Shao's 42G reef - rebuild

zsxking

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I recently moved. My tank was broken down, and shipped with me. Now that I kind of settle down, I started slowly rebuilding it back, with proper design from the beginning this time. The tank's dimension is 30*18*18.

I'm following BRS/WWC 4 months cycle idea. Not sure if I will actually keep the tank empty for that long, but at least 2+ months. That basically give me time to wait for this year's black friday sale to finish up with rest of the equipment investment. ;)

From my previous build, I'm reusing the tank, stand, main light, refuge light, skimmer, dosers.

Flow wise, I sold the pair of Gyre that were running the tank, because I really got tired of cleaning them. Planning get a pair of AI Nero 5, because their low profile and the app. I used AI prime and really like the user friendliness of their app.

Currently just using an old MP10 for the cycle. It's running pretty loud this time, didn't remember it's that loud before. Not sure if it's just old, like 5+ years old model, or it's the first time I run it near max speed. It will stay quiet if I run it 50% or below.

The main filtration method is skimmer + refugium. With some activated carbon later for water clarity.

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Choice of rock
I was considering between CaribSea dry liferock and Reef saver dry rock. I ended up getting both. I was surprise to find out reef saver flat dry rock is more expensive than CaribSea's, so I got the 40lb pack of CaribSea dry liferock, because I really like their initial look. I also got two pieces of the reef saver foundation rock, for the curiosity of how they compares and the usefulness of the precut foundation rocks. After scaping with them, I'm convinced on the foundation rocks, especially on bare bottom. Having the rock looks grow out of the flat bottom is really nice. The two rocks are pretty similar on most of the perspectives besides the color. Similar porousness and density.

Rockscape
My idea of rockscape is to have good emphasize on focus points. I hate wall of rocks or horizontally flat scape across the length of the tank. That's probably have good influence from too many aquascape video I watched (like George Farmer). Also I'm keeping the height of the scape low to give enough space for the sticks, if I choose to add them (haven't decide on theme of the tank yet). Because of my tank is really not that big, and the rock piece are big and relatively few in number, it's hard to pile them up whatever way I want. After a whole night of struggling and trying several ideas, finally settle down on a scape of triangle composition, start from the overflow corner, with 4 path going down to the edge of the glass, creating separation of several local focus points, all below the peak. It looks like lava flowing down the ocean.

My final rockscape:
IMG_20190827_204400.jpg
 
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Sump Choice
This time I decided to replace the sump that comes from the tank, because it's baffle design is flat out terrible. But my choices are pretty limited because the space in the cabinet is only 26"*15". I also have an external skimmer, Skimz sm122, that I need to fit outside the sump in the cabinet. It's about 6.5" wide. So I have about 19"*15" to work with. I liked Skimz Sumpro a lot, but UP18 model is 18" wide, and UP22 is 22" long, so neither can fit.

I finally landed on Icecap RS-15 sump. It's 15"*15"*15". The size is pretty good, with majority of space in the skimmer chamber, which I will be used for refugium. The only thing I don't like is the integrated RO water reservoir, because it's small and I'd rather to have that space for more capacity. They could have put the filter sock chamber in the RO section, and add the additional space to skimmer chamber, for bigger refugium. But I don't really have a better choice now. I'll see how I like that RO chamber.

For a little bit review of the sump, overall it's a good sump, solid build and well design for most part. There are couple niches. The biggest problem is the water level baffle. It's hold by two plastic screws near the bottom. After only couple days it's already stuck and I can't turn it with bare hand. I think I will have use a plier if I want to adjust it, kind of defeating the purpose of movable baffle. But lucky for me I use it for refugium, so I just want the most water volume of it. So I just set it to the highest and forget about that. But there are two features that I didn't realize it has but am glad it did. First, it has 4 dosing line input, on the wall between pump and RO chamber. It's not in their product photo, probably a later update. Second, that wall between pump and RO chamber has an opening near the top, so I can run the tubing and wire for ATO through that, keeping the RO chamber cover close. That make me like the integrated RO reservoir a little bit more.
IMG_20190909_193601.jpg
 
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zsxking

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Plumbing
This time I decided to try hard plumb the sump.

