Vette's 180 reef with basement filtration room

Vette67

Reefing since 1997
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Here's my build. Been here for a little while and figured I should finally do a build thread. This all starts back in the late 90's, before the age of cell phone cameras. Most of these old pictures were taken with my old Olympus digital camera that I bought from Circuit City.

But actually, the story starts even before then. Back in 1986, when I was about 14, I went on a spring break trip to Florida with my parents to visit my grandparents in Ft. Meyers. I, being the beach fanatic, was fascinated with all of the animals that I found on the beach there. So much so, that I brought them home with me back to Ohio. I had a 10 gallon tank at the time, and my dad entertained my wishes to attempt to keep these animals and took me to the pet store to buy some salt and a hydrometer. I managed to keep the hermits alive for a few months, but one can only imagine the myriad of problems that would arise in a 10 gallon saltwater tank with no idea of how one works. But that didn’t matter. The saltwater bug had bitten.

So about 10 years later, I was still living at home and going to college. I had a decent job, and never lost sight of setting up a saltwater tank. So in 1997 I did some research on AOL (that was the “internet” of the time) and figured out how to set up a reef tank. Berlin method was all the rage. I purchased a used, scratched up, piece of crap 75 and got it running.

About a year later, I moved into my own apartment, and bought a new 75 and move the whole thing to my new 3rd floor apartment. Landlord loved me. But I had a full reef setup with coral, tangs, and even had clams. Here’s top picture of that tank from August of 1999.
Tank Top View.jpg


Then in 2001, I got married, and bought a house. The whole time I’m house shopping, my main focus with any house was where the tank was going to go. I knew I wanted a 180, so the house had to have room for that, and a basement for my filtration room. No slab houses for me. But I agreed with the wife that the tank would wait until we did a few necessary things to the house. So, the 75 was moved into the basement, leaving enough room for the filtration that would support the new tank when it arrived. Nothing but the best plastic tote for a sump. And that is the 75 set up next to the sump to the right.
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Which brings us to February of 2002. I purchased the tank and finally had it set up. I built the stand myself, and have no pictures of its construction. But I did set it in place and started the plumbing through my cold air return to go into my basement. Before the overflows were plumbed in.
tank180stand.jpg


I left the area right next to my furnace with space for whatever filtration I would need. And I finally set up the tank in its new home, and started filling. RO was set up in the basement and saltwater was mixed in a trash can then carried upstairs 5 gallons at a time. You can see the dinner plate to prevent gravel from blowing around, and even see part of the 5-gallon water jug that made MANY trips up the stairs.
tank180.jpg


Then the cycling begins. I purchased that first box of Fiji live rock from Premium Aquatics and had it trans-shipped from Fiji to my door. Hitch hikers and all. I still hadn’t finished the plumbing yet, so the tank cycled with a power head and a heater until I finished the plumbing.
tank180rock.JPG


Here’s where the overflow comes out of my cold air return and will dump into the sump. 1.5" rigid PVC. My uncle worked for a distributor that sold automation controllers to manufacturing facilities. So he gave me a “display model” Endress and Hauser level controller that I installed and used as an ATO back in 2002 (its still in use today).
tank180basement.jpg


Then sometime in 2003, I got rid of that green plastic tote and purchased a 60 gallon HDPE sump, which remained my sump until 2019. So, that had a good run…
180filter.jpg


So, it has been a long journey for me. There have been some ups and downs. Like in 2012 I had to tear down the whole tank to deal with a GHA bloom that wiped out 90% of my coral. Muratic acid treatment, bleach and lanthanum chloride fixed that issue. That almost made me get out of the hobby, but after stripping everything, and changing my maintenance routine, I have not had problems with GHA since. In all this has been been my obsession since 1997 but my love for aquariums has been a lifelong obsession for me. I hope the novelty doesn't wear off anytime soon. Here’s to another 20+ years of reefing….

