Category Archives: General Information

Aquarium Chemistry: Water Hardness, pH, gH, And kH

When maintaining aquatic life we are told to look out for pH and water hardness. That’s typically the end of fish store briefing, yet there is much more to learn about maintaining the perfect aquarium chemistry. Even where you live may have a huge impact on your water chemistry. By learning how to control these levels and the effects each parameter will have on your tank, owners everywhere can create a more suitable aquatic environment

pH: Acidic and Alkaline

As the section states, pH determines how acidic or alkaline your water is. The level of pH is determined by the amount of hydrogen and hydroxide ions that are dissolved in a solution. The solution in this case being our water. pH ranges from 0 to 14, with 0 being the most acidic and 14 being highly alkaline. the middle number, 7, is considered neutral. As water’s pH moves from 7, each number value it moves makes the water 10 times more acidic or alkaline depending on if the pH rose or fell. For example a pH of 4 is 1000 times more acidic than a pH of 7, while a pH of 8 is 10 times more alkaline than 7. This is a result of the logarithmic scale pH follows.

Pure water is a neutral substance and changes to acid or alkaline when substances are added. These can be leeched out from rocks, fish waste, woods, chemicals such as “pH up” and even some substrates.

Freshwater aquariums will need to be kept between the pH range of 5.5 and 7.5, with a few exceptions such as chiclids who reach a pH of 8.4. Keeping the wrong pH for your fish, even if only slightly off, can be deadly for fish.

pH will affect your fishes ability to breathe, can damage skin, eyes and gills. More extreme effects can range from stress all the way to thickening of the gills, known as epithelial hyperplasia.

This is not to say your fishes personal condition will be the only negative affect unbalanced pH can bring. When the pH increases, ammonia becomes more toxic, making frequent water changes an extreme necessity. High alkalinity levels will see solids such as calcium precipitate out of the water, removing essential elements from the ecosystem. Even when the minerals are not needed, the high alkalinity will cause more degradation to occur on your aquariums equipment, lowering visibility into the tank and damaging filter or pumps.

Changing pH

While the easiest method to having the correct pH in the tank is to select fish matching your waters natural pH levels, many aquarists will want to keep fish out side of their normal waters levels. To house these fish we will alter the pH of our water, either raising or lowering the level until the fish can be kept safely.

Lowering pH:
For those finding their water too alkaline to house the fish they desire, we have several safe methods to lower the pH in the aquarium. Remember all pH changes must be done gradually. Sudden changes will endanger your fish.

  • Adding woods to the tank will reduce your pH, but have the side affect of browning the water. By boiling the wood or soaking it multiple times before use owners can lessen color change. This browning affect does not harm your fish as the wood is simply releasing tannins.
  • Adding Peat moss can create the same effect. To add the moss into your tank simply place it inside a filter bag or woman’s pantyhose. For increased effect keep the moss near high water flow areas.
  • Processing water through a water softener or reverse osmosis. This can be done at start up or during water changes.
  • Increasing CO2 levels will also serve to lower your pH naturally. Most aquarists don’t know this, but their plants will actually do this for them. that’s why for lower pH tanks we suggest creating a planted aquarium.
  • Lastly you can purchase chemicals from your local stores to lower pH. While these will typically work they are only a temporary situation. Best used for emergency adjustments when you don’t have time for the other methods.

Raising pH:
When soft water causes aquarium troubles we seek to raise our pH levels. In saltwater tanks this is usually needed as they prefer a harder water in general. Even some freshwater fish such as chiclids prefer a higher pH.

  • Adding calcareous rocks to your aquarium is the route most people will go without thought. Rocks serve as a natural decoration and can for beautiful aquascapes. Due to this practicality, adding rocks is our #1 suggestion.
  • Crushed coral increases pH and can be used both as your aquariums substrate or placed inside of your filter. Many fish will enjoy the sand like composition of crushed coral.
  • Adding baking soda will neutralize the acidic properties in your aquariums water, quickly raising your pH. Use with caution: Changing the pH too quickly can shock or even kill fish! The best way to use baking soda is during a water change. Adjust the pH of the new water before adding it into the tank, making sure to add the water slowly over an hour or two. A good amount to use is 3/4ths of a teaspoon for every 10 gallons of water.
  • Once more many store products exist to raise pH. The effects are temporary and should be used as a last resort.

Water Hardness: kH & gH

Hardness is created mainly from carbonate, calcium and magnesium ions. Hard water is usually well buffered unlike soft water.

Water collects many dissolved substances when it is created through precipitation and during it’s stay in our tanks. As the water washes over rocks and other various metals the harder ions such as zinc, iron, calcium and magnesium dissolve into the water. Typically owners will only have calcium and magnesium with trace amounts of the other two metals.

When dealing with water hardness there are two types of hardness we need to address.

kH: alkalinity, which is often known as carbonate or temporary hardness.

gH: Aside from the temporary hardness lies permanent hardness. This is a measure of the ions in your water such as chlorides, sulfates and nitrates. Adding permanent and temporary hardness form the gH.

kH:

Temporary hardness measures the ability to absorb or buffer added acid without changing the pH. This will hold the pH in place, with a higher buffering capacity holding the pH even better. With this in mind owners should keep their kH high enough to prevent major changes to the systems pH between water changes.

If this sounds too good to be true, it can be. Water made hard with high kH that has a pH above your fishes level will be difficult to change. This makes the buffer more of a barrier in some cases.

Tanks on the opposite end with low kH will require much more attention to the pH, as they have little resistance to pH swings and rising nitrate levels.

As a note it is never recommended to use distilled water when making your tank. As the distilling process removes all kH, any changes in the water’s pH will be drastic.

Increasing kH:

  • Increasing aeration in the environment will drive out carbon dioxide, increasing kH in an easy manner.
  • Low amounts of baking soda, half a teaspoon to 15 gallons, can increase the kH without much change to the pH.
  • Adding potassium carbonate will increase the kH of your water. It has the added effect of major nutritional value to plants in the aquarium.
  • Store products, temporary solution etc etc.

Lowering kH:

  • Adding carbon dioxide has always been a common solution to high kH. Inject slowly into your tank and measure the kH change if possible.
  • Boiling water before adding it to the tank will help remove the ions, lowering both kH and gH. Allow water to cool before adding to your tank.
  • Reverse osmosis water will remove most metals and ions, creating a purified, low kH environment.
  • Store products here too.

gH:
This is general hardness, the dissolved concentration of ions in the water combined with your waters kH. The main ions in your tank will be calcium and magnesium and are what we will be focused on.

Housing fish with the incorrect gH will affect the transfer of nutrients, egg production and fertility, and internal organs of your fish. Typically gH will come in acceptable ranges, but old tank syndrome and rare water problems will cause owners major problems.

When measuring your gH with testing kits the levels will be listed here:

dH ppm gH
0-8 dH 0-140 ppm Soft
8-12 dH 140-210 ppm Medium
12-30 dH 210-530 ppm Hard

Units:
dH, degrees hardness, is the molar concentration of calcium carbonate, where 1 dH is 10 mg of calcium oxide per liter. ppm is the parts per million of calcium carbonate. Depending on your testing equipment your results will be in one of the two units.

Changing gH:
Because this is the general hardness the same steps should be taken to both raise and lower gH as adjusting the overall pH.

Rounding it Out

Maintaining the right pH is a vital step in aquarium care. Be sure to make all changes gradually and monitor levels. Once the desired pH has been achieved testing can be done less frequently, depending on the kH levels. Ensure there will be no pH changes when adding your decorations and if there will be, take these into account when creating your original pH level. If your levels are amiss frequent water changes can help to level the pH out while you get the problem under control.

