DIY Sump/Refugium

The first question that comes to mind is "Why use a sump?" The most obvious answer is that more water is better. The larger the quantity of water circulating through the reef aquarium the closer it is to the real thing. There are many other good reasons for using this configuration as opposed to using just one tank. Among them are:

  • A place to put all the heaters, skimmers and other extraneous devices that clutter up the look in the display tank
  • A good way to introduce an auto-topoff system to the reef aquarium set-up that can be involved in dosing the system with necessary additives
  • Introducing a refugium into the system for keeping otherwise unwanted or incompatible livestock and plant material
  • Creating an environment that can help control oxygenation, nitrate reduction, and other beneficial water quality control aspects

I recommend using the sump configuration for the above reasons and countless others that will come up as the reef aquarium reaches maturity.

I am at the present starting to build my second sump. An acrylic 42"L x 15"H x 13"W tank that I am constructing to allow room for both my skimmer and another 200W heater to be incorporated into the sump. At present I am utilizing a 20gal aquarium that I had laying around. I am going to convert this tank into a quarantine tank for acclimating and inspecting new aquisitions before I place them in the Display Tank. Both of these sump/fuges constructions will be the topic of this article.

The diagram to the right is the original plan I used to retrofit the 20gal aqauarium as a sump/refugium (fuge). As I later found out it was not conducive to housing my DIY skimmer. As a result the skimmer was installed remotely and was not able to skim efficiently. A smaller skimmer would have worked but I wanted to use the skimmer that I designed.

If cost is the biggest issue you can use a rubbermaid container as a sump very easily. This is not what this article will be about.

Retrofitting an old aquarium is very cost beneficial and works perfectly well, especially for the beginning reefer, or any reefer that is not currently using a sump configuration.

The design will need to take into consideration the size of the return pump, skimmer and skimmer pump, and whether or not there will be a refugium. If room in the aquarium cabinet is of concern, which it always is, the aquarist might want to consider just the simple two chamber design with a bubble baffle in between. If there is room then a larger tank can be used and a refugium incorporated into the design.

The two chamber design is very simple, the input area where the overflow output from the display tank goes and then the return area for the return pump with a bubble baffle in between to quell bubbles from going into the display tank. As far as size goes, if possible, use the largest tank that can be practically fit into the stand/cabinet. If cost is somewhat of an issue and you have a tank laying around not in use by all means use it or look for a used tank at garage sales and in the newspaper. For those intrepid reefers with a pension for DIY you can build either a custom design glass or acrylic tank. I ended up starting with a retroed 20gal that I had and then built a 34gal acrylic sump/refugium. I would recommend at least 10gal but more preferable would be a 20gal, depending on the size of the display and the equipment that will be put into the sump.


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