Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Mister Fixit Day (Tropical Fish Filtration Diatribe)

Basically today was organization, ordering, and cleanup with fixit duties thrown in there.  I have found that life throws curveballs at you all the time.  You have a plan, and then your fishtank filter hose gets a leak and you have to scramble to keep your fishies from dying.  

I'm a longtime tropical fish enthusiast.  I guess it is my brother Keith's influence but we have been keeping fish since we were five years old.  I've gone through several phases in fish keeping but mostly tied to the realm of Cichlids.  I've gone through several phases most likely due to the fact that my filtration has always just been adequate.  If you ever think of getting a fishtank and having it be successful, do your little friends a favor and build your own filter.  NONE of the filters on the market in the stores are adequate enough for any tank!  One must build their own wet/dry filter system, unless they are growing live plants.  A wet/dry filter system basically slowly trickles water and air over a media that has huge surface area due to fingerlike projections or a porous surface.  Beneficial bacteria that remove nitrogen (wastes from poop or excess food) from the water eventually make way to the media from the air that we breath and grow on the surface of the filter media.  The greater the surface of the media the more excellent the filtration of the water will be.  The only reason that this type of filter is bad for live plants is that the trickling effect of the water flowing over the media oxygenates the water and removes carbon dioxide via a degassing effect that eliminates the necessary CO2 that the plants need to survive.  I have found a few plants that still do well in this environment, the best so far is Java Fern.  But if you want a planted aquarium (which is a lot of heartache and hard work) you must have a canister filter which is an enclosed filtration system that doesn't allow oxygen to come in contact with the filter media.  This type of filter is at least 5 times less efficient as the Wet/Dry system.

The aquarium suppliers get you on the prices of buying filters.  If you want to build one, they also get you on the price of the individual parts.  I had a leaking overflow hose yesterday.  It biodegraded over time and had a crack in it.  I went to the stores to find a replacement and they wanted 50 dollars for 4 feet of hose.  I went online to look.  Same price.  Outrageousness!  I went to the hardware store and had to be creative with PVC and got what I needed for 5 dollars!  My fix was ten times less expensive!  

My gear to build the filter cost about 200 bucks in total.  The biggest wet/dry filter that the suppliers sell are in the 600 dollar range and mine is about two or three times more effective than that model.  So I made out pretty well.  If you are going to do a fish tank, be ready to spend a lot of money, but if you do your research, you can save at least half that money.  It will take elbow grease.

Below are some pictures of what I had to do:

This first pic shows the white hose on the back of my fishtank coming down from the overflow box.  That hose is fifteen years old and fell apart and was leaking onto my floor.  If I didn't catch that my filter could have pumped about 5 gallons of water onto my floor before the pumps ran dry.
I couldn't find hose to fit over the PVC fitting on the overflow box, which would have been the easiest route, so I chose to make a PVC pipe that makes its way to the top of the filter.  This is also part of my wastewater treatment experience.  When I worked for JAE all of the various filter systems were fed by PVC so this is old hat.  I had no PVC cutter, which is like a big pair of scissors that cuts through PVC like a hot knife in butter so I used a hack saw to cut the pieces to the sizes that I needed.
After cutting them, you can see the burrs on the plastic, the blue tool there is a deburring tool.  You just glide that curved blade around the edge of the pipe and it cuts off the burrs making the fittings go on much easier.  Note to self: always lay down paper over your surface because the purple stuff leaves permanent stains.
Lay out your supplies.  Purple stuff- PVC primer that cleans the plastic and softens it for a better chemical bond to the glue.  Red jar- the glue, in this case old and hardened but luckily still usable.
GLOVES!!!  Safety Safety Safety!  The purple stuff has Methylene chloride in it and is theeeee most heinous of carcinogens!  THICK Nitrile Gloves are needed.  Note to self: you haven't laid down paper yet!!!
Prep the surfaces with the purple stuff!  It uses a swab just like the one in the red can has and dries very fast.  Note to self: purple stuff stains the simulated wood grain of your kegerator.  Put down paper after it's too late.
Here is my filter.  It is a 20 gallon fish tank with a rubbermaid tray with lots of little holes in it on top that diffuses the water after it flows through a filter bag.  The diffused water then trickles over a huge bed of bioballs (spikey plastic balls that look like those medieval mace weapons) contained in another rubbermaid container with holes in it.  That water flows through the bioballs cleaning the poo from the water to the bottom of the tank where part of that water is recirculated back to the bioballs and the other part back to the tank further enhancing the filtration and slowing down the current in the tank which my discuss fish don't like so it works out well.  This is done by the sump pumps on the left of the filter.
Here is my tank.  Reflections of the apartment included!  My blue buddy discuss fish there on the bottom left.
Today also entailed much shop work.  Mostly landscaping and in order to do that I had to fix me old trusty wheelbarrow with some of that free lumber that I got!  I used a really sappy piece of pine for the handle.  It should take the weather pretty well.
Awe dung!  I could have been listening to Kids Corner on WXPN!  It's science night!  Later gang!

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