I finally joined the dark side and switched to a sump. I should have designed the setup initially to use a sump, but I was too lazy.
After 5 years of continuous work, my canister filters were pretty worn out. I tried replacing a few parts on them, but it didn't seem to help much. I'm glad I switched to a sump, its really the best option for any serious larger aquarium.
The biggest sump I could fit under my stand was a 20 gallon long. I found one on craigslist that already had baffles installed. I used (4) 4"x9" filter socks. I'm hoping they can last 30 days between replacements, but lately I've been changing them weekly to keep the water pristine.
I also bought a Jabeo DC-8000 sump pump. I'm very happy with it so far, its pretty quiet, features 10 speeds, and slow start. I only use speed 3 out of 10, and its plenty of flow for the tank. Best part is it cost less than $100!
I learned a lot about sumps. When I first installed it, I didn't properly plan my drains. I didn't understand that you want the main drain to have a full siphon. I then redid some of the plumbing. I'm not going to go into all the details, and I had to plumb things in a weird way due to how I built the setup initially. I ended up drilling another hole near the top of the tank, which was not very easy to do with fish in the tank! After my 2nd re-do, everything is working pretty well. With a properly designed overflow I could have more reliable flow and quieter operation, but the setup is working fine for what I had to work with.
The sump was really hard to fit under the tank. I didn't design the tank with a sump in mind, so I had to remove one of the supports (while the tank was 1/2 full of water) to get everything to slide in. I spent about 15 hours straight installing the sump and figuring out all the problems.
I put some K3 media in the sump to create somewhat of a fluidized bed filter. I'm not sure if I'll keep it. My tank has plenty of beneficial bacteria in the tank due to the background and driftwood, and the media bouncing around the sump is noisier than I expected. It does look really cool when its in action though!
sump won't fit:
Moved support so that it will fit:
Installed and running!