Thanks for looking. And here's the tank now.
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Vette67

Vette67

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Now that I'm done with the introduction, onto the details. You could say that I am an old school reefer. Having learned about reefing in the 90's, when the Berlin method was all the rage, I haven't strayed far from that even now. Berlin method is basically lots of live rock with a big skimmer. So, that's as good a place to start as any. You can see in the photos above, my first skimmer, even on my 75 gallon tank in my apartment, was the 48" venturi skimmer. I even bought the nice Mazzei venturi. With the 180, I soon outgrew that skimmer, so I bought the MTC HSA-1000, probably in 2004 or 2005. And I have been running that skimmer ever since, and love it. My MTC is even the original design with the Beckett down the center.
IMG_5959[1].JPG


Driving the skimmer, I have a Pan World 100PX-X pump. The larger pump to the right is the Pan World 150PS, which is my main re circulation pump. The outlet side has a T on it. The top part (majority of the flow) goes through the Lifegard 40W UV before going up through my cold air return and into the 180. The bottom half of the T goes around the back of the sump, through another Lifegard 40W sterilizer and feeds the 75. Having dealt with a pretty bad case of ick, I take no chances now, and all of my recirculated water is sterilized.

The control board (literally a piece of plywood glued to my cinder block wall) houses what little brains my tank has. Remember, I'm old school. So, the Endress and Hauser single input controller uses a hydro static level sensor that feeds into the controller. I have the level set at 16 inches with a 0.25" hysteresis. When evaporation drops the level in my sump to 16.00", an internal relay in the controller energizes the ice cube relay, below the controller, which opens the normally closed solenoid valve sitting on the rail above my RO filter. The filters turn on, and fills my sump until the level reaches 16.25 (that's the 1/4" deadband), and then the relay de-energizes and the solenoid closes. Now my RO is a hodgepodge of upgrades over the years, that started with a SpectraPure 3 stage RO filter that I kept adding onto. Also notable in the picture is the ozone generator. It's a simple Milwaukee ORP controller that turns on the Ozotech ozone generator that feeds ozone into my skimmer. The media chamber with the pink media is the air dryer. Apparently moisture is bad for the unit. But you can also see the opaque 5/16" silicon tubing that is towards the right on the top of my skimmer is where ozone is injected into the skimmer. Honestly, I don't know how much the ozone helps, but it is in place, and doesn't seem to hurt things. Oxygen is generally a good thing, and if nothing else, should help keep the CO2 in check, which should raise the pH (I have no evidence to prove that happens, though).
IMG_5961[1].JPG
 
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Vette67

Vette67

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For 16+ years I had that 60 gallon HDPE tank as my sump, as you can see above.. With allowance for power outages, I could only fill that up about half way. So I had maybe 30 gallon in that sump. Now a few years ago, I bought a 150 gallon Rubbermaid commercial stock tank. I had been dealing with ick (that could be a story all its own), so I was using the 150 gallon as my hospital tank. I still had that venturi skimmer, so I plumbed that onto the tank, and put all my fish there wile my tank ran fallow. After getting the ick under control, I had a 150 gallon stock tank to play with. So, I decided to make that my sump in December of 2019. I had plumbed the 60 gallon sump with 2" PVC. So, when I went to the 150, I figured I would upgrade everything to 3". Well, it wasn't until I got the 3" bulkhead, and 3" ball valve in the mail, that I realized how big 3" really is. Let's just say it is complete overkill. I had the 2 pumps, the Panworld 100PX-X and the 150PS plumbed on the 2" PVC, so there's no way I'll ever outflow the 3", no matter what pumps I throw at it. I had to use a rotozip to cut the 4" hole for the 3" bulkhead, well my buddy did. That's not me cutting the hole....
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Everything cut, and the bulkhead is in place. Just an idea of how big that 3" ball valve is...
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I had to slide out the old sump, with the water still in it. I didn't really have anywhere else to store 60 gallons of saltwater. My other makeup water tank, a 35 gallon HDPE tank, a mini version of my sump, and the blue garbage can in the background were already full of saltwater ready for the extra volume that I was going to need when I filed the 150 back up.
IMG_5789[1].JPG


I will mention, that I struggled to find an inlet strainer to fit a 3" bulkhead. I looked all over, but I couldn't find anyone that makes a 3" saltwater safe inlet strainer. 2" is no problem to find. While looking at 2" inlet strainers, I happened on Barr Aquatics website, and I noticed that they made their own inlet strainers, by 3D printing them. So I contact the owner, Brent, and together we designed a one-off 3" inlet strainer. Well, it's not one-off anymore because he now offers it for sale on his website...
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And here is it now. I have about 50 pounds of live rock in the sump. It is old dry rock that I took out of my tank years ago, but I figured the sump was a good place for it to repopulate into live rock again. And by now, I figure it has to be mostly live again.
IMG_5977[1].JPG


The small blue unit on the floor, with the small 1/2" hose going to the other sump bulkhead is the hydrostatic level sensor. That's what feeds the height of the water column in my sump up to the Endress and Hauser controller for my automated topoff system.

