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DJOstrichHead 03-30-2008 01:35 AM

Basic Refugium DIY
Hi all, this will be my first shot at any aquatic style DIYing. Im not a stranger to wood or electric but this is my first real try at anything with water and glass, so obviously any suggestions, critiques, or insults would just be great.

I'm making this because after searching for a good, simple, step-by-step fuge for days i've yet to find anything clear enough for me to replicate completely. Hopefully ill get enough help to do this thing right.

I have a 20 High aquarium laying around (24L x 12w x 16 T) and my friend has a 75 g coral tank in the works so i figured i'd make a nice tankwarming gift for her.

Here is the preliminary sketch on google

Here is the tank

The red pipe is the flow coming from the main tank powered by gravity and a suction gradient. The green pipe is the flow back into the tank powered by a water pump (size and gph to be determined). The baffles on the left will be separated by 1 1/2 '' of space to let water flow freely. The compartment housing the pump will only be as wide as i need to get the pump in with a pipe. The compartment on the right will probably end up having some sort of course gravel to or bioballs to let the water flow over.

The Acrylic panels i bought to make the baffle walls

Aquarium safe silicone and scoring knife


conger 03-30-2008 02:30 PM

Hey Ostrich, I'm currently building my own sump/refugium and it looks very similar to yours, so I figured I'd toss in my two cents of the different things I've learned reading about sumps/refugiums. First a question though... is what you are building intended to be a refugium only, as in going for aesthetics as well as functionality, or are you only intending it for functionality? If aesthetics, then you might ignore my following input :)

The first thing that jumps out to me, is that you might have too high of a flow rate through the refugium chamber... I've heard that ideally you should have a slow flow through the refug, slower than the total overflow/return flow rate anyways. Though, with the way you have yours set up with water coming into the refugium from the top and exiting the top on the other side, perhaps the water in the lower parts of the refug section will "linger" or move more slowly than the water at the top.

To get around this, you can put the return chamber in the middle, and split the overflow into the two chambers on either side of the return chamber. By putting one or two valves on the split input, you can control how much water gets directed to the refugium vs. how much gets directed through the other chamber (will be a skimmer chamber in my setup).

Also, where the water flows FROM the refugium into the return chamber, whether you make the modification I mentioned above or leave it the way you have it now, you might want to put "teeth" on the top of that baffle. That way, clumps of algae won't flop over the rim and into your return chamber.

I've heard mixed opinions on using sponges or other mechanical filtration, so IF you were to want to use any of that, I'd suggest sponges or carbon between the two baffles which separate the refugium from your return chamber. I think the main hesitation people have to using mechanical filtration, is the sponge or whatever becoming a nitrate factory if not rinsed out periodically.

In case its of interest to you, I'll attach a photo of the plans for my sump/refugium. Mine is almost the same size as yours, just a little longer and a couple inches taller.

E = elbow fitting, either 45 or 90
T = tee fitting
S = side-outlet fitting
U = union

I hope any of that helped! If you disagree, have questions, or any other responses, please let me know. Again, I'm currently buying parts and getting ready to assemble mine, so I'm very interested to discuss refugium design options with others :)

conger 03-30-2008 04:29 PM

one more note: not sure if the sandbed depicted in your diagram is intended to be a deep sand bed (DSB) or not, meaning 5" deep or more. If not, and you were just thinking of adding a little bit of sand/substrate, then you might be better off not having any sand and freeing up more space for macro and/or liverock. Or, if you plan to get macro that roots in sand, then of course leave it :)

But if you intended on having a DSB, then I'll offer one warning, and then add that I am curious to hear other people's input on the topic. A DSB benefits by allowing a certain bacteria to grow in the deepest parts of the bed which will consume nitrates, and produces nitrogen gas (so it helps reduce nitrates). The risk is, that nitrogen bubbles will form and be trapped under the sand, and if released, could kill the inhabitants of the tank! Seems like a pretty big risk to me :?