Temperature Swings In the Aquarium

Consistent temperature is essential to aquatic life. As pets, aquarium fish have very few threats on their lives. Of these threats stress is the most frequent killer of our beloved fish.

What Does Infrequent Temperature Do?

As the temperature changes in the aquarium our fish must adapt to their new environment. Constantly changing between a harsh summer and chilly winters stress fish to no end. This stress will weaken your fishes immune system, greatly increasing the risks of ich, parasites and eventually death. It is for this reason that using the right aquarium heater is so important to aquatic life. Always check the temperature your fish should be housed at before purchasing. Pairing goldfish and discus will result in certain death for one of the fish due to the great difference they require.

Adjusting The Heat

When adjusting the heat of your aquarium it is vital that you never adjust more than a single degree per day. Yes that is a very slow rate but it is necessary to ensure the fish do not quickly become sick. Likely if you discover your tank is too hot or too cold it will have been in that state for a few days or even over a week, making the 2-5 days you adjust the temperature short in comparison. Your fish will thank you for taking it slow.

The best times to adjust your aquariums heat are in the beginnings of spring and fall. Do not wait for summer to turn your aquarium heat down, as most houses will rise a few degrees in one day once the summer sun comes out. Likewise warming the tank up right before an on coming cold front helps prevent the aquarium from quickly cooling down to below optimal temperatures. If you maintain the same house temperature all year you may readjust your aquariums back to their normal heat as your house becomes stabilized, but for homes who rise and fall between 68 and 78 degrees owners should take a special note on their aquariums at the seasons change.

Adding Coolers

Living in a high temperature area means owners may have to buy coolers to keep their tanks cool. Humidity from coastal regions does not hurt the fish any, while high heats in arid states can boil the tank and double evaporation rates. While aquariums should never be near the windows, the effects of poorly placed aquariums will become more evident than ever during summers. Keep the coolers on during the day and close the curtains at night. Any incoming heat may hit your aquariums before you awaken and reactive your coolers.

Check your tanks temperature daily during these uncertain seasons and adjust your heaters as frequently as needed. Those with more precise aquarium heaters will get the benefits during the changing weather while value heaters may see the real price of skimping on equipment.

What Are Aquarium Sumps?

A sump is a large container of water that exists outside of your aquarium that houses equipment that normally resides in the display tank. This can range from heaters, filters, and other mechanical needs all the way to refugiums, baffles and copepods.

In essence, an aquariums sump holds all the vital organs so that our display tanks can be clutter free and display only our beautiful aquascape.

Benefits Of A Sump

Building your own sump can be a lot of work, and buying them can be far more expensive than most purchases. Surely the benefits must be great right?

Just as you would expect, with so much going into building a sump you are guaranteed tank altering results.

Learn how to build your own sump here

Effects Of Increased Water Volume

Any aquarist will tell you how they wish they had a bigger tank. with every added gallon we:

  • Increase Fish Capacity

The accepted rule is one inch of fish per gallon of water. By adding a twenty gallon sump to a fifty gallon tank, we increase the amount of fish allowed by 30%.

“Wait that math doesn’t add up!” Very true, if our sumps were filled to the brim this would allow a 40% increase. So why are we selling sumps short? simple. When a sump is planned to be filled to the top, we leave no room for safety. This means if anything goes wrong, such as the return pump gives out, our sump will flood onto our nice floors. We will cover the process later but for now keep in mind the sump will not be filled to the top.

  • Reduce The Potency of The Nitrate Cycle

The nitrate cycle is the main reason, aside from feeding, that we cannot set and forget our aquariums. As you add food, your fish either eat the food and convert it into waste or miss the food and it rots into waste. Either way feeding fish creates waste in the tank.

Taking our previously found increase of 30% water into account, your aquarium will be able to go much longer without water changes.

But that’s not all! In these sumps we place refugiums that help eat nitrate, the final product of the nitrate cycle, and slow the process even further. Again we will have to touch on this later in the article so stick around or jump down if you gotta know right now.

  • Stabilizes Salinity Levels In Marine Tanks

Salt creep: when salt accumulates on the top of your tank from water evaporation, and water evaporation itself are the two beasts of this problem. While sumps do not stop the two, they do slow the processes. Losing five gallons from our hypothetical 65 gallon combination is a loss of 7.7% of the systems water. With the tank alone this jumps to 10%. The smaller percentage will vastly reduce changes in water levels as well as salinity levels.

  • Helps Prevent Temperature Changes

Quick and simple on this point. More water heats and cools much slower. A perfect solution for keeping your fish in their optimal temperatures.

How To Maximize Sump Benefits

While adding a sump without further specialization will help all tanks, you want to get the most out of your equipment. Use each section properly and your sump will take almost every aspect of care for the entire system onto itself.

  • Utilize Fish Free Breeding Grounds

Having a spot your fish cannot access is key for owners of copepod or brine shrimp dependent fish. These creatures are free to hide in the refugiums built in between the baffles of a sump, creating a safe breeding ground that will steadily supply your display tank with live food.

  • Use The Wide Open Space For Obstructive Equipment

We have yet to meet an aquarist who likes the look of bulky aquarium equipment in their display tank. Removing hang on back filters, long heaters, protein skimmers and in tank aeration such as air stones create a much more natural setting.

Even better are the increases in effectiveness each part can gain from specific areas in your sump.

    • Keep protein skimmers in your return pump section. This sections water level remains the most constant and highly benefits skimmers.

 

    • Keep your heater in the largest section, which is often your refugium

 

    • Place your filtration before the refugium to prevent trapping microorganisms that feed your tank.

 

  • Take Advantage Of The Ease Of Access For Water Changes And Maintenance

When new hobbyists have a 10 gallon tank, water changes are no issue. Simply siphon out water and then raise a bucket to pour new water in. This is fine because the tank is only ten inches tall. When you own a 300 gallon tank? Not so fine.

Sumps are located close to the ground for many reasons, almost to make your life easier. Water changes three feet off the ground are much easier than six feet on the ground, especially with five gallons of water weighing over forty pounds. Some people choose to solve this problem with multiple trips and buckets, increasing the time, materials used and adding user frustration.

With tanks large enough water changes switch from pouring to pumping. Pumps make water changes far easier by moving the water anywhere while you hold the tubing instead of the massive water bucket. The only downside to this is the pressure of the incoming water. Unexpected water flow startles fish, makes coral retract or fall over, and can disrupt your substrate. By pumping the water into the sump rather than the display tank, the inhabitants are none the wiser to our caring actions and can continue living in peace.

  • Get Full Aeration And Skip The Air Stones

Bubbles can only cause trouble. Yes they do aerate your tank, but adding the risk of fish irritation, trapped air under ridges or rocks, and a massive increase to both evaporation and salt creep is not worth the bubbler.

So how does the sump provide aeration? Bubbles themselves do not add air to the tank, but the way they disturb the surface does. As your water flows down the siphon and into your sump, it crashes into the surface of the sumps water and creates more water surface disturbance. This gives your fish the oxygen they need to survive without all the harmful evaporation.

  • Stabilize Your Water Levels To Reduce Monthly Maintenance

Decreasing water levels harms your tank in multiple ways. First the toxin concentration increases. Second the salinity level in marine tanks also increases. Both of these can stray into levels that become uninhabitable for fish.

But how can lowering water levels be so dangerous?

As fish waste collects in your tank, toxins build up until you can perform a water change. Normally this is not too dangerous and we have weeks to change the water. When your water level decreases, the ratio of water to toxins sharply falls while more toxins are constantly building. The number of toxins a 65 gallon tank can handle is far greater than that of a 50 gallon.

