Jim's almost cubic meter...

Discussion in 'Tank Journals' started by Jruga, Jul 16, 2015.

  1. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    So I've been meaning to start this thread for a while but haven't gotten to it yet, mostly because I've been busy actually building out my new tank :) ... but since I promised several folks I would post this, here goes!

    Why I decided to start a new tank...
    When I first joined BAR I had a brand shiny new RSM250 Max. Like most folks, I was attracted to the "all-in-one-ness" and the clean lines of the tank. But over the years working with that tank, I became painfully aware of the shortcomings of the tank design. In talking with many of you, I learned mods to the tank to make it better and make my corals happier. However, the more mods I made, the less "all-in-one-ness" the RSM became.

    Eventually, as I began to experiment with refugiums, sumps, scrubbers, reactors and growing macro algae, my nice RSM 250 began to spread out over the available space in the room. As I learned about lighting, I lost the pretty canopy. As I learned about temperature control, I gained nice ugly pipes hanging over the side of the tank that went to a chiller (yes, you actually do need a chiller during the summer if you live in downtown SF... who knew!). As I learned about protein skimmers, the RSM built in skimmer got replaced with an HOB.

    Needless to say after a couple years I'd accumulated more "parts" than I actually used. And I spent more money on the RSM than I would have starting with a bare tank. Sigh... live and learn.

    So last year I reached a point where I decided my tank had to go. But "what" to replace it with. I did a lot of shopping around. I looked at plexi tanks and glass tanks, talked to every store owner in the bay area, talked to members of BAR and still... there was just a dizzying amount of information and opinions on what worked best. I decided to actually have something custom built.

    My thinking around what I wanted:
    * While, all-in-one was a great idea, in practicality, it's not so hot - so I'd need to keep a refugium/sump and a main tank
    * I *love* my refugium as much as my main tank... the macro algae, the inverts, the microfauna - the "fuge" had to be just as viewable as the main tank
    * I have a lot of live rock. Most of it has become encrusted with acros, chalice, softies and purple algae... not an option to ditch it - and I want room to grow... so I wanted both to maximize the surface area and tank bottom space (this ruled out funky shapes like cylinders, corners, etc)
    * I really like the clarity of the low-e glass. I hate the scratch-ability of plexi.
    * I hate salt creep... the rims on most tanks suck. The have nice little crevices that are difficult to clean, so a clean edge eurobrace seems like a good idea.
    * These tanks are in my living room. They're show pieces, they need to maximize viewing space.
    * I don't have vertical room for a stand with a sump under it... hmmm... back to the all-in-one idea, but has to be extensible, more friendly to off-the-shelf equipment and I don't want tubes hanging off the back.
    * I'm paranoid. Tanks leak eventually. I don't trust bulkheads... so the minimum amount of bulkheads and drilling possible.
    * I'm a control freak. Automate everything... ok... almost everything.

    That was the basic idea. The stand I had built for my RSM was a custom piece of furniture. Basically a completely 42" square - 18" tall table. I had it constructed to hold about 3000# (that's another story, furniture manufacturers hate those kind of requests). It fits the decor of the room and I did not want to replace it. So given all of my thoughts and my coffee table... the path forward seemed clear.

    A custom built cube, with an all-in-one style overflow in the back. It should occupy surface of the table and leave a bit of space around... so 38" cube! Viola'!

    This will be my tank thread for how this tank evolves. Since I've already started on the tank I'll catch you up over the next few days with pictures of where I'm at.

    Here's some pics of my old RSM 250. This is what I started with. Sorry not so great a picture taking (yet).


    And below are pics of my "fuge" is at the start of this project. The refugium actually sits above the water line of my RSM 250 and water siphons out of the RSM to a pump, where it is pumped up to the refugium, and then overflows back into the RSM. Effectively, making the refugium a sump and a display the way I have it set up. You can see it's definitely badly overgrown in these pics, but this setup is extremely productive (and my RSM is extremely crowded) with lots of nutrients to grow the macro algae. On average I throw away about 2-2.5 pounds of macro algae every 2-3 weeks from my old setup.

    Since the refugium is visibly on a shelf behind my couch, I keeps some critters in it to look at (though its hard to tell from the pics.




