- May 9, 2020
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About 7 years ago while camping with a group of friends one of them said “hey does anyone want an aquarium?” I asked what size and if he had the filter and stuff. He said yeah it’s up and running in salt water and it’s a 55 gallon. I asked how much he wanted and he told me if I’d come and get it I could have it. I jumped on it and a couple weeks later it was in my house. It was a FOWLR and my friend was tired of it so it was poorly maintained and the filtration equipment was sad, in fact almost nonexistent. It had a HOB overflow box with a sponge in it draining into a 5 gallon aquarium underneath with a protein skimmer. A Mag 3 returned the water back to the display tank. It did have 75lbs of live rock. It also came with a RODI unit but the membrane and prefilters were more than 6 years old. Livestock included a pair of Perc Clowns, a 6 line Wrasse, a Flame Hawk and a sick Flame Angel that died shortly after I got it.
Old 55 gallon Tank
When I set it up the first thing I did wrong was not think about placement. I put it in the dining room because there was some empty wall space there. It wasn’t practical for viewing and every time I wanted to just sit and look at it the kids would make fun of me saying “There’s dad sitting in the dining room again looking at his new toy”. Within two weeks I broke it down and moved it into my office. This was probably the best thing I did since I work from home and could now view it several hours a day. I’m a do it yourselfer so I replumbed, upgraded stuff, added more fish and started getting into some basic soft corals. After a couple of years I out grew it and wanted to go bigger. My LFS had a 90 gallon Marineland Cornerflow that had been sitting in the store for over a year so I made him a low ball offer, he took it and I brought it home.
The first thing I needed, after the new tank, was a stand. Since this was in my office and visible to the rest of the house I wanted it to be furniture quality, or should I say my wife did. Nailing a bunch of 2x4’s together wasn’t going to cut it. Also everything had to be contained underneath. I didn’t want buckets or other equipment sitting around it. After looking at stands costing a thousand dollars or more and not being what I wanted my DIY bone kicked in, so I made my own stand. I wanted the back closed in for noise suppression with just a hole for cords etc. I ended up installing a small computer exhaust fan in the back that runs 24/7/365 because humidity would build up in the cabinet. I wanted it to be high enough to view standing up without having to bend down, but also be able to reach into the bottom of the tank without having to stand on something. I measured to my arm pit and made that the top of tank height. One of the smartest things I did was make an acrylic tray lining for the bottom to contain spills, floods etc. It’s able to hold the entire volume of my sump in the event of a catastrophic failure. I also installed a light underneath that comes on automatically when you open the doors.
Now I needed a real sump. Seeing prices for these I again decided to make my own. I had a 20 gallon tank sitting around that I had for my daughter in fresh water when she was little. Maybe a little undersized but wanted to make it work. In order to do that I needed to have as much operating water volume in the sump as possible but not overflow when the pump shut off. I calculated how many gallons drained off the display tank into the sump when the pump shut off. Knowing that I was able to figure out the maximum operating level of the sump and from there figure out the height of my baffles. It was a lot of math and a little luck but when the pump is off the water level rests at about a half inch from the top. This gives me as much actual water volume in the sump as some commercially manufactured sumps claiming to be much larger and taking up much more room. Here is my cabinet with sump. The container barely visible on the far right is an overflow for my skimmer cup.
Auto top off.
I was tired of manually topping off the water level every couple of days so at the same time I made my own ATO from a 5 gallon bucket, some water level sensors I got on Amazon and an inexpensive low profile submersible pump I got from PetSmart.
These sensors are hyper sensitive. If I take about a ½ cup of water out of my tank it kicks the ATO pump on and replenishes. They’re also cheap. I think a five pack was less than 15 dollars. If you look on Youtube some say they have a high failure rate but in most instances it was due to improper installation. You can’t run 120v power through these, you have to put them on a stepdown transformer with a relay. That being said I still put on a redundant sensor. I also put one in the ATO bucket that turns on an indicator LED inside my cabinet and interrupts power to the ATO pump when the bucket gets low. The main sensor cycles about 30 times a day and for the last 5 years and has not failed.
Next I needed more rock. I had 75 lbs to transfer from the 55 but wanted to add another 50 so I ordered 50lbs of dry rock from Amazon. I don’t like cords, plumbing, heaters or anything else visible in my display tank so the corner overflow bothered me. I made a mockup of the overflow out of cardboard and built a rock structure around it to cover some of it up. I loosely followed the rule of thirds method. (Google aquarium rule of thirds or do a search on this forum) Here’s my aquascape right after I installed the new structure.
As far as equipment goes I subscribe to the k.i.s.s. method.
Pump. When I first upgraded I bought a Jebao DC12000 return pump. It was a good pump while it lasted but I was disappointed when it died after about 2 years. I looked on Amazon and Jebao claimed their new series had an upgraded motor so I took a chance and got the DCT15000. It pumps a ton of water. I’ve never run it over 50%. It’s quiet but not silent and has worked without any problems for 3 ½ years. It’s physically very large and barely fit in my sump. Here is the old 12,000 next to the 15,000.
Protein skimmer. I run an AquaC EV120 protein skimmer that came with the original tank. This is a lesser known brand but works great. It’s an injection skimmer rather than needle wheel. It’s compact and fits well in my sump. Since my sump is deep water I had to fabricate stilts to get it partially above water level.
Controls. I bought a Reefkeeper controller but ruined it last year after cleaning my sump. I left a union open and sprayed water all over the PB4 (power strip) and fried it. That’s when I discovered they’re out of business and couldn’t get a replacement. I bought a Bayite temperature controller for my heater and it works great. Keeps my temp within .2 of a degree.
Lighting. I can’t afford the high end lighting but I have 2 good LED light bars from 21LEDUSA. They’re not cheap and they’re are not well known but make great lights that deliver over 100 par at 24” depth. They’re American made with quality that is unbeatable. The owner is great to work with it you have questions or a problem. I have one bar that is full spectrum and one that is actinic and white. They’re both 2 channel remote controlled and are fully programmable for intensity and scheduling. They have sunrise/sunset, as well as a few other modes like storm, lightning and cloudy that I never use. I’m able to grow SPS and get good color from all my corals. The above photo of my display tank was taken with only the white lights on. Their web site is www.21ledusa.com
The rest of it.
I hard plumbed everything in 1” schedule 20 pvc and converted the overflow from a Durso to Herbie this past year. I also made a cover for the top of my overflow out of acrylic that silences any noise still present from the emergency overflow. This was a worthwhile upgrade that gave me silent water flow. I painted that cover black and also made a cover for the outside exposed areas of the overflow. One because the plumbing in the overflow was visible in the room and two, to keep light out. With no light algae doesn’t grow in the overflow reducing the need to clean it so often. The outside cover for the overflow can be seen in the picture of the completed cabinet above. The cable going into the overflow is my heater. It’s a 250w Eheim and works well there coupled with the Bayite temp controller. I also have a backup in the sump in case it fails. I put egg crate across the back of the canopy to discourage any jumpers. I’ve never lost anything that way but don’t know if that has anything to do with it.
Finally. As I said I subscribe to the k.i.s.s. method. I don’t run a refugium but if I decide to all I’d have to do is add the algae. I don’t run any reactors I just do 15% water changes pretty religiously every 2 weeks. I’ll dose NoPox if my nitrates and phosphates rise but usually only need to do that a couple times a year. As you can see I made just about everything but the glass box. Everything has functioned without failure for over 5 years. Being a DIY guy I get a lot of satisfaction from designing, fabricating and building my own stuff that works just as well as the commercially manufactured equivalent. Let me know what you think.