Sumps combat this problem efficiently, effectively and easily. As previously mentioned, the over all set up reduces evaporation with more practical aeration. The additional water volume lowers the percentage hit your tank suffers from evaporation, making your tank safer much longer. Lastly, the smaller surface area of a sump means the surface disturbance will cause less evaporation and salt creep than it would in your beautiful display tank.

By following all these steps you will see an immediate change in your tanks health. Brown algae will decrease, tank plants and even in some case fish will gain more color, and best of all you will save valuable time by lowering how often you must work to maintain the perfect aquarium

How To Culture Copepods

Culturing copepods is one of the more time consuming tasks in the marine aquarium hobby. The fact of the matter is that some fish just cannot be kept without a strong presence of these “pods” making for difficult creatures to keep. This is especially true when breeding fish, as fry will almost certainly be unable to eat the same full sized food their parents can.

For owners who’s fish choose not to eat, copepods can be the solution for the fishes diet. Pods elicit a powerful feeding response, making even the most picky fish dash around searching for more pods to eat. Once the fish is in a feeding mind set, adding in new foods becomes much easier. This makes pods essential to almost any marine tank.

This copepod guide will be directed towards breeders and keepers of difficult to keep fish such as Mandarins. Adding a short boost of pods may be enough to train one or two picky fish, but fry and Mandarins will need a never ending supply of pods. Even the smallest of Mandarins can clean out a tanks pod population in a few days. Without starting your own culture or housing a massive and well aged tank, purchasing copepods will easily eat away at your savings. This makes starting your own culture an essential part of breeding and Mandarin keeping.

What Are Copepods?

Copepods are small crustaceans with over 10,000 different species. They can be found in both fresh and salt water. They can be either free swimming or crawling depending on the species of copepod you choose. For Mandarins we suggest you pick up Tisbe biminiensis.

Tisbe pods, as the are more commonly called, are the easiest pods for most fish to hunt. They crawl across the surfaces in your aquarium, allowing Mandarins an easy chance to look over the area and peck them from the surface. They make for a highly nutritional food source and are one of the easiest pods to culture.

When reproducing pods lay eggs which can float into the water column, making in sump breeding not as consistent as a separate culture. Once the eggs are fertilized they are placed back in the mothers care until they hatch. After hatching their are six stages of growth for pods. Until the 5th stage of growth the pods gender cannot be determined, making younger pods unable to sustain cultures. The complete aging cycle of the copepods is achieved in a short matter of 10-12 days. newborn pods are attracted to lights where as adults hide in substrate from the light. While this does serve to keep the breeders alive in your tank, the light attracted newborns will be eaten by fish before they are able to re-breed, ending the cycle.

While highly nutritious to our fish, copepods do not possess the fatty acids that our fish need. For this reason we use phytoplankton to culture our pods, feeding them a source of fatty acids that will be passed on to our fish. Pods fed through detritus and fish waste have far less nutritional value to our fish.


Now, lets get our culture started.

What You will Need

  • A long, airtight container, preferably not see through
  • Reverse osmosis water
  • Aquarium salt
  • Copepod starter culture
  • phyto-feast or phytoplankton
  • Air pump with air line and air control valve
  • 50 micron strainer
  • Filter floss

Setting Up Your Copepod Cultures home

First you will want to mix together the water your culture will be using. You do not want to use existing tank water to culture your pods. Our tanks will actually have a number of small life forms living in them, and including these in out culture can either crash or over take the copepods, wasting our time and efforts.

Reverse osmosis water is a strong recommendation but not 100% needed. The culture will be in a small amount of water, making purity very valuable. Unlike our tanks we will not want to be doing water changes to our culture, as this will result in large numbers of the copepods being thrown out. The reverse osmosis process will give you the best foundation for culturing copepods.

The amount of water you will want is about 2/3rds of your containers maximum capacity. This gives you a nice base and a buffer for water parameters. Mix this water in a separate container and leave it there for now. Be sure your salt has completely dissolved before using the water.

Optimal Breeding Temperature:
While copepods can survive anywhere between 21-82 degrees Fahrenheit, the best temperature for culturing pods is 68-77 degrees

For your containers you will want to drill two small holes into the lid of your container. The first will be to supply your culture with oxygen via the air line tubing. You want the tubing to reach all the way to the bottom of the culture to create a full aeration effect and get some water movement. The second hole is simply to allow small amounts of air to move in and out of the container. By covering the second hole with the filter floss you will reduce the outgoing air and help reduce evaporation.

Getting The Culture Started

Now that we have everything in place we can begin the culturing process. First you will want to place your starter culture into the main container. Begin drip acclimation by dripping the new water into the starter cultures container. You can do this by using your airline tubing and control valve. Create a siphon from the new culture water and set the control to only allow a slow drip to go through. Let the water drip into the copepods container until it has tripled in size. The process should take between 20-40 minutes.

With the culture in place you will now give them their first feeding. For phyto-feast fed cultures use only a fed drops into the culture, creating a light clouding effect. If you are using actual phyto then you will want the water to turn a lime green color.

Remember:
This is a very small amount of water you are feeding. Over feeding can result in a crash, killing off your culture and ending the process. Only feed the pods what they need and do not try to rush through excess nutrients.

For your aeration you can use either an air stone or just the end of your airline tubing. If you are going just the tubing route you will want rigid tubing to keep the tube straight. The water level will be only a few centimeters deep, making a minor curve in the tubing enough to stop the air flow. Next adjust the air flow until 3 bubbles a second are produced. For air stones you will want to adjust your air flow until it creates a small amount of water movement.

With the pods fed, the aeration and filter floss in place and the lid secured you will now be moving your containers into a well lit area. This can be their own personal light of just on the window seal, whatever works best for you.

Congratulations! Your culture has been successfully started.

Maintaining The culture

As your copepods eat their food you will notice the water begins to clear up. You will want to feed them once or twice a day, using how clear the water gets as a gage for the next feeding. If the water is completely clear you will want to step up the feeding. When the water is still cloudy try dialing the feeding back just a small amount. Eventually you will come to a happy medium of feeding the culture.

As the culture sits the water level will fall due to evaporation. Continue to top off the culture with the reverse osmosis water. This keeps the salinity at the same levels and adds clean water to the system.

Monitor the PH of the culture. Anything above a PH of 9 means you must perform a water change and increase aeration. You can add the removed water to your display tank, provided it is in good enough health to take a small PH hit, to preserve any pods your culture will be losing.

After a months time there will likely be a lot of waste at the bottom of your container. Siphon out 2/3rds of the copepod culture and pass it through your strainer, throwing out the dirty water. Next siphon the remaining 1/3rd of the culture into a temporary container, rinsing off the strained copepods at the same time. Be sure you don’t siphon out the waste too. With their container empty and all the pods now in a temporary home you can clean their main container. Never use cleaning chemicals. Simply hose down the container and wipe it off with paper towels or a new, unused sponge. Any added chemicals or oils from dirty kitchen cloths can impact the culture.

With the culture in it’s small temporary home, create a new batch of reverse osmosis water, matching the salinity and temperature of the existing culture. Place your existing culture back into their main home and begin the drip acclimation process again. Your pods will now have clean water and can continue breeding.

Population Explosions and Collecting

Within one week you will likely see an increase in your cultures activity. New pods have been produced and the culture is actually visible on the sides of their container. Soon after, and sometimes before, the first week you will witness a population explosion. What seemed a small culture will suddenly seem over run with life now as your culture begins to take off. Leave these new pods in the culture for a little while longer.