    Anyways, will continue the story tomorrow!
    neuro and Enderturtle like this.
  2. sfsuphysics

    sfsuphysics Supporting Member

    cubic meter? you mean 1/4 of a cubic meter right? Or am I missing something
  3. Enderturtle

    Enderturtle Volunteer

    Schweeet looking forward to seeing more of this journey!
  4. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    The RSM250 is indeed only 1/4 cubic meter.

    However, you'll note the decision I made initially on the new tank was to make it a 39" inch cube. Which would in fact be "almost" a cubic meter. I'll write more tomorrow and explain why I say... "almost". There are reasons an exact 39" inch cube would have been a bad choice for me. :)
  5. rygh

    rygh Supporting Member

    Sounds like fun. Upgrading is a blast.
    Your fuge is wild. Really like that.

    But I have to say, really consider the pros and cons of a having deep tank.
    The look can be great, and the fish like it, so I certainly see why you may want to do it.
    But anything deeper than your arm is a royal pain.
    And getting decent PAR values at that depth is not trivial.
  6. sfsuphysics

    sfsuphysics Supporting Member

    Ah yes, 39" cube would almost be a cubic meter, I can think of a lot of reasons why a 39" cube would be a bad choice, first would be how thick the glass would need to be yet still not be that large :D

    But yeah I was thinking RSM 250 stands for 250 liters, now I know I'm a 'mericuhan but I'm also a scientist and I know how many liters are in a cubic meter :D
  7. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    so a bit late... but continuing my story...

    Why "almost" a cubic meter...
    So as many of you guessed by now, the idea of a 39" cube sounds great, but as a practical home tank not so hot. Any of you with a significant other would immediately get the first problem.

    Problem 1: The spouse... "It's going to eat up the whole room!", was the argument, and yes, that was also the point. Who needs a couch? If you have a beautiful aquarium, what possible use could furniture be? So given that this would sit on my custom coffee table, I had to agree to position it in a way that we could still have a couch and that I could get all the way around it to do maintenance. Not such a big deal, until you live in downtown SF. A bit of room planning quickly sorted this out (along with a trip to the furniture store for a new couch!).

    Problem 2: The weight... "It's going to go through the floor!", yet another argument. Lucky for me, one of the other owners in our condo is also the builder of the condo. So easy to access the building plans and ensure there was adequate support for a tank of this size. In fact, going over the plans with the builder our particular building was built over city ordinance requirements and designed with steel I-beams in the floor. Crisis averted, place the tank over one of the central supporting beams in the living room floor and it would be supported.

    Problem 3: The height... "It won't fit through the door!". Hmmmm... actually this one I couldn't argue with. Our unit has a two front doors, one a 32" wide fire door and the other a standard 30" wide front door which enters the foyer. This would actually be a real problem if the tank were a perfect cube. So right from the start the cubic meter idea was doomed. Too big, unless we had a barn door somewhere to bring it into the house. OK, crushed my dream with that one! I had to go back to the drawing board. Re-think the dimensions of the tank. Which actually gave rise to a bit of experimentation with a cardboard box!

    How deep is practical? I don't actually have 38" long arms, and I can imagine it would be useful to be able to reach the bottom of the tank. I would also want it to fit through the front door with safe clearance, so it wouldn't get cracked by hitting the door frame. Additionally, how wide is practical and still maintainable? When you're reaching into a tank even if you can reach halfway across the tank horizontally, you can't reach the bottom center of the tank unless you're suspended above the center of the tank, or have arms that are 30+" long. After a playing with some cardboard and duct tape, I was able to construct revised outer dimensions that would still work. But, at the cost of tank volume. :(

    Problems solved! sort of...
    I settled on 38" square and 26" tall. This reduced it from 972L (~256G) down to about 615L (~162G). The "almost" cubic meter was born... even though it's actually only 2/3 of a cubic meter, it still sounds cool to say "almost"! :)

    I suppose one other good thing that came out of the dimension changes would have been the tank depth to surface area changes. I've always thought deeper tanks were really beautiful, but I also know that oxygen saturation and gas exchange are key problems to solve in aquariums, especially when trying to maintain a stable PH. Since most aquarists stick with standard dimensions I don't think most folks give it much thought since running the water out to a sump expands the surface area greatly. But with an all-in-one design this is a real issue. RSM solved this by trying to optimize the volume of water turned over in the rear sump with two separate returns and a center overflow. It's actually a great design once you've found the optimal water flow settings (pump rate, overflow grate height, fill level are the key params for this in RSMs). I'd love to say the surface area to depth ration planning was intentional in my thinking process, but it really wasn't. (If anyone has any citations on gas exchange and surface area to depth ratio, I'd love to read them!)

