Lifegard Aquatics 7.4g Pico Build "The Burry"

eag

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Ok, here we go! Brand new Lifegard Aquatics 7.4g "side filter" tank. This is my second reef tank, and will be very different from anything I've done before.

I hope to keep some softies, LPS, and a couple SPS if I'm lucky. A troop (?) of sexy shrimps, and probably one fish... Maybe a clown, because that is a family favorite.

IMG_20200704_155339.jpg


Constraints
I am sheltering with family during COVID-19. I don't intend to take the tank back home with me when I return... I can't reasonably expect my family to learn all the minutiae of reef keeping, though they'll probably cooperate with some regular (light) maintenance, and guidance by phone if something goes wrong. I also plan to find a local service "just in case".

This detail presents two important requirements. First, the tank needs to get up and running and see stability as fast as possible. I don't know how long until things blow over, and I can't leave a tank behind that's not stable. That said, I do think I'll be here long enough to pull it off, so long as I move quickly and deliberately.

Second, the tank must be low maintenance and "bulletproof". If regular maintenance requirements are too high, they'll be neglected. Further, things that might be obvious to a reefer won't be to others. For instance, accumulation of detritus leading to excessive nutrients would be difficult to diagnose over the phone. In another example, water level slightly high or low, or heater cycles becoming longer or shorter, are all likely to go unnoticed.

In working with these constraints, I'm aiming for a high degree of safety and redundancy. A small amount of automation for common tasks (e.g. ATO), and a custom stand with a built in mixing station for low overhead water changes.

Managing the Constraints
There are a lot of special considerations to this build given the constraints. In this section, I attempt to explain the steps I'm taking to work within them.

Flow
The tank came with an underpowered return, which I am upgrading to a sicce micra 158gph pump. I thought I might get away with that being the only source of flow, perhaps with an upgraded loc line, until I considered return pump failure.

To ensure flow in the event of return failure, I bought a small powerhead (technically a wavemaker I guess), a Current USA eFlux. It was more expensive than I'd hoped, but was the smallest one I could find with an acceptable minimum flow rate. It will live inside the display.

Heat
I'm going with two undersized heaters to account for two of the three known heater failure modes (the third, of course, being "catastrophic").

Having two heaters in such a small tank is tough. At least one will have to be in the display. The smallest heaters often lack a thermostat, and are cheaply made... I greatly fear a catastrophic failure, but I haven't figured out how to better mitigate that risk just yet...

Anyway, since they lack thermostats (I wouldn't trust it even if they did), they'll both have their own inkbird temperature controller.

Light
A kessil A80. I love the fanless design. I'll need a controller eventually for a predictable recurring photoperiod. A simple timed outlet could work, but I worry about my ability to keep SPS without dawn to dusk... Anyone have any success on that front?

The kessil controller feels like overkill for my needs. I guess I'll need to research my options.

ATO
An ATO will be critical as manual top ups are way too consuming. I found a micro ATO that uses an optical sensor the size of a penny. Perfect for my limited space build. It has a timer failsafe, which is also critical. Nothing will spell death for The Burry faster than a flood :(.

Of course, the small size comes with tradeoffs. The ATO has only a single sensor, and even though it has a built-in failsafe, I was still uncomfortable with the possibility of a flood. For instance, an obstructed overflow could lead to lower water levels in the back where the sensor is, and higher levels in the tank, which might cause a flood as the ATO tries to fill the back compartment.

To mitigate this risk even further, I've purchased an additional failsafe which will cut power to the ATO if the water level rises too high. The failsafe sensor will sit in the display somewhere.

Mixing Station and Water Sources
As I mentioned previously, I am looking for the lowest maintenance overhead possible. This requirement effectively mandated a small tank. At 7.4 gallons, I am hoping that actual water volume (after rock etc) will be closer to 5 gallons, allowing for a ~100% water change with only one (or two) buckets.

I purchased a stand from Walmart that was originally intended as an audio cabinet. I plan to tuck away all the electronics inside, as well as an ATO reservoir and a mixing station.