After ten days the culture should be ready to harvest. Begin a siphon and remove 1/3rd of your culture. Use your strainer to separate the copepods from their water. Add these copepods to your tank and your harvest has been a success.

With a third of the culture now gone you will need to refill the container with a new batch of salt water, matching both the salinity and temperature of the culture. It is recommended you drip acclimate this water as well to prevent shocking your established culture.

Safeguarding Your Hard Work

With the successful harvest complete your pods will be reduced and re-breeding just as when you started the process. Wait another 7-10 days and harvest again, repeating the process.

While this is the exact situation you were hoping for there is one last step we urge you to take. All cultures will crash at some point. After all this hard work it would be a shame to have to re-order your pods and start over. Instead of feeding the first harvest into your tank, place them into a second culture! This will double your production and ensure that only half of your culture can crash at once.

How To Fix Cloudy Aquarium Water

It happens to the best of us. In the morning our tank was crystal clear and we could see every detail in our fish from across the room. Yet when we get home we see it. The heavy fog over our tank, looking dirty and dangerous. We buy tanks to decorate the room, not to have a dirty cloud.

Too many new owners give up right here. If the tanks cloudy after a week of owning it then clearly the hobby is just too hard. But they are far from the truth, as this problem is short lived and signifies your tank is on the right path.

So how can new owners fix this problem? our first step is to identify what exactly is happening in your fish tank. You don’t get an engine change when your car makes a weird noise do you? Of course not, you find out what the possible issues are because knowing the problem leads to solving the real issues.

As you add new fish or filter media from existing tanks, microorganisms begin to spread throughout the water. Normally our household wanted is treated with chlorine to keep these at bay. While setting up our aquarium we remove the chlorine from the water, as fish will not survive otherwise. This allows the bacteria to begin breeding without limit, feeding on extra fish food and waste.

Bacteria grow exponentially, meaning you may only start with a dozen or so specks of bacteria. Each day these will re-breed, doubling their numbers until there are too many for your normal fish feedings to support them.

This is where the problem actually begins. Once the aquarium can no longer support the rapid growth of bacteria, the new bacteria will quickly die off, letting go of the surface they attached to and floating in your tank. This initial cloud is known as your first tanks “algae bloom”

Dealing With Cloudy Water

While we would love to say you can just put a few drops of chemical x in your aquarium and the problem is solved, the solution is not so simple. For now you can simply do a 30% water changer every day to combat the problem. In order to keep the tank water looking crystal clear we need to actually establish bacteria colonies.

While bacteria and microorganisms are often the cause of your cloudy water they will actually be the ones preventing any further incidents down the line. As explained earlier, the clouds are caused by dying algae. Once algae begins dying, the left over combination of microorganisms and bacteria must compete for their food. In short, bacteria wins every time. It is just so thin and evenly spread out that the micro organisms cannot hope to win out against a well established bacteria colony.

This is how our micro warfare begins.

If you have not started your tank yet then we suggest two options.

  • Buy a bottle of starter bacteria such as NiteOut from amazon
  • Find used filter media or substrate from an existing tank

By using either of these methods we can “seed” our tank with good bacteria. These are the kind that eat toxins produced by fish waste and extra food, the same nutrients eaten by micro organisms. The difference is good bacteria converts these toxins into much weaker toxins that can take weeks to affect fish. Micro organisms simply breed and produce similar waste, resulting in no change in water toxicity levels.

To seed your aquarium either follow the instructions on the bottle of NiteOut or insert the used media/substrate into your aquarium. Next you will begin feeding your tank as if there are already fish. For those who already have fish you may feed as normal. The waste created by this will feed the bacteria you have added to the tank as well as the micro organisms. The difference is with a seeded tank your bacteria will be growing much faster than the microorganisms that cloud tanks.

Preventing Cloudy Water While The Bacteria Grows

Ok so we have established that you need to let the bacteria in your tank live if you want the clouds to go away and never return, but how does that solve your problem now?

Simple. Because the dead bacteria and microorganisms are now floating around and clouding your tanks you can easily remove them with water changes. This will make your tank water less foggy but not completely clear.

To prevent strong, dense fogs while your tank establishes a good bacteria colony you will need to follow a few steps.

    • Be Patient

We know this is the last thing you want to hear, but if you are to have a clear tank for years to come, you will have to deal with a little haze for one to three weeks

    • Respect the golden rule: one inch of fish per gallon of water

While frequent water changes can allow for more fish to survive in the tank, almost no owner will actually do two water changes a day for 5 years just to keep an extra three fish. Be realistic and get only the fish you can take care of.

    • Perform regular water changes

Think of this as your practice for the normal maintenance your aquarium will require. Daily water changes allow you to quickly learn the fastest and easiest way to clean out your tank, meaning once the problem is gone you will have learned a great deal on keeping your tank spotless.

    • Do Not wipe the glass every day

Microorganisms swim around in the water, actively hunting for food. Some will settle onto the glass from time to time, meaning you can keep a bit of them out by wiping the glass. Bacteria on the other hand will almost exclusively stay put on your surfaces. For this time only we urge owners to let the algae sit on your glass. Once the fog ends you can wipe off portions of the bacteria day after day. Wipe too much and you have just undone all the growth your bacteria has worked so hard to achieve.

    • Refrain from over stocking your tank

In my youth I have worked at pet stores. While many of you will ignore our warnings about buying too many fish at once, every guide available will tell you the same. Limit your new fish to one fish a month, at most 3 in a month if they are small schooling fish. Going from no fish to ten fish will guarantee you get a long lasting algae bloom as your tank is unable to keep up with the waste they produce. Unless you perform two 30% water changes a day, expect large additions of fish to die off rapidly.

We cannot stress this enough. Bacteria saves fish. Please give it time to grow or your fish will have no hope of surviving.

    • Remove uneaten food and dead fish as soon as possible

After feeding your fish some flakes may be left over. The mistake too many owners make is feeding extra to feed the bacteria too. The thing is your bacteria eats your fishes waste, meaning you have already fed them. Limit fish feeding to two small feedings a day on a normal tank, limiting to every other day for clouded tanks. Your fish can hunt the micro organisms so don’t be too worried.


Remember maintaining water quality isn’t just a one time deal. After kicking your cloudy water problem out the door it is up to you to keep the tank safe and clean. Perform regular water changes and watch for new algae blooms. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of repair.

How To Stop a Bully Fish

You’re finally finished. Your tanks cycled, the plants look beautiful and a new fish is on the way. You release them into the water and watch as they begin to mingle but something isn’t right. Your original fish are herding the new fish around, pushing them and keeping them away from prime locations. When you feed your fish the new tank mate doesn’t dare go near the rest as they eat all the food, leaving them hungry. You have a Fish bully and it needs to be dealt with.

Fish are not like most pets. We cant just spray them with water when they do something wrong, and we can’t put them in a time out either. This presents us with a unique situation where we have little control over our pets behavior. Follow along as we reveal every tip there is on how to get your fish bully under control and stop aquarium bullying.

The Fight

If you are fortunate to see the first fight try to remember it in detail. How long was the fight? Were both fish fighting or was it an assault?

When two fish fight for the first time it will often be to establish the pecking order of a tank. Given one or two short conflicts most fish will stop fighting as they know who is stronger and see no reason to fight. For those lucky enough to see the first fight try watching your fish a second time before taking drastic action. Does the bully fish no longer chase the other fish more than a few inches? When feeding your fish, are they all able to get food without being hit by one another? More often than not they will have stopped fighting.

However if you have had your fish for several weeks and are just now noticing the bullying, then a pecking order has long since been established and the bully has other reasons for attacking.

