Over the past 10 years our household has had an aquarium around the house for the kids, 10 gallons, with guppy’s and plastic plants. Last November, 2017, the last of the kids went off to college and I had more available time. I decided to get a larger aquarium; I looked on Craigslist and a 55-gallon tank showed up that looked promising. I went to see it, it looked good, and it came complete with everything. It even had a canopy and a Coralife two lamp T8 light fixture and an underground filter! I thought I hit the jackpot. To be honest, I was quite a bit out of touch with current aquarium keeping practices and didn’t know it at the time.
I thought my only purchases afterward would be some fish and plastic plants, I really didn’t think I needed any more than that. For less than $50.00 more I would have a complete tank, just feed the fish and clean out the filter every couple of months. Very easy! And then I found this site, a tropical fish store in San Francisco called Aqua Forest Aquarium and a LFS in San Jose called Neptune’s Aquatic’s. Beautiful aquariums, aquariums with landscapes that I didn’t even know were possible. And with that my journey started, my money dwindled and my free time disappeared!
I didn’t start a journal, nor did I even think about starting one. My thinking was who would want to read a journal that said, “I went to the LFS, picked up some plants whose name I can’t pronounce or remember, I went home and put them in the tank and hoped they survived!” To be honest, looking back, I knew little about planted aquariums. I knew the Amonnia-nitrite-nitrate process, but that was about it. I didn’t know what a macro or micro was, nor did I know what an LFS was, or what PAR meant, other than I never got close to it on a golf course. The past year has been fun, a lot of research, learning from others, and experimenting. I’ve learned a lot over the past year and everything has been going well.
In the following weeks I’ll hoping to post detailed descriptions of what I’ve done, why I did it, and what I learned.
Please feel free to post comments, suggestions, and questions in this journal. I’d much prefer it to be an open communication journal with others as opposed to me just posting about the tank.
For filtering the tank has two canister filters and a sump. The sump’s mechanical filtering is done via polyester filter media that can filter down to 1 micron. Tank water flows out of the tank via a Lifereef siphon overflow box down to the sump into a custom filter pad holder, filters down through the pads, and exits out the bottom. Filter pads are arranged from top to bottom as follows:
Felt(Estimated at 200 micron)
As noted, there’s a repeat of the felt/100 micron pads. The reason I do this is these pads catch a lot of the detritus and I try to remove the detritus out of the water column quickly so it doesn’t have a chance to break down. Water changes and all pad replacements are all performed on Saturday. Monday night, two days later, the top set of felt/100 micron pads are removed. Wednesday night, the 2nd set is removed, and Friday morning, the last set is removed. Removing pads takes seconds, reach down into the pad holder, remove two pads and discard. Initially I only installed only one of each type of each pad and would replace the top felt pad every two days per the same schedule but removing a pad and installing a new pad, getting it lined up, was not as quick as I liked, so I went with installing all pads on Saturday and removing two pads every two days throughout the week which is much easier.
I purchase pads, except the felt, at Duda Energy’s online site
. I cut multiple pads at home via on a with a rotary cutter on a rotary cutting pad and organize batches them in the sequence above such that when I replace on Saturday I replace the entire set of pads.
Felt is standard sewing felt purchased at a local sewing fabric store such as Michaels or Hobby Lobby. I use the 100% polyester type that has not have any non-flammable chemicals added.
I designed the filter pad holder such that as the filter pads become clogged, the water level rises in the pad holder which increases the water pressure across the pads. The water pressure difference at maximum height is only 0.433 psi, but even though it seems low, it’s enough to help with maintaining water flow through the clogged pads.
Is filtering required down to 1 micron? That I can’t really say, but I’ve found one of advantages are that my water is always crystal clear. And I can tell the 25/10/5/1 micron pads are picking detritus up because towards the end of the week if I remove the felt and 100 micron pads, the water level difference between the water in the pad holder and sump is a few inches, whereas at the start of the week it there would be little to no difference. I have a high fish load in my tank, I feed my fish twice a day, and yet I have very little algae in the tank.