For the mixing station, I envision a board in the bottom of the stand mounted on sliding rails with a bucket holder bolted to it. The bucket will have a heater and a pump with some tubing attached to it. Water change should be as simple as sliding the bucket out, pouring in a predetermined amount of water and salt, and flipping a switch to turn on the heater and pump. The bucket can then be slid back into the stand and closed up while the water mixes and heats.

IMG_20200705_114536.jpg


Once the water is ready, the bucket can again be pulled out, and the tubing unrolled so it can be placed in the top of the tank. I am still thinking over the easiest way to deal with the waste water, as well as cleaning of the bucket and equipment inside it.

Since the tank is so small, my current plan is to rely on store bought distilled water. My family can simply pick up a few gallons whenever they go to the grocery store. More interestingly, there is a natural spring here at our house, and I have sent the water for ICP. There is certainly no chlorine in it, so I am hoping that the spring water can be used in a pinch, perhaps with some prime.

IMG_20200705_114334.jpg


Regular Maintenance Procedures and Considerations
Maintenance must not be too involved (do I sound like a broken record yet?), and anything that might turn into a problem requiring reefer knowledge later on down the road must be avoided at all costs. As such, the tank will be bare bottom. I plan on scaping with epoxy and super glue, then drilling into the bottom of the rocks to insert acrylic rods. This will allow the scape to sit up off the bottom, hopefully preventing detritus from collecting around the base.

With sand and detritus out of the way, the remaining concern is water quality and parameters. To deal with this, I am aiming for weekly 2 gallon water changes, which I think should work out to 30% or better when accounting for rock and equipment volume. My hope is that this (relatively) aggressive WC schedule will eliminate the need to closely monitor the parameters. I don't think I can ask my family to regularly test the water, but once in a blue moon if/when a problem is suspected is probably OK.

The jury is out on how long the filter media will be able to go. I guess I'll have to play that aspect of the maintenance plan by ear.

Quick Cycle
A normal 30+ day cycle is super nonideal, as it significantly delays my progress towards stability. I am trying to see if I can get TBS live rock in small quantities. I also purchased Dr Tim's as well as the brightwell cycle stuff. I read that Dr Tim's says bare bottom is a lot harder to cycle because the bacteria have less substrate to live on/in, so I'm going to try a double dose.

Aquascape
Bare bottom tank, with the rockwork raised up off the glass. I would like to have one large-ish "main" structure at the back of the tank, up against the back glass. Something open and air-y that will still allow flow to pass through, kind of like what is done in this video.

Then I'd like to have somewhere between one and three small "islands" in front of the main structure, coming out towards the front glass. No surprise that the family likes wavy corals, so I hope to be able to tame a few on isolated outcrops.

I'm hoping to secure some live rock, but have purchased dry rock just in case. Since the tank is new, I figure I can place LR in and monitor for any critters that come off it. With such a small volume, and no sand, I am thinking this should be relatively effective for controlling the introduction of pests.

Does anyone know if I can cut up live rock and what the impact might be?

Livestock Introduction Plan
As soon as I get through the cycle, I'm going to introduce some softies. One thing I'm not sure on is the nature of the nitrogen cycle in a coral only tank. I assume that I need to do some broadcast feeding in order to produce nutrients for the bacteria?

Once the softies are happy, I will introduce 3-5 sexy shrimps. I'll feed them lightly to keep the nutrients up a little bit. Finally, I will add a small fish and some LPS. If I'm very lucky, and am able to reach stability/maturity as fast as I'm hoping to, I'll finally add a couple hardy SPS, maybe a monti.

Request for Comments
See anything here that could spell trouble? Think I may have missed something, particularly certain failure modes? Have any equipment suggestions, tips or otherwise? Or even any questions? Please do leave a comment and let me know!

Summary and Current Progress
A pico reef tank with very low maintenance overhead, and a high degree of safety and redundancy. Every non-living piece has been ordered. All have been received with the exception of the rock and cycling bacteria. I am still in the process of trying to secure some live rock. The stand has been received but not assembled.

I will be posting updates as I go along, with plenty of pictures! Stay tuned, and happy reefing!
 
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TJDSEKULA

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Awesome start!! I have a pico build going, I'm building two and shipping one to my mother across the country, it will be her first ever saltwater tank. I'm facing many of the same challenges you are.
I built a small ato (gravity fed) and added a drain to the bottom of the tank to make wc (which will be the only real maint) super easy and added a nimble nano cleaner magnet.. here's my thread if it can help at all a lot of consideration went into answering many of the same issues your looking at. Good luck!!
 
