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125/50 - update Jan 2018, rebuild planning commences

106978 Views 483 Replies 32 Participants Last post by  crazymittens
Update: Latest tank shot. Bunch of pics in latest post. Also just posted some brief YouTube videos.

Found a Kijiji deal I couldn't pass up...125G tank, stand, canister filters, the works. Yay birthday money. Yay people moving. Also, since I only need the tank and stand, I'm selling off the filtration (Rena XP2 & XP3) and bits to recoup some cost.


The bullet-point-plan:
  • 125G tank
  • 50G sump
  • 30G shrimparium
  • MTS/gravel
  • T5-HO lighting

Things I want to do differently...
  • Change the overflow location from along the back to the side.
  • Do something more even/less turbulent for the return flow.
  • Returns will be over the top, not through glass.
  • Change plumbing, only on the ends (no longer blocking the view)
  • Change the sump configuration based on experience with this design.
  • Incorporate a refugium/shrimparium that uses the same water.
  • Adjustable height lighting so access inside is much easier.
  • Do the MTS/clay step correctly.
  • Less gravel depth, bigger driftwood/rock formations.

I'm excited about the 50G sump...the holes will be patched with glass/silicone, the dividers will be scrap glass. Now that I've seen many different ways of designing sumps (and some in action), I'll probably do something better for this one.

The old 30G sump will be dismantled and bits re-used where possible. Still not certain how it'll work for plumbing to/from the sump...a fun problem to solve.

My biggest issue with this whole project is that in order to do this...the existing system must be completely torn down, and I only have a 20G tank spare. This means some fish will have to be sent to other homes. I'll try and keep the cardinals/platies/phantoms...the angel and black skirts I'll have to donate. Still, that's ~20 fish in that little tank. Hm. Anyways...just the planning phase right now...

More to come.
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Sketchup preliminaries are my next step, I will post some ideas.

This tank is going in a spot that allows full viewing access from both sides - on one, the living room, on the other, my desk. That alone makes it mandatory to have all plumbing situated on the ends. This is a further complication in that we have a 1.5 year-old and another one on the way (both boys) means I need to come up with a way of either making the plumbing rock-solid, or keeping small, curious, energetic hands away from super-critical stuff.

I'll be progressing a little slower with this journal until we get some house projects out of the way, so bear with me.

Coming soon...sketchups of the layout/plumbing basics, followed by a lengthy discourse on sump design for freshwater tanks. I kinda want to nail down exactly what's required.

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Ok, let's restate the goals of this build so the sump design can be validated.
  1. No water changes (1/year maximum acceptable)
  2. Minimum maintenance requirements
  3. Enjoyable view of fish & plants

Breaking these goals down...

No water changes
  • Time-consuming - deal breaker for owning a tank
  • Messy and a hassle
  • Automating this is not possible (at this time)

Minimum maintenance
  • Tasks that must be performed to keep tank in a livable (to fish)/enjoyable (to me) state
  • Acceptable maintenance tasks: cleaning glass once/month, feeding 2-4 times per week, adding water every 2-3 weeks (evap), clean mechanical filtration once/month
  • Two hours/month is acceptable

Enjoyable view
  • Tank is in a family area, makes a relaxing view, conversation piece
  • Tank is also next to my office desk, so helps make work enjoyable

Based on my experience thus far, it's clear to me that these goals are 100% attainable with a little research and design effort. My sump has worked very well this past year, but the jump from 50G display to 125G display should be taken seriously. A huge amount of water in there, and a lot more to go wrong.

So...we've established that display is 125G, sump will be 50G, and if possible, incorporate the 30G, giving us ~200G of water in the system. Let's look at the plumbing first, since before we deal with filtration, we need to deal with moving water safely and continuously through display/sump/refugium.