I figure with the water level where it is in the new sump, I have to be at over 100 gallons of water in the 150 gallon sump, still allowing enough room for power outages. That should have given me at least another 60 or 70 gallons of volume in my system, which I guess was the whole goal in getting the larger sump.
 
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Vette67

Vette67

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Now onto the DIY calcium reactor. This is actually pretty simple. It's a closed loop system with one pump, some PVC Tees, vinly hose and a CO2 tank. First, I'll start with the mechanical part. The heart of the reactor is an Iwaki WMD-20RLT. I don't know for sure when I bought this, but I'm thinking it was sometime in around 2003 or 2004. This pump has been untouched since I installed it. I haven't replaced the impeller, and it does not need to be oiled. It has been running, without fail, non stop for at least 16 years. So that's my plug for buying nice equipment up front. Onto the pump connections. The pump has 2 sides, input and output. The 4 way Tee is on the input side. The force of the suction of the pump creates a small vacuum on that side. The 3 way Tee is on the output side of the pump. This is the pressure side. I have the ports numbered. On the input side of the pump, port 1 is the CO2 input coming from tank, regulator, needle valve and bubble counter. You want the CO2 bubble to be "liquefied" and dissolved as it gets injected into the impeller of the pump. Port 2 is water input from my sump. Nothing special here, just 1/4" line submerged in my sump, because this is the vacuum side. And Port 4 comes from the top of the calcium reaction chamber. On the pressure side, Port 3 is output of calcified water to my sump. Port 5 is the pressure recirculating line going into the bottom of the reaction chamber. You'll notice too, at the bottom of the picture of the hose connected to port 5, is a small 1/2" inline ball valve. That is used to control the pump flow through the media. Too much pressure, and the media floats and tumbles. The water in my reactor has a steady flow, so that it does not move the media within the chamber. Water just flows through the media.
IMG_5989.jpg


Next, we move to the reaction chamber itself. This reaction chamber was built by a friend of mine that is very good with acrylics. It is just a 1/2 hose coming into the bottom of the reaction chamber. Inside is a small piece of clear PVC pipe that acts as a standoff, to hold the egg crate in place that has a pad on which all of the media sits. So the point is to get the input of the recirculation water underneath the media layer, so that the CO2 rich water is forced through the media, slowly dissolving it. At the top is just another 1/2" port with a 90º bend in it. This is the return back to the pump for the recirculation.
IMG_5992[1].JPG


On the sump side of things, Port 1 in this picture is the calcified water output into my sump. Camera didn't catch it, but I have that set on a pretty steady drip, controlled by that micro ball valve seen next to the number 1. And then the number 2 is the intake side. I just have the line tie wrapped to the hose of a different media reactor, and then I put a syringe (minus the plunger and needle) onto the end of it. I don't k now if it helps, but it is intended to limit the amount of debris that I suck in. So, the control on my calcium reactor is completely mechanical. No controller, nothing technical about it. Flow through the reaction chamber is controlled by a ball valve, and output of calcified water into my tank is controlled by a micro ball valve. Remember. Old School Reefer.... This reactor has been successfully keeping my calcium and alkalinity steady long before any type of controllers even existed. And if it has worked very well this long, why try to re-invent the wheel?
IMG_5991.JPG


The last part of the reactor is the CO2 tank itself. That has a normal CO2 regulator on it, nothing reef specific at all. I have the regulator set to about 8-10 PSI. Coming off the output, is another brass ball valve, in case I need to turn off the CO2 and don't want to wait for the regulator to bleed pressure. Below that shutoff valve is a needle valve. Very touchy. The needle valve is connected to the bubble counter, which then goes to the input side of the pump. I have my CO2 flow set at about a bubble of CO2 every 3 seconds. You can see the indicator in the read on the high pressure gauge, which is why the backup CO2 tank is full and ready to go, probably within the next month or so.
IMG_5997[1].JPG


So that is the DIY Home Made calcium reactor. Very effective, I might add. You can see from my whole tank picture, every single acro in my tank started as a frag. The one purple acro in the center is the size of a volleyball now, so without ever testing calcium or alk, I have been able to get that kind of growth, and it is no small part due to the successful design of this calcium reactor.
 