A big realization is that, when plumbing with union fittings, connect them in the same direction. So when take apart, one end of the section will be female and the other will be male. Because it allows me to change out sections without rebuilding the rest, and will only take one union for the new section. Also use the same brand of union, because those from different brand might not be interchangeable.

The downflow line is simple, just only 1" pipe to the sump's inflow. I do it with two 90 degree elbow. But the noise is pretty audible, so I was wondering if I should change it to two 45 degree instead. But after started the skimmer, I realized that water sound is nothing compare to the skimmer's, so I left it as it is for now. I can always change it later if it bothers me enough.

The return line is difficult. There are three feature I need to include:
  1. a check valve
    1. I almost always to stop return pump to feed, and have my return nozzle quite below water for not drawing air in, so having a check valve will help a lot in stopping siphon. I tried before to drill a small hole in the return fitting close to water surface to stop siphon, but that didn't work very good for small return line like 1/2", cause I can't drill the hole too big or it will take away too much flow, and too small a hole will clog very soon.
  2. a manifold with 2 or 3 output
    1. I need one output to feed the skimmer. I also want to leave an additional one or two, in case I want to install more reactors later. Maybe like a UV sterilizer. I would love to have 3, but the limiting space under the cabinet make it really difficult.
  3. union to barb to return pump.
    1. The union (out of sump) to barb to return pump is important for easy return pump removable, for maintenance and cleaning. In my previous setup, I have the return pipe go directly from the pump. Even it had union from the pump, it was close to the pump and underwater, make it hard to access and got stuck hard. Also because the rest of the manifold sit on top of it, once it's removed the whole manifold is hanging from the bulkhead, not good. So every time I need to take it out it's a major PITA, and it's like rebuilding the pumping every time. Because it was hard, I didn't clean my return pump as often as I should, and usually wait until I have to, when it got stuck. Having the union out of sump in a accessible location will really allow me to easily remove it, so that I will clean it more regularly.
  4. Plumbing size
    1. My return bulkhead is 1/2", and the return pump default output is 1". I don't want to run the whole pipeline with 1/2", especially not with the return at the end, because I fear that might restrict the flow too much. So I want to come out of the return pump with 1", the tee to two 1/2", one directly going up the tank, the other going to manifold. I'm not very sure if that actually matter though to be honest.
My headache mostly from the lack of space under the cabinet and the height of the sump. From the top of the sump, a 1" union and two 1/2" tee will have it reach to the ceiling of the cabinet, no space for the check valve. So after playing pvc lego for a whole night, I come up with the plumbing setup I have. Also notice that I leave the top of the back wall empty, because I used to mount my BRS dosing pump there, and would want to do it again this time.

Some pictures.

Figuring out the manifold
IMG_20190829_185552.jpg


Completed plumbing
IMG_20190829_195143_1.jpg


Output to skimmer
IMG_20190829_201833.jpg


I also build a stand for the skimmer with some scrap 2x4 and abs board, because it's output pipe is lower than the sump's height, by about 6".
IMG_20190831_192229.jpg


Final result
IMG_20190831_203740.jpg
 
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Another challenge I got for hard plumbing the tank is the return nozzle. When I place the bulkhead in the middle of the hole, the return is just a tiny bit too far away. If I want it to reach the side, the but the bulkhead will be on the side of the hole, and it leaks.
IMG_20190830_090153.jpg


But gladly I found a fitting in irrigation section. It's like a normal PVC to barb fitting, but it don't have the hex section, so it can go through the hole like this.
IMG_20190909_174252.jpg

IMG_20190909_174300.jpg
 
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After started cycling for a week (using Dr Tim), I added the first inhabitants, clam from supermarket. :p For the worst case, they died, and they will serve the same purpose as the table shrimp I put it to start the cycling. If they live, I'll have more filtration there. In my old setup, I actually have the same type of clam in my tanks for several years.
IMG_20190901_191941.jpg
 
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I also took down the doors because the joints have been completely rusted. My goal is to make it able to be completely removed when working in the tank. When I doing the plumbing, there were no door there, and I love that.

