Tag Archives: fish room

Automated Water Changing

Anyone who changes water in a fish room with hoses and buckets dreams of automating water changes.  I wanted one for years, and when I moved the fish room to its current building two years ago I finally installed one…. and it is a real game changer.  If it were not for the water changer, I would not have enough time in a day to maintain all the aquariums that I have.  An automated system is well worth the effort to install, and they are not very expensive.  The hardest part is drilling all the tanks, but there are ways to do it without drilling.

 

Here is a transcript of the video:

Water changes are the most labor intensive job in a fish room. The larger the room, the more time it takes. Most of us want to automate as much of the task as possible. I would not have the time to keep up with water changes in my fish room if I had to do them all by hand. This video will show you how I manage the task in my fish room.

 

Water Softener

Before we get to changing water, take a look at these two sponge filters. The filter on the left has been calcified but high general hardness in my tap water. The filter on the right is what a clean filter with no calcification looks like. The calcium and magnesium content of my tap water is so high, that when I opened the fish room all of my filters looked worse than this in less than two months. Huge problem!

I had to solve this problem by installing this 98,000 grain water softener onto the main water line into the bulding, which removes most (but not all) of the general hardness from the water.

This water softener exchanges most of the Mg and Ca general hardness for sodium chloride. Using water parameter terms, before the water softener the GH of the tap water is 18 – 20 degrees of hardness and about 480 parts per million total dissolved solids. The KH before softening is 14-16, and the pH is about 8.2. After passing through the water softener, my tap water parameters are GH 6-7, KH 5-6, pH 7.4-7.6 and about 300 parts per million TDS.

But most of those dissolved solid particles are sodium chloride, which does not bother fish in such low amounts. When you treat your tank with aquarium salt at a rate of one tablespoon per ten gallons, you are putting a higher concentration of salt in the water than I get out of my water softener. That salt has the added benefit of discouraging parasites like velvet and ich… salt is not a cure for those diseases… but the salt can help prevent the parasites from getting a start. That is a topic for a future video.

Another advantage to the water softener is that it removes the chlorine from the water, so I do not need to add water conditioner when filling tanks. My water utility does not add chloramines, and I am not sure if the water softener would remove that molecule.

Most homes are not using a water softener on the main line coming into the building like mine is. Typical water softeners are only plumbed to the hot water line, and the cold water is not being softened. Keep that in mind if you have a water softener in your home… only a portion of the water you are running to your tanks will be conditioned.

Automated Water Changer

My fish room is divided into two areas. The main section contains 176 aquariums that are connected to an automated water changing system. The other 52 aquariums are not connected to the water changer.

Water flowing to the automated water changer comes through this dedicated tap, which has both hot and cold water spigots so I can adjust the temperature of the water. My cold tap is far too cold in the Winter, and I have to add hot water to the flow.

The water passes from the tap through these prefilters: two sediment filters and one carbon filter. Note the discoloration on this prefilter. Even with my 98,000 grain water softener, a lot of crap, especially iron, is making it to this point in the system. I need to change these prefilters once a week, and you can really hear the difference between the water flow through filters that are new and those that need to be changed.

The manifold for the water changer itself has a solenoid control valve at the back end. These valves are sold for lawn and garden irrigation systems. The valves are controlled by a lawn and garden sprinkler system control panel, in this case a Rain Bird unit. Each valve feeds a separate zone in my fish room, which I will describe in a moment.

Here is a tip for planning your fish room… buy two times the number of valves you will need for your system. Valves can go bad, and finding one that will fit your manifold may be impossible 2 or 3 years after you set the system up. If you buy them in the Fall, most stores that sell them will have them on sale. I bought mine on sale at a large hardware store for about $10 per valve.

After the solenoid valve, the water passes through a check valve, which prevents water from flowing backwards through the system. This is not a big problem for my changer because path of the piping goes from the manifold to the ceiling, so there is really no way that water can flow via gravity past this point anyway. The check valves are making sure that there is no fluid backpressure on the solenoid valves, which can shorten the life span of the rubber seal in the valve.

After the check valve, the water passes through a pressure regulator, which reduces the tap water pressure to 30 psi. The pressure regulator is absolutely required if you are going to be using small emitters over the tanks. Without the reduced pressure, you risk breaks and leaks in the system.

