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Setting Up The First Aquariums In The Aquarium Gallery

By King of DIY on

Today I'm going to show you guys how I set up one of the racks in the wall of 120-gallon aquariums. This rack is completely ready to go. Top tank needs to be scaped but we'll get to that in due time. The bottom tank is ready for fish. The only thing these tanks don't have right now is lighting.

This is an interesting rack because it posed a couple of interesting situations. Let's start off with the backgrounds here.

I don't have lights installed right now so we're just going to go ahead and use this little spotlight to take a look. Here is one of the backgrounds installed. This is like a Malawi background and that's going to be a Malawi aquarium. There's some reflection there right now but you guys have seen me install these backgrounds. In fact, you've seen me unbox all of these.

This ones here on the bottom, this is one of those Aquadecor Backgrounds from In fact, the next one is as well. Ultimately though you guys will remember this tank for a simple reason, it's a solid background. The rest are actually hollow in behind. All I've got to do there, silicone them in place, run some plumbing behind it however I want and that's it. But this one being solid, again pose some serious issues for me. How am I going to run all of the plumbing behind it?

When it came to the plumbing you guys know that provided me with these aquariums and racks, but they do complete systems including all of the plumbing and I've had an eye on their H2O overflow as well as their siphon stopper for a long while. This is the return, this is the drain. The reason being, because it's unusually different. The H2O overflow is basically a surface skimmer. Everything's built into one, you only have to drill your aquarium in the back and toss it in and that's it. It's pretty simple, you don't need a weir, you don't need overflows and standpipes. This is it.

I really wanted to try it but I was interested in how loud it was going to be. Is it going to gurgle, what type of noise is it going to be. I definitely had to implement it into this racking system and try it. I'm pleased to say it's actually surprisingly silent. The siphon stopper is interesting because it's actually kind of big, almost a little gaudy, but it has an interesting feature that you can direct all the flow under the water. The problem with directing flow under water with a return like this is that once the power shuts off and this is below water, we now have a siphon that is created and it's going to start draining the tank down to your sump and you're going to flood your sump. The water will stop draining once it gets to the bottom.

We usually have to drill holes or whatever at the top to make sure that there's air allowing to escape and push out the air when it starts to siphon, but they created the siphon stopper that basically the way this works is water is returned. Some of it is kind of squirted out the top and directed down to the top of the tank. No real purpose for that other than when that shuts off there's holes up here that allow air in that doesn't let it siphon. I can now put this underneath the surface of the water, get better circulation instead of kind of focusing on trying to keep it near the top so the top of it kind of breaks the surface so we don't get that back siphon. I also wanted to try this.

There is a problem though with the solid background. Being solid means that these are going to be really difficult to install. If you watched the video when I installed these, basically they're all silicone directly in place, there's no room behind this one at all, so I decided I'm going to drill directly through it and just slide this right on because the tops of these are actually above the surface of the water or above the trim of the tank. It's kind of set up so that you only see the little elbow. This is the only thing in your aquarium instead of a big weir or lots of plumbing like you usually see. You only see this, so I thought, "Why not? It's black, it's going to blend in, it's not going to look that bad." So that's exactly what I did.

I also did it for the return. However, this tank doesn't need a return and I'm going to show you why in a minute, but I also installed the return just in case I ever want to divert flow through there, but I'm not. You see, the way this works is, I'm going to have water pumped from the sump all the way up to the top aquarium. All that water being pumped up to the top aquarium then has to overflow through this H2O overflow which then drains down to the second tank. You see, these are going to be using the same sump, so why not connect them on the same system? We see this pipe in the back here. That's just a hose that just drains right into this tank right here.

Again, this is all just installed recently, so I've got to make some changes to make it look a little bit better, but you get the idea. Water then overflows to the top and goes down to the sump. I did it this way so both systems can be on the same sump. I save on equipment, save on energy usage and increase the overall volume of the entire system, making it around 300 gallons instead of 120 and 120. Now we've got 240 plus almost a 60 gallon sump below.

Pretty basic setup and it runs really well. I've done many tanks like this. I used to run my Discus breeding systems like this. The only downside is if one tank has a problem, the bottom tank is going to have that problem as well. Installing its own return on each aquarium means that I can split the returns on the pumps, cut the sump in half, which I'll show you how to do in a second, and maybe install another pump and run them individually if I ever need to. But with proper quarantine procedures and pristine water quality this is typically rarely an issue at all.

That brings us to the sumps. You guys will remember these sumps and don't judge my mess here. It is a mess, I've been busy, I've got to clean it up under here, but again don't judge me. Watch this. These things come right off. Actually they come off, all of them, so total and easy access to everything. I love it. These are like custom sumps where you can pick and choose how you want to link them together. They've got pre-filters, they've got main sumps, they've got reservoirs of all different sizes and you kind of link them up and chain them together however you want. I really like that about them.

