See, I have all this 20-year old aquarium gear sitting around. My brain short-circuited and I thought, "Wow, I want one of cool saltwater tanks. I have all the stuff! This should be easy..."
Right. It ain't easy. But if you found you're way here, you may be hassling with your own reef project, and maybe something here will help
Back on this page you can see where I side-drilled an inexpensive 10 gallon tank and fitted it with a DIY bulkhead. Below, you'll see the next steps where I tested it and tuned the system to eliminate the dreaded flushing and sucking sounds that plague these sump systems.
This is the "before" photo of my tank. Ugly sucker huh?
Notice the stand legs are not straight. This is because it is designed to hold a second 10 gallon aquarium (or sump) underneath. I thought it would hold the 18 gallon tall that you'll see in this write-up, but it didn't quite.
You might also notice all the wires and crap that distract from the beautifully illumnated hunks of brown rock and my little Clown, "Tornado". Using the sump to hold gear and then maybe wrapping a skirt of canvas or a mu'umu'u are (were) my plan to hide everything.
I'm a fan of Melev, but I ignored most of his advice building this contraption.
The tall size works for me because, 1) it holds more water in the same footprint as a 10g, and, 2) I can use my tall hang-on skimmer with it.The lower dividers are the same 8x10" window replacement panes you get at the fix-it store. The taller piece is a custom cut ($2.00) from the good folks at Cobb Hardware. For safely, you should bevel or cover the exposed edges on your project.
The return pump will go in the left compartment. Macro algae will go in the center. Live rock rubble will be piled in the tall corner section where display tank water will drain through. Notice this section has a 1/2" gap at the bottom.
When my wife wasn't looking, I dragged a garden hose inside to fill these tanks for the test. Notice the sump is raised from the floor so the pipe/hose lengths will roughly match what they will be when installed. The big, yellow sponge was just barely big enough for the messes. This configuration failed as it was really noisy.
Very important point #1: The cap with the hole. This is part of the Durso system. This eliminates the noise emanating from the point where water pours into the drain. The drain elbow actually works well upside down and sideways and every angle in between. However, upright is what I want because it drains surface scum much better.
I also placed bulkhead o-rings on both sides of the glass. I'm hoping this will provide a bit of shock protection when the plumbing gets bumped. The downpipe can be a great glass-cracking lever. I worked very carefully adjusting pipes and fittings during the test so as not to break the tank.
(Update 1/22/10) The drain needs a strainer because, 1) it keeps out snails, and 2) it helps quiet the system, and thus allow higher flow from the sump
Very important point #2: SLOWING the drain flow makes all the difference. Curiously, I never saw this suggestion on any of the reef-oriented internet forums.
Luckily, I decided to use clear vinyl tubing in the set up. Notice in the photo you can see a jet of water at the tip of the fitting. This gives an all-important visual reference. I also found that by sticking an ear up to different parts of the plumbing it was easy to pinpoint sources of the noise problems.
As you can see in one of the earlier photos, I started with an adapter to larger 3/4" tubing. That was noisy. I then went to a long, straight run of the PVC downpipe straight into the sump. That was much *worse*. It bubbled intensely and made an awful flushing noise. I then tried the step down to 5/8" tubing, which is shown above. This, by itself, solved the balance of the noise problem. Notice in the previous photo how the tubing *curves* at the end. If you think about it, if water falls straight down, it will hit harder and be louder. The curved tail lets the water "slide" more gently and keeps things quieter.
Of course, if you slow the drain too much, the backup will cause the display tank to overflow. That didn't happen to me of course...
Possibly important point #3: I remember a Melev monologue about using valves to manage excessive return pump flow. I stole his idea, but went with the lightweight, garden variety solution found in the spring seasonal section of the fix-it store. Fortunately, garden hose also comes in 5/8" I.D. which worked perfectly with my vinyl hose and my Beckett fountain-cum-sump pump.
Those little valve controls twist quite easily, which is nice as it reduces stress on the plumbing. I thought the hefty PVC units were too hard to open and close. The upper valve, which routes to the display tank, just stays on full-blast. The lower one is used to bleed a bit of extra flow back to the drain side of the sump, so water isn't pumped faster than the drain can handle. In this case, it didn't take much.
Here you can see return water squirting through the two little anti-siphon holes I drilled. I should've drilled them at the point where they are covered with 1/2" of water (at the normal level)
This is about the configuration at the end of testing. I did shorten the bit of pipe at the end of the return.
Next will be cycling these tanks and then calling the moving van for Tornado.
Here is everything just prior to the transition from the tank on the right to the new sump-supported tank on the left. The clever among you will notice that the sump is a 10 gallon rather than the 18. I built a new sump with the 10 which actually fit on the stand. The sump is sectioned off essentially the same way as the 18.
I cycled the tank for about two weeks, seeding the setup with a hunk of rock and some sand from the original tank. I also used some hose clamps and glued some PVC fittings to stop some small leaks that appeared during the break-in
In this photo, the return pump is off and the return line removed to re-fit. The water level with the pump running is higher.
The very clever will notice the yellow box containing an unopened bottle of Patron tequila. I will break into that if this project ever gets finished.
The skimmer works best on the left side. It is easier to access, and it was simpler to position the powerhead that feedis it water. The black junk in the riser tube is carbon particulate. I had just started skimming the new setup, so I suspect that will die down soon.
The return pump fits nicely in the boxed section in the rear left corner. The black trim on the exposed edges of the return and drain section are cut from automotive door edge protectors acquired at Wal*Mart for, oh, $1.95. It only takes once slicing your hand to add those.
The sock is fitted on the diverter side of the return feed. I'm hoping the activated carbon and the mesh will contribute to cleaner water. (Update 1/22/10: the carbon "bounced" in the bag, causing black soot everywhere, as you can see in the skimmer cup. There are better ways to use carbon.) I wanted to place it on the drain line, but I'm afraid meddling with that line will crack the tank at the bulkhead. Cleaning the sock will be part of my weekly water-change routine.
In the right rear corner is the drain section which has a pile of small live rock pieces. There's a fair amount of bubbling from the drain line, but the bubbles don't seem to migrate back to the display tank. The heater is a small 5-30 gallon unit with no controls, but it has worked beautifully so far, keeping the water at a constant 26C.
The aquatic fern should help take up nitrates. The sump is lit by a 100 watt equivalent spiral compact flourescent bulb, daylight in color. I will add it to a timer that will turn it on when it is dark outside.
(Update 1/22/10: The sand bed in the sump turned out to be a bad idea. Don't put one in yours.)
Soon, I plan to wrap the lower section of the stand with a removable curtain so that only the display tank is visible.
The transition to the new tank took about three hours... lots of little details. I made an effort to get the salinity, pH, and water temp identical between the two tanks.
I had two powerheads running at first, but it seemed to be too much. The surface ripple increased the drain noise, sand shifted badly, and one of the coral frags flopped around in a unhealthy way. Feeding Tornado is still iffy. I can't drop the food on the surface, because a lot ends up going down the drain, and the crazy current carries a bunch into the sand or rock where he won't get it. I may end up turning of the return pump at feeding time.
I initially removed the stands from the lighting rig to get it closer to the water surface, but found that I had to move it off on to the floor to reach into the tank, and it got to be a hassle. I need to set up the electrical in some kind of organized fashion, and when I do that, I hope to work out spot to set the lighting so I can lower it again. I think the corals will like the brighter light.
Still to-do is to drape a section of off-white canvas behind the rear glass to block the view of the wires and plumbing behind the tank
This has been a big effort...I hope it will be worth it.