Plumbing - Overflow design & drains
I'll be re-using the Beananimal setup from the 50G...good thing I went total overkill on that build (it was expensive, however). According to a number of overflow calculators, I require the following:
  • System throughput: 1200GPH (two pumps, probably after losses more like 1000-1100GPH)
  • Overflow minimum: 18"
  • Minimum drain size: 1.43"

The Beananimal system (Herbie +1) gives me 3" of drain right off the bat, plus an additional 1.5" in the emergency, so with a safety factor of 3x required drainage...we good. If you are not familiar with the Beananimal it already. Big props to Beananimal for taking the time to document/draw in CAD. System works exactly as specified.

The overflow sizing, however, will be 18" exactly...on the 50G it was 36". I am not anticipating issues, but this is an area where more research is required - consequences of too short an overflow. Guessing just a thicker weir, perhaps more noise...?

At any rate, the rest of the design will be identical to the 50G. All bulkheads and whatnot will be re-used...gaskets should be fine, less than a year old and have never leaked. I'll need to drill the lid so I can get the secondary siphon tube through the top, that's about it.

Plumbing - Return design & pumps
My setup today uses two return pumps, one at 750GPH, one at ~500GPH (IIRC), both with 3/4" outlets. The lines are PVC today with loc-line for adjustments in-tank. Further, the returns are 'through tank', something I thought was awesome, but ultimately is a bad idea, especially in a 125G unit.

The flaw is simple - if your ball valves fail and you start siphoning, your returns are mounted below the water line (1-2") and so you suck back into the sump that much water (in the 50G, ~3G). Not a huge deal until you realize that your overflow still has to empty (1-2G), and what if you've just topped up the sump? Several gallons spilled. Wife not pleased.

The fix is running the returns over the top of the tank, through the lid, and using 'siphon breaks' (holes drilled in the return like 1cm below water line). Since I have the ability to drill glass, no biggie...this is what I'll be doing. Further, no more ball valves. So rattly and annoying for something that 'might' work.

The one area where I've struggled is with the return flow pattern. Some people use fan attachments to spread the water out, others spray bars. In my case I used the normal cone-shaped spray pieces, pointed them at the front-middle-top of the tank (returns located at either end of the tank), and lived with a turbulent center and weak back edges.

Anyways...I am thinking since the drain/overflow will be at one end, I'll try doing dual spray bars mounted vertically, one at the front, one at the back.

Plumbing - Sump design
The sump in this scenario performs a few functions:
  1. Mechanical filtration (big coarse filter pad)
  2. Biofiltration via biofilter media (pot scrubbies in my case)
  3. Additional water volume helps make parameters easier to handle
  4. Provides a place for submerged equipment to live, thus better display tank view

The mechanical filtration is aided somewhat by the 'gutter guard' placed on the overflow (prevents fishies from getting sucked down), but is mostly there to deal with excess food, stuff kicked up from substrate, etc. I tried filter socks, but they got clogged up way too fast...I don't need that level of filtration, anyways.

Biofiltration is pretty straightforward...lots discussed on this. Pot scrubbies are the generally accepted 'best bang for the buck' biofilter media - this is not a luxo-bling build, and with 50G I have tons of space to play with.

Additional water volume...yep. 50G is additional. Not sure how much water the Rena Filstar XP2/XP3 units hold (used on the 125G by previous owner), but it sure ain't 50G. More like...2G. No wonder he used a UV sterilizer.

Keeping the equipment below also means it can be shut behind padded doors, so you cut out even more noise. If I had blingy mag-drive pumps (and no ball valve nonsense), the system would probably be near-silent.

The design itself...I'll probably just keep the same idea, but double or triple the pot scrubbie count. Gerry's ( sump has a nice feature where water is trickled onto his biomedia - something I attempted to duplicate (with spectacular failure) - so if anything, this would be my next experiment.

Plumbing - Refugium design
Ya no clue on this right now. Not even sure the tank will physically fit.

Plumbing - Conclusion
We good. Except for overflow width concerns. And fitting the refugium. And designing the sump.