Initially I set up the sump using filter socks. I found out quickly that they’re expensive, difficult to clean, noisy, and I couldn’t find any down to the micron levels I wanted. Because of this I developed the current method of filtering.
I like using sumps. They keep the tank water level constant, and reduced water levels due to evaporation occur in the sump. It’s easy to hide items in the sumps such as filter pads, heaters and pump, plus they allow quick access to filter pads and other media such as activated carbon or Purigen.
In addition to the sump, I also have two canister filters, an Eheim Pro 3-350 and Eheim 4+ 600. Each is set up with the filter pads in the bottom tray, coarse blue on the bottom, medium/fine filter pad above that, and then felt on top, with the upper trays filled with biological media. There are no filter pads above the biological media. The pads, especially the felt pads, pick up all detritus, as such the biological media stays very clean and rarely gets cleaned, maybe every 45-days with a quick rinse. The filter pads get replaced every two weeks.
CO2 VARIABLE VELOCITY REACTOR
When I started to use CO2 I built a Griggs reactor. My aquarium is in my daughter’s room which has been turned into an office. She’s off to college, but comes homes occasionally, so the reactor needed to be as quiet as possible. The problem with my initial Griggs reactor (3” diameter, 24” long) was that as bubbles entered the chamber, they would rise to the top and combine and become larger bubbles and eventually there would be a large portion of air in the reactor. Because of the air, gurgling was occurring making more noise. What I needed was a way of keeping bubbles suspended in the water column, so they wouldn’t combine as easily as when they were all at the top. But because bubbles can combine, the chamber ends up having different size bubbles, and different size bubbles rise as different speeds. What I needed was a chamber with different flow velocities, with higher flow velocities at the top to keep the larger bubbles in suspension and slower velocities at the bottom to keep the very fine bubbles suspended without passing through into the aquarium. And since flow is constant the way to change the velocity is to change the diameters of the pipe such that when water goes from a smaller size pipe to a larger size pipe, the water flow must slow down because there’s a larger area for it to flow through. I call it a variable velocity reactor because that’s the basics of how it works. I also found that having a valve at the outlet of the reactor helps in fine tuning the flow in the reactor. Depending on the gate valve position, I can raise or lower bubbles into different sections of the reactor. I can also adjust the output of the reactor such that fine bubbles can reach the tank or no bubbles at all reach the tank. I used clear PVC pipe, so I could observe the bubbles.
For bubbles I use a GLA inline diffuser. As the bubbles enter the reactor most remain small and will head down reactor until the bubble rate of rise equals the water flow velocity, at which point the bubbles don’t move. They’ll get smaller as the water absorbs the CO2, and when they get smaller they’ll head downward until they hit the next larger pipe size, at which point they’ll stall, and the absorption/downward process repeats itself. Eventually they’ll dissipate into the water column.
In the event bubbles combine, they’ll rise up the reactor through different sections until they reach a point that the flow rate stalls their upward movement, and the absorption/downward process starts.
At first, I tried the reactor without the inline diffuser and injected CO2 directly into the reactor at the valve location. It worked for a few hours, but eventually a large air bubble would form and then it would start making noise. Using the inline diffuser makes smaller bubbles which have a greater surface area/mass ratio, and this increases the absorption process.
Well, enough for this first thread, other posts will follow over the next couple of weeks!
All of the following items have been added since my original post. I'm doing this to allow readers to read Post #1 and have a good understanding of the aquarium
as opposed to having to read all posts.
3/02/2020: RODI System
About three months after starting up the aquarium, WCs were starting to get old, plus I wanted to start using RODI water. I needed a RODI/WC system that was easy and quick to use, otherwise WCs weren’t going to happen as often as they should. To complicate the issue, the aquarium is on the 2nd floor. After looking inside the house to see where I could install an RODI system and looking at reef forum sites I decided to install a system outside at ground level and pump water up to the 2nd floor. The reef forum sites are excellent for plumbing ideas, they really delve into the details. Plumbing wise, the reefers are way ahead of us planted tank folks. I didn’t have enough room inside for the type of system I wanted, so outside it went.