I decided I'm going to go with two of their main sumps and link them together, but they don't come linked together. You've got to get creative and kind of do it yourself, although you could ask them to do it most likely. I decided I want to do it because I want to use Uniseals. You could see me use these before in my big systems, when I had that 540 gallon tank and I built the filter out of a couple of 55 gallon barrels. I used these to kind of link them together.

These are like bulkheads but they're solid rubber. The way these work is simply you drill a hole just big enough for the male end to go through the hole and then you can insert a pipe into it. When you insert the pipe the fitting is so tight that it expands the rubber and it forms a water-tight seal. I just have to put one on each side of the sumps like this and a pipe to connect them. I could be a small pipe or a long pipe, however long I needed it. But if you use regular bulkheads they take up a lot more room. I went with these because they are flush to the tank and I can make these quite close and still get about eight or ten inches over on this side for electrical equipment, battery backups and whatnot, which we're going to talk about in a minute.

Since we're under here though, let's talk about the returns. Like I said, I plumped this tank to have a return just in case and I just put a plug on the end, so there is a hose, I can attach a pump to this at any time and the return, I can just go ahead and push one in and it's good to go. As for the sump, I would have to simply block off the two ends. I just use some bulkhead caps or some pipe caps and cap them off and run them individually if I ever need it to. Super easy to run this.

The way these sumps work is actually quite simple. If you look at the lines here you see how it kind of goes up and down and kind of over here as well. That's the flow of the water. For example, as water enters this first chamber it has to flow through a bunch of trays of media first. There is about seven of them in there, all filled with biological media. Custom Aquariums actually makes their own bio-media so I just filled it with that. Then obviously it comes through the bottom and has to flow up through a baffle basically.

In this section when it comes up over that baffle, this section is typically where you would have your return pump, but I've got it filled with a couple of large blocks of marine pure biological media. I also put my heater over here which isn't turned on, but if I ever need to turn it on it'll be there. Your return pump is typically in here, but again I put this extra biological media in here and instead of being returned to the aquarium it flows through the Uniseal with a pipe through it into the next sump, where everything that we've seen here is repeated here.

Water has to flow through, first being mechanically filtered, then a bunch of biological media, coming through the bottom, up over the top and into the last return. That is where the return pump is. Return pump sends water up through the back of the aquarium and back to the top through the siphon stopper. The heater's not on because I'm trying to make these systems as energy-efficient as possible. I only want the pumps running. Sometimes the pumps will get warm enough to heat the water but I'm also heating the air in this room, and so far it's working out really well. It's very comfortable in here and the tanks are sitting at about 26-26.5°C which is essentially perfect for most fish.

Now, onto water changes and maintenance. I thought, I want this to be really simple and easy, so I decided what I would do is simply have them drill the backs of the tanks at the half-way point and I figured I could hook a hose up to that on a ball valve. When I want a turn the ball valve, drain half the water, fill it back up and I'll be doing that manually. It makes it really easy to drain the water and I'll be able to fill it back up quite quickly as well. If I really wanted to I could drain through that ball valve and fill it back up as well. Since these ball valves are behind the aquarium at the half-way point, I decided instead of drilling through them and having any sort of plumbing showing, I would just drill a bunch of little holes. You can see there in the middle of the screen where there's a bunch of six-millimeter holes drilled right through the background. That's going to work out perfectly. Down here you can't even see it because it's actually behind the rock and I just put a little filter screen on there. It actually looks way better in these tanks, for example, there it is there. Same idea a few holes drilled. Once we have actual lighting on these tanks instead of a big bright spotlight, those are not going to be noticeable at all. Now I can attach a hose to this ball valve, open it up, and drain the top tank or this one attach a hose and drain the bottom tank.

As for the return pump, I'm using the Vectra M1 by EcoTec. This is a pretty awesome pump. The downside about this, the only thing I don't like, and it's going to sound weird but, it's too quiet. I can't hear it at all, and I know that'll sound weird to a lot of you guys but I like to hear a little bit of buzzing or a little bit of sound because sound means it's working and with this being so quiet, I often have to check my phone, make sure that it's on or check the water surface.

Come in here and visually take a look just because it's that quiet, and I can only imagine in time it's going to get more and more quiet. Now this pump pumps about 2,000 gallons per hour and with pumping up eight feet I'm getting about 1,200 gallons per hour, maybe a little more, but it's way more than I actually need. The aquariums are 120 gallons each, and on a sump filtration, I only want to turn the tanks over, filter them completely about four to six times per hour.

