Alright, for 2 years now I look at pictures on the internet and a couple of the planted tanks at the LFS and am green with envy (no pun intended). I get the motivation to tackle the project, read for days, then back out at the last minute due to concern about upsetting the balance of my tank. I'm really hoping for some helpful and frankly honest feedback. I will try to be as descriptive as possible. Thanks in advance for reading!
Here is a link to my current tank. Living Room - 29 gallon Freshwater fish tank
some of the fish you will see in the pictures are no longer in there. I moved them to a 10gallon tank in the bedroom. Currently have Danio's and Cory's in the 29gallon
About 6 months ago I changed the substrate from crappy black rocks (wife picked out to "match" or 50's theme in the living room) with pool filter sand. That was a fun project and I have been amazingly happy with the way it looks, and it just makes me want to go planted even more.
I do have a large bubble bar in the back, and as you can see from the pictures and tank description I went a little overkill on the filtration. Tank has been setup for almost 4 years now, had a very very mini cycle when changing the substrate, hardly noticable if I wasn't obsessed with testing the water. I used the bins from the larger filter to house some of the old substrate to aid with the bacteria transfer... rambling again.
Alright so what I would LOVE is to get rid of everything fake and go with some natural wood and fully planted. I know I will probably need to upgrade the light and drop the bubble bar. I've read through all the guides but am still nervous about stressing the existing fish. How bad will putting in some drift wood and plants swing the tank chemistry. Amonia and Nitrites are Zero, PH does run a little high at 7.4, water is somewhat hard (sorry don't have exact reading off top of head, at work right now) Nitrates usually run around 20. One problem I seem to always have is a dark green film that spreads on the surface areas, not really an algea but looks bad, I've always assumed that was probably due to the room getting a decent amount of natural lighting and the nitrates.
Should I drop one of the HOB filters, currently with both filters and the bubble bar the water surface is always very agitated. The Danio's seem to love swimming through it, the Cory's believe it or not love swimming directly above the bubble bar and the current doesn't seem to bother them. I read though that having too much surface agitation and water movement will be bad for the plants.
Lastly, here is what I'm thinking the plan "should" be. Please feel free to tear it up, I have thick skin.
1) Improve the lighting and install a light timer
2) remove the smaller HOB filter since that one causes a larger "waterfall effect" agitating the water
3) Remove the bubble bar so it doesn't "starve out the plants"
Phase 2 Option 1
1) Replace the large mountain/castle thing with a piece of drift wood and start with a few "hardy" plants
2) Slowly replace the rest of the fake plants and decor with natural elements piece by piece once a week.
Phase 2 Option 2
1) Switch out all decor with drift wood and plants in one swoop.
I'm 50/50 on Phase 2, thinking getting it done and over would upset them but that would be it (just like changing from the LFS tank to mine, one shot, wham bam thank you mamm). However, I'm more concerned that the one shot method will swing the water parameters too much. If I got some driftwood or other natural decor from the LFS how much would it swing the PH?
Meanwhile doing it slowly would be a prolonged weekly stress on them as things start dissapearing one at a time.
Any other advice, am I overthinking it?