The aquarium is in the center of the house, more towards the west, and the west side of the house would of perfect for the shed. But here in Sacramento, temps can get up to 110-115 in the summer, and the west side of the house gets the hot afternoon sun, so temps can easily get up to 120 to 130. Unfortunately, the RO membranes are only rated for 117 degrees, and anything above that damages the membranes, to I installed the shed on the east side of the house which receives afternoon shade and is substantially cooler. Unfortunately, this was farther away, so I had to run external piping to get to the room where the aquarium was located.
The RODI shed houses the RODI system, pump, storage tank and support equipment. The filter is a Sprectrapure Mega MaxCap 180GPD 5 Stage RODI system with the output flowing into a 55 gallon storage tank via a float valve. The shed also houses an Iwaki pump that’s used to pump water to the 2nd floor aquarium sump and to recirculate water back to the RODI storage tank. The RODI/WC system is the best thing I did for maintaining pristine water conditions. Now I can perform a 30-gallon water change in 20 minutes, so it’s no longer a hassle. Plus, I noticed a big improvement in fish and plant health and algae that I did have disappeared, most likely due to the new clean water parameters.
The air pump is an Alita AL-6A air pump. I got tired of purchasing small, inexpensive type pumps that would either make too much noise or couldn’t provide enough pressure to supply air to an air stone at the bottom of the tank. The Alita air output is 20 Liters per Minute (LPM) with no load. With the 6” air diffuser I’m using, it’s probable putting out 6-8 LPM, which is a lot of air. Think of it as three to four 2-liter soda bottles of air being released in an aquarium within a minute. With this much air, it’s moving a lot of water as can be seen in the photo below. The pump is very quiet. I’m really impressed with its quality, I highly recommend it. Typically, I run the air pump 24/7 because I like to keep the storage tank water well aerated, but mainly because after a water change I dump the GH/KH booster into the tank, and the air pump keeps the water circulated enough to ensure the KG/GH get dissolved by the time for the next water change.
For valves, I used Cepex true union valves. Lots of reefer folks recommend and use these valves. I’ve had issues with the regular cheap valves you can get at any big box store, and I didn’t want issues with these. Very smooth operating when closing or opening, no sticking, very effortless when turning. They’re cost about $22 each as opposed to the cheap valves which cost $6-$7, but for me they were well worth the extra cost.
I installed a backcheck valve to ensure water stayed in the line from the shed up to the 2nd floor. I didn’t want air to get in the piping because air would cause splattering and gurgling upon exiting the pipe into the sump and the backcheck valve keeps the water in the piping without allowing air back in.
The valve arrangement allows different options for water flow. I can either direct all the pump water back into the tank, direct it upstairs, or discharge it to a hose that I can use to fill up buckets. At the end of the piping on the 2nd floor there’s a valve. The valve arrangement in the shed also allows me to recirculate a small amount of water into the RODI tank while I’m pumping water upstairs. This is important to prevent overheating of the pump in the event the valve on the 2nd floor remains closed for long periods of time. The pump is a centrifugal pump, and if it’s dead headed for long periods it’ll heat the pump enough to cause damage.
The water pump is an Iwaki, Model MD-70RLT-115V, rated at 1/4th HP, with a max head height of 32’ and a max flow of 27 GPM. When I have the system in recirculation mode there’s a lot of water flow back into in the storage tank. I wanted this to ensure I was able to thoroughly mix any GH/KH Boosters. With the amount of water flow I have into the storage tank I can probably keep BDBS suspended!
The RODI shed is a Rubbermaid shed I purchased from an individual on Craigslist.
For piping, I installed ¾” Schedule 40 PVC piping out the RODI shed and then transitioned to PEX piping and then flexible braided tubing to the 2nd floor level, the transitioned back to PVC piping into the house. The reason I used PEX is I wanted to experiment with using it. Looking back, PVC piping would have been easier and much less expensive to install. PEX is purchased coiled up and trying to get PEX into a straight line took a lot of effort and bending. It’s absolutely great for concealed work as you can route it around obstructions and fish tape it through walls, but for exposed work use PVC piping.