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eag

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I have a pico build going, I'm building two and shipping one to my mother across the country, it will be her first ever saltwater tank. I'm facing many of the same challenges you are.

Oh wow... Super cool build! And so many similarities. I guess the biggest difference is less DIY and my ability to be present for the setup. Prescott... I have a friend who lives there!

I built a small ato (gravity fed) and added a drain to the bottom of the tank to make wc (which will be the only real maint) super easy and added a nimble nano cleaner magnet..

Gravity ATO looked awesome, but my tank is open on the top and there's no sump, so putting a reservoir would have been an eyesore.

Really cool build!
 

TJDSEKULA

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As far as a quick start,
Have you considered reaching out on here with a post for help?
For example "attention California reefers, a please help"
"Looking for someone with a larger tank willing to sell a piece of live rock from their sump or similar"
I know I definitely have some pieces I'm my sump I'd be willing to sell to someone local looking to use it as a quick start, I'd even be willing to trade a piece of similar size dry rock if they came to pick up. Just a thought, you could then have an almost pre cycled system even if you had to add some small rocks to the one large one etc.
 
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eag

eag

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As far as a quick start,
Have you considered reaching out on here with a post for help?

Aah, yes I should do that!! I'm kind of new to R2R and have yet to explore/figure out the local threads, but that sounds way easier than waiting on TBS! Thanks for the tip!
 
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Update: tank is wet!

MVIMG_20200707_161347.jpg


Exercising everything with just distilled water at the moment. This setup us temporary... Due to time constraints, I didn't want to wait on the stand customization to be complete before getting the tank wet. I'll move the tank and all the electronics once it's done... In the meantime, things are a bit of a mess as I test out all the equipment.

IMG_20200707_161355.jpg


IMG_20200707_161411.jpg


The water is currently coming up to temperature... So we will see if these little heaters can do it or not. All of the equipment is a pretty big eyesore, but it's hard to hide it all when the back is so small. I will be working on a rockscape that tries to hide a lot of it.

Finally, I was pretty concerned about the quality of my Kroger Brand distilled water. This 7.4 gallon tank took less than 6 one-gallon jugs to fill (!). I tested each of the six jugs with a TDS Meter prior to filling... One of the jugs measured 2ppm, and the rest measured 1ppm. I'm no expert, but that seems ok to me? I again tested the tank after filling (in case anything was left behind in it, on the electrical cords etc) and it read 1ppm.

MVIMG_20200707_161520.jpg


Next up will be rocks and cycle. My dry rock and cycling bacteria arrived today. I must now make a difficult choice... Drive 2 hours each way to get LR from a fellow reefer, drive 45 minutes each way to get LR from Petco (I'd really prefer to not go in a big store right now but apparently I have to cause you can't do curbside with LR), or suck it up and use the dry rock... Opinions on how "bad" or "good" the dry rock route will be for quickly establishing the tank are welcome!
 

TJDSEKULA

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Update: tank is wet!

MVIMG_20200707_161347.jpg


Exercising everything with just distilled water at the moment. This setup us temporary... Due to time constraints, I didn't want to wait on the stand customization to be complete before getting the tank wet. I'll move the tank and all the electronics once it's done... In the meantime, things are a bit of a mess as I test out all the equipment.

IMG_20200707_161355.jpg


IMG_20200707_161411.jpg


The water is currently coming up to temperature... So we will see if these little heaters can do it or not. All of the equipment is a pretty big eyesore, but it's hard to hide it all when the back is so small. I will be working on a rockscape that tries to hide a lot of it.

Finally, I was pretty concerned about the quality of my Kroger Brand distilled water. This 7.4 gallon tank took less than 6 one-gallon jugs to fill (!). I tested each of the six jugs with a TDS Meter prior to filling... One of the jugs measured 2ppm, and the rest measured 1ppm. I'm no expert, but that seems ok to me? I again tested the tank after filling (in case anything was left behind in it, on the electrical cords etc) and it read 1ppm.

