heating. Use
    a 2×3″ frame, small area. Top..cast your own concrete
    or use a sheet of the fire proof materiel available at
    most hardware stores. One ‘kitchen’ counter top, small,
    is sufficient for general work.

    Shelving is much more useful than cupboards..if dust is problem put a sheet of plastic over front

    For fume hood, use a simple blower motor, and a home
    made fume hood from the above sheeting. A simple
    sliding or lifting door is all that is needed.

    A high temp oven, eg. 1200C is very handy. Use
    firebricks from local store, mak4e a steel frame from
    scrap angle iron, and put some of the sheet per above
    around outside.

    You will need to buy the elements. an pyrometer control, and a few axillary items. A
    n automatic control is expensive, and you can either
    make your own or spend about 400$ for a commercial one. A high temp furnace has many uses, eg little pots, etc. as well as ashing, conversion reactions,

    A convection oven is good, a simple store one is good.

    The temp. control is poor on this, and you need a
    variac which does a marvelous job of controlling to
    about 2C. A better oven will be insulated etc, and this is about 100$.

    A scale Ohaus is all you need, reads to 0.01g.

    My microscope is a gift from my company on retirement. Here I was very lucky to get a research
    grade, and it is very versatile. However a binocular
    model is good for most things. Only 100x is needed.

    Glassward….look around, go to close out of labs etc

    Remember, it is not the equipment, it is your mind,
    the DNA was elucidated using only wire and foil…

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