Above the pressure regulator is a disconnect where I can separate the valve assembly from the line. Do not forget to use this connector. You do not want to have to cut your water lines to replace a bad valve.

My fish room has four zones that are separated by the size tank on each zone. All of these 30-gallon breeder tanks are on zone 1.

Zone 2 has all 10-gallon tanks. Zone 3 has all 15-gallon tanks. Zone 4 has all 20 gallon tanks. I set it up this way so that each aquarium in a zone will get the same percentage water change when the system is running.

Each aquarium has a 10-gallon per hour valve overhead that flows water into the aquarium, and an overflow bulkhead through which water will leave the tank. The overflow drains through flexible tubing to a drain pipe at the bottom of the rack. The pipes run around the perimeter of the room and into a floor drain in my tap room.

All of these tanks get 1/3 of their volume in new water three days each week. The 30-gallons in zone 1 will get 10 gallons of new water through the 10-gph emitter, so the timer on the system will run for one hour on the days that this zone gets a water change. But one hour is too long, and I will run out of hot water, so I break that one hour up into four 15-minute periods separated by two hours. The amount of water changed is small and spread out over 8 hours. All of the zones are set up this way.

The Other Aquariums

The tanks that are not on the automated water change system cannot be plumbed easily to the water changer. Someday I will come up with a way to get this side of the room more automated, but it is not a priority. These tanks have been shifted around three times since opening the fish room, and I am still not 100% happy with how the space is being used.

Water changes on these tanks require siphons, hoses and time, but they are not so many tanks that this is a big problem. I also try to use these tanks more for breeding than the tanks on the water changer, because breeding tanks contain fewer fish and do not need water changes as frequently.

One difference on this side of the room is that I plumbed these aquariums for drain and fill water changes. I can turn this valve and walk away as the tank empties, close the valve when the water level is at the amount of water change I desire, and then refill the tank.

Drain and fill is better for breeding fish and raising fry than a flow through water changer, because drain and fill is perfectly efficient. 100% of the water leaving the tank is old. The water changer is less efficient, because some of the new water entering during a water change will also leave the tank during the same water change. Those larger, 100% efficient water changes are better for breeding and raising fry, because the growth inhibiting chemicals which accumulate in old water are more completely removed.

Special Water Parameters

Keeping fish healthy and breeding them are often two different issues. Most fish can happily live in most tap water conditions, but require more specific parameters to successfully reproduce. Soft, acidic water is the most common type of water that we need to recreate. If your tap water is as hard and alkaline as mine is, the only way to truly drop the hardness and pH is to use reverse osmosis.

My r/o unit has two membranes and is rated at 180-gallons per day. I am not going to go into the details of my R/O machine in this video, as that is a topic for another time. I store reverse osmosis water in these 250-gallon carboys, and distribute it to the aquariums with a hose and a pump.

Access to Drain Pipes

When you design your fish room you will probably want to put all of the pipe for your water changer behind the racks. You should also build in a way to access the drain system from the front of the racks. These pipes at the bottom front drain into the same system as the automated water changer, and I use them to siphon water from the tanks for special maintenance tasks. The fewer buckets you need to carry the better.

Closing

My fish room still has a lot of hoses and buckets, and even with the water changer I spend a couple hours every day on general maintenance, manual water changes and solving problems in the fish room. The automated water changer provides that time. Without it, just doing the water changes would be a full time job.

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Air in the Fish Room

Here is the next installment on the video series of systems in the fish room.  The last video was about the filters.  This video is about providing the air to run the filters.  If you go way way way way back in the video archives (there is an index page link at the top of the homepage), you will find a video about air in my previous, much smaller, fish room.  That system was run with a linear piston air pump.  My current fish room is set up with a 3/4 horse power regenerative blower.  Most hobbyists will not need that much air, and a linear piston is the better way to go.  So I did not dwell a lot on the blower, and talked more about the delivery pipes and valves.  Hope you find this one helpful….