So why are our old fish being so aggressive? Some species like Beta fish and tiger barbs are naturally aggressive. To keep them under control you much purchase only equally aggressive fish. This stops bullying as neither fish will want to fight someone who will fight back under normal circumstances.

Fish Size Does Not Matter

You may think only the large fish can pick on small, new fish who cannot fight back but this is not true. Easily noticeable in Tiger Barbs, small fish can harass fish of any size if they are too passive. Always check fish compatibility charts to ensure your fish won’t be at each others gills

In cases regarding peaceful fish suddenly turned aggressive or properly managed aggressive fish starting new fights, the issue often lies in how your tank is laid out.

Redecorating Your Fishes Home

For starters, turn off your aquariums light and work in fairly low light. This keeps the fish from focusing on what you are doing. With the lights off begin to re-arrange your tanks decorations and equipment. Make sure nothing is in a similar spot and turn the lights back on.

Why are we doing this? Over time animals create nests and territories which they will protect much more adamantly than others will. Fish are no different, and claiming the higher levels of your tank can keep new fish from ever seeing a flake of food. Keep your fish guessing on where its territory is. While your old fish are looking for new areas, so will the new fish. Given the same start your two fish will both pick their own areas. Your old fish will be fooled into thinking they are in a new area, putting them on even grounds with the newcomer. This stops the majority of fish aggression, and is our favorite method.

Adding New Hiding Spots

Some fish are just too docile to be around other fish. These guys need a place to hide and not a territory to defend. Based on your fishes size there are a few ways you can go about doing this

  • Adding live plants will give your fish more areas to hide. Tall plants can create walls while a dense forest of stems can allow your fish a safe shelter. Be sure to tailor your plant selection to what is already in the tank. If you have a lot of walls get something that provides shelter. If you have a lot of low hiding spots give them some tall plants to swim behind
  • Find plastic decor with passable areas. Many owners own plastic plants, but these can cut fish with sharp edges, which deter fish from the hiding spots they create. Instead look for things like castles, columns or other items without sharp edges. Anything to give your fish some cover will do.
  • Move your equipment so that they create hiding spots. Bubbles in the back of the tank look nice, but a wall of bubbles a few inches in front of the back wall can give your fish the obstruction it needs to relax.

Bully fish only strike out at nearby fish. Remember this as you arrange your tank. You want hiding spots but don’t condense your tank into a smaller area in doing so.

Over Stocked Tanks

When there are too many fish in the same tank there is just no solution. Try as you might there is a finite number of territories fish can create in a tank. Even when given an equal chance at scouting a home out some fish will have to lose the race. Nature is survival of the fittest after all. That’s why we try to bring down the difficult of nature to allow all our fish an easy, stress free life.

Special Note on Breeding Fish

When housing multiple of the same species, we may often meet their optimal breeding scenario. Either through research or while simply adjusting the temperature, many owners will find themselves with breeding fish at some point in their aquariums life.

Fish that are of the same sex will fight during these times, defending their territories and driving away any competition. If your fish are both of equal size and aggression these fights will not end until only one fish remains. For this reason breeding parameters should be avoided when housing large groups of one species, and those who are meant to breed should be separated from the tank. This can be accomplished using breeding nets, tank dividers or another aquarium all together.

Please note that similar looking fish may consider the other to be in the same species. Watch your fish’s reaction as other tank mates swim past them and learn who he likes and dislikes. A short chase of two inches means they are safe, while a long unending chase is a problem that will not be solved without intervention.

Because of these difficulties in gender and species confusion we caution new owners to try schooling fish, being sure to follow the specific guidelines for each species. Generally you will want at least two females for each male.

The Unstoppable

If all attempts to stop bullying have failed then your fish may just be too aggressive for it’s tank mates. While compatibility charts will typically avoid this problems, some fish will simply break the norm and be far above their normal aggressive level. In this situation it is best to:

  • Remove the bully from the tank
  • Return them to the store they were purchased from. Many stores will take back fish if you return them soon enough.
  • Donate the fish to another aquarist

Keeping a bully fish who cannot be made to behave is not advised. They will continually harass your other fish to the point of their death. Even without causing bodily harm, the stress bullying puts on fish is actually enough to kill them. Removing your fish is of course a last resort, but safety of the tank must be placed above all else.

DIY Wet/Dry Filter Guide

For the purposes of this guide we will be building the wet/dry filter in an aquariums sump. If you do not have one already then you should look into our guide on building your own sump. A sump will give you access to a multitude of benefits including our wet/dry filter design.

Remember to always measure where you components will be. Again as this is being placed in a sump you must ensure your sump will fit in its desired location. Most aquarium stands have large open areas with a cut out top, allowing sumps and other equipment to be lowered in. If you have a large established tank you will need a smaller container that you can fit through the other openings.

Wet Dry Filter: How it Works

Before we build the wet dry filter, I would like to explain what the wet dry filter is used for. Some owners may be building these for the wrong reason and may be looking to do something entirely different. So lets discuss what these filters actually do.

As water is siphoned from the main tank it lands on top of our wet/dry filter. The water then finds its way in through one of the many holes in our drip tray and enters our wet/dry filter system. Next the water passes through our filter media, which can be anything from house hold metal scrubbers or bioballs, and continues to flow through the sump before returning to our tanks via a return pump. This is a simple process that actually creates the strongest possible biological filtration a tank can have, far exceeding vast sand beds and mountains of live rock.

The reasoning wet/dry filters create such a strong biological filter is simple. High surface area combined with oxygen rich wet surfaces. This is the ideal area for bacteria growth as most owners will see using normal hang on back filters. However by creating a large wet/dry filter with the sole purpose of building this bacteria, the beneficial bacteria finds no shortage of space and will easily grow to match your tanks waste production.

How to Build a Wet Dry Filter System

What you will need:

  • 2 Plastic Dividers
  • Drill
  • Ruler or Straight Edge (Optional)
  • Filter Media, I use Bath Sponges for the lowest cost (Amazon)
  • food grade silicone (Amazon)
  • Egg Crate, buy from home depot or similar store. It’s with lighting sold as a light diffuser. Online prices are absurd

All in all about $30-$40.

Measuring
Your first step is to measure out the dimensions of your soon to be wet/dry filter. If this is an aquarium sump you want to leave about two inches of space above the top of your wet/dry filter with an additional one inch of empty space. This allows water to collect before dripping through the drip tray, reducing noise and stress on the drip try. Mark this line with whatever you like. Personally I used tape on the outside of the tank. If you use tape be sure to remember if the top, middle or bottom served as your measuring spot.

Next will be the width of your wet dry filter. I combined three of the sponges and made the filter that long. You should allow for more space than the current amount of filter media you currently have. Most people will want to add more after seeing the benefits these filters bring.

Last of all measure bottom of your wet dry filter. This will determine how much water is allowed to stay in your sump. The following sections in your sump must have the same level wall or the water will build up into your wet dry filter, making it just submerged media. As shown in my diagram you should only have a small portion of the wet dry filter submerged in water. This will help alleviate the noise of dripping water. My first wet dry filter did not have this and was quickly replaced. Aquariums in the bedroom so it has to be quiet.

Now you should have a box of lines/tape outlining the side of your sump. The left side determines the width, top side allows for water pooling(noise reduction) and the bottom determines the in sump water level. You will now want to move the sump into a well ventilated area. Bring the egg crate, plastic divider and silicone with you.

Silicone The Divider Into Place
Place the sump somewhere where it will not be in the way and can sit for 2-7 days. Why is this? Silicone must be let to sit while it “cures”. During this time it is toxic to fish and releases a strong smell caused by the acetic acid leeching out of the silicone. Small amounts of silicone will cure in one days time, but with out wet/dry filters being under constant water flow I like to use a more generous amount of silicone. When layered thick the silicone can take a week or more to cure.