I searched for quite a bit, but didn't find a good existing guide on how to. So I just improvise...

After hanging around in home depot for couple hours, I landed on these: using 3 door stoppers to hold the door in place. The down side is, it don't open as door, have to take it down completely, so not as convenient as a door will be.
IMG_20190901_191923.jpg

IMG_20190901_191825.jpg
 
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ATO
Even though I plan to get an Apex for the tank (waiting for black Friday deal), I don't quite want to use it's ATO because it's more expensive and the in tank part is pretty big. I settled with XP Aqua Duetto ATO. It's sensor is pretty small, with two sensors inside. The lower one to trigger top off, the higher one for high level alert. But because the two sensor is very close, and the skimmer return is also in the return chamber and it causes some ripple to the water, the high level sensor triggers a lot. But luckily it's only flashing the led, so not really bothered with it. The good feature of it for me is the timeout feature. It will record the time for the first refill (reset after power disconnected), then subsequent refill if it take longer than 6 times that, it will alert and stop ATO altogether till it's reset. It's really useful in case RO reservoir go empty. A normal fill usually take less than 10 second in my setup. So 6 times will only be a minute, or two. Not much chance to burn out the pump in that time.

Media Reactor
Because BRS did a flash sale, I decided to get a small reactor for activated carbon, and some ROX 0.8. But even though it's smaller model, it's still kind of big for me ... The reactor is plumbed with 1/2 push connect fitting. The tube of that size is surprisingly rigid and hard to work with.

The reactor comes with only one foam in the media chamber. It was not able to hold down the carbon when only half filled. So I have to turn the flow way down to prevent carbon from tumbling. I need to find a better way. One thought is to reverse the flow direction, so it's pushing down.

The other problem is the GFO. I want to mix it in so that I don't need to run two reactors. But apparently the two media don't mix well because the particle size different by too much. After mixed, a bit rinse is enough to cause GFO to start settling to the bottom. After the initial tumble, the bottom is mostly GFO color now. It make me worry about reverse flow may push GFO into the tank. Maybe another fine foam in the bottom? Don't really have one at hand, also fine foam is usually not a good idea because it clogs fast. Another thing I need to figure out. Maybe I won't use GFO for too long. In the previous setup, I didn't run any GFO in the last year of it.

IMG_20190910_075357.jpg
 
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zsxking

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For reference, this was how it looked like before I taken it down for the move
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The sump and plumbing
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I'm pretty happy on how much better my sump setup is now. I'm hopeful that my display will be even more better than it was.
 
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Made a small trick to the ATO reservoir, a ghetto water level indicator. Basically just a pipette, with some water as weight, and a rigid tubing for the length. It goes into the hole of the reservoir cover. It didn't stay straight at all, the level is far from accurate. But good enough as an indicator about whether I need to refill it.
IMG_20190911_214745.jpg
IMG_20190911_220212.jpg


Also added some sound damping foam board to the sump. I do think they reduced the noise quite a bit. Now in the middle of the night with skimmer on, it's not louder than the refrigerator.
IMG_20190911_223052.jpg
 
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In the past week I did couple tests of the water, results came in similarly:
NO3: 100+
PO4: 0.15
kH: 9.6

The first time after test, I did a 50% water change. But didn't seem to make a dent. So I stopped worry about it too much. Probably it's time to deploy the advanced nutrition export method now.

Over the weekend I went to LFS to grab some chaeto and get the refugium running. It's running with the Kessil H160 I have been using. I like that light because it's adjustable. For now I'm running it at about 40%, 12 hours a day, during the day.