    Having more precise dimensions was a good thing. It allowed me to do some calculations. While I was going through the iterations of figuring out the plumping and filtration for this tank (which actually took a good chunk of last fall), I also had time to shop around and decide on a manufacturer.

    This was the initial plan I came up with (this also ended up going through iterations):

    1 & 2 - Kessel A150 over the refugium
    3 - Gyre 150 for horizontal water movement at the surface
    4 - Vortech MP40 (x2) for mid-tank water movement
    5 - Vortech MP20 for water turn over in the refugium
    6. Chiller
    7. Danner pump to return water from chiller up into the refugium
    8. Main tank return pump (Sicce)
    9. Reactor for pelletized carbon and GFO
    10. Protein skimmer
    11. CO2 solenoid and compressed CO2 tank
    12. Calcium reactor
    13. (not shown) overhead tank light Echotech Radeon

    So that was the starting point. I still had to decide how much to cut into the main tank for the rear all-in-one sump. Of course this meant losing more water volume :( which I wasn't keen on. It's a bit of guesswork unless you really decide on what specific equipment to buy up front. I decided to re-use some of the equipment I already had used to expand my RSM. This allowed me to choose a sump width and place the order.

    What I chose was 6" minimum width. Effectively the width could be anything greater, but not less than 6". The reason for the imprecision here... most tank manufacturers have some formula for figuring out material and flow rates in their all-in-one sumps. Most of these scale up or down accordingly with flow rate, but the dimensions to achieve flow rate for a given tank size vary just slightly.

    The sacrifice here was about 102L (26G) of volume for the all-in-one overflow. However, when the tank is running about half of that volume is regained. So in total, that came out to 515L (136G) + 52L (14G). I also had a chance to figure out a rough weight. If this tank were built from 12mm thick (approx 1/2 inch) glass, it would weigh approx 306# empty. Add to that the water alone (@7.7# per gallon) and thats another 1155# (YIKES! had to double check the building plans).

    I also decided to replace the refugium tank in this project. So add the volume of that tank 106L (28G) to the main tank and that gives the final volume of water in the system of 673L (178G) (assuming there was nothing but water in the tank).

    For this tank, I chose to have CADs to build my tank and refugium, and the guys over at California Reef Company were super helpful in getting all the specs and order put together! I can't thank them enough for putting up with all my idiosyncratic pickiness in figuring out my new system!

    Next post... the tank arrives!
  8. Enderturtle

    Enderturtle Volunteer

    One of the most detailed tank builds I've ever read :)

    Yeah the best way to deal with your significant other is to treat them extra nice and earn some brownie points. lol! Your mileage may vary!

    Anywho, can't wait to see the tank itself! Maybe a few phone pictures will suffice?
  9. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    If you've ever ordered a custom tank, you know it pays to be patient. You can't count on any given delivery date. Often the store you've ordered from has no control over the manufacturer's ability to deliver on a schedule. This was the case with my tanks. I ordered in December. Both tanks arrived in May. The old axiom, "you can have it fast, or you can have it good (or right), or you can have it cheap, but not all three", applies here. I didn't care how long it took it had to be right and it had to fit my budget!

    The refugium arrives...
    When I ordered these, I made one specific request. The refugium had to come first.

    Why? you ask... because when changing out a live system to a new tank there are two options: 1) wipe it out and start again, 2) move the animals in a way that allows them to stay alive (most of the time anyways). Since I have a number of well encrusted acros and other corals that I didn't want to risk losing, I had to plan how to make the changeover without cycling the tank by accident.

    The refugium provides a good chunk of my water filtering capability, specifically nitrate removal and PH stabilization. This is thanks to all the macro-algae. On top of that, there's a good amount of live rock to which the algae is attached. This live rock carries with it a lot of great critters that you actually want to keep in the tank. So my plan was to swap the refugium, let the whole system stabilize, then a few weeks later swap the main tank and let the refugium carry any of the fallout (ammonia) that might develop from disturbing the live system in the main tank.

