And I guess (but really don't know) that refillable wherever the paintball guys go to get their tanks refilled (or maybe there are other refill options like at an aquarium shop or something, again I don't know).
Can anyone help me out?
Hi Todd, I'm just getting into CO2 and still learning, so keep this in mind when reading my reply. In fact, I installed my first CO2 system this morning.
I don't know why most hobbyist, including myself, are so baffled by this topic. I think part of the reason is that we realize we need to learn, so we look to other people for input. This is great for learning, but what I found is that due to human nature, people tend to recommend what ever solution/product they went with themselves. Nothing wrong with that, just confusing to us newbies!
Yes, I think you can get started with a CO2 system for about $100, but realistically it'll cost you about $120 or so. I just bought mine for $130, but that did not include the diffuser. I could have gone with a very cheap diffuser for now, but I decided to get a nicer one, so it really cost me about $150 for everything. Keep in mind that many people will tell you that you need a lot of stuff you don't need, like a solenoid/timer, etc. Some people also recommend getting a 20 Ib tank rather than the paintball tank. I believe the latter one only has a 20 oz capasity. Obviously this makes a lot of sense because you don't need to refill the big tank as often and it will no doubt be cheaper. Still, my understanding is that you get quite a bit of usage out of a paint ball tank. I've been told everything from 2 weeks to 6 months - it depends on how much CO2 you are dispersing to your aquarium. In my case, I figured that I can always get another spare paintball tank so I don't have to make the trip to get them refilled as often. I know some people would say that then you might as well fork out the cash for a 5 or 20 Ib tank. Well, I think the big tanks are kind of unsightly, and I don't want one sitting next to my fish tank. I haven't checked for CO2 refills in my area. My LFS charges $10 for a paintball tank size. I've read on here that some people get their paintball tanks for as little as $4 or even $2, so your mileage might vary. In my case, I will probably look for a cheaper refill source, or I might not, as it's not a priority. Paying $10 every few months won't strain my budget, but buying a $80 5 lb tank or a $150 20 Ib would definitely hurt a bit. Bottom line: Paintball system = much cheaper up front and still not very expensive to operate. Full size tank system = more expensive up front, cheaper to operate long term.
Todd, you have to figure out what makes sense for you. If you go the paintball route, make sure you get a regulator that is especially designed to work with those tanks, or you can buy a regular sized regulator and get an adapter to the paintball tank. To me that didn't make sense because the adapters cost a few bucks as well, but I guess if you think you might want to upgrade to a 20 Ib tank later, then I guess it might make sense.
With either CO2 tank size, for my own needs, I tried to "dummy down" the process and figured these are the basic components needed for a beginner CO2 setup:
1) A CO2 tank.
Amazon prices about $150 for a big 20 lb tank, about $70 for a 5 lb tank, and about $20 for a 20 oz paintball tank. Get the size that makes sense to you.
2) A CO2 regulator.
The "thing" on top that regulates the flow of CO2. It comes with or without a solenoid (I opted for without). $90 to several hundred dollars. Make sure to get one that matches your CO2 tank. As you probably have figured out, the regulator is the most expensive part of the CO2 setup. I think you can get a decent one for about $90 on Amazon, and although some people in this forum would probably say "you get what you pay for," I think that it depends on the hobbyist's needs. There are some considerations here that I might get into in another post, as to whether you want a solenoid.
3) C02 safe airline tubing
(about $5) that attaches to the regulator.
4) A CO2 diffuser.
The "thing" that is attached to the other end of the tubing and actually goes into your tank. It collects the Co2 single bubbles and breaks them up to very small bubbles; i.e., it distributes the CO2 into the water column. You can find very cheap ones or very elaborate ones that plug into your filter, etc. I went the medium route, and paid $18 for a UP Aqua glass CO2 diffuser. If you're on a stricter budget, you can get a cheap one to begin with and replace later.
One of the brands I looked at on Amazon for the paintball size CO2 tank was Aquatek Co2 Regulator Mini
. It has mostly good reviews on Amazon, and this was the one I originally intended to get. I calculated everything to be about $120 plus tax. Not exactly accurate, because I don't think I included the diffuser in that estimate.
Yesterday I stopped by my LFS store in San Francisco to get some plains and pick the store owner's brain about my newest setup. I asked him how much it would cost me for a basic setup, and as I already mentioned in the beginning of the post, $130 for tank (already filled) and regulator + tubing. The diffuser was $18, so $148 in total, including tax. I think the regulator is made by UP Aqua
, I still haven't figured out which model! Set it up this morning, and since my LFS guy explained everything to me, it only took about 10 minutes and haven't had to fiddle with it. So this is the route I went. I could maybe have gotten a better regulator online, but I trust my LFS owner, been going to him for over 20 years. If he makes a few bucks off me and I end up with a slightly lower tech regulator, I've already earned it back by all the great info and money saving tips he's passed onto me over the years. One factor that also was a considerations is that I see that sometimes people have problems when they buy this kind of equipment online. Yes, they can get a replacement sent to them, or call the vendor for support, I like the idea of having my LFS support my system, since I'm visiting his store every few days anyway.
This post is getting long, but I hope it helped that I shared my experience. If your budget is strictly $100, you may choose to wait a few days or weeks until you can afford another $30-40. Find out what your online and local options are, and don't forget to add taxes. Or, maybe some of the other forum members have some cheaper alternatives or better ideas...
Good luck with getting Co2, I hope you're plants will like it - to early to tell for mine!