Building a 1200L nature aquarium with Discus+Altum fish & "wild" nature feel

aeneas

Hi from a new member; I've had Discus / Amazon-themed aquariums for 30+ years (basically since childhood), mostly 200-400L low-tech.
We recently moved to a new house and am now planning my dream aquarium build - a ~1.200L aquarium with a "wild" nature aquascape hopefully catching the atmosphere and concept of something close to Josh Sim's "Congo". There will be many technical hurdles to overcome and figure out how to do this project and I look forward to learning and hopefully getting some good tips and guidance from experts here.

I have several initial construction concepts first I need figure out and your help would be greatly appreciated. Overall I would like to (a) keep aesthetics of as clean as possible with minimal intrusion of hoses and devices in the display area (using ADA glass accessories where needed etc.), and (b) design a system that is a quiet at possible - this will be in the main living/reception area so continuous humming sound of filter pump gets really annoying.

1) Dimensions of the tank: 240cm width (covering the wall connecting dining area with the main reception area / living room; with this width, I am considering 65cm depth and 80cm height to give reasonable dimension proportions, but could also do 240x65x70 if lower walls would be easier to fill with scape and avoid too much empty space at the top...?
2) Rimless open top (thick, heavy and very expensive Opti-White glass) vs making the tank as a "window" with cabinet extended above the tank to reach the ceiling... I think open top will have a more "modern" look and will also allow the room to breathe better - closing the vertical line all the way to the ceiling appealed to me initially but not I think it is not the best option...
3) Clean ADA glass style inflows-outflows etc. from the top of the aquarium, or drilled-bottom design? Again, considering the size of the tank and the desired aquascape, I am not sure if drilling the bottom will be the best option, but certainly one to explore?
4) Canister or Sump for filtration? ...one VERY important factor in this decision is not only efficacy for filtration, but also quiet operation; we currently have Eheim Professionel 3 XL for our 400L aquarium and my wife complains that it is much too loud (vibrates through entire wooden cabinet below the aquarium) and wants something that would be able to run quieter.

I like the simplicity and ease of use and maintenance of canister, but I may need to canisters to ensure enough flow for 1.200L and that would raise the noise further. Perhaps if I use anti-vibration pads and use a good soundproofing insulation of the inside of the cabinet that could do the trick? With a sump, I think noise is often even bigger problem and I also worry about troubleshooting the sump and all the complexity it brings, but at the same time it would allow me a lot of added flexibility in terms of adding all the other devices incl. CO2, UV, etc., but most importantly, it would allow me an automated water exchange & top-up (e.g. on timer, each day 50L water would be drained from the sump and refilled back; also with a floater, water level would be continuously maintained, as I would expect a lot of evaporation in case of open top design.

4) Surface skimming: a nice ADA-style skimmer or an overflow system? ...considerations of aesthetics, noise, functionality...?

There will be many next steps to consider, but this is the first stuff that I need to think about as it pertains to how we actually design/construct the glass housing itself and what technology will/can be used to support it.

Any tips and suggestions at this stage would be very very helpful!!!
 

86 ssinit

It’s a big tank. In my dimensions it’s almost 8’ long and will be 300g. So you will need a least 2 fx6’s or there equivalent. A 75-100g sump would probably work better. Is there a basement below the tank? If so with plumbing you could put the sump in the basement. No noise than .
 

aeneas

Your calculations are correct. I am toying with several design options; I made a sketch below to give an idea of the layout. Going from 335 gal max (97x25.5x31.5 in) which is wall-to-wall to 225 gal min (79x25.5x25.5 in) which leaves some space on either side and is lower in height. Currently, playing with design, the best looking to me might be 97x25.5x27.5 in wall-to-wall but slightly lower height, giving me ~293 gal.

Slide3.jpeg

Slide1.jpeg
I do have a basement (strong reinforced concrete, so no worries regarding statics), but unfortunately no option for further drilling and extra plumbing though - other reasons...