Half the fun of this hobby is just building stuff! If anyone has questions, feel free to ask.
The air pump provides enough air to move a lot of water in the storage tank.
The bottom of the storage tank. I'm always amazed how clear RODI water is.
The Spectrapure RODI system configuration.
PVC Piping exits the side of the shed, heads up the chimney, and then under the eves. Piping is painted to blend in with the chimney.
PVC has transitioned to PEX and is now heading west.
PEX has been transitioned into flexible tubing and goes up onto the first floor roof and into the 2nd floor room where the sump and aquarium are located. Tubing has a double layer UV resistant tape cover to prevent sun damage to the tubing. The pipe on the right is for discharging water from the aquarium during water changes.
Wall penetration into the house. The block under the piping is used to secure the PVC piping and to prevent it from spinning in the event I'm working on the piping from the interior side of the wall.
The cold water connection is made in the garage. On the 1" copper line to the house hot water heater, I installed a 1" tee with a 1/2" reducing side connection. From there I extended 1/2" copper tubing to a gate valve, then installed 3/8" polyethylene tubing to the shed.
This is a night time photo showing the lighting with a 8' LED lighting strip. Plenty of light, which works out great in the winter with it gets dark at 5PM.
2/18/19 - Tank Schematic
2/22/19 - Feeder Timers
Because I'm running two canister filters and a sump, items in the water column tend to get picked up and filtered out quickly. I have Kuhli loaches and Cory's who are bottom feeders, and food won't reach the bottom unless I turn the filters off. But there's been a couple of times when I shut off everything, then the phone or doorbell rings, and before I know it's a 30 minutes later and I've realize I need to turn everything back on. So it's only going to be a matter of time before I forget and leave everything off overnight or for a full day. So I went out and purchased a couple of time-delay-on feeding relays from AutoTopOff
and installed them earlier this week. These work out great! You push the button, power goes off, there's a time delay, and after the time delay the filters automatically go back on. The restart time delay is adjustable by opening the cover, removing the relay, and adjusting the timing knob to the amount of time delay you want. I've set mine to 5 minutes and it's a good delay, enough time for the food to settle and have the bottom feeders feast. Highly recommended.
3/22/2020- CO2 Meter Upgrade
The following was added since my original post. I've added these to the original post to allow folks the ability get a quick summary of my aquarium as opposed to having to read all posts.
I was never happy with my Dwyer flow meters. The first one I purchased was used, it was inconsistent, and while adjusting the flow the float would jump around. So, I splurged and purchased a new one, but for the flow I needed it registered a low reading that was not helpful. So I learned to adjust CO2 based on the plants(as much CO2 as possible) and fish(as much CO2 as possible before it really affects them). Really this approach is how it should be done, as numbers are just numbers, the important part is how the fish and plants react.
But I’m an engineer and I like building items and making them way to complex. Heck, that half the fun of this hobby! So when @Bettatail
posted about the Porter FM, I jumped on the bandwagon and purchased two flowmeters! I like the Porter FM quite a bit more than the Dwyer FM. The Porter FM has a scale length of 6.5 inches long, whereas the Dwyer FM has a scale length of only 2 inches. Plus the valve is much smoother that either of the two Dwyer FMs I own.
Not content with just hooking it up, I decided it’d be fun to add pressure gauges on the incoming and outgoing lines. Of course, I’d have to have an appropriate mounting panel. I used a piece of 1” x 4” premium pine to mount the gauges and flow meter, drilled the appropriate holes, painted it black and attached the items. For mounting the gauges and flow meters I used Velcro. I find Velcro easy to use, plus it allows fast access for removing and adjusting equipment. I also used Velcro to attach the 1”x4” mounting panel to the aquarium stand.