I found another thing I don't like about the sump: there is nothing stopping chaeto from flowing into return chamber. I guess it could be a bit unfair as that was designed for skimmer... For now I just cut two piece of foam to line up there. But I don't have good way to hold them in place so they're just loosely hanging there. Also because the flow is quite slow in that area, there are not much floater besides the initial ones. But as the chaeto gets big, I think it will become a problem.
IMG_20190915_194527.jpg


Sump shot.
IMG_20190915_194505.jpg

I really need to find a better way to run the return line of the reactor. It's really breaking the clean look I tried so hard to achieve by hard plumbing it.
 
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Livestock added!

Finally got some actions in the tank. Honestly I wasn't ready to add fish to it yet. But then I saw this little beauty in the fish store, in perfect shape. I just have to get it.
DSC08133~2.JPG

It's a Solon wrasse as the fish store told me. It's the rock hiding type, not the sand diving type, so it's fine in my bare bottom tank. It's already eating the next day. Nice and healthy.

I also realized I didn't have a cover on the tank yet, so I immediately cut one out from egg crate. Also put down my order for the clearview lid.

The other fish is the one I always planned to get. Ruby Red Dragonet.
IMG_20190918_012808~2.jpg

I would prefer to get it as one of the earliest fish to the tank because it needs time to settle down, and I need quite some time to train it to frozen and pellet food. For now I'm putting it in a acclimation box in the refugium, so that it's easier to get the food to it. Excuse me for the picture, it's hard to take a good one with the algae growing red purple light.

First night, it started eating baby brine shrimp, so good start. The training plan is, live brine shrimp -> frozen bloodworms -> pellets. I'll try record the process as much as possible. It's actually not that hard. I trained several Mandarin before with the same process. Only difference is I didn't find live brine shrimp this time, but it's eating BBS now, so it should be fine.

One obvious difference between this and green/spotted mandarin is that, this one stay still a lot, kind of like hawkfish. I guess it might use camouflage in the wild. It's color does blend nicely with coralline algae. Then keeping still make sense. But because of its lack of explorative, the flask method might not work as well. I'll see.
 
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Along with the new fish, there are couple new corals and other invertebrates.

DSC08136~2.JPG

DSC08134~2.JPG

First are some non-photosynthesis gorgonian, Diodogorgia nodulifera. They're the common variety, yellow and red, both have white polyps. I still haven't start running normal lighting cycle yet, that's why I'm only getting NPS corals and other filter feeders. I'm currently feeding the tank with phytoplankton, reef chili, and selcon. I'm trying to do twice a day. I'm not too concerned about nutrition level so far, because the chaeto refugium is started already, and main lights are not on yet. I'm only turning on the light with 5% all blue for 6 hours a day for viewing purpose.

I have been feeding phytoplankton for 2 weeks now. I got 5280 pods and phyto from @AlgaeBarn two weeks ago and feeding it everyday. I'm now doing 10ml phytoplankton twice a day. I'm not very sure how's those 5280 pods doing. They're really very hard to see, the bottle it comes with looks like clear water at a glance lol. After put into the tank, I have to shutdown all flows then use flashlight to see some swimming pod. But I assume most free swimming ones are gone by now from the filtration. It's basically impossible to spot them on rock so I have no idea if they're getting more or all gone there.

Last week I also bought a bottle of tiger pods by ocean nutrition. They're a lot bigger, almost as big as baby brine shrimp. And being red make them easier to spot. I can still find some on sump's wall. Hope they will be reproducing.
 
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I also got some odd balls

Red sponge
20190918014219.jpg


Coco worm
DSC08137~2.JPG


Flame scallop
DSC08123~2.JPG


They're all non photosynthesis filter feeding animals. I'm still reading through some articles about them in details, but so far I gathered, they don't all feed on the same size of food. But since reef chili have all sorts of food, and with phytoplankton, most sizes are covered.