I've been trying to get more specific info or wisdom from others on the DSB topic, to find out whether the benefit is worth the risk, how big of a risk it really is, etc. So take the info in the post purely as FYI, so you know what the tradeoff is, not as a suggestion one way or the other. I haven't decided for myself whether or not I'm going to have a DSB in my fuge or not, so hopefully someone else will speak up and let us know if its worth it :)

DJOstrichHead 03-30-2008 09:14 PM

First off, thanks so much for the reply i'm in way over my head but i got time for a project so im fine with a little mess up here and there.

I am doing this mostly as a way to take nitrates out of a reef system but if i can fit a skimmer, something like a berlin airlift 90, that'd be great too.

The macro i'll try and use for the tank will be Chaetomorpha since i heard Caulerpas will occasionally melt down as a way to asexually reproduce and add their nitrate back into the system.

I fully plan on stealing your sump idea (hope you dont have a creative license patent on it) but i have a few concerns. here is your drawing redone to accent some of my questions.

The Green star is next to your alternate flow into the fuge. Since it is directly shooting into the sand bed i would be concerned about it disrupting the sand and causing some of the acid built up by the anaerobic bacteria to be released into the system. Possible ways to reduce this would be to add a J Piece at the end to direct the strongest flow away from the DSB.

the Red star and blue star is just me being confused on how the water pump is hooking up to your flow back into the main tank. Is there a pipe going to the red star area from the water pump? and is the arrow near the blue star pointing in the right direction? it seems to have shifted from the original flow direction after the valve.

while on the subject of Pumps, What pump are you using? Directly connected to this how are you constructing your overflow box in case of power outage?

I am confused on how water is being pumped into these systems. Is it just the gravity of being under the tank but then how do you restart the flow if it is interrupted?

conger 03-30-2008 09:40 PM

oh wow, excellent idea about the J-piece on the refugium side to leave the sand-bed alone. I'll make that addition immediately, and thanks for the idea. I actually have a related question, but I'll answer yours first then come back. And certainly use anything from my design that you like, far from having any patents on the design, I pretty much stole all of my ideas from other designs I have seen while reading about sumps :lol:.

I should mention that my particular tank doesn't use an overflow box, its got holes drilled into the bottom, and one corner of the tank is walled off so that the overflow is inside the main tank. As water gets pumped into the tank, it just falls over the overflow wall and down the hole into the sump. I think its pretty much the same with overflow boxes, but I don't have any experience with overflow boxes (perhaps they rely on the preservation of a siphon, even if the main pump is turned off?). I know that my setup has holes drilled near the very top of my return pipe, so that in the event of a power outage or whatever, the siphon will be intentionally broken and it won't flood my sump. For me, simply turning the return pump back on will start the water flow again, though that might not be true for overflow boxes... I'm just not sure. The pump I have is a Rio+ 2100.

As far as connecting the return pump to the plumbing shown in the diagram, the pump will be connected to the circle on the S-piece. The actual connection isn't shown in the figure itself, simply because the diagram is already getting pretty cluttered :).

I have the return split between going back to the main tank and going back to the skimmer chamber. Honestly I stole that design from others I've seen, I *think* it is used to control the flow rate to/from the main tank by adjusting the two valves, in case you don't want the full flow of your selected pump. I have a UV sterilizer (not shown in the picture) that will be connected to the return output of the sump, as a final stage of filtration as the water returns to the main tank. Having the split output in the sump will let me tune the water flow through my UV unit. The water being directed back to the skimmer will I suppose allow more filtration per sump visit for the water (so I'm not COMPLETELY wasting money by buying a pump and only using a portion of it to actually cycle water to/from the tank). I think some people would put the UV unit on the path from return chamber to skimmer, as opposed to me putting it between return chamber and main tank, but for space among other reasons, I chose to do it the way I described.