MVIMG_20200707_161520.jpg


Next up will be rocks and cycle. My dry rock and cycling bacteria arrived today. I must now make a difficult choice... Drive 2 hours each way to get LR from a fellow reefer, drive 45 minutes each way to get LR from Petco (I'd really prefer to not go in a big store right now but apparently I have to cause you can't do curbside with LR), or suck it up and use the dry rock... Opinions on how "bad" or "good" the dry rock route will be for quickly establishing the tank are welcome!
My choice would be the road trip unless the local Petco is real good. The big box stores here are full of pests. I know two hours each way bites but i do an hour and a half+ each way to the nearest decent lfs so I know I'd do it. That of course assuming the local rock is good and pest free.. the way I see it is four hours now is worth it to get a clean solid start.
 

TJDSEKULA

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Update: tank is wet!

MVIMG_20200707_161347.jpg


Exercising everything with just distilled water at the moment. This setup us temporary... Due to time constraints, I didn't want to wait on the stand customization to be complete before getting the tank wet. I'll move the tank and all the electronics once it's done... In the meantime, things are a bit of a mess as I test out all the equipment.

IMG_20200707_161355.jpg


IMG_20200707_161411.jpg


The water is currently coming up to temperature... So we will see if these little heaters can do it or not. All of the equipment is a pretty big eyesore, but it's hard to hide it all when the back is so small. I will be working on a rockscape that tries to hide a lot of it.

Finally, I was pretty concerned about the quality of my Kroger Brand distilled water. This 7.4 gallon tank took less than 6 one-gallon jugs to fill (!). I tested each of the six jugs with a TDS Meter prior to filling... One of the jugs measured 2ppm, and the rest measured 1ppm. I'm no expert, but that seems ok to me? I again tested the tank after filling (in case anything was left behind in it, on the electrical cords etc) and it read 1ppm.

MVIMG_20200707_161520.jpg


Next up will be rocks and cycle. My dry rock and cycling bacteria arrived today. I must now make a difficult choice... Drive 2 hours each way to get LR from a fellow reefer, drive 45 minutes each way to get LR from Petco (I'd really prefer to not go in a big store right now but apparently I have to cause you can't do curbside with LR), or suck it up and use the dry rock... Opinions on how "bad" or "good" the dry rock route will be for quickly establishing the tank are welcome!
Also btw, I know your just testing but I'd move all the electronic stuff more out of the drip area and put some drip loops etc. I've done water tests and had stuff leak/drips onto surge strips it's not fun.
 
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Thanks for all the help @TJDSEKULA!

My choice would be the road trip unless the local Petco is real good. The big box stores here are full of pests. I know two hours each way bites but i do an hour and a half+ each way to the nearest decent lfs so I know I'd do it. That of course assuming the local rock is good and pest free.. the way I see it is four hours now is worth it to get a clean solid start.

I realized that if I was considering that long a drive then some other nearby cities were in scope. I managed to find a good LFS about an hour away that had some Fiji and Tonga LR that had been pulled from local tank breakdowns etc... Snagged about 7lbs, and have it sitting in the tank now

IMG_20200709_104441.jpg


I've also got a load of dry rock that I can use to better scape the LR if necessary.

IMG_20200709_110147.jpg


I have basically zero experience scaping like this, so... I guess I'll have to figure that out. I ordered some epoxy and thick super glue and some acrylic rods. Once I get the scape glued together, I'll sink the rods into the bottom like stilts.

img_20200709_114007-jpg.1670707


Also btw, I know your just testing but I'd move all the electronic stuff more out of the drip area and put some drip loops etc. I've done water tests and had stuff leak/drips onto surge strips it's not fun.

Heh yes... I thought I'd be called out on that :). I was being lazy. Thank you for the poke though... I picked it all up and put it on a bucket.

IMG_20200709_104451.jpg


I'm going to try to get the stand construction started soon IMG_20200709_114007.jpg
 
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I spent some time yesterday trying my best to scape :rolleyes:

I got one and a half good pieces out of it I think. Out of the three pieces I made, I'll probably need to take one out to make some room.