Ideally I should be able to take the outgoing pressure and knowing the flow I should be able calculate the actual flow of CO2 with respect to Standard Temperature and Pressure(70° F at 14.7 psi atmospheric pressure)(STP). The reality is the accuracy of the gauges and flow meters are fair, plus temperature of the gas has an affect on flow rates. A better way of determining actual flow is measuring the weight of CO2 used by weighing one’s tank over a period of time and calculating the amount of CO2 used at STP. One can calculate the volume of CO2 at STP manually or use an online calculator such as the Air Products calculator
After coming up with various ways of using a fish scale to determine the CO2 tank weight, I figured it was going to cost about $20 to $30 to implement. But then I thought why not do a search on Amazon and if I could find a accurate floor scale to accomplish this. Fortunately, I found one for less that $35, the Smart Weigh Digital Shipping and Postal Scale
, 110lbs x 0.1oz. It’s nice unit, and seems to be working fine. The floor scale works out much nicer that looking at the low-pressure port pressure gauge and trying to guess when my tank will be empty. Since I know my tank weighs 20lbs-1oz pounds when empty with the regulator attached, if I know what the daily consumption is, I should know within a day or two when my tank will run out of gas.
The interesting part about measuring CO2 is I don’t see where there’s a standard in the planted tank community regarding the measurement of CO2. I’ve only seen bubbles per second or CC/Min. Both of these really can’t be used as there’s no accuracy because the size of bubbles is dependent on pressure and temperature. The same applies towards using CC/Min; most folks are just reading what’s on the scale and not adjusting appropriately for temperature and pressure. I’m thinking grams/hour or grams/day may be more appropriate. Anyone have thoughts on the item?
The following are photos of the installation.
The backside of the panel with tubing connected.
Mounted within the aquarium stand:
CO2 tank with Scale:
Closeup of Scale:
3/28/2020 Electrical Distribution
One on the amazing things about this hobby is how many items require electrical power. Lights, skimmers, pumps, alarms, heaters etc. And before one realizes it the aquarium stand is a jungle of cords. That’s how my tank started. Plus, I was always plugging and unplugging cords and it took a while to find what was plugged where. So a few months after I set up my tank I decided to clean and organize the power cords.
I installed two ADJ PC-100A Power Strips with 8 on/off toggle switches each and Panduit Wiring Ducts sized at 2” x 2”. One power strip was used for one set of items, and the other bank was set a corresponding set of equipment. The distribution has worked out well, it’s allowed me a way of quickly being able to turn off power to equipment, plus the wiring ducts have allowed me to hide the clutter of cords. Initially I thought the 2” x 2” wiring duct was too large, but once installed I realized I would not want to use anything smaller as some electrical cords were stiff and the 2” size allow just enough room to accommodate wire bending radius.
The following are photos of the installation.
4-10-2020 The Sump
The sump was an afterthought for my aquarium, and more of an experiment. After 3 months of adding daily water to the tank due to evaporation, I decided I wanted a sump as it’s easier to maintain water level with a sump. In addition, I wanted to be able to perform very high filtering, down to the 1 micron level, with quick access to the filter pads. Most folks think of a sump as having biological filtration, but that’s not the case with my sump. I could use biological filtration, but since I already had two canisters I felt I didn’t need to have any more. I highly recommend a sump, it keeps the water level in the tank at the same level, much easier to clean out filter pads, hides equipment (heaters, pH probes, filter media), I believe it’s definitely worth it. The sump I have is a 20-gallon high aquarium, 24” long, 12.5” depth, 16.75” high.
The sump is next to the stand. I figured I was going to be doing a lot of fiddling and experimenting the first year, so that was fine because I wanted quick access. Plus there wasn’t enough room in the aquarium stand for a sump. Doesn’t look the greatest, but I want to upgrade to a larger tank with a custom sump cabinet next to it. Hopefully this will happen sometime in the near future.
The aquarium overflow is a siphon type, a Lifereef Nano. It’s quiet, but not as quiet as I would like. Eshopps makes them also. The siphon won’t break during a power flow, so there’s no problems there. The only way the siphon will break is if it gets a lot of air bubbles in the siphon tube, which has happened a few times if I reduce the flow to low levels. What happens during low flows is the water flow in the siphon pipe between the tank and overflow box is not fast enough to pass bubbles so they float to the top of the tube. As the air bubbles settle to the top they make a bigger and bigger bubble and eventually the air bubble is large enough to restrict water flow, at which time water can’t exit the tank at the same speed as the intake water, thus the tank overflows. The only reason I use low flow is when the kids are home and sleeping in the room; the low flow mode is much quieter than the high flow mode. Ideally, I’d get a Modular Marine overflow, and pipe it bean-animal style. ( https://blog.marinedepot.com/educati...mal-overflow)I
just purchased one for another tank, very nice, high quality, but it would require drilling for the 55-gallon tank which is all tempered glass so it can’t be done.