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Vette67

Vette67

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Since, as I've said before, I'm old school, so too is the lighting on my tank. I pretty much haven't change it in 20 years. And that isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't care to get into the debate about LED / Metal halide, but we'll say I fall in the metal halide camp. And really it's a matter of what was available at the time I started reefing, over 20 years ago. And even today, I don't think much can beat metal halide, as far as coral growth and spectrum.

Even my ballasts are old. There used to be a company that was the go-to for reef lighting, hellolights.com. They have since gone out of business, but they used to sell ARO ballasts. I'm not sure if this was exclusively their brand, but since hellolights and ARO no longer sell equipment, I can only assume they were one in the same. So, here's my ballasts for my metal halide. I have 3 above my tank. They are the more efficient electronic ballasts, not the magnetic. I have a 175 watt on either end, and a 250 watt in the middle.
IMG_6087[1].JPG


And I supplement the metal halides with VHO. The VHO ballast is the one on the left, again ARO. Since I have the ballasts and they still work, as long as I can get the T12VHO bulbs, I plan on sticking with them. Each 6 foot VHO bulb is 160 watts, so it would take at least twice as many T5 bulbs to get the same PAR as the 2 VHO bulbs.

The halide bulbs are Hamilton, 14,000K. And the VHO bulbs are the actinic/white, URI I believe. They are the 50/50 daylight, actinic blue phosphors. I have been using this combination for a long time. Well, I started out using the 10,000K Hamilton bulbs and used them until a few months ago when I changed to the 14,000K bulbs. I didn't like the 14,000K bulbs at first, but I think I like the bluer tint of the 14,000K bulbs now. The color has grown on me. Here's my attempt at taking a picture with the hood open.
IMG_6081[1].JPG


The VHO bulbs barely look lit, and the halides also look considerably dimmer. The picture does no justice to just how bright these bulbs are. But you can at least see the halide reflectors.

But that's basically it. I run the VHO bulbs from about 7:00AM until 9:00PM. I turn on the halides from 10:00AM to 5:00PM. Not really a dawn/dusk effect, but 7 hours of halides seems to be plenty. Since I don't have much control over PAR, I have never really checked it. I might consider renting a PAR meter, just for curiosity sake, but there really isn't much I can do to change it, without building a new canopy.
 
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Vette67

Vette67

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All right. I figure I should put some coral pictures in here. First up, my fungia. One of my oldest corals. I’ve probably had this for about 20 years. It is about 7 or 8 inches across.
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The branching frogspawn. Purchased as a single head 6 years ago or so. It has been fragged many times(sometimes accidentally) but this is the original colony.
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Branching hammer. I don’t even remember when I got this. At least 10 years ago. Been growing happily along.
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A brownish orange acro. Got this at a frag swap about 5 years ago.
52013A9E-9D67-4D92-8DC8-8858BD7469D9.jpeg
 
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Vette67

Vette67

Reefing since 1997
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I got my results this week of my Aquabiomics bacterial test. You sample your water and return line and they give you a detailed report of your biome. As you can see, my tank is quite old. I pretty much did a full reset, with tear down and bleached 90% of my rock in 2012. So for 8 years, I have only added fish and frags. No meaningful bacterial additions in the form of new live rock or live sand. I had been hearing how older tanks can lose their bacterial diversity, so I did this test to see where I stand. I expected my results to be on the lower side. But wow, not this low. So I have made a big order at Indo Pacific Sea Farms in an attempt to dramatically increase my bacterial diversity. I will have a follow up microbiome test in a couple months to see if adding this culture improves my bacterial diversity.
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