    I was super exited when I got the call that my tanks arrived. So I immediately ran down to the store to grab them! The main tank was strapped to a pallette and too big for me to take (and had some minor corrections that had to be made which I'll talk about in my next post). So I could not pick this one up myself, it would have to be delivered. But the refugium was small enough for two of us to put into the back of my truck. It was already wrapped up in polystyrene foam and boxed for shipping so no worries about transporting it myself. So the guys at CA Reef Company helped me load it up and I drove it home that day and tore into the box!


    After a bit of unboxing and cleaning, here's how the refugium started to shape up.





    First, some changes from my original refugium plan are evident. Instead of a single Vortech MP20, I decided to use three. For one reason, I had them sitting around not doing anything (I really hate unused equipment!); but another more practical reason is that the refugium was really long! When I was leak testing it I experimented with a single Vortech and decided that by itself this would not give enough turbulent circulation to keep the macro algae from becoming bogged down with detritus. This is important. Gracilaria and ulva have broader leaves trap everything that flows around/through them. So good circulation is critical to keeping these plants happy.

    I also keep fish and inverts in this tank. It has a small volume of water, so the tank can't afford to have dead spots that become anoxic. This is also the reason I used a lifted egg crate on the bottom. This keeps the water circulating around all the live rock, including underneath where it otherwise would be sitting on the glass collecting detritus. I went to TAP Plastics (the local plastic store in downtown SF) and bought some acrylic 1/2" blocks to glue onto the egg crate. The stronger flow can just blow away light weight sediment back into the water column and ultimately out of the tank through the overflow box.

    The overflow box itself is pretty straight forward. Two bulkheads, drain the overflow back into the main tank. There's two because inevitably things end up in the pipes and the holes become restricted of clogged. Since it's in my living room I figured better safe than sorry to have a spare drain. There's also a spare overflow (originally I think the manufacturer put it in to plumb a return pipe not knowing what I was going to do). I just capped this with a bulkhead and strainer fitting, so if the strainer itself gets clogged (caulerpa is really good at clogging strainers), water can just flow through this fitting into the overflow box.

    The chiller refill is an over the side Eheim return fitting. These are meant for an Eheim canister filter, but when you want to run a pipe over the side of your tank for either a return or an intake, these are awesome low profile fittings to use. The fit snugly to rim-less tanks and have siphon starter taps for priming long runs of flex tubing which made them really great for my application.

    So here's the revised design for anyone that might want more details:

    You'll also noticed I decided to keep my Current Marine low profile LED fixturing over the refugium. These fixtures have a "cloudy day" setting that varies the spectrum and intensity of the LEDs randomly between 4K-20K in order to similate a bright cloudy day. I actually found that my macro algae seem to do better under this than they do under a constant level of light. I run this lighting program constantly 24 hours a day.

    I ran into problems a couple years back, when I just had a straight up single Kessel LED on a timer for an 8-12 hour photo period on my refugium. The macro algae began to sexually reproduce during the dark periods. After they do this the mature plants go through a mass die off. This is a disaster for the both the refugium and the main tank. At that time I had a lovely grape caulerpa, that nearly killed everything in less than 4 hours when it went through its reproductive cycle (I lost all the fish, most of the anemonies and only a few shrimp and crabs survived). That experience resulted in some research into the biology of macro algae and the changes to my lighting regimes. With the current lighting plan I also find that the PH remains pretty much constant is rock solid at 8.15 in this refugium, which is a bonus since the water flowing through it stabilizes the PH in the main tank as well.

    Putting the refugium together...
    It was all I could do to restrain myself from just diving in and assembling the refugium the same day I got it. But this was to be a coordinated effort to connect two tanks and not kill any animals, I had to do a lot of upfront planning.

    First, plumbing actually turned out to be the long straw in the planning. This was a challenge. Even though I had the tank, and the detailed plans, it actually took me about 2 weeks to finally get all the correct parts. It's way harder than you think! Try actually finding all the parts you need in one location! It's actually impossible in SF! I had to resort to ordering several of the parts online.