I used epoxy putty and super glue, plus the quick set spray from BRS. It's all supposed to be reef safe, but boy did the water get cloudy! It is still cloudy today, and really makes me wonder just how reef safe that stuff is... Especially in liberal amounts with a small water volume. Here are some pictures

IMG_20200710_102840.jpg


IMG_20200710_102851.jpg


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MVIMG_20200710_102909.jpg


Next, I will cover some of the larger putty joints with super glue (for better aesthetics) and try to remove some extra stuck-on pieces of putty that came with the rock. At the same time, I will try to drill holes in the base and set the acrylic rods in, cutting them to size. I haven't quite figured out the best way to get the holes drilled at the right angle, and the rods cut evenly... We will see :D

Once the aforementioned rock work is done, I'm going to do a ~100% water change, followed by a hit from Dr Tim's one and only. I'm hoping that the tank will be more or less cycled following that.

Will post more updates as they come!
 
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Ok, the rockwork is now done! I was able to get the stilts working fairly well. There are some aesthetic concerns that I'll try to address over time, hiding or otherwise make the acrylic stilts look more natural from lower viewing angles. Ideas welcome!

MVIMG_20200717_144317.jpg

MVIMG_20200717_144408.jpg

IMG_20200717_144425.jpg

IMG_20200717_144456.jpg


I got some great suggestions in the aquascaping forum. The key insight was to "think tripod". That allowed me to worry less about drilling the holes at the perfect angle, and instead compensating with extra length in the legs. I then cut them down to size with PVC cutters once they were set with super glue.

IMG_20200712_150818.jpg


This rock was so thin that the drill just punched right through it. That made setting the stilts more difficult because I had to hold them in position while the glue set. Later, I covered the tops.woth super glue caps to hide them.

IMG_20200712_150821.jpg


And here's what it looks like after cutting it down

IMG_20200712_151330.jpg

IMG_20200712_151348.jpg

IMG_20200712_151338.jpg


The larger piece in the back of the tank is actually five different pieces of LR that I fused together. With epoxy putty and a ton of extra thick super glue.

IMG_20200712_155239.jpg

IMG_20200712_161000.jpg


And here's the clearance in the tank

IMG_20200717_144530.jpg

IMG_20200717_144824.jpg


Here's a close up of one of the joints. This joint fused three pieces of LR (left branching coral, center horizontal Tonga piece, and right branching coral). I molded the epoxy putty to look natural, and covered it all with super glue. Over time, I expect algae coraline etc to grow over it. Sorry for the bad pictures, but hopefully you get the idea.

MVIMG_20200717_144557.jpg


I dumped some Dr Tim's One and Only in to help establish a bacteria population on the glass surfaces, equipment etc... Followed by some ammonia fr brightwell aquatics (QuickCycl I think it was called?). Most of the ammonia had cleared by the next evening and nitrates were somewhere between 5-10ppm.

Today, I'm receiving the first set of corals. Some encrusters for the bottom glass, some softies for the rockwork. Still haven't been able to get started on the stand... Hopefully soon! I also set up the ATO and built a temporary reservoir from a gallon jug, but will save that for a later post.
 
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Overdue for an update!

The corals were supposed to arrive before 10:30am, but were delayed by UPS and didn't actually arrive until almost 6pm... It was a really hot day, and all the bag water was super warm, with even the box itself being warm to the touch upon delivery.

Some recovered well, some were grumpy for a while, some are still grumpy... A small tip of a cyphastrea died off... But could have been worse. I will post pictures of them next time.

The autoaqua smart micro ATO is working very well so far. I have the sensor in the return chamber and it keeps the level on the money. I'd say the variance is in the neighborhood of 1/8".

MVIMG_20200722_132126.jpg


The ATO itself is tiny... Just a little bump in the wire. It connects to power, the DC pump, and the optical sensor

IMG_20200722_132100.jpg


Since the stand wasn't done yet, I wasn't quite sure what ATO reservoir dimensions were going to end up working best. I opted to build a temporary reservoir using two one-gallon distilled water jugs.

IMG_20200722_132023.jpg


Using a razor, I cut along the shoulder of one jug to dislodge the top, like a cap. Then, I cut the same shape along the shoulder of a second jug, except that time slightly larger. The second cutout then becomes the top. Cut a couple tabs into it so it locks in place, and a hole in the top for power and water.

