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Grits 01-29-2008 10:30 PM

UGF or Not?
I want to start a 20 gallon long, and I'm unsure of what to do. So many people swear by under gravel filters, and some people hate them. I'm sure most of you have probably been through this. What are your opinions?

Go with a UGF, good power head, and a normal HOB filter?


2 or 3 times the recommended strength for a HOB filter and nothing else?

I don't mind maintenance, and I really want to keep a clean, balanced tank.

Thanks a lot!

herefishy 01-30-2008 12:27 AM

Ok, I am one the oldtimers, in age and experience, on the forum. I have been keeping fish since the age of 9. That was 46 years ago. My first tank was a 10g steel framed tank with funky green gravel, a stainless steel canopy with an incandescent light, a black moor and a calico oranda. Filtration was a box corner filter. Pretty high tech for that day and age. We have come a long way in the hobby since those days.

Filtration is one of the key elements in fish keeping. There have been many improvements since the days of the corner box filter, although even that primitive filter still has it's uses. We have now a plethora of filter systems from which to choose. Sponge filters, powered sponge filters, ugf's, power filters, powerheads, canister filters, sump filters,... the list goes on and on. Each has is advantages and disadvantages, as well as it's proper place in the hobby.

The underground filter, ugf, is still, probably, the mainstay in the hobby. It is inexpensive and needs only an air pump to operate. It does, however, have it's draw backs. It is not being real efficient is it's biggest downfall, especially when it is compare to some of the other, newer filtration systems on the market today. The advent of powerheads did enhance the efficiency greatly. But sometimes the water flow of a powerhead was too much for the tank inhabitants to overcome. Floating plants went all over the place and your neon tetras were plastered to the glass. The great plus for the ugf is the increased water flow over the bacteria bed especially when a powerhead is added. This helps to allow a higher density of de-nitrifying bacteria throughout the bed and provides a water and oxygen flow to sustain the bacteria.

Then someone came up with the idea of reverse flow filtration using the ugf and powerhead. This method, in my opinion, is the cat's meow for those of us who use ugf's. Here is the concept. Water is drawn through a sponge pre-filter by the powerhead. The water is forced DOWN the lift tubes, filtered and partially reoxygenated. It then flows up through the gravel bed, feeding and oxygenating the denitrifying bacteria. Not only does it effectively do this, but it also inhibits substrate compaction and detritious buildup by providing an upward current from the substrate, thus reducing gravel sweeps. By reducing substrate compaction you have a healthier bio-bed and reduce the risk of methane build up, a dangerous occurrence in some tanks.

Some say that ugf's and planted tanks do not mix. Water flow over the roots causes root rot, or so they say. I say PSHAW. The biggest percentage of my planted tanks have ugf's and most of them are reverse flow.

Now, there comes the argument that certain fish (African and South American Cichlids) digging and exposing the plate is bad. It may be so. I have, seemingly, solved that problem by applying a cheesecloth material to the plate. Perfecto plates are in the form of a W. A layer of gravel in the troughs and then I use a silicone adhesive to the raise grooves and apply the cheesecloth. Problem solved.

Now, in conclusion, I also must say that no single form of filtration is enough. Multiple types should be used. This, for a couple of reasons. One is obvious, to keep the water cleaner. By using multiple forms of filtration, you increase the number of denitrifying bacteria as well as increased filtration from the additional water flow. Two, during routine maintainance, you may lose some of the bacteria, during filter maintainance, gravel sweeps, ect. By utilizing multiple systems, the event is less likely to cause problems because the other system(s) pick up the slack. Just don't do maintainance on multiple systems all at the same time. Week one the canister filter. Week two, the powerfilter(s). Week three a gravel sweep, ect...

Now that I've thoroughly confused you, you can now make your choice. My word of caution is, don't choose a single type of filtration.

Grits 01-30-2008 12:44 PM

Thank you very much for your input! While I've got your ear let me ask you a few more things please.