It's my build thread, and I'll write a novel if I want to. K?

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Had a few spare minutes, so sketched the basics...

Sketch of normal tank viewing angle

Sketch of drains/overflow

Sketch of return plumbing & spraybars

As I was drawing the spraybars, realized they would introduce the potential for draining the entire tank. Guess this is why powerheads are used!! Well, if not spraybars, then probably the fan attachment on the loc-line set vertically.

You will also note how cramped the whole thing is already. Refugium will be a battle. I'm also coming to the conclusion that I will have to build a fully custom stand for all this.

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
More sump discussion, really good stuff in this thread:

I noticed some higher nitrates lately, and I'm wondering if it is due to me changing the design of the sump. Just recently I removed the drip tray portion as it was badly designed and caused sump malfunctions (floods). This meant that there were no longer any pot scrubbies exposed to drips/air, all submerged. It's entirely possible this reduced my sumps filtration capacity, and coupled with the new batch of fish (dirty platies!), raised nitrates from 10 to 30ish.

Real quick sketch here...water line in the first dump section will be higher...I think.


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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Refugium issues
Thought about this...the physical space is just not there. At least under the tank...

So there are a few options here:
  • Use a 10G nano cube next to the sump
  • Use a 20G tall on my desk (blocks the view quite a bit)
  • Use the 30G on the far end of my desk, not connected to this sytem

It really comes down to 'do I need a refugium?' Discuss.

  1. More water in the system
  2. More space for growing plants, thus better filtration
  3. Functions as shrimparium

  1. Takes up more space
  2. Somewhat complicated plumbing
  3. More complexity to the system as a whole

I just had visions of a second Beananimal drain system using 3/4" plumbing. Hm. I'll do more measuring tonight.

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807 Posts
Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Ha, just realized why I got so confused...that sketched sump is 48", not 36". Back to the drawing board! Re-measured and my load-bearing platform should be plenty wide enough for the two tanks and supporting beams.

At the moment my most pressing issue is what to do with the fish I cannot house in my spare 20G. Rubbermaid containers? Could be weeks before the teardown/buildup is done.

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Hey there,

I've got a couple thoughts;

1. Don't use a spray bar, just have 1" elbow returns near the water's surface. That will provide less turbulent flow but the same amount of water movement through the tank. This will keep your plants from getting blow sideways.

2. Drilling a 1/4" hole in your return plumbing just below the water's surface will break siphon when power's out. If you feel more comfortable with a bigger hole, that's fine too. I usually drill it so it aims at a 45* angle toward the glass downward from the water's surface.

That's it for now, phone call that I have to take :)

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807 Posts
Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Fish situation update
Decided against selling/giving away the fish...we really like them and LFS prices mean they are not cheap to replace. What this requires is one of two options:

Option1: Long-term move
  • Use all my spare tanks (20G, 10G, 10G, 10G)
  • Set up with filtration/cycle ahead of time
  • Move fish once cycled
  • Keep a sharp eye on parameters
  • Do build at leisure

Option2: Weekend move
  • Do as much prep work as possible (stand, sump panels, lids, etc)
  • Get a 'big' plastic tub & fill w. water from 50G
  • Utilize media from sump in spare XP3
  • Do teardown/build over 2 days

Option2 is ultimately less work...but at a frenzied pace, and with great organization. Sounds good!

Room sketches
You get the idea. Office is in the corner. Boxy thing on the wall is the TV. Desk behind the tank. This also has the correct dimensions for the 50 & 30 tanks. 20G is on my desk in the sketch. I have zero clue how to fabricate a stand for this. The sump being 18" wide is a problem.


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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Ugh...making the sump fit underneath is proving difficult.

View from beneath

Doubled 2x4s for vertical support, plywood of some sort as a structural skin (brace against racking). The bottom...I have no idea. Possibly just 'micro stands' directly under the tank with the rest directly on the floor. Note the top silvery bit is the aluminum structure currently in place. I could probably jack my house up with this thing (friend built it).