Wow, this post is too long, but I'll ask my question real quick: do you know whether or not all of the pipes in my design that carry water INTO the sump should be terminated above or under the water? I assumed under, in order to avoid noise of water splashing, but then I started to wonder if air getting trapped somehow would cause noise or other problems.

DJOstrichHead 03-30-2008 11:13 PM

on all the sumps i've seen, the pipes end underwater and the force of the water is used as sort of a make shift powerhead. That will help to increase the mixture in the tank and get more filtration moving through the tank.

The only changes i think im going to make to your design would be to increase the proportion of the tank devoted to a refugium by squeezing the other two sides together. with only 20 inches to work with im concerned that there wont be enough room for a skimmer, pump and lots of growing space.

conger 04-09-2008 08:43 PM

I finished building and installing the sump today, though I'm having a problem (which hopefully I'll be able to solve fairly easy)... I thought I'd come in here and mention it to you, in case you haven't already built yours as well and ended up using the part of my design which I think is the problem.

Basically, its a circulation problem between the main tank and the sump. The overflow seems to fluctuate, slowly at first and then getting worse, until it seems like the overflow stops all together. Which is really weird, since its an in-tank overflow (holes drilled in the bottom). When I say the overflow "fluctuates," I mean that the water level in the overflow corner rises and falls, sometimes rising higher than others, but always dropping to about the same point (where it used to stay stable with my original sump, and where it should be). Its inconsistent too, meaning each time it rises it doesn't necessarily rise higher than before. But eventually, the water rises and doesn't fall anymore, and comes close to overflowing my main tank so I have to shut the pump off and let things chill.

I'm thinking its a problem of air getting trapped in the plumbing, or something, but I don't know and can't figure it out based on the behavior. At any rate, I'm pretty sure the in-flow plumbing of the design I showed in this thread is no-good. At least without a tweak or two.

I should probably seek help for this problem on a different forum here, but I thought I'd let you know as soon as I knew, just in case you are mid-construction and this is useful info... I'd hate to have given you a bum design and messed up your sump too :oops:

conger 04-09-2008 10:30 PM

alright, good news: false alarm :lol:

it turns out that an air intake hole in the top of my Durso standpipe had been blocked, and the inability to pass air was wreaking havoc on the water flow. I found it, cleaned it, and now it appears to be working perfectly. I'll watch it some more and make sure it runs stable overnight, and let you know if any other problems pop up. But for now, everything is looking great.

Sorry again for the false alarm. Though while I'm on the subject, you might consider a slightly different input plumbing than what I showed (a T-piece sitting on top of a single valve). Now that I'm watching it run, I think a T-piece with water coming in the top, and exiting to either side. Putting two valves, one on each side, will give much better control over how much water goes into each chamber.

DJOstrichHead 04-19-2008 06:57 PM

I've got all my tubing together and had already put in a t joint. All im waiting on is what pump to choose. I've gotten everything but im still trying to find something to do about the return pump and the head to put on the end to make it into a powerhead

conger 04-19-2008 08:05 PM

awesome, mine is still running great, I think you'll find that the T-piece as-designed will work fine. Once you get the valve tuned to allow the right amount of water through, you won't have to mess with it any more anyways.

I think I told you the wrong part number for the return pump I'm using, I don't think a Rio+ 2100 exists :oops: I have a Rio+ 2500. I used vinyl tubing to connect the pump output to the return plumbing in the sump. I found a hose adapter at my local Lowes that was able to be glued in to the PVC, so that I could just slip the tubing over it for a connection between the pump and the plumbing (the vinyl tubing can slip directly over the output on the pump without any attachments).

I'll attach a picture of my sump here, though the photo didn't turn out great due to lighting. Let me know if you have any questions or want other suggestions for a return pump... I don't know of part numbers off the top of my head for the powerhead attachment on the end of the return in the tank, but I think I've seen them before so I'll give a look around and post another reply if I find something that looks like it will be what you are looking for.

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