    When I finally had all the correct parts (or so I thought) I laid them all out on the table and checked to make sure each pipe that was going to connect correctly to every other part... and still... I made mistakes and had to go back to the stores to buy/replace some things. So frustrating! But here's what it all looked like laid out when I actually managed to get everything:

    Next, when I had the plumbing sorted, I took a before picture... actually I took several over several days since I had lots of time. Lots of reasons why, but mostly had to do with the fact that animals really hate it when you move them. In general, my feeling is that when you move plants and animals around, you should try get them back in place close to the same conditions and positions they were in when you started. I have lots of other pics, but you're probably more interested in the after pics. So I'll dispense with the before pics (other than the ones I posted earlier).

    Next, came the trash can on wheels. I needed a place to stash all the animals for about 6 hours while I replaced the tank. I love those 44G Rubbermaid cans. It's a bonus that you can get wheels that just attach to the bottom of them; makes it super easy to put everything into it and move it out of the way while you work on the tank (I also use these for water changes now too, funny I'd never thought to do that before!)

    The switcheroo!...
    I hooked up a hose, drained the tank down to an inch of water and moved all the rock and algae. Carefully removed the egg crate in the bottom, and netted out all the fish and inverts. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, this refugium has been at it's current iteration for almost 18 months. It has established micro fauna with very rich populations of amphipods, copepods, live mysids, worms, snails, starfish, etc, etc. I needed to ensure that all that diversity was not lost. So rather than toss all the muddy water I scrapped all the sides of the tank carefully, and rinsed the sides with the muddy water in the bottom of the tank. The filteration sponges and filter bags were also rinsed out with the muddy water. After this I carefully poured the muddy water into the bucket with the fish and macro algae, ensuring that all the silt and micro fauna went into the bucket and leaving nothing in the tank. Perhaps this is not what you might think to do when resetting a tank. You can't even see the bottom of the bucket in the picture below!


    The refugium actually depends on the sump of nitrates that comes from all that sludge. Both to feed the micro fauna and to supplement the growth of the macro algae. If I threw it all away, the refugium would likely cycle and experience substantial die off. That said, I actually didn't put all of that sludge back into the tank when I refilled it. I selectively removed samples of sludge that had specific micro fauna I wanted to keep. And I kept the sludge alive, until I was certain that those samples had taken hold in the reset refugium (tossing an airstone into the bucket is sufficient for this purpose since it could take several days to tell if the samples have adjusted to their new home).

    With the critters out of the way, I was ready to clean the shelf stand and set up the new tank. This part was actually pretty boring.

    I basically did all the standard things you should do when replacing a tank:
    1. Clean all flat surfaces of the stand to ensure no grains of sand end up under the tank.
    2. Remove any salt creep around the stand and tank area and inspect for and fix any corrosion or mildew damage that may have resulted.
    3. LEVEL THE STAND!!!! So important. It sucks to have a tank leak because it's not level!
    4. Pad the flat surfaces to compensate for surface imperfections on the stand. For this purpose I used standard packing poly foam and covered that layer of plastic shelf liner on top. This is really easy to do if you buy extra and make it bigger than your stand. You can then cut it to size after the tank is on top of it and full of water and leave a clean perfectly sized pad under the tank. You can see this in my pics.
    5. LEVEL THE TANK!!!! Super important. It sucks to see the water line not match the edge of the tank - and it sucks when a tank leaks because it's not level.
    6. Run all the wires to a safe dry place (this actually sounds funny to say, since my safe dry place is actually underneath my tank... hmmm... may need to re-think the stand at some future point), and make sure all the wires have drip loops. I hate being zapped!
    7. Double check the position of everything, make sure there's enough access to reach everything front, back, and all sides. Adjust the position of the stand and re-level.
    8. Run the plumbing fittings to their destinations.
    9. Test the lighting.
    10. Put water in the tank.
    10. And last but not least, reacclimatize the plants and animals!

    That's a lot of stuff to get done inside of a 6 hour window! Needless to say once I removed the animals, I didn't stop to take a lot of pictures. I working against a stop watch since I didn't want to traumatize the animals anymore than was absolutely necessary. The shot below a part-way through the setup. I'll post a few pics of the "done" tank tomorrow so you can see how it settled in.