Version2 it. First off, according to this calculator, a 3' piece of 2x4 is good for a vertical load of ~3500lbs. So weight-wise, we good. Second, racking forces will be strong with this, but if the back/sides are braced with plywood (screwed and glued), it ain't gonna rack.

Not entirely sure how best to attach the aluminum top to the wooden base...but we'll make it work.

Bottom line, this won't win any craftsmanship awards, but it will fit in my ever-dwindling budget. Just.

Sump/refugium stands
These will simply be pieces of plywood cut to fit with shims to level underneath. Super-simple.

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Making some more progress on the sump design. A few key changes...

  • 1.5" drains will have to be converted to 1.5" braided flex-PVC lines where they enter the stand/sump
  • If a simpler alternative cannot be reached, going to try and make a beananimal drain system for the refugium...but it drains direct into the sump
  • Definitely want to incorporate a drip tray system as research indicates an oxygen-rich environment is best for the bacteria
  • An alternate to the above is the incorporation of air stones, but means more equipment/noise/items to maintain

I will have 3x .75" bulkheads spare, so making the Beananimal drain system from refugium into sump is possible.

Definitely realizing that I will not be able to direct swap the plumbing as-is, so good thing there are interested buyers for the extra parts that came with the tank.

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Plumbing sketches

Ok, a legend/key for the sketches above...
  • Display drains are 1.5" PVC w. flex where entering stand
  • Refugium drains are 0.75" PVC via mini-Beananimal
  • All 3 return pumps are via 0.75" PVC (or Eheim flex)
  • Heater is red
  • Water lines are noted in black
  • Drip tray area has two sections, same media - one is 'dry' the other 'wet'

The water level in the middle area of the tank dictates how much of the pot scrubbie media is kept aerated. That middle box area housing the scrubbies will essentially be packed full, so no flotation issues.

For the refugium, I wasn't sure what my options were...aside from taking the XP1's top and creating a weird little section in the sump for instead I got creative! Or overcomplicated...

Refugium plumbing design
As mentioned, this will be essentially identical to the display overflow/drain setup, except I'll drill holes in that side of the sump to pass through the 0.75" PVC. The refugium itself will have 0.75" bulkheads...but didn't see a need for them on the sump side. If the water ever gets that high, I have way more serious issues to deal with. (I don't even think it's physically possible due to the overflow designs...even if the returns go into full siphon)

I'll then have another small return pump go over into a spraybar or just an elbow, not sure yet. I might even just use the spare 3/4" tubing instead of hard line. The nice part about this is I continue the theme of designing flooding out of the setup. If the power goes out, overflow finishes emptying, done.

If anyone can point out issues with this or have better ideas how to plumb the overflow back into the sump, please chime in! The only 'issue' I can see being raised is more complexity equating to more work to implement...but not more complexity = more points of failure, as the overflow/drain design I'm confident in.

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I really need to learn how to use sketchup! Those designs are awesome!!

*locline...don't use it. You're better off having more gentle flow coming out of 1" elbows than jetting water across the tank. You'll get the same amount of current, but the flow will be better for everyone in the tank.

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
A nay for locline, eh? Hm...the fish currently seem to enjoy the high pressure... (no pun intended, ish)

Any thoughts on the direct drain from the refugium? Good/bad/ugly? I suppose I could use some sort of HOB overflow...but I like the bomb-proof-ness of the Beananimal design.

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
More sump design ideas (bottom of thread here).

Interesting ideas:

I think the key point in adding wet/dry functionality to a sump is keeping the 'dry' portion above the water line. So, to minimize the amount of water volume lost to this factor, the drip tray would have to utilize as much area as possible.

However, Phil Edwards (300G dutch build) is now bringing a new direction to that having more and more consistent contact between water and biomedia is the ultimate method for biofiltration. More on that to come, I suspect.

In the meantime, I'll keep working on my stand plans...
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