Starting 53G Planted Community Tank - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-09-2017, 09:21 PM Thread Starter
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Starting 53G Planted Community Tank

After 18 years of continuous use, my trusty ol' 30G has seen and been through a lot, including five moves. I've got lots of enjoyment out of that tank over the years, but the time has come to upgrade. As much as I wanted a 75, being locked into 36 inches meant my options were rather limited. 65G was just too tall, 40G was too short, so I decided to split the difference and ended up with a Marineland 53G with black seams. The total tank height on its R&J 30" stand is just right for me to reach all the way to the bottom without any issues and the extra height over the 40G should keep the taller background plants from flopping over at the surface as well as give more room for mid-water and top level fish to spread their fins out a bit.

Anticipated stocking will be the following current residents of the 30G as well as some additions:

9 x Espei Rasboras
8 x Neon Tetras
4 x YoYo Loaches (a.k.a. MTS Patrol)
2 x Rainbow Cichlids (Archocentrus multispinosus)
1 x Bristlenose Pleco

Future residents will include a pair of Apistos (likely cacatoides triple-reds) and possibly a school of Otos.


At this point, the new tank has been leak-tested, most of the supplies I need are in, and I've been experimenting with the hardscape for the past several days. I think I'm pretty close to the final design at this point, though I may tinker a bit more before I lock it in. The current design is below.

3D Background is Universal Rocks 'Ledge' and I'm also using several of their artificial rocks. The substrate will be black sand, sloped down from rear towards the front middle. Filter intake will be behind the background, with a 2" strainer/bulkhead feeding water from the front to the back and a 240GPH circulator behind the background to help keep things moving. Additional mechanical and biological filter media will be placed behind the background to supplement the Fluval 306 canister filter.

Filter return will be via a DIY spray bar made of black 1/2" PVC. I'm currently thinking of placing the spray bar in the middle under the center brace where it should be hidden by the trim, with holes directed in both directions. Also contemplating hiding another 250GPH pump behind the background and plumbing its output through the background to help circulate the water in the lower layers of the tank.

Remainder of the plumbing supplies should arrive today or tomorrow and hopefully I'll then be ready to start cutting and plumbing the 3D background.


Near-final hardscape design (obviously sans substrate):


Some of the driftwood/rock hidey-holes:

Last edited by notabob; 08-10-2017 at 08:32 PM. Reason: Links fixed
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post #2 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-10-2017, 06:46 PM
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Your pictures didn't load for me.
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post #3 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-10-2017, 08:33 PM Thread Starter
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Your pictures didn't load for me.
Fixed. Sorry about that - looks like I ended up using temporary links and they expired. Should work properly now.
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post #4 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-12-2017, 10:56 AM
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The background is foam?

Is it like, pleco and suckerfish safe?
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post #5 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-12-2017, 12:10 PM
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That's going to look fantastic. I'll be following
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post #6 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-12-2017, 08:33 PM Thread Starter
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The background is foam?

Is it like, pleco and suckerfish safe?
Background is thin and flexible. It is safe for plecos and any other fish. It's got texture of real rock. Here it is in profile (from Universal Rocks' website):

Last edited by notabob; 08-12-2017 at 08:40 PM. Reason: Added fish safety detail
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post #7 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-13-2017, 12:36 AM
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Those backgrounds are amazing. You can't appreciate them until you see them in person.
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post #8 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-13-2017, 04:26 PM
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Very nice! I too am getting ready to setup the exact same tank. It really is a good proportioned tank. Almost the same as a 55 with more depth and takes up less wall space with even a few more gallons than a standard 55.

I look forward to seeing your tank setup
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post #9 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-14-2017, 02:38 AM Thread Starter
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The plumbing parts came in, and I'm not happy. The 2" bulkhead/strainer I was planning on using as primary opening between the front of the tank and the area behind the background is enormous. Should've paid closer attention to the specifications on the website before buying. The 1/2" components for secondary circulation are much more reasonable, but 1/2" doesn't feel like quite enough. For kicks, I placed both intakes and the secondary circulation return on the background, just to see how they look.



As you can see, that 2" strainer is ridiculously large. Ruins the look and kind of defeats the whole concept of hiding equipment in the back. The 1/2" version just to the right of it is much more reasonable in size. After more thought and looking at things, I ended up ordering a 3/4" bulkhead & strainer instead. 3/4" is still bigger than the filter intake tube, so should hopefully be enough to move things from front to back reasonably well. I think what I will end up doing is installing the 3/4" bulkhead/strainer into the crevice that is just below the 1/2" intake is in the photo. In the tank, that crevice is mostly hidden by the driftwood, and the taller plants back there should hopefully further obstruct it.

I'm also starting to question my plan for secondary circulation being done from behind the background and am considering just installing a wavemaker in the visible area of the tank. Fewer holes through the background and less complexity in the back suddenly sound like a pretty good idea. The 3/4" bulkhead & strainer should be in in a couple of days, at which point I'll start cutting the background.

