Tuesday, May 29, 2007


In a planted tank, lighting is very important. The general rule is 2-3 watts per gallon when using CO2 injection - which we will be. That would be about 500-600watts normally. But the tank is deeper than usual - about 30" - and we also will have the lighting fixtures hanging much higher than normal since we want people to see the plants behind the tank. Some light will also bleed off onto those plants as well. I tried to find some means to calculate the increase in light required to have the lights raised high above the tank. In photography you learn about the inverse-square law, the idea that if you double the distance between you and the subject, they receive half as much light. The problem is, it's half the light we had to begin with, it's relative. Watts don't translate to lumens because distance and other factors play a role. So I asked on forums online and tried to find information via Google but ultimately found that I had two options, a pair of 250watt lamps or a pair of 400watt ones. The 250's were what I would have needed normally, so I got the 400's. Below is the diagram I made to support my question online.

A couple years ago when building out the 150g aquarium, we talked to a great guy at one of local stores who answered all our questions. One of the comments he made was that metal halide lighting had a great lighting quality, that the light rays are distinctly visible in the water. So for this tank, that's what I wanted to go with. This was further supported by recommendations in articles online that you use metal halide for tanks 30" or deeper so the light reaches the bottom with sufficient intensity.

It turns out that pre-made metal halide lights of this size are in the range $1,200 which seemed rather extreme. I looked around online at various do-it-yourself sites and learned that there is quite a bit to know about metal halide systems. Apparently the bulbs are either single or dual end. The dual end ones require a special "ignitor" to get them started, so you can't use just any ballast with them. They also don't have shielding of the ultraviolet light they produce so they require a glass filter over them to perform that task. Single end bulbs use a socket similar to standard screw in light bulbs called a mogul socket. These bulbs are typically dual-envelope which means the bulb that has the gas in it and produces the light is enclosed inside a larger glass tube that provides protection and UV filtering. Some of these bulbs have orientation limitations, meaning they must be mounted vertical or horizontal or their useful life will be shortened. At $60-100 for a bulb, it's important to know these things. The traditional ballasts use wire coils to get the voltage up to what is required. These are very heavy and run very hot. Also, unless they include a special capacitor, they can cause electrical interference. New electric ballasts use solid state electronics to perform the same tasks. They can support any type of bulb and run cooler, but they are more expensive.

We found a great deal on a retro-fit kit from DIYReef.com which included a spider (shaped) reflector and socket, and a 400watt IceCap ballast (which seems to be one of the better electronic ballasts) for only $199. Add in a bulb for $60 and we were able to get a set of two for around $550. The reflector is shown below. I knew it was large, but wasn't prepared for the socket to be the size of my hand!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Esquire House Aquarium

This is a 1600 gallon tank that was designed and built by Tom Barr for the VP of Esquire magazine. In terms of the overall fish selection, it is similar to what I'd like to see in the 215. However, the Discus shown in this photo are the size of dinner plates (10"), we'll be getting much smaller ones. Check out the Esquire site for video and photos of this aquarium. If you join the BarrReport website, there are behind the scenes photos of the construction.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Plumbing the tank

We decided to stick with Eheim so all the cannister filters used interchangeable parts. While
Eheim came out with a new 3e model, it didn't seem to offer features I desired for its cost. Instead I ended up purchasing a pair of Eheim Professional II 2026's that were discounted online.

The bulkheads I purchased had 1" slip fit connections on the bottom and threads on the top. They had matching inlet cages that would thread into the intakes, and with a PVC adapter, it was possible to fit adjustable spray nozzles for the returns. Also shown above is the design I arrived at for connecting the bulkheads to the lines for the filters. I briefly considered plumbing it with hard PVC to the filter then using a short bit of tubing to connect the two, but this seemed like it would be more trouble than it was worth.

Here the parts have been glued together and installed. I had to enlarge the opening in the back of the stand to have sufficient access to operate the ball valves. The one has a screw plug installed because I am going to route the output of the filter to the garden area above and behind the aquarium and let it run back into the tank.

I did think later that my choice of the 1" to 1/2" reducing 90 degree elbow was a mistake. I have permanently artificially restricted the flow to 50% what it was. If at some point in the future, I increase the size of the filters or otherwise need more flow, there isn't much I can do about it without replacing the bulkhead since it's all glued together. I should have instead plumbed it to a 1" slip to threaded connection then used a threaded reducer to fit the hose barb. Then I could have easily replaced the reducer as necessary in the future.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Original 150g Plant tank

This is our original 150g planted tank presently. It has actually been broken down and moved to another city since the first version, but the only real difference is this has a Flourite/gravel substrate and the original had a soil/gravel one. Soil was very effective, but messy and impossible to move.