Do not get impatient! Using un-cured silicone is toxic to your fish and has far less strength than fully cured silicone. While the fish may live from partially cured silicone, the wet/dry filter may fall apart if the water flow gets too strong. If you are making this wet/dry filter for a huge tank, with a sump over 50 gallons big, you should give the silicone a full month to cure. Better safe than sorry.

Clean left side falls while messy right side holds. Don’t be afraid to use more silicone.

Safety talk out of the way, you should not place your left divider in place and silicone it in place on both sides. Move slowly and allow the silicone to spread. Make sure there are no air bubbles or gaps. Leave about two and a half inches on the top inner side of the divider un-siliconed.Allow the silicone to sit and strengthen while we begin the next step.

Creating The Drip Tray
To create our drip tray you will need to break out your drill and measuring device. Honestly you don’t need to measure the holes distance but it looks professional to do so. Lay your plastic top, which will be serving as your drip tray, where you will be able to drill it. I personally measure the holes about 3/4″ apart. The easy way to do this is to make small marks along the top and side of the plastic top at 3/4″ increments. Next you lay your straight edge on the top and make lines at each mark, creating a grid on the lid. Each intersection shows where to drill a hole, leaving your top looking clean, professionally and more importantly effective. For smaller tanks start out using 1/8″ holes and work your way up when using larger tanks. Creating too small holes will prevent the water from draining fast enough and will cause the water to flood over the top. This is why we leave space above the top of the wet dry filter. Should any clogs manage to occur the water will fall harmlessly into the sump and continue its normal path.

Drip tray complete.

Base of Wet/Dry Filter
Finally we will make the base of the filter that will hold your filter media. This will be made out of your egg crate. Using scissors or a wire cutter, cut the egg crate to fit to the size of your base. Not much else to it. If you are choosing to use very small filter media such as mini bio-balls or ceramic cylinders you may need to lay a mesh screen over the top of this base. For our bath sponges however our job is almost complete.

Finishing Up
Head back to your sump with the base of your wet dry filter only. Slip the base under your divider, squeezing it into place between the other wall and divider or simple under the divider. I prefer on the inside for extra strength and less used egg crate but it doesn’t affect the end product. Silicone the base into place. Because siliconing each piece of crate is a tedious process I like to silicone only the outer rim at first and leave it to dry for an hour. This makes the silicone strong enough to hold the egg crate in place while you add in the rest of the silicone.

Like with the divider make sure you get every conceivable point of contact between the egg crate and its surrounding walls. If you are using a large tank with high flow you may even need to install supports under the base. With each crack and crevice filled with silicone your job is one step from done.

To finish you will be creating the layer of silicone the top will be resting on. This is the one part that is not attached by silicone. If you were to seal it into place, your wet dry filter would be 100% sealed off. You would never be able to add any filter media or change/clean it. By simply creating the top layer of silicone you can add or remove the drip tray at your continence. Simple follow your mark on all four sides of the wet/dry filter and apply a generous portion of silicone. Make sure this part is extra strong.

The Waiting Game
Now all that remains is to wait for your silicone to dry. Leave it sitting in a well ventilated area, preferably with a fan directed at the wet/dry filter, and leave it be for at least two days. The fan helps the silicone cure much faster. Normally I will allow this to sit for a full week before use. Rinse the sump and put it in your desired location, toss in the sponges and fire it up. You’ve got one of the best pieces of equipment any aquarium owner could own.

DIY Sump Guide

Building your sump correctly the first time is a difficult task. When we first got into the hobby the first two sumps failed, teaching us different lessons each time. Now our sumps are strong, well aged and still perform flawlessly years later. By passing our knowledge onto aspiring new aquarists we hope to make sumps a more common feature in the fish keeping home. Without further ado let’s get on to the DIY sump guide.

The Average layout Of A Sump

This is the general layout you will want for your sump. These exact locations have their own distinctive reasons behind them.

The Reasoning Behind Our Layout

  • All Filtration Goes Before The Refugium

Why is this? As water settles into the refugium, your copepods and other microorganisms will settle onto the live rocks, macro algae and whatever else you have in that section. If the filtration was after this section you would see a pointless loss of microorganisms.

  • Baffles Between Each Section

Baffles are the reason sumps are even possible. Do not skip adding baffles! They prevent flooding, equipment jamming and increase the uses of the sump.

    • Baffles are a safeguard to flooding. The two pieces of equipment that can break and cause you endless problems are the overflow box and the return pump. In a perfect world equipment will never break. However we prepare for the real world where our pumps wait ten years and then break while we are away from home. By adding the baffles we keep a minimum water level in each compartment, preventing overflowing the display tank.

      This happens as the water level, as shown in our diagram, will be held back in each section, only flowing to the next as more water is supplied. Should the supply stop, so does the water flow and only the return pump section can be drained. With only risking two extra gallons to the display tank, we only need to lower our water level an inch in smaller tanks, and just a few centimeters in large tanks.

      Now we move to how baffles prevent flooding the sump. As water is drained from the display tank into the sump, it passes through and eventually hits the return pump. Should this pump break, water will continuously build up into the sump until no more is left to drain. As seen above we leave a fair amount of space in the sump to hold this excess water. This is where we ask “how do we prevent flooding a 20 gallon sump with an 80 gallon tank?”

      This is what brings proper overflow box placement into play. An overflow box will have a set of teeth to allow water in and keep fish out.

      From this box water is siphoned from the display tank down into to the sump. As water is drained the level of water in your display tank goes down, but is matched by your return pump. When the return pump breaks, your water will lower until the water falls underneath the teeth of the over flow box.

      Because this is a DIY guide we will assume you are using or making your own overflow box, meaning it is a hang on back version. These have the added benefit of being easily adjustable as opposed to drilled tanks. Save this part for after your silicone has dried and everything is in place. Once we are safe to start up our pump we will run a short and simple test.

      Begin this test by starting your overflow boxes siphon. Ensure your return pump is off but ready to start as the water begins to drain into your sump. Keep your overflow box fairly high in your tank so not much water will be drained down. Once the water does stop flowing you can lower the portion that is in the display tank further to allow more water inside your sump. Keep moving the box down, past where you want your sump to be, until the water is about two inches from the top of your sumps rim. This will be the maximum amount of water that can be drained from your tank before the overflow box stops drawing more water.

      Congratulations, you will now never suffer through a flooded tank!

    • The second function of baffles is their use in preventing plants, rocks and copepods from blowing into the return pump. Plants can get caught in the motor, quickly disabling your pump. Rocks will take up space, often reducing the water available to the pump and increasing the noise output. Copepods will naturally swim over the baffles at a slower rate. They do not re-breed in seconds, making limiting their movement to the display tank vital in keeping the population alive.

    • The final use of baffles is a three parter. They allow a wet/dry filter to be installed. These filters are so highly customizable and easily cleaned that they see use in large aquariums world wide. High fall of the first compartment to the refugium adds aeration to the tank without the use of machinery. If you own a tank you have probably grown tired of the mess of wires all our equipment creates and would be glad to remove both the filter and aeration this way. The third and final use is the reasoning for three baffles per division. While you can use only one baffle, adding two or three creates a bubble trap. Exactly how it sounds, these traps prevent bubbles from going into your return pump and creating a misty spray of water. Our very first sump had this problem and it was horrifying. These bubbles give the returning water a misty micro bubble appearance that looks far from natural. By adding these bubble traps you can avoid the constant sandstorm appearance caused by the bubbles.