The sump pump is an Eheim 1260. During normal operation flow is about 2.5 gallons per minute. From the pump water goes to the Variable Velocity Reactor (VVR), then back to the tank. The VVR is described in Post # 1 of this journal
For filtering, also see Post # 1, for a detailed description of how I filter. At first, I tried socks, of which I really didn’t like as I found them cumbersome to clean, plus I couldn’t fine the range of filtering I wanted, plus expensive. The pads are much easier, plus I can easily get a variety of filtering values. I replace the pads every week.
For Automatic Topping Off (ATO) I’m using a Float Valve (US Plastics, #23178
PVC mini adjustable float valve with 1/4” MIPT Extended Inlet), a Tank (US plastics # 4029
Tamco 7 gallon natural polyehtlylene tank – 10” Dia x 20” High ) and a ATO Tank Lid: (US Plastics # 4034
Tamco Natural Standard Cover for 7 gallon tank)
My evaporation rate is about 3.5 gallons/week, so the ATO tank is good for two weeks.
I’m also using the sump to raise rainbow fish fry. There’s some wood with Java Moss and a Asta 20 light. The rainbow fish are laying in the eggs in the aquarium, and when they hatch some end up in the sump. When I replace the filter pads I let water flow out of the filter pad chamber into the main portion of the sump. I was not aware the fish were breeding until I started to notice fry in the sump. I’m having some success with this, it’s not perfect, but it seems to be working with a minimal amount of effort.
For the float valve I wanted it to be protected so nothing in the tank could hit it and hold in open, plus I wanted to have a means to easily adjust the water height so I built a Plexiglas enclosure such that I could quickly move the float switch up or down.
The ATO tank feeds the sump by gravity only. As a safety precaution, the normal water level in the sump is set at 12.5 gallons. Since the sump is sized at 20 gallons, it has the capacity to handle an additional 7.5 gallons of water. The ATO tank capacity is 7 gallons, so if the ATO float valve was to get stuck in the open position it could discharge all it's water into the sump without overflowing. The sump also has a high level audible alarm set to go off at 15.5 gallons. The The alarm is an CHS WA9-04 High Water Alarm. The float switch provided with this alarm is large, so I replaced it with a small float switch (An "upper" float switch
provided by AutoTopOff) so it would fit nicely in the sump.
4-22-2020 Water Changes
Having an easy means of WC really makes one’s life easier in this hobby. If it’s easy, then one is most likely to perform the changes without hesitation. WCs are simple to perform with my aquarium. For draining the tank, I utilize one of the canister filters, the Eheim 4 +600. It’s outflow goes to a T-Fitting with two valves. The output of one valve goes to the aquarium and the output of the other valve goes to a drain line that goes outside and dumps water onto the roof. From there in goes down into the rain gutter, and then out to planter areas around the perimeter of the backyard. Using the canister creates a greater flow rate than if it was just gravity fed, with the cannister flow rate under gravity assist being about 3 GPM
For filling the aquarium, I pump water from the ground level RODI Shed via the Iwaki pump to the sump next to the aquarium, and from there it gets pumped into the tank via the Eheim 1260. The Iwaki pump is an MD-70RLT and flow rate to the sump is 3 GMP.
The complete WC takes around 20 minutes. Ten minutes to discharge 30 gallons, and another ten minutes to replace the 30 gallons.
Has anyone noticed that I really like labeling equipment!
Piping on the right is the drain line, and the piping on the left is incoming water from the RODI shed.
During vacations I’ll have friends do the WC. I’ve developed a check list for them to follow. Fortunately I’ve have not had any problems with WCs while I’m away!