IMG_20200722_132133.jpg


I have the ATO power plugged into an autoaqua smart level security relay. It uses a dedicated optical sensor to cut power to the ATO if the water level in the display rises too high. It also appears to be working well.

Also, I've finally started work on the stand, so my next post will share some more pictures and progress on that front.
 
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As promised, I have a shot with the corals in it. The zoas are all doing pretty well, as are the mushrooms. I have two psammacoras, both of which look good and one of which is very furry and seems to be growing already... or maybe that's just my eyes playing tricks :)

Of the two cyphastreas, one looks ok and is improving, and the other looks sad and is staying the same. They had a rough trip over, and the sad one had a bit die off by the time it got to me... so I guess I'd expect it to be sad. I moved it yesterday when I realized maybe the flow was too high.

MVIMG_20200728_101103.jpg


Can you spot the two small zoa polyps that hitchiked in on my LR? :)

I'll be taking most of these off their plugs in the next day or two, whenever I get a moment.

Some algae has begun to grow... I think it's GHA. It is fine, soft and wavy, but has a very distinctive center stalk with branches extending from it on either side. It has really taken over in the last few days, very quickly. Here's a picture I took in the beginning

IMG_20200725_082503.jpg


MVIMG_20200725_083310.jpg


Here is a picture I took yesterday, or about two days after the above pictures were taken

MVIMG_20200728_101115.jpg


You can really see the growth on that white LR in the front left. Today, I'd say it's almost twice as long.

Aside from the LR and corals (and associated glues), the only thing that has gone in was ammonia to exercise the cycle when the tank first got wet, and a half spoonful of reef chili two days ago. I did a 25% water change just before feeding the reef chili.

On a related note, trying to figure out what a CUC looks like for this size tank, if any. Maybe some dwarf ceriths or similar small snail? I would think that the death of a big snail in a tank this size would be problematic. As for hermits, I think they'd have a hard time getting up to the rockwork.

I've also made some progress on the stand. I've got the bones built and measured, and have started modeling the modifications.

IMG_20200722_172110.jpg


I found some good (if not oversized) slide rails on home depot. At 18", it's rated to 500 lbs in the best case and 300 lbs in the worst case (after 75k+ cycles). I'm hoping that the heavier rating will help the platform slide with ease when loaded with 40-60 lbs.


The stand appears to be particle board, so I'm still working on the best way to join all of these pieces... this is my preliminary plan for the platform

Screenshot 2020-07-29 at 15.43.18.png


Seen here from the back, the outside grey boxes represent the slide rails, the inside boards I would cut. The platform screws down into the inside boards, and has a front lip to hide the empty space.

Here's a different diagram, looking from the front.

Screenshot 2020-07-29 at 15.35.42.png


I put two buckets for water change, and modeled the weatherguard bucket holder. To the left is the ATO reservoir. It currently collides with the bucket holder foot, but I plan on modeling and printing some feet for it that can be screwed into the board, holding the reservoir above the bucket holder foot. Hopefully, you can just pull on the bucket (like you would a trash can under a sink) to extend the platform and access the reservoir and WC equipment.

I'm also trying to mount the equipment on a board that can be removed, like a control panel. All the equipment cables coming off of it will be bundled up into a thick umbilical cord, so interacting with the equipment is as easy as possible.

Screenshot 2020-07-29 at 15.41.42.png


In the back, behind the buckets are the two power strips. I am hoping that the positioning of these boards will 1) force a drip loop on anything coming in/out of the cabinet, and 2) help to get some circulation going with convection currents from warm equipment in the cabinet.
 

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I am looking at the same tank right now and I see it has a drain/plug at the bottom? do you see any problem with that?
 
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I am looking at the same tank right now and I see it has a drain/plug at the bottom? do you see any problem with that?

I originally thought it would be great, to pull detritus and heavier bits off the bottom of the tank, but it has turned out to be a little bit of a pain in my opinion. Anyone used to the mechanics of an overflow will find "strange" water level behavior when there's another outlet involved. For instance, water level in the display is no longer fixed as there's an outlet at the bottom. Water level can fall below the overflow.