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Filtration in the Fish Room

Finally!  A fish room blog post.  Hopefully I will be able to follow this one up quickly.  This post is about sponge filters, which I believe are the most cost effective method of filtering aquariums a fish room setting.  They are not pretty, but they work.  But not all sponge filters are the same, and the way they they are used can make a difference too.  One of the debates is whether a matten filter wall is worth cost.  Sure…. a filter all has a HUGE amount of surface area compared to a smaller cube filter.  But do you really need it more surface area in the same size tank that is being filtered effectively by a basic cube filter?  No… the only reason to use a matten filter, in my opinion, is if you want to over stock a small aquarium.

Bacteria grow and die very quickly, and their cell population is dependent upon the same ecological rules of carrying capacity as any other living things (except maybe humans… assuming we have surpassed our carrying capacity).  A biological filter needs the waste of fish to thrive.  If there is more waste than the bacteria cells can use, the cell population grows.  If fish waste reduces, bacteria cell population goes down.  And it happens very fast.  Days.  Hours even.  So there is really no point in a filter with 300 cubic inches of volume if the tank is going to hold two fish.  But… if you want to grow 200 cory cat fry in a 10-gallon tank, a matten filter will let that happen.

This video presents the basics of sponge filters, how they work and how to clean them.  I will cover how to run them with air in the next installment.

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Solid Gold with Jenny

When I went up to Minnesota last weekend, I was invited to do an interview with Jenny, the talented aquarist who shares her hobby with us through her YouTube channel Solid Gold.  Jenny posted the video of our interview this evening, and I am really impressed.  I also see that I really need to go on a diet!  I with think about it over a beer…  The interview was a lot of fun to do.  Jenny is a lot of fun to hang out with.  Check out her YouTube channel.  Here is the video:

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Unpacking A Fish Order

Here is a video on a subject that I have been wanting to show you for a while…. unpacking a large order of fish.  A lot of planning goes into getting a new order of fish into the fish room, especially am import from out of the country.  In this case, 30 boxes from Peru!!!

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Ray Blackburn’s Fish Room

Ray is a long-time hobbyist living in Liverpool, England.  Matthew and I had the privilege of staying with Ray for a few days while over in England last Fall for a British Cichlid Association event.  Ray is an great tour guide.  He know where all the good beer is!  His fish room is impressive.  I say ‘fish room’, but his hobby spreads throughout his house.  Ray’s passion is really whatever captures his interest, but he has a lot of interest in South American dwarf cichlids.  Take a look….

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February 12, 2014 · 2:43 am

Steven Chester’s Fish House

I am over in England to attend and make a presentation at the British Cichlid Association Fall event (September 8, 2013), and I brought Matthew with me a few days early to do a bit of touring and visit a few hobbyists in the Liverpool area.  This fish house belongs to Steven Chester, a gifted fish breeder and aquarist at a public aquarium.  I have known Steven through apistogramma.com for some time, and getting the chance to meet him face to face and see his operation was really very special.  He is in the process of remodeling his fish house, so the video should a bit of the old and the new.  Enjoy…

 

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A Visit to Anthony Mazeroll’s Fish Room

I visited the COAST aquarium club in southern California a few weeks ago, and one of our tour stops was Dr. Anthony Mazeroll’s fish room.  Dr. Mazeroll is a Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Soka University of America.  His work on wild fish genetics and environmental impact of humans takes him all over the world.  His fish interests are just as broad.  He has a huge DIY aquarium in his living room that is full of Lake Tanganyika cichlids.  His fish room has a fish diversity from fancy bettas to wild discus.  Dr. Mazeroll is a man truly dedicated to tropical fish, both professionally and as a hobby.  Enjoy….

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A Visit to Bob Schneider’s Cory Catfishery

Bob Schneider is one of the icons in the Chicago area aquarium hobby.  He is actively involved in the Greenwater Aquarium Society, and participates in most of the club swaps and auctions in from southern Michigan to Wisconsin.  Bob raises a lot of Corydoras sp. catfish, and he does it very well in a relatively small fish room.  I have several catfish that I have picked up from Bob at various events, so it was a real pleasure to have the chance to see where they were born and raised.  Enjoy…

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You’ve Asked for It…

Here is a video tour of my fish room.  Warning… this is the longest video I have ever posted.

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