With the pump pumping around 1,200 gallons or more that means I'm doing them ten times per hour, not giving the bacteria in the sump enough contact time with that water, so I slow it down, however, that's not enough flow for a 120-gallon aquarium in general. You see, filtration and flow rates for that are separate from circulation in the aquarium. Sometimes you'll get lucky and the flow rate that you need for your filtration is enough circulation for your aquarium, but a lot of the times it's not. You've got to add in an air stone or some sort of a power-head or a pump or wave-maker so that's what I did.

Each one of these tanks got an MP40. It's the VorTech quiet drive all controllable as well. With this one, though, I set it into a couple of modes. In the early mornings, and the evenings like throughout the night, I set it into a lagoonal random, meaning that it's going to be a low flow, soft changes throughout the day. It's not like continuous flow, the control you have over this equipment and these pumps and what you're able to tell them to do is absolutely insane, but I run them about 25% at lagoonal random which is- if you take a look you can kind of see some of the options that you can go through, and I run it right here.

In the end of evening while the fish are resting, I'm still getting the circulation in the tank, the pumps are controlled thus automatically turn down and then go into this mode where the flow is randomly changing a little slowly, not as dramatic, and then in the daytime when the fish are alert, they're swimming, I want them to get their exercise and work up that appetite.

I set it to reefcrest mode. Reefcrest sounds like the ocean, and clearly, it is, however, the flow that I'm after is not continuous either. Continuous flow in an aquarium is great at times, but it's identical flow, nothing's really changing or adapting or kind of stirring things up. With these types of flows, I'm getting just that. When it comes to the reefcrest as you can see the graph here, is so much more dramatic. It's it's much more higher and lower, so I'm getting a lot more.

I turn that to 50% of the capability of that pump and the flow rates on these are about 4,500 gallons per hour plus. I'm definitely getting a ton of circulation in here as well as proper filtration. I can control all that through my phone or my desktop, however, I wanted the controllers to actually be right at the sides of the aquarium's here. Reason being is, it's just really quick access to turn them off, I can grab them like this, pull them out, and have full access to do whatever I need with them.

Now I need to clean up the wires and make it look a little bit more pretty, but it's good enough for now. We'll come back to making this place pretty when we have time. As for the actual scaping of the tank, I didn't have to do a whole lot, and that was because of the type of fish that I'm going to be keeping. This is going to be a Lake Tanganyika tank. Up top is a Lake Malawi. I still have lots of work to do up there in terms of scape, I can do a lot more, but based on the fish that I'm going to be keeping in here I should be doing two things.

One, sparsely adding in rocks and having a very fine sand substrate. You guys will find out this Tuesday what I'm stocking it with, but, to give you a closer look, what I did was add in these foam rocks to the bottom. These rocks are solid foam just like the background was. I kind of positioned them so they'd be closer to the background. I've got to kind of even out this sand a little bit more, but I thought this looked most natural and I really enjoyed it.

With the fish that are coming in here, you guys are going to be absolutely blown away. It's going to look incredible. To give you a hint, I've kept them before, but not this variant. A lot of you who've also asked how am I going to power these aquariums, and each one of these tanks has its own dedicated 15 amp GFCI outlet, so no worry about powering these tanks at all.

I know this isn't the typical type of video that you guys are expecting to see from me. I generally don't do run downs on tanks like this, but I really wanted you guys to get an idea and look behind the scenes of how everything's going to work because we've got to do it four more times, and this is kind of a test video as well. If there's something else you want to see or you want me to talk about something else as well, we've got four more opportunities to do so and clearly tons more videos that we could potentially make.

I'm making like almost five videos a week now. I'm only supposed to be doing three. I'm so used to doing one, but I'm so excited about what's going on. I can't sit around and not show you guys this. I hope you enjoyed today's video. I'd also like to thank you for watching. If you join me this coming Tuesday, we're going to stock this tank.

About King of DIY

Joey is THE King of DIY, and when he built his gallery of aquariums he chose the Custom Aquariums rack system with 120-gallon tanks...a lot of them!

Joey Mullen is also known as the king of DIY, uarujoey or the DIY fishkeeper on social media. Providing education and inspiration for aquarium enthusiasts on YouTube, he is also the author of The Ultimate DIY Handbook; for the DIY Aquarist. His channel is about educating all levels of fish tank hobbyists who are passionate about caring for fish and keeping an aquarium of their own. Joey's aquarium rack systems were custom made by our professional fish tank engineers, here at Custom Aquariums.

Please watch the King of DIY's videos for some helpful information and great tips on diy aquarium keeping.

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