I also just found that flame scallop can move itself, with the foot reaching out.
IMG_20190917_203434~2.jpg

It also spits water out to push back itself. This morning, I found it in the back of the rock work! Not really slower than anemone. I have to get it out while can still reach it, and put it under a rock up front so that I can still see it, while it still got shielded from too heavy flow.
 
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Update on the pods. I checked last night, the glass is covered with pods. It's impossible to check the rock in the same way, but I think it's safe to assume there are even more there. So the pods + phytoplankton did work pretty well. Thanks @AlgaeBarn

 
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Quite a lot happened last week.

Apex
Finally decided to not wait for black Friday to buy the Apex, cause for one, the discount is 10% almost, if they have at all, and the second, the tank is getting ready faster than I thought and it's pita to run it without a controller. I might need to start dosing soon.

This is the first time I use an Apex. I have been using ReefAngel through all my previous builds. Programming wise, the coding side is really not that much simpler. The only true advantage of it for me is to be able to upload code remotely.

It did have one thing annoys me, that is the default update rate of the reading like pH and temperature is 10 mins. That's ridiculously long. And the setting of it is hard to find and confusingly labelled. Also there is no way to see it's internal real time reading even in local wifi. It's easy to tell when alarm goes off, and I go check the local host web ui, and the value was in good range. The controller was definitely seeing a different value than it's displaying.

Another small complaint is that I can only set the outlet to one feeding mode on UI. To have it behave differently on different feed mode I have to write the code for it. I have a normal feeding mode for fish that stop return for 10 mind, and a coral feeding mode to stop return for 20 and then keep skimmer off for another 2 hours.

Not much else to say about Apex. It's just another aquarium controller, with higher price tag, better ui support, and presumably better build quality.
 
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On existing stuff.

I gave up on training the dragonet to frozen food for now. It's way more shy than the mandarin gobies I have worked with before. It shows no interests in love brine shrimp, so it's hard to lurk it into the flask feeding café. But it did take baby brine shrimp pretty well. So I'll use that as its staple for now and see how it goes. Another reasons are, I started getting more fish, so it's better for it to settle into display before more aggressive tank mate come. Also I need to reclaim the sump space for cleaning. I made a mini baby brine shrimp feeding station, with 50 mesh screen, about 300 microns. But the BBS are able to get out pretty easily. Maybe I should try something finer, like 200 micron (70 mesh). The idea is to make it difficult for the BBS to get out, but still can, so they will get out slowly, feeding the dragonet over the day. This time I also skipped the pipe all the way out of water, because it's slightly. Also it's hard to push the shrimp all the way down the pipe without pushing too much of them out the net. This is what it looks like now.
download_20191001_091541.jpg


Onto the sump, the chaeto is showing some significant growth, after I up the intensity to about 80% on the Kessil H160, and extended photoperiod to 18 hours. It's filling up the refugium space. But also there are some brown diatom growing on it and the side of the sump. It's looking messy. So I decided to empty it out the fully clean the sump and wipe down every spot I can reach. I also trim out like a quarter of the chaeto on top that are covered with algae.

I think the trimming is well responded. The pH this morning was rising from last night. In before pH was continue to drop even when refuge is on, and it was rising during the day with just 5% main light on plus ambient light. So the photosynthesis was getting quite a bit stronger after the cleaning.

The water parameters are, Alk 7.4, NO3 25ppm, PO4 0.02ppm

Last change I did was taking the media reactor offline. The idea of GFO carbon mix didn't work out. The GFO particles are smaller than carbon by too much that it settles down at the bottom, and gradually formed into a hard block, stopping flow and pushed the whole media block up, even with a foam pushing it down on top. Also my phosphate is pretty low right now that GFO is not needed. It might even limiting chaeto growing. Now I just run the carbon in a media back in my overflow tower. My tank only needs 4 tbsp, so like a golf ball size.
 
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