The Great Filter Debate

12 years ago

I would like to hear from as many people as possible about their personal experience with all different kinds of filtration techniques. The purpose is purely selfish, I'm trying to decide what to do with my own aquarium, but I'm sure others will benefit from any information posted. If they don't, then they'll just have wasted a little reading time, and they can move on with their lives.

I am mainly interested in freshwater, but welcome information about marine as I may delve into that realm someday...and I don't want it to be short-lived.

I would like to hear your stories, along with the following background information, just so that we know that you know (or DON'T know) what you're talking about.

1. How long have you been an aquarist? (is that a word or a Bushism?)

2. What size and kind of aquariums do you keep? (fresh, marine, tropical, cold, etc)

3. What kind of fish?

4. Do you keep live plants?

5. What is your preferred filtration method?

6. What other methods have you used in the past?

7. What made you decide to use your preferred method?

8. What, in your opinion, are the drawbacks to your method of choice?

9. What do you do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to maintain a healthy aquarium? (this means what YOU actually do, no necessarily what you're SUPPOSED to do. Everyone gets lazy. Read my story)

10. Have you ever successfully CONVERTED an active aquarium from one filtration method to another? If so, let's hear it!

11. Finally, Here's my selfish part of this all: Given all of your aquarium expertise, what configuration is best for maintaining a warm (76-80), tropical, well planted 55 gallon community tank, taking into consideration physical and monetary maintenance requirements????

Feel free to embellish on any other unasked question if it's appropriate. If it's inappropriate, don't embellish much.

Ok, since I've thrown down the gauntlet, here's my story.

1. I have been an off-and-on aquarist for over 20 years.

2. Tank: 55g, Tropical freshwater, 3 inches of medium non-colored gravel (whatever medium means. It's not sand and it's not big honkin rocks. If you opened a box of Nerds and found that one piece that's abnormally bigger than the rest, my gravel is bigger than that.) In the past I have a 37 high also, and a 10 gallon for the office, when I worked in an office. I think I kept a fish in a spoon somewhere once too. That didn't work out for long.

3. Fish: Community. My current tank contains: 3 mollies, 5 platys, 3 swordtails, 3 guppies (+1 fry, found while cleaning one day), 5 neon tetras, 2 gouramies (1 dwarf flame, 1 opaline), 2 barbs (gold/rosy), 2 danios, 2 misc Tetras, 1 Rasbora, 1 rainbow shark. 30 in all. I have 4 kids they just want more fish, how do you say no.

4. Plants: Yes, but I just started trying some different ones. In the past I kept Cabomba and Anarcharis, now I added Vallisneria, Wisteria and just got a couple Echinodorus and another sword. Just because I wanted to, I unpotted them and planted directly in the gravel. Maybe I'll kill them, but I got a deal at Petco on Sunday, 3 for $10 Woo hoo!

5. Filter: UGF w/power heads

6. Other filter: Additionally had a HOB Whipser, until I set it back up after sitting in a box for 5+ years and it leaked and the impeller assembly self-destructed. That was bad. It could have been worse though. I tossed it.

I also have a Magnum 330 that I've used over the years to polish the water using the diatom filter & powder. I started using that when I had severe algae bloom problems in my 55 20 years ago, which was strategically placed right next to a big window. We also had well water, which in addition to being extremely hard also contained something that loved to cause the water to go solid green so that you couldn't see halfway from one end to the other within 2 weeks of a water change. I would run the diatom filter for a few hours after a change and there was no bloom. Weird but it worked. I've used it ever since, I run it once a month. It's running right now, in fact, and it even appears to be removing the tannins from the driftwood, because my water is super-clear. More on that later.

7. Why: It's all I really know. I've always thought it was the preferred method in general until now.

8. Drawback: You have to suck the gravel, other than that...not much. Don't know about plants/growth, I hear it's harder but unsure why (I'm a 20 year newbie, how about that for an oxymoron)

9. Maintenance: Currently, I clean the living heck out of this tank just to be safe. When I say living heck, I mean more than I ever have in the past. I do a 10% water change every 2 days, using 2 day old water with aquarium salt added (1 tsp/gallon) and I usually siphon a random amount of gravel. In the old days, I used to religiously do a 25% water change every 3 to 5 weeks. Sometimes not quite so often. See Embellishment for the results of that technique. Knowing what I know now, I was an frakking idiot! (Let's hear it for the BSG fans.)

10. Changing: No. That's why I'm posting this - I'm thinking about it...

11. That's for you to fill in. Personally, my UGF/power filter setup is very low cost and maintenance is easy as long as you keep doing it.

The Embellishment part:

I have always used UGF, mainly with power heads. My last tank crashed in 2000 because I basically neglected it, and lost all my beautiful 4 year old cichlids that survived 2 moves, one over 120 miles in a 5 gallon bucket! I'm guessing that they survived because I moved so much, and ended up breaking the tank down every year to do so, then when I finally settled somewhere and practiced my long-term non-cleaning technique described in #9, well, you get the idea. They all died except my Synodontis, Fredo, who lived to a ripe old age in a cramped 10 gallon at the office and at someone else's home. I knew it was him, he broke my heart. Get it? Fredo?