    • The wet/dry filter allows you to easily add chemical filter media without opening a filter.

This will reduce our work needed to maintain the tank, as we can just swap out or clean the filter bags in seconds. No more expensive custom cartridges required.

Refugiums are your fish free breeding grounds.

The refugium can be a god send if you own any copepod hunting fish such as dragonets. Consistently buying copepods to add to your tank is an expensive process. Our home refugiums have kept our dragonets alive for years, even getting some to be a bit fat due to the constant supply of copepods.

To encourage breeding of these important microorganisms we add our heater to this section, positioning it sideways and allowing plants to come into contact with it. Our pods exploded when we moved our heater from the first compartment into the refugium, and years later it has no slowed down a bit. They love heat and it’s just that simple.

Further more we can increase both biological filtration and add more breeding grounds for our copepod population by adding rocks, macro algae and “copepod condos.”

  • Rocks can be normal or live rocks. Live rocks have the added benefit of holding “hitch hikers” that will slowly hatch and join your tank. This ranges from copepods, shrimp and snails all the way to rare octopus. While the most glamorous hitch hiker we have gotten is the feather duster worm, it’s always a nice surprise to see someone new join your tank.

  • Macro algae are marine plants. If you are using a freshwater aquarium simply replace macro algae with plants. Plants in our aquariums can have such powerful effects despite being so simple. As they grow they feed on the nitrates in our aquarium, the end result of the nitrate cycle. These cut back on our need for water changes, making it take so long some reefers simply only top off evaporated water and forget water changes entirely. As they grow you can simply trim the plants and remove the cut portions, which is the same as removing the embodiment of nitrates. The plants grow again and keep eating nitrates in a never ending cycle.

    For saltwater tanks the addition of these plants are simple. Most will happily grow without anything to cling to, which makes trimming the underwater hedges even easier. The best macro algae you can use is chaeto, a squiggly plant that grows extremely dense and at an almost weed like speed. These two traits are exactly what you want for your tank, as the chaeto will strip away toxins quickly, fit in any size refugium and create a dense housing that microorganisms love to breed in. The dark insides are the perfect hiding spot for these critters, making chaeto a super simple cover all for this section. You can usually find chaeto at any local fish store or ordering online from LiveAquaria.com Most local fish stores will part with cheato for a much lower price, and without any shipping charges. Online ordering live goods can be expensive so be sure to look around your area or even make the extra 30 minute drive to pick some up.

  • The return pump section is kept small to prevent flooding

As there is only a small area needed to house the return pump and protein skimmer, we minimize this area. This allows you to keep your display tank filled higher and maximize your refugium space. The water returns to the display tank with copepods, less toxins, and reduced debris thanks to your increased filtration.

Use The Right Materials

To build a sump you will first begin by creating baffles. These take a while to set in which is why you should get this done quick and early.

First off ensure you use a strong, fish safe silicone. What is fish safe silicone? Long ago before sumps became known, General Electric sold their silicone 1 without any for of mold protection or additives. This is exactly what you need to make sure no toxic chemicals leech into your tank. However GE has since created a “fish safe” version at a much higher cost per ounce, while simultaneously removing our other choice by only producing silicones with additives. Unfortunately this means if you walk into your local hardware store, it is unlikely you will be able to buy anything other than overpriced silicone.

So where does this leave us? Personally we use this food grade silicone sold on Amazon.com. It’s cheap, leaks absolutely nothing into our water and holds firm under pressure, letting us get straight to work with the rest of our set up. The silicone requires a caulk gun. If you do not have one don’t worry, nearly every household does so just ask your friends and family. They will likely be interested in what you’re doing and gladly lend you their caulking gun and wish you luck.

Next up are the baffles. Binding our glass aquarium to anything other than glass is surprisingly difficult. While we have some degree of success with plastic baffles, they can come loose after months of use.

Silicone forms a strong bond when you pair glass with more glass. buying glass baffles is actually easier than plastic ones as many big hardware stores will offer in store glass cutting. One trip to Lowes and we had everything we needed, letting us set up our sump in under an hour.

When buying glass baffles be sure to ask that your glass worker grinds down the edges. Freshly cut glass is far too sharp to safely work with.

Baffle width should be 1/16″ less than the interior width. This will allow you to position the baffle correctly and evenly. With exact matching sizes you will have a difficult time turning and placing the baffles straight. The tiny gaps left by the baffle will be covered with your silicone, so don’t worry if the sides are not holding themselves up.

Lastly if you will be adding the wet/dry filter(which we highly recommend) you will need to buy some egg crate light diffuser. While normally used in lighting fixtures, the material is cheap and provides the perfect base to allow water through and hold our filter media. You can also find this in most home improvement stores in the lighting/electrical sections.

Constructing Your Sump

With every element explained we can now begin building the sump.

For the first part you need to be in a well ventilated area. Silicone releases acetic acid as it cures. This process takes 24 hours in an ideal location but for our fishes safety we like to let the silicone sit for a week. As the tank sits it will continue to release acetic acid into the air. Be sure you counter this by starting the build process and leaving the tank in a well ventilated area until curing is finished. A direct contact fan in an open garage is sufficient, but beware as humid areas such as outside can result in longer cure times. The cure is complete when the silicone no longer smells.

To start building, place your baffles no more than half an inch apart. closer is better so long as you do not make them restrict water flow. If you are using bendable materials such as plastic be sure to leave extra space. The water pressure will result in a bend that can block off water flow if they are too close. Try to leave only a few inches more than is needed to fit your equipment in the first and last chamber. You want as big a refugium as possible. Lastly your baffles should have at least one inch of space between the top of the baffle and rim of the sump. Should anything come loose and plug up the bottom of your baffles water can flow over the top and prevent a nasty flood. The same goes for the hanging baffle: leave one inch of space for the water to pass under. Mark the desired locations with tape on the outside of your sump.

Now is the time you’re going to want that fan on and directed towards the sump. Cut open your silicone at a right angle. This allows for easy access to the corners created by the sump and baffles. A straight cut will give you a surprising amount of trouble. Angle those scissors a bit and save your self the hassle. Load the silicone tube into your caulking gun and position yourself over the tank. Place your first baffle into position. Remember: your baffles will be close to one another. Applying silicone completely to both sides is impossible after the first baffle. Counter this by using a generous amount, getting the few inches you can of the hidden side and making sure there are no spaces or bubbles in the silicone.

Apply the silicone slowly and evenly. Do not press into the baffle as you do this. Pushing the baffle out of place with your tube will just make you have to start over again so be gentle.

When applying silicone to the top baffles hold onto them lightly while applying or get assistance if possible. Continue to hold the baffle in place for a minute after you have finished to give the silicone time to get a grip and prevent the baffle from falling.

Repeat this process until all baffles are in place. Look your work over a second time checking for cracks, bubble, moved baffles and thin applications of silicone. Your work doesn’t need to look neat and professional but you do need there to be enough silicone to hold your baffles up to the pressure. Large amounts of silicone will take longer to cure and is definitely worth the time. the extra pass on a weak spot can be what keeps your sump running 5 years longer, so don’t get lazy here.

Once you are sure of your work you will want to add on your egg crate. Place between the first and second baffle in the sump near the top with enough space to place in taller foam block if desired but high enough that you can still easily access it. Apply silicone around each leg of connecting egg crate that you can reach. This will give your surface more than enough strength to hold the flow of water onto it over the years.

With everything in place move your sump into it’s resting place where it will sit for the curing process. again this is often done in 24 hours with good air flow but we urge those unfamiliar with silicone to wait a week or so to be extra safe. Using silicone that has not finished curing is almost guaranteed to kill your fish so we cannot stress enough do not rush the curing process.