While I wait for that, I started laying out and installing the components inside the cabinet - power strip, heater controller, inline heater, and the filter.

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Originally Posted by Blackheart View Post
Very nice! I too am getting ready to setup the exact same tank. It really is a good proportioned tank. Almost the same as a 55 with more depth and takes up less wall space with even a few more gallons than a standard 55.

I look forward to seeing your tank setup
Agree regarding the proportions. I really do like this tank. Very pleasing proportions and I love the extra front to back depth for scaping compared to my 30 long or even the standard 55. It's almost like a poor man's 75.
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post #10 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-14-2017, 11:39 PM
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Agreed, the 2" strainer does look to big. Only concern I would have with the 1/2 strainer would be getting plugged by a leaf or something. My circulation fans always seem to have a leaf stuck to them and it occurred to me that it might be a major issue for your filter intake.


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post #11 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-15-2017, 12:01 AM
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This is a fun build to follow for me. The nice thing about not having too much going on behind the 3D background is that it will make future maintenance easier. I'm guessing that accessing whatever you place behind the background will be difficult once everything is setup and planted. Good luck!

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post #12 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-17-2017, 09:03 PM Thread Starter
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Free time has been hard to come by, but did finally get the bulkhead strainer installed last night. Pretty happy with the result, if I do say so myself. The strainer is the 3/4" MPT thread version, it is 2" in diameter. It can be easily unscrewed from the bulkhead and removed from the tank for cleaning, if needed. Will just need to remember to plug the hole with foam when doing that to keep anyone from swimming in. Because the bulkhead outlet is tilted up in the rear compartment, some foam attached to the tip of a coat hanger wire could easily be inserted from the back on such an occasion.


Yes, the strainer is in the background:






A couple of angles where you can see the strainer. Some jungle val back there should help further hide it:







Side view:






View from the back (sorry about the tilt, apparently when taking photos at 11pm I'm not capable of holding the phone straight). The return hose is just dangling for now. Will get connected to the spray bar under the center brace. Additional mechanical & biological filtration media will be placed along the bottom half of the compartment between the bulkhead and the filter intake.

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post #13 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-20-2017, 01:33 AM
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Any more progress?
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post #14 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-20-2017, 06:11 AM Thread Starter
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Any more progress?
I'm in Australia for work for about a week, so unfortunately - no progress until I get back at the end of the week
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post #15 of 34 (permalink) Old 08-27-2017, 01:27 AM Thread Starter
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Was away on a business trip for a week and finally got back and was able to work on the tank.

Cut an opening in the background for the centrally located spray bar along the top and got everything fitted. The spray bar is essentially a 1/2" PVC pipe with holes cut into it from both sides. For now it is suspended underneath the center brace with zip ties, but final solution will have it clip into place, with clips siliconed under the central brace. No unsightly zip ties along the top. Ultimately, the spray bar will be black PVC pipe/cap for better appearance, but for now I'm experimenting with cheap white PVC pipe to determine the right quantity/size of holes. Got probably way more holes than I need drilled into the pipe at the moment, so I'm expecting flow to be poor to start with, but that was by design. Part of experimentation will include taping up some of the holes to determine ideal number per side to generate enough surface agitation.

Once the spray bar fitting was done, I was able to finally begin siliconing the background into place. Unfortunately, the background is a little too narrow for the tank. I purchased a stock 36x20" background and while the height was perfect, the width was nearly 1/2" too short. This means that I had to come up with a way to fill the holes along the side. I ended up keeping the background flush to the glass along the right side (the side that will be more visible where the tank will ultimately sit) and fill in the gap on the left with multiple beads of silicone applied on top of each other. Didn't turn out quite as neat as I'd have liked, but once it all cures, I should be able to touch things up with a razor blade and make it neater.

If anyone else reading this is looking to use a 3D background - either be sure to order custom size cut to your precise measurements or order a background that is wider than your tank and cut down to size yourself. Don't trust that a 36" background will fit a 36" tank perfectly. The Ledge background from Universal Rocks that I used is, unfortunately, not available in custom sizes, so I ended up taking a risk on a stock size. Ultimately, it's not a huge deal and you can certainly work around it to fill the gap, but something to keep in mind.

So now I'm waiting 24hrs for silicone to cure, which should happen by tomorrow early evening. Then I'll fill the tank again, fire up the filter, and start experimenting with the spray bar holes.

As to when I will finally start scaping and stocking... Originally, I had planned to do the actual tank switchover from the old 30G to this one after I got back from this trip, to make sure I was around to regularly monitor conditions in this new one, once all the fish & plants are moved over. Unfortunately, I now have to leave on yet another trip next Sunday, so will once again have to postpone the big move. Because this tank and stand will need to be physically moved as part of the switchover, I can't even begin hardscaping until it's in its final position. Also, will need to order some additional plants and make sure that they come in right before I start scaping the new tank. At best, this now won't happen before the 9th of September. In the meantime, I'll spend this week fine-tuning the spray bar, soaking the driftwood, rinsing the substrate, and tinkering with positioning all the accessories inside the stand.
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