Honestly, I do like the idea of a sump and it would allow me lots of additional flexibility - like having automated water changes with a solenoid valve letting ~50L water into the drain each night and then refilling back to the floater level; also automatically dosing nutrients and chemicals would be much easier... I have been reading about the bean animal overflow etc. but it seems waay to complicated to me for designing and all the engineering details that would need to go along. I understand overflow could be made quiet and there are some external pumps that can also be supposedly extremely quiet, but many people seem to complain about all the trickling of the water in the sump etc. If it is not done perfectly, it will be a lot of time and money wasted and my wife will not be too happy with it
Also I worry about power failures; we live in a new neighbourhood where there is continuous construction going on so there are frequent (i.e. once every 2-3 months) power cuts. But would be happy to consider it further if you guys help me out with thinking this through.
 

SnookusFish

Seems like a very cool build, ill be following along. I personally think canister filters would be easier and I would say 2 oase biomaster thermo 850s would do the trick and the best thing is they have built in heaters so less equipment in the tank however the circulation/hour wouldnt be huge but bioload wise that really would not matter as in a 240cm tank you will have a lot of plants competing for a ammonia. So you could do 2 of these filters and if you feel the need then add some powerheads.
I would definitely go for rimless as it will allow you to have pieces of wood coming out of the top and maybe some emersed plants. I love "congo" the scape has tonnes of depth so I would try and get a tank with as much depth as possible, with a 240cm tank your going to want like 100cm deep but if that's not possible try and get as deep as you can.
I would go for lily pipes coming into the tank as it will make them easy to remove for cleaning/contest photos.

I'm assuming you have an unlimited budget for this because this is going to cost *a lot*
 

aeneas

Seems like a very cool build, ill be following along. I personally think canister filters would be easier and I would say 2 oase biomaster thermo 850s would do the trick and the best thing is they have built in heaters so less equipment in the tank however the circulation/hour wouldnt be huge but bioload wise that really would not matter as in a 240cm tank you will have a lot of plants competing for a ammonia. So you could do 2 of these filters and if you feel the need then add some powerheads.
I would definitely go for rimless as it will allow you to have pieces of wood coming out of the top and maybe some emersed plants. I love "congo" the scape has tonnes of depth so I would try and get a tank with as much depth as possible, with a 240cm tank your going to want like 100cm deep but if that's not possible try and get as deep as you can.
I would go for lily pipes coming into the tank as it will make them easy to remove for cleaning/contest photos.

I'm assuming you have an unlimited budget for this because this is going to cost *a lot*
Glad to hear opinions that canister could also work for such a tank; I also think since this will be a highly planted nature aquarium there should be quite a strong ability of ecosystem to manage nitrogen cycle.
Still, I like the idea of a sump, but really would prefer the simplicity of a canister approach.
My budget can stretch for this dream build. I don't like throwing money away, but I am aware this will cost *a lot* and do not want to make compromise on quality.
Looking forward to more of your input
 

Cherryshrimp420

I'm going to be called crazy but if you TRULY want densely planted + low maintenance then I would recommend a no filter setup. Basically apply the Walstad method to a 1200L instead of a tiny 5g. The principle is still THE SAME.

In a densely planted fully established tank, it really doesn't matter what filtration and whether you 10x that filtration or not. The BB will only grow to the amount of waste produced in the tank and with a deep substrate, the substrate itself is already more than enough.

The only difference between your tank and a 5g is surface area for air exchange. Since surface area grows disproportionately with volume, there will be less oxygen from surface air exchange in your tank. Thus, it will probably need a series of 4-5 air stones
 

aeneas

My wife is voting for canister filters - she says sump is too messy. I am thinking that with 2x Oase 850 Thermo (with added heater benefit) should be able to handle ~290 gal tank if properly heavily planted and with plants doing a big job in the ecosystem... if not, maybe 2x Fulvals...
But: with canister filters installed, I was thinking how to automate water top-up as well as do a ~50L water exchange per day. Here is a sketch that I'm playing with: one of the canisters will be linked to two separate solenoid-valve controlled hoses; first one will be timer-controlled and will open just enough to let 50L drain out once per day (e.g. during the night); the other solenoid is controlled by a water level detector in the aquarium - such as Hydor, which turns it on whenever water drops below the required level and then tops up with fresh pretreated water back to required level. This then takes care then of both the evaporation as well as when the other solenoid drains 50L per day.
Tell me what you think of the idea?
 