Extra precautions

With everything set and drying you should look at a few more things before calling it a day. First check out your overflow box and tubing. If your tubing does not fit perfectly or have the overflow outlet squeeze into it there are a few things you can do:

  • Buy a size converter so that the tubing fits. This can work with some overflow boxes but many expect the tubing to fit by default. With the materials we already own however we suggest:

  • Put the tube in place and use the silicone to create a strong waterproof seal between tube and overflow box. You’re using silicone anyway so you may as well let this cure too. Many tubes will “almost fit.” Many tubes will also “only slightly leak.” No one wants a leaky tank so just use a bit of your leftover silicone and plug this up. To do so run the silicone over and around the connection point on the outside only. Be generous again as this will be moving water 24/7 and any leak will have to be repaired. Ensure your tubing will be long enough or simply use the whole tube and cut it later. Place the freshly silicone sealed overflow box and tube with your sump and allow both to cure. Once finished check if your tubing is water proof. If not add another layer and wait again.

A little rough but no leaks for years

Starting Your Sump For The First Time

For this process we will say this only once. Have someone with you. If you followed our guide and didn’t slack on the work you will have no problems. However having a second set of eyes will help you spot any problem and if anything should go wrong they can quickly help you.

Put your sump into place, often directly below the display tank, and place the overflow box in the tank. If the overflow box is a hang on back version with two separate boxes you will place the one with teeth into the tank. Place the tube from the overflow into the position it will be sitting in for it’s lifetime and ensure the tube and outlet of the tube will not move easily. The force created by the siphoned water will be stronger than most think so have the second person watching when you start the siphon.

Before your siphon is started set up your return pump and it’s tubing into the display tank. If you are going to have the tube touch the water, which is often done to prevent the water hitting the surface, then be sure you make a hole in the top of the tube just below the water line. This hole will save your floors. Should the return pump fail while its tube is in your display tank a reverse siphon will begin. This pulls water from the display tank to your sump until the water is under the tube, typically pulling far more water than the sump can hold. Providing the hole in the tube above your water level allows for air to enter the siphon and ends the process before too much water is drained. Maintain this hole as it can become blocked via salt creep or algae.

With both set in place you can begin your siphon. Triple check to be sure there is no smell from your silicone and that it is fully cured. Make sure your overflow box has water in the outside portion as well as the inside. My fiance once tried to restart the siphon for half an hour without knowing this(she tried though!) and no matter how hard you try it will not start. Begin the siphon and watch your tubing on both the inside of the sump and the bottom of the overflow box. Water will begin to fill your sump and pour over each baffle. This will instantly show you if any portion of the baffles are not waterproof. Once the water reaches your return pump section and goes above your pump you may switch it on. Your water level will now stabilize as your return pump and overflow box move the same water back and fourth. The return pump can only return what it gets and the overflow will only drain up to your recorded sump maximum capacity.

Your sump is now complete and working. Continue to watch for a few minutes and begin placing any macro algae, live rocks, copepods or various equipment into the sump. Don’t forget to move your heater from the display tank to the sump. place your filter media bags onto the egg crate and take a step back to admire your work. With a fully plumbed sump running into your display tank you now have the easiest to maintain tank possible.

Add in the extra water volume you now have thanks to your sump and clean up any tools or towels you used. Take a picture to remember the occasion and celebrate the event. I hope you’ve enjoyed my DIY sump guide.

Dangers of Dry Aquarium Heaters

We’ve all done it a few times. You’re heating a bucket for a water change and just quickly swap the heater from the tank to your bucket. Sure the warnings say to keep the heaters under water and just being exposed for a second or two can have no dangers right? Owners asking the question couldn’t be more wrong.

A “Heated” Accident

In the early stages of my aquarium keeping I frequently did this process. Water changing several tanks was a hassle and I wasn’t about to waste time going to unplug the heater every time I had to move it around. As I’m filling one of the tanks and remove the heater, ready to place it in an awaiting bucket I hear a loud popping sound and feel a pain in my right leg. The glass rod of the heater had exploded, propelling the glass into the side of my leg. Fortunately I had multiple layers of clothing to soften the blow, leaving me with only a few bruises and burning my pants. The cost of the pants and cheap heater combined far outweighed the best aquarium heater I could find to replace the old one. If I had been in shorts or even a more thin pair of pants The medical bills would have cost me more than the entire tank! Luckily my leg only hurt for a week or so and healed on its own.

After this experience I was livid. I thought the company had sent me a bad heater and nearly caused me injury. After a few quick searches and phone calls I found out this is not a rare occurrence. Taking a glass aquarium heater out of water for even a second can cause shattered glass. Furthermore putting the heater in different temperature water can have the same effect.

How To Safely Move Aquarium Heaters

As tedious as it may seem, the right way to move heaters is to turn them off before removing from water and allowing them a few minutes to cool down. While changing from 120 degrees to 60 degrees will often cause a destroyed heater, falling from 80 to 60 degrees will not cause the heater any harm.

This includes taking the aquarium heater out of water. The air in your home is a quick way to cool the heater, however it will do the job far too quickly. Leave the heater in your aquarium for at least 3 minutes after unplugging it to safely remove the heater. If you will be placing the heater in new, cold water than allow the heater to cool further outside of the tank before submerging into the cold water. Follow these steps and you can avoid the injury I had to learn from.

Cost Of Running An Aquarium Heater

Aquarium heaters cost no different than any other power consuming item. To find the cost of running your aquarium heater simply use the cost of kilowatt per hour. In The US this averages at 12.58 cents.

For convenience sake here is a quick table on aquarium heater operation costs. Depending on the difference in room and tank temperature your heater will be on more or less often.

Heater Size Cost Per Month Cost Per Year
25 Watts 6 hours a day = $.56 a month

8 hours a day = $.75 a month

10 hours a day = $.94 a month

6 hours a day = $6.72 a year

8 hours a day = $9 a year

10 hours a day = $11.28 a year

50 Watts 6 hours a day = $1.13 a month

8 hours a day = $1.51 a month

10 hours a day = $1.89 a month

6 hours a day = $13.44 a year

8 hours a day = $18 a year

10 hours a day = $22.56 a year

100 Watts 6 hours a day = $2.26 a month

8 hours a day = $3.02 a month

10 hours a day = $3.78 a month

6 hours a day = $26.88 a year

8 hours a day = $36 a year

10 hours a day = $45.12 a year

150 Watts 6 hours a day = $3.39 a month

8 hours a day = $4.53 a month

10 hours a day = $5.67 a month

6 hours a day = $47.88 a year

8 hours a day = $63.84 a year

10 hours a day = $79.80 a year

200 Watts 6 hours a day = $4.52 a month

8 hours a day = $6.04 a month

10 hours a day = $7.58 a month

6 hours a day = $53.76 a year

8 hours a day = $72 a year

10 hours a day = $90.24 a year

250 Watts 6 hours a day = $5.65 a month

8 hours a day = $7.55 a month

10 hours a day = $9.45 a month

6 hours a day = $67.80 a year

8 hours a day = $90.40 a year

10 hours a day = $113 a year

300 Watts 6 hours a day = $6.78 a month

8 hours a day = $9.06 a month

10 hours a day = $11.34 a month

6 hours a day = $81.36 a year

8 hours a day = $108.48 a year

10 hours a day = $135.60 a year

As you can see the costs of running an aquarium heater are not too high, but do climb quickly with long hours and high wattage. This means the average cost of running even the best aquarium heater is fairly low for small tanks, where as large tanks can drain more money than expected.