The aquarium has a Eheim 2026 filter with Aqua Medic 1000 inline CO2 reactor powered by compressed CO2. Lighting is 4 x 96w compact fluorescents from AHSupply connected to two ballasts, both on a 7 hour on-cycle with one pair of lights starting one hour later than the other to imitate sunrise/sunset. Lighting, heat, and CO2 are controlled by a Neptune Systems Aquacontroller II with X-10 interface. (The controller adjusts the CO2 by measuring the pH. CO2 will lower the pH of the water, so we have the controller set to turn the CO2 on when the pH goes above 6.90 and off when it drops below 6.80.)

The fish are primarily Assorted Rainbows, Roseline Sharks, Rocky Mountain Minnows, Clown Loaches, Butterfly Goodieds, Flying Foxes, Standard Plecos, and Amano Shrimp.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A little reinforcement

I got a little nervous after the amount of effort it required to get the aquarium onto the stand, so I ended up purchasing steel angle iron and using it to fasten the front Cedar rail to the cubes. For good measure, I also reinforced the front cube edges and the back rail. I calculated that each of the cubes, with their four vertical side panels make up approximately 6 square feet of surface area in contact with the floor. So 24"x3/4"=18sqin or 1.5 sqft, multiply x 4 sides and get 6 sqft. Dividing the total 12sqft by 2500lbs of water gets me about 208lbs/sqft which seems reasonable. I checked the stairwell and found the floors in the building to be approximately 12" of concrete which is good since we'll have a total of 500+ gallons of water in the apartment by the time we're done - the benefits of a loft in a converted Sears warehouse building.

I drew up some diagrams of the stand so far:

Note: I'm not a trained Engineer, so use your best judgement when building your own stands.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The sweet smell of Cedar

At the stone yard I saw pictures of a fireplace installation done in slate that had rough cedar shelving that looked very sharp. I proposed using that as accent and additional support in the way of 4x4" base trim around the aquarium. It could cover the plastic trim already on the aquarium and distribute the weight of the aquarium a little better.

While this idea seemed fairly straightforward at the time, the cuts it required were quite challenging. After two days of table saw, jig saw, chisel, and router, here is the finished result:

Did I mention there will be no visible hardware? That is probably what made it more complicated. Someone later suggested old style iron hardware would have looked good, but it was too late then.

So next I screwed the back piece to the cubes so they stayed in position.

Because the Cedar would fully enclose the plastic trim, the aquarium would need to be placed on the back piece and then the other pieces assembled around it. Yet another idea that seemed good at the time! But first, it was important to make access holes for the drilled filter holes in the aquarium.

Because it's a freshwater tank, I didn't think dual overflows were necessary so removed one to allow for a nice rock background.

And then came wrestling the aquarium up on the stand...

And here it is. I put a couple 2x4's on the front temporarily until I can get some metal brackets to reinforce it. Because of the way it has to be assembled, I couldn't affix the front piece to the stand in any other way.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Gathering the materials

Building out a proper planted tank is not cheap. Here is the first batch of materials needed. Filters, heater, filter media and rock for the hardscape. At the stone yard we found these cool panels of cut stone that had been glued together in 24"x6" prefab sections. After spending weeks breaking up slate tile to make the stand for the 72g (the original aquarium for this project,) this was a welcome alternative. We also got a bag of dime size river rock to use as accent gravel on top of the much smaller gravel in similar coloring we will buy at the aquarium store.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Where to put this giant thing?

While the new tank is the same length as the 150g, it is 24" deep rather than 18" and it is taller as well. My first thought was to back it up to the other tank, but that seemed to take up a lot of the living room.

It didn't look quite right next to the other aquarium either.

The wood cubes it's on are actually 24" cubes which were built for a new 24" cube 60g aquarium that is going to replace the 35g hex that the fish have outgrown. I mistakenly thought that standard counter-top height was 49" rather than the actual 39", so I built two cubes with the intent to stack them and put the aquarium on top, perhaps turning them 30 degrees in between each level to create a spiral appearance. But once I realized that would be much too tall, I thought perhaps they would support the 215g. They are 3/4" furniture grade plywood we
recovered from another project. The granite tile in the first picture was our first idea to finish the cubes, but it turned out to be the wrong color and texture.