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Mrben522

Your calculations are correct. I am toying with several design options; I made a sketch below to give an idea of the layout. Going from 335 gal max (97x25.5x31.5 in) which is wall-to-wall to 225 gal min (79x25.5x25.5 in) which leaves some space on either side and is lower in height. Currently, playing with design, the best looking to me might be 97x25.5x27.5 in wall-to-wall but slightly lower height, giving me ~293 gal.

Slide3.jpeg

Slide1.jpeg
I do have a basement (strong reinforced concrete, so no worries regarding statics), but unfortunately no option for further drilling and extra plumbing though - other reasons...

Honestly, I do like the idea of a sump and it would allow me lots of additional flexibility - like having automated water changes with a solenoid valve letting ~50L water into the drain each night and then refilling back to the floater level; also automatically dosing nutrients and chemicals would be much easier... I have been reading about the bean animal overflow etc. but it seems waay to complicated to me for designing and all the engineering details that would need to go along. I understand overflow could be made quiet and there are some external pumps that can also be supposedly extremely quiet, but many people seem to complain about all the trickling of the water in the sump etc. If it is not done perfectly, it will be a lot of time and money wasted and my wife will not be too happy with it
Also I worry about power failures; we live in a new neighbourhood where there is continuous construction going on so there are frequent (i.e. once every 2-3 months) power cuts. But would be happy to consider it further if you guys help me out with thinking this through.
With the amount of $$ you're already planning on spending here I would recommend carving out a chunk for a good generator. Not only will this save your fish if you have an extended power outage, it'll provide a little extra value to the rest of your family when they don't have to deal with power outages either. You can get a decent sized manual start one that will run essentials at your house for ~$1500 or you can get a Generac automated generator that will kick on as soon as the power dies and run everything you ever dreamed of for anywhere from $3.5k to infinite money.
 

aeneas

With the amount of $$ you're already planning on spending here I would recommend carving out a chunk for a good generator. Not only will this save your fish if you have an extended power outage, it'll provide a little extra value to the rest of your family when they don't have to deal with power outages either. You can get a decent sized manual start one that will run essentials at your house for ~$1500 or you can get a Generac automated generator that will kick on as soon as the power dies and run everything you ever dreamed of for anywhere from $3.5k to infinite money.
Haha... I was actually thinking the same...
 

aeneas

I've been looking at the ready-made overflows and it seems there are several decent options; Eshopss Eclipse L would probably be too small for a 1100L / 290 gal tank. Possibly the Synergy Reef Ghost 20" overflow would be best in size or the Modular Marine 3000gph one also looks very sleek. Any experience or thoughts on any of those?
 

Jaquatic

Something to consider if you go two canister filters would be a corner weir system for your tank. Easy to hide with plants or decorations. This would allow you to plumb both of the canister filters into one input and output. As well if you decide to go with fluval you can put your heaters in the weir.
 

aeneas

Just further thoughts around the overflow boxes:
- Exotic Marine Systems: has horizontal instead of vertical slots in the inner box: good or bad? Looks the only system that does horizontal...
- Fiji Cube 2400gph: also looks very sleek...
- Modular Marine 3000gph: seems interesting, but it looks like not available at the moment...?
- Eshopss Eclipse L: probably too small for 290gal tank?
- Synergy Reef Ghost 20": some review say poor / cheap quality?

Any thoughts on one vs the other?
 

jake37

You're talking about a sump - right. You might look at custom aquarium website - they have images how they do their sumps - the basic idea is a bunch of plastic containers that contain media and the water flow from one container to the next. Since this is hidden by the stand there is no requirement for it to look 'nice'.


Just further thoughts around the overflow boxes:
- Exotic Marine Systems: has horizontal instead of vertical slots in the inner box: good or bad? Looks the only system that does horizontal...
- Fiji Cube 2400gph: also looks very sleek...
- Modular Marine 3000gph: seems interesting, but it looks like not available at the moment...?
- Eshopss Eclipse L: probably too small for 290gal tank?
- Synergy Reef Ghost 20": some review say poor / cheap quality?

