01-24-2010, 08:49 PM
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A sump is generally used on aquariums over 55 gallons, because most of the efficient protein skimmer designs are best used with a sump. The sump allows you to skim organics from the surface of the water, which then fall into the sump, and are pumped into the skimmer. The sump also allows for the use of baffles to control the water level in different areas of the sump, which allows for a consistent height of the water inside the protein skimmer. This allows for a more consistent skimmer output.
In addition to filtration advantages, the sump has visual appeal. It allows a place for the skimmer, heater, carbon, UV Sterilizer, and even refugium to be placed out of view of the display. This also allows for easier access to this equipment, as opposed to having it all hang on the back of the tank. Additionally, the tank can be placed near flush to the wall.
If you were to choose an aquarium of 55 gallons or smaller, there are many efficient skimmers that are designed with an overflow box included, allowing for surface skimming of organics in a hang on model. For these size aquariums, I think this is the easiest option for most people.