I think that the overflow slats are a little too densely packed. Probably because it was designed to be used with the bottom outlet, which increases flow to the back chambers. When the bottom outlet is plugged, water level in the display rises significantly. I suspect that my higher flow return pump (higher than the tank shipped with, at least) is also part of the equation on that one.

I have been planning to reduce the return flow and plug the bottom outlet, and see if I can get a "normal" water level in the display. The redundancies I have been planning on are less effective (and/or more difficult for me to reason about) when accounting for the bottom outlet.

Also, apologies for not having updated this thread in a while. It deserves a post! The quick digest is that my GHA problem flared up quite bad, but I think it was a one-time event and the remaining GHA is fading in color and seems to be dying. I've been slowly removing it as to not re-introduce the nutrients they locked up. Most corals are growing well, and my meteor shower cyphastrea has already begun growing well on the bottom glass with a few polyps popping up there. Will give a proper update soon!
 
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@ramona One last thought... I have enjoyed the tank, and I did quite a bit of research beforehand. Despite my trying to get the bottom outlet tuned correctly, I still think it's a good tank. You can always plug it. The only thing I'd say is, depending on what you're keeping, you're probably gonna want a powerhead or something to provide more flow than the return can reasonably provide given the overflow spacing.
 
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Ok ok, I'm way overdue on an update here. Sorry everyone!

The tank is still alive. It's doing fairly well. I've learned a bunch of things along the way. The first two pictures below were taken about 1.5 months before the second one, you can see the growth on the cyphastrea and psammacora on the bottom glass. The tank is not perfect, and not everyone is totally happy, but we're headed in the right direction...

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IMG_20200830_195537.jpg


1.5 months later ...

PXL_20201013_185317545.jpg



The hair algae problems have mostly cleared up. Now I'm getting bubble algae and some other sort of macro popping up here and there. I do some manual removal with water changes.

Great growth from some corals, medium from others, and none (and in some cases even a little bleaching) in a couple. I've found a few things that could be contributing to that, more on those below.

Water and Water Changes
The water change regimen is going well so far. Roughly two gallons a week. I've found that this tank is actually closer to 5 gallons when accounting for the LR etc... I even wondered if the 7.4G measurement was taken when the display and back chambers are filled to the brim! Anyways, what it means is that we're doing nearly 40% WC a week.

I haven't started using the spring water yet, and continue to mix Tropic Marin Pro with Kroger brand distilled water. I managed to get ICP results on both the spring water and the tap water. The summary there is that the spring water is pretty clean, with the exception of elevated silicates, which make it unsuitable for use as top-off water. It's probably OK for use in WCs though. The water from the tap had very high copper content, along with silver and tin, which is probably from the copper piping and soldering in this old house. Check out this thread if you wanna read more about that: https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/s...s-what-is-acceptable-for-source-water.737822/

The volume of water needed per week so far has been low enough that buying distilled water is manageable. Once things are more stable, maybe I'll give the spring water a shot.

I noticed pretty early on that the Kroger water reads ~1-2ppm on a TDS meter. One thing I worried about was the potential for copper (from the use of copper equipment in the manufacturing process). I thought about sending it for ICP, but that doesn't help a ton if you don't know what the variance is. I reached out to Kroger customer service and requested the latest quality control results as well as the tolerances allowed. (Literally) Months later, I've got the results: no copper detected, but the allowed tolerance simply cites the US FDA tolerances which are very high. Still, reassuring. I've attached the report.

The Inverts
When the algae outbreak got really bad (following my last post), I decided it was time for a CuC. I ordered a handful of dwarf ceriths from reef cleaners, as well as two limpets and two hermit crabs. I was worried about the hermit crabs not being able to get up on to the rock structure (since it's elevated on acrylic pylons), but that turned out to be a non-issue. I was also worried about the mass of these creatures - for instance, if a regular-sized trochus snail were to die in a tank this size, it would probably wreak havok on the water chemistry if not discovered quickly. Luckily, these dwarf ceriths are very small.

Neither of the limpets survived, I'm not totally sure why. It's possible I screwed up their acclimation. The hermit crabs seem to be pretty happy, and have already switched shells once or twice. The dwarf ceriths are everywhere. There are also a lot of empty shells... It's hard for me to tell if they were empty when I got them, or if they died in the tank. At any rate, the algae situation is much much better now, no doubt in part due to the CuC.