Any thoughts on one vs the other?
 

aeneas

You're talking about a sump - right. You might look at custom aquarium website - they have images how they do their sumps - the basic idea is a bunch of plastic containers that contain media and the water flow from one container to the next. Since this is hidden by the stand there is no requirement for it to look 'nice'.
Hi jake37 , I'm talking about the overflow boxes... for sump I agree "aesthetics" is not as important - organization of compartments and function is more important there.
However, I am asking here about the overflow boxes mounted/drilled through the rear wall of the aquarium and the external boxes on the backside where a bean animal system takes the water then down into the sump. The overflow box is then part of the aquarium and its design/aesthetics is important to me, as well as the function - especially noise reduction / quiet operation.
 

aeneas

Guys, next "challenge" in consideration of the set-up: assuming this will be an EMS or MM style 30-32" overflow box with a sump system in the cabinet below and a quiet return pipe, such as Red Dragon 3 mini... for a 96" long aquarium - how should I handle the return pipes? I was always hoping for the beautiful ADA glass lily pipes. But I wonder if this is possible in such setup. What would you recommend to make the water flow well throughout the entire length?
 

aeneas

Next phase of planning: I have done much reading now regarding sump setups... Please help with some of the dilemas below. Main aim: good performance and as silent as possible operation.
I am currently thinking of three possible designs - see the images below; one has 3 major chambers, one has 5 and one has 4 chambers with K1 media included. I also have no idea how to calculate the appropriate height of the baffles separating each chamber. Is there some recommended calculation?


Slide1.jpeg
Option 1:
- does the layout make sense?
- Any suggestion regarding the mechanical filtration in the 1st chamber?
- I noticed some people add glass strips on top of the baffle at an angle (see the small red coloured line on top of the baffle) which might make the water flow nicer and make less trickling sound. Does this make sense or is it unnecessary?
- how should I calculate the necessary height of the baffles?
- in 3rd chamber, are there any ideas of some additional coarse material I should use there - especially to prevent water trickling from the top of the baffle?


Slide2.jpeg
Option 2:
- this one has maybe even more "organized" flow... does it make sense? I think I like it even more than the 1st option
- any suggestion on the mechanical filtration in 1st chamber?
- chamber no. 2: should I continue with some more mechanical or should I add bio?
- same as Option 1: do these angularly placed glass strips (between chambers 2 and 3) make any sense in terms of quieting the trickling of the water flow?


Sump-design.jpg
Option 3:
- maybe best option??
- lots of people praise K1 media... I just do not want to add aeration pumps... this would make more noise and also lead to more loss of CO2. I could replace this with a couple of wavemakers instead? If yes, does this chamber make sense? What should be the height of the baffles? How should I calculate this so that I get correct flows?
- should I add some coarse filter to the chamber 4 before the pump, just to additionally protect the inflow there?

Any other recommendations highly appreciated!
I hope you will find the sketches useful and thank you for any inputs on this...
 

jake37

I'm a fan of sponge myself. I esp like the stuff swisstropical sells. I would have a series of slide in sponges starting at 10ppi with the final layer of 40ppi. Maybe 10ppi 10ppi 20ppi 20ppi 40ppi ? The sponge is quite thick and a good material for bacteria to grow and the denser sponge will provide good mechanical filtration. The only catch is you need to leave a little room above the sponge in case it gets clog and water backs-up so it can escape over the sponge - and occasionally you will need to pull them and clean them out.
 

86 ssinit

Does seem like any of those ideas will work fine. Only thing I see is your drilling a hole to put the pump outside the tank. Most put the pump underwater in the last chamber.
 

aeneas

I'm a fan of sponge myself. I esp like the stuff swisstropical sells. I would have a series of slide in sponges starting at 10ppi with the final layer of 40ppi. Maybe 10ppi 10ppi 20ppi 20ppi 40ppi ? The sponge is quite thick and a good material for bacteria to grow and the denser sponge will provide good mechanical filtration. The only catch is you need to leave a little room above the sponge in case it gets clog and water backs-up so it can escape over the sponge - and occasionally you will need to pull them and clean them out.
I even had some suggestions to ditch the baffles altogether and just make a horizontal flow with sponges... something like this below. What do you think of this alternative?

Sump-design3.jpg
 

jake37

I like it - two comments - would you want ceramic rings before the corase sponge (to block largest particles) and skip the biological filtration media since the sponges are more effective than just about anything short of k1 rings in an mbr.
--
One other concern - putting the drip so close to the drain might result in the fresh water draining out - i think i would have the drip enter the main tank so that only older water is going out the overflow drain.
 

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