    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
    Enderturtle likes this.
  10. JAR

    JAR Supporting Member

    well done! nice fuge!!!
  11. jonmos75

    jonmos75 Supporting Member

    Well Love the build, but REALLY concerned that you have your Apex under it with the outlets facing up so water can go directly into the plugs....I know I try to be careful, but water has a way of getting to places you don't want it to be....Other wise...WOW neat setup.
  12. sfsuphysics

    sfsuphysics Supporting Member

    What are the dimensions of that fuge? It looks absolutely huge (although the short height probably is fooling me into thinking it's longer than it is).

    I like the comments about the MP20s though "well I decided 3... because I had them sitting around ... " I know what you mean, I think I have 4-5 MP40s and an MP60 sitting around collecting dust, so upset those pumps aren't getting any usage.
  13. rygh

    rygh Supporting Member

    Fuge is turning out great!

    I like the egg crate to keep the bottom clear, for less detritus.
    But have you thought about a small section with a mud bottom?
    Especially since you carefully saved your old sludge.

    It looks like your fuge drains back to your main tank.
    Do you seem to get more intact pods that way, since they do not go through a pump?
    Although I guess it goes to your skimmer area first, so may not help then.
  14. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    Actually yes, concerned about that. I was down at Neptune Aquatics last weekend and saw the nice wall mount box they had for their APEX. I want one! I guess my next project will be to build a box for my APEX.

    Anyone know of any threads DIY threads on that topic?
  15. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    Heh, is actually confusing to look at. It's only 54" long by 15" wide by 9" tall. Filled at 8-8.5" it holds about 28G total.

    Any interest in getting rid of an MP60? :)
  16. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    I had thought about putting in a layer of mud. However, I try not to disturb the area under the egg crate. After 18 months I had about 1/8-1/16 even layer of sludge on the bottom in my old refugium without doing anything. I didn't necessarily have to do anything except feed my fish and let nature take it's course to get the sludge. The lighter stuff doesn't settle to the bottom, the stuff that collects nitrifying bacteria eventually becomes weighted down and eventually settles down. So I was planning on letting it just happen naturally again.
  17. jonmos75

    jonmos75 Supporting Member

    Here is a thread on the Neptune Forum that can give you some Ideas:

    look at Attabox, My H2Ostation (Post#2), and other are located thru-out the forums
  18. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    So this whole process took place at the beginning of May. The refugium has long since settled and become established again. I did my first post-rebuild macro algae harvest last weekend. I pulled out about 2# and tossed it (by the way, I toss out the macro algae pretty routinely, if anyone wants it let me know I have plenty for my needs and will happily give it to you).

    Over the settling process the ammonia never spiked. I kind of expected this since the water flowing in from the main tank sustained the refugium while things settled. I didn't lose any animals (well almost, I lost part of the micro fauna due to pruning back the populations). My anemones seem ecstatic. My black ocellaris have returned to exhibiting spawning behavior. My cleaner shrimp have spawned again (they actually never stop spawning).

    Here's some pics of what this looks like today:

    A happy anemone crab and host:

    A pair of cleaner shrimp:

    Black ocellaris... they're kinda camera shy, especially when their anemone is closed up: IMG_0452.jpg

    And various macro algae:



    The refugium also has some shy critters I haven't been able to photograph... a whole series of hitchiker crabs that came in on various bits of live rock over the years, a red lysmata shrimp, a purple sea urchin, a coral eating pygmy angel, and pretty much any discarded bits from my main tank like aptasia (these are actually really interesting and super useful in a refugium), green star polyps and a few frags of coral that just never did well in my main tank (for example a pectinia that I thought died, but came back to life when I put it in the refugium).

    So that was the refugium rebuild. It's still an evolving story. I'll keep updating as I make more changes.

    The next post... the cube arrives, main tank rebuild time!
    Enderturtle likes this.
  19. Jruga

    Jruga Guest

    Ugh, been so long since I've updated this thread! But thought I'd add this link:

    You can see video of the current state of my tank near the end of the video, enjoy! I will post more pics soon.
    WrightReef likes this.
  20. Enderturtle

    Enderturtle Volunteer

    Super cool. They did a great job with the video.

    Considering joining their kickstarter.

    Your tank is looking good Jruga!

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