I think I am going to go with:

20 Gallon long (30x12x12)
1 Whisper 40
1 Maxi-Jet Power Head (160gph)

Do you think 160gph is enough for the tank size? Or should I go a little higher?

And is a 24in 20watt light enough for this tank size?

I probably wont stock it to heavy. I was thinking maybe about 5 cories, one smaller pleco (like a zebra?). And about 6 or 8 neons. Do you think that is to much?

herefishy 01-30-2008 01:12 PM

A 160gph should be fine,maybe a little too much in normal configuration. I would use a Marineland 550(145gph) or 660r(170gph) in reverse flow. The 550 may be a better choice if you are wanting to run the powerhead in normal configuration as the tetras may not do well in a 175gph current. Even the 550 may be toomuch in normal configuration. If you the 550 in reverse flow, you will also need to buy the adaptor kit. It runs beween $6 and $10 dollars. The 660r is a Marineland 660 complete with the adaptor package included.

Here is a link to :

You will find the info on the Marineland powerheads there.

Grits 01-30-2008 01:37 PM

Ok, I'll take a look at that.

I'm not in a great big hurry to put fish in. I want to cycle it really good. I'm thinking of taking some gravel out of my 75 gallon Tank, and putting it in the new 20L to help cycle it. Would you do that? And if so, would you use all gravel from the 75, or mix it with some new gravel?

Also, how would placing a filter cartridge from the 75 gallon HOB in the new whisper 40?(if it fits)

Can you put plants in at the start of cycling? or is it better to wait?

Any other tips for cycling?

Sorry about all the questions. :)

scottven 01-30-2008 10:54 PM

Grits, seeding with established gravel or filter media always helps the cycle get going faster. Both is even better.

herefishy, how large of a UGF can you drive in reverse flow with a single powerhead? Could you go up to a 55? Or would you need to put a powerhead on both lift tubes to get good flow? And how do Cories feel about reverse flow UGFs?

herefishy 01-31-2008 12:52 AM

Depending upon the size of the powerhead, gph, the capacity of the other types of filtration used, and the bio-load, a single reverse flow set up could handle up to a 40g-50g tank. But not alone. An Emperor 280 or two would be a good fit with the larger tanks mentioned.

I do not use any one single type of filtration in any of my tanks, except the rearing tanks, whish use multiple sponge filters as a minimum. All of my tanks utilize at least 2 type of filtration and some use as many as 4 different types of filtration. And the larger tanks use multiple reverse flow powerheads, multiple external power filters, multiple internal power filters, and multiple canisters. One 300g tank for instance is filtered by (4)Marineland 1140 powerheads(reverse flow), (2)Magnum 360 canister filters, (2)Fluval 4+ internal power filters, and (2)Emperor 400 external power filters. The individual filtration components are on an eight week rotating cleaning schedule.The African cichlids are healthy, active, colorful, and full of themselves. I actually use the canisters to help buffer the water by adding crushed coral in the media baskets.

All of my tanks 125g and larger, 10 total, are using this filtration scheme. Filter maintainance is a breeze.

Seeing tanks with aged gravel is an excellent way to accelerate cycling of any tank. It is my preferred method. Depending upon the size of the new tank, I use anywhere from a couple of large handfuls to a 5 gallon bucket or more to start the new tank.

fish_4_all 01-31-2008 11:16 AM

For a 20 gallon I think that UGF, reverse or normal just take away too much room and clutter a tank. I am actually thinking of getting a 20 long and if I do I will have both of my AC20 power filters on it. One will use the sponges for mechanical filtration and the other will have biological filtration like biochem stars or some other biological media. This way I can change out the sponges as needed but have a ton of extra biological media to help prevent any mini cycles or spikes in ammonia.

If you want to use one, definately go reverse flow though. Trying to keep a normal flow UGF free from mulm under the plates is a ton of work and if you don't get it just right then you are asking for a major crash later.

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