I also got five sexy shrimp. One died the day after I received it. The other four survived and seem to be happy. There are conflicting opinions on the internet about the care of sexy shrimp. Some people say they need to be fed, some say they don't. Some say they can feed on coral slime. Having to feed them is far from ideal... especially if it requires frozen food - that's a big burden to leave behind on my family, especially for some tiny shrimp :). I have small pellet food for them, but that's not good for water quality either.

I decided to see if I could get away without feeding them. A month later, I can say that the (likely) answer is "no" after I concluding an investigation into why some of my zoas weren't doing too well... that's right, I'm fairly certain they've been munching on my zoas. As of today, I've begun to sparingly feed some pellets... so we'll see how that goes for a while. It's really hard to tell if they're eating the pellets or not...

The Bottom Drain Problem
The drain at the bottom of the tank seems like a nice feature at first, but it has turned out to be really problematic. I'm now of the opinion that there's a design flaw in the overflow, which caused the manufacturer to make a quick fix by drilling a bottom drain.

The bottom drain hole sends water into the mechanical filter chamber, where I currently have the sponge that came with the tank. It enters the same chamber as the overflow, just at the bottom instead of the top. As time goes by though, the water level in the display slowly rises, and the level in the back chamber slowly falls. This causes the ATO to kick in as it has a sensor in the back chamber. More water is pushed into the chamber, and more is pumped into the back, and this cycle goes on until the water level in the display is quite high.

When I perform a WC and clean the sponge, the display water level drops back to "normal". In some cases, it drops even lower, below the overflow. I realized that by having the bottom drain, we no longer have a clean separation between display water level and pressure, and back chamber water level and pressure. The worst part of this cycle is that it caused my salinity to crash - it wasn't until I happened to take a salinity measurement during a WC and noticed that the tank was at 1.022 specific gravity!

So, I plugged up the bottom drain... not so fast though! Simply plugging the drain causes the display to nearly overflow! It turns out that my return was pumping water out of the back chamber faster than the overflow could allow for. I did have an upgraded return... I started to turn the flow down, and found that even the lowest possible flow setting was too high. So, I got the stock pump and installed it, and even it was too strong... and much louder.

The stock pump came with a flow restrictor, so I started dialing it back and eventually got to a spot that worked with ~85% restriction :-|. I've been running it in this configuration for a few days now, and so far so good. The fact that I have to restrict the flow so greatly with the stock pump is what leads me to believe that the overflow suffers from a design flaw that limits its throughput, and the bottom drain was the quick fix.

I had to add another powerhead to account for the reduced flow from the return. Luckily, the powerhead system I bought allowed me to easily add on another one and control it with the same equipment. Hooray!

A Media Basket
The mechanical filter that the tank came with - a reusable sponge - is decidedly less than ideal. It's hard to clean well and hard to pull out of the tank. There is another lifegard build thread in which I got the idea to 3d print a media basket. He didn't share the model though, so I had to design a new one.

PXL_20201114_154506181.jpg


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It is designed to drop into the left-most chamber seen behind it. The bottom platform is angled because the water exits the left-most chamber through a triangular shaped hole, which the bottom platform aligns with. Once I see that the water levels are stable while the bottom drain is plugged, I will start using this basket... I guess I also need to order some filter pads.

I've attached the STL file for the media basket. The one pictured is scaled to 97% and it fits perfectly. I zipped it because for some reason r2r only wants zipped files.

Concluding Thoughts
I feel things are going fairly well given the circumstances, and considering the age of the tank. I have an acropora that looks like it's growing and shows some OK polyp extension. I have some corals that have grown very nicely... all of this is a surprise after having learned about the salinity issues. With that being addressed (as well as the sexy shrimp issue), I'm hoping that some of the other corals will start growing better too.
 

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AS

Do you think that live rock is more beneficial in sump than it is in the main display tank?

  • In the sump

    Votes: 37 11.7%
  • In the display

    Votes: 129 41.0%
  • Other (please explain)

    Votes: 49 15.6%
  • Not sure

    Votes: 100 31.7%
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