Substrate switch in established tank
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Old 04-18-2012, 04:47 PM   #1
Mr.Desert_scape
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Substrate switch in established tank


So I'm about to switch my plain gravel for some eco complete in an established tank and I was wondering what the most painless way to do this would be. I have been told it's a good idea to put some of the old gravel in some socks and let it seed for a couple weeks.

I am going to take out all the fish and drain the tank because i am going to try and get ride of some fine scratches with cerium disks while its drained.

I also have the bottom parts of some under gravel filter that I am going to remove and one of the things I was wondering is should i leave whatever is residing under the UGF (mulm or whatever may be under there) or remove it before I put the eco-complete in?

Any opinions appreciated
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Old 04-18-2012, 07:19 PM   #2
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What is your principle source of filtration? The undergravel or an HOB/canister? If it was the undergravel save some of the gravel to seed the new filter. If you had an HOB or canister, you don't need to save any of it. I would clean out whatever mulm is underneath the filter plates.
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Old 04-18-2012, 08:48 PM   #3
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I have a canister filter and a powerhead with a filter attachment that I was going to leave on until the new substrate was seeded. I decided to do away with the UGF about a month ago bit haven't taken the plates out yet.
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Old 04-18-2012, 10:50 PM   #4
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When I tore down my 75 I used a gravel vac to actually vacuum out the old stuff. The water gets cloudy but you can pour it back in (through floss or whatever) so you can keep the water temp good, etc. as you make the switch.

However, If you want to drain the tank anyway just work fast. Drain, scoop, lay mulm, add new substrate, refill with water the proper temp (don't adjust the heater, just get the temp right from the tap).

Keep the filter running on the bucket or something while you work and I would add some gravel in a sock to the tank afterwards because the bio load might be quite large after you pull all that gravel.

Do lots of water changes leading up to the swap make sure the tank params and the tap water params are close. You don't want to do a 100% water change with greatly differing water conditions. Also, watch your ammonia after and use water changes to control it if you have a cycle.
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Old 04-18-2012, 11:25 PM   #5
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To add a bit more info I was going to put some new silicone around the edges during the process so I was going to run filter in bucket with fish over night with heater while the silicone cures. You think this is a bad idea? Or what are my options as far as that goes?
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Old 04-19-2012, 12:53 AM   #6
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It will take longer than overnight for the silicone to properly cure, so a temporary tank for the fish is going to be needed. Here is how I would do this:

1) Do several good vacuumings in the week or so before you start. Clean the filters a week or two ahead so the bacteria population can recover a bit.

2) Assemble all the tools, and prepare some new water the same way you prepare it for a water change. Get one or more plastic storage bins as temporary tanks, or buy a tank or two. (good quarantine tank, afterwards)

3) turn off, unplug everything.

4) Drain the best water into one or two storage bins, and put the fish in these bins, plants, one filter each, a heater, any decor you want to reuse, and skim the top layer of gravel. When the UGF was running the bacteria grew pretty much all through it. If it has not been in use for a while then the bacteria will only grow where the best water movement is, on the top layer or so of gravel. Top off these bins with the new water you have prepared. Cover them with something light can get through (glass tank lid, sheet of acrylic... ) and set some lights on top. A drop light is fine if you have only one aquarium light, but are using 2 bins.

5) continue draining the water, using this as an opportunity for one last deep vacuum of the gravel. (who knows, you might want to use it some day). Scoop out the gravel, remove the plates.

6) dry the tank, and clean up the area that needs repair. New silicone will not stick to old, so most of the time this means redoing the tank to fix a leak. (I am not including instructions on how to reseal a tank)

7) After the silicone has set up...
Make more new water. Rinse the new substrate, if it needs it.
Place the tank on the stand, make sure it is plumb, level and square.

8) put the new substrate in the tank, add rocks, driftwood, make hills and valleys.

9) Plant, misting often. (don't forget to put the cover back over the bins- fish can jump!)

10) Put a plate or plastic bag over the substrate, and refill, running the water in slowly over the plate so it seeps into the substrate. This minimizes clouding. As it is filling you can be setting up the equipment. If you want to be extra sure about the nitrifying bacteria add a bottle that includes Nitrospira species of bacteria. Do not waste your money on anything else, the other 'cycle in a bottle' products have the wrong species of bacteria.

11) When the tank is full enough, turn on the equipment.

12) Add the fish. If you have been keeping the fish in their bins for several days, and have done a water change on the bins, then it is probably OK to use this water as part of the refill water. However, fish when stressed produce more ammonia and stress hormones. If you are refilling the same day, do not use this water.
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Old 04-19-2012, 05:07 AM   #7
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Wow awesome Description on what to do! I think I might actually skip the silicone after giving it some thought. I more or less wanted to do it as preventative maintenance since I was tearing the tank down to replace the substrate but I guess, why fix it if it isn't broken right? But I definitely will follow the rest of your advice for everything else because I will be trying to buff out some minor scratches and paint the background.
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Old 04-20-2012, 05:48 AM   #8
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So just an update. Everything ha been switched over, so far successfully. took about 7 hours start to complete finish because i painted the back black. Kept the filter and heater running with the fish in a storage container an also kept a sock of the old gravel which is now in the tank to seed for a week or two. Very impressed with the way it came out and excited to see how the growth+more plants on their way, fill it out. Thanks again everyone for your help! It looks like an actual planted tank now!
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