I never set my tank back up until this year (1/1/9 to be exact) and encountered a whole new philosophy, at least to me: no one uses undergravel filters anymore. At least, that's what a couple of the local pet stores told me.

I live in Des Moines, IA, and we have your usual chain pet stores, and a few locals. I had already set up my tank and needed new tubing, and to my complete and utter surprise, couldn't find it - you know, because that's not needed anymore, right?

I finally went to Aqualand and they had it - and they told me that UGFs work fine if you do what's needed, anything else is just more $ to buy and maintain. That worked for me because that's what I wanted to hear. Plus I already had the plate, gravel, and water in the tank.

If you enjoy laughing while learning, visit His site is great. Read the Q&As too. I think he literally posts any e-mail that gets sent to him. Some are frakkin hilarious.

Recently, I went to yet another locally owned place and just for kicks asked what he thought. He told me that that stopped using them because you have to break down the tanks every year or so to get rid of the sludge or else you could end up with nitrate problems. I used to clean out my tank for no particular reason when I was in high school, I just felt like torturing myself. I scoffed. What did he know, they've only been keeping for, like, 20 years and run a pet store! He couldn't possibly know anything.

So I turned to the internet, because you can get everything you could possibly ever want to know from the internet. Here's some great sites I found to spark the debate:

Personally, I agree with the first and last, but I'm way biased and resistant change. Change is bad and evil. But I'm open to it if what I'm currently doing is indeed badder and eviler.

I want to grow healthy plant and keep healthy fish, but I don't want to have a ton of equipment and spend a buttload doing it. So how do ya do dat!!??

Comments (14)

  • budcarlson
    Original Author
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    I should also add that my current tank, started on 1/1/9 with 30 fish in it already, is holding extremely steady at 0 ammonia, 0 mitrite, and 5-10 nitrate. Aqualand supplied me with a bag of dirty water by squeezing one of their sponge filters and voila - instant cycle. I had never tried that before, but it worked perfectly. I had a short and small spike, nothing close to dangerous, and after adding the live plants, no problems with chemical levels.

    I just wanted to add that for the person that says 'man, you're still an idiot, you're going to kill off all your fish right away!!'. I may still be part idiot, but 20 years of general life experience does help erode that away.

  • garyfla_gw
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Thought I'd reply just to see if anybody is older than me lol

    1. Got my first bowl in 1953 first 2 gallon tank in 1954
      2 Have kept all . Right now have 150 ,75 gallon paludaium .35 tetra tank ,4 ponds 3 terrariums.
      3 Swordtails, Clown loaches 8 species of tetras.
      4 Yes about 40/50 species,both sub emerged all types except SW
      5 Depends on the reason for the tank ,pond.
      6 Don't think I missed any
      7 Primary purpose of the tank.
      8 IMO Water changes are the BEST filtration.
      9 have an automatic water change system on large tank and two pools
      10 Aquariums are ever evolving so always in a state of change.
      11 I'm supposing this would be an ornamental,indoor FW community aquarium with plants and mixed fish without inverts. 55 gallon size?? Canister filter with 3 times turn over rate..Heavily planted with appropriate wattage. A system to hold and age replacement water,as convenient as possible to the setup.
      My 150 is maintained in an attached shadehouse where I keep birds and tropical plants. Besides housing the fish and aquatic plants it provides supplimental heat,humidity,cooling and also functions as a semi /hydroponic system for epiphytes. It also is a reservoir for a low volume waterfall that is more ornamental than functional. This is attached to the outdoor lily pool which is kept heated to 60 min through winter.
      It has evolved to it's present function because I can never stop tinkering lol. The original purpose of the lily pool was a cheap way to store rainwater. Following a power outage that ruined the reef in the 150 I converted it to FW
      as a reservoir for the water fall in the shadhouse .Pool and 150 were conected in an experiment to provide temporay heat
      Only indoor tank is the 75 which is a Paludarium setup as a lowland tropical stream. I love tetras lol. This is maintained with a canister filter,manual water changes.
      Am now converting yet again to integrate the various systems primarily to lower maintenence and my dresm/nightmare of a walk through terrarium /jungle habitat for the birds, plants ,fish in a self sustaining habitat while drasticly reducing regular landscape maintenence.While appearing "natural" without pots
      All this while conforming to city codes and zero lot clearances!!!lol.
      Way more than you wanted to know I'm sure lol
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  • woeisme
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    1. Gary's got me beat. An older sibling(s) always had an aquarium when I was younger, my first solo bowl would be when I was 4, solo 10 gallon aquarium when I was about 10. A hand me down slate bottom.
    2. I moved to NC about 1 1/2 yrs. ago, The only tank I have set up since is a 29G I gave to a neighbor. I have plans for my first reef/SW. A 95G with 30G sump. I have had a 125G, 2-75G, 55G, several 20G and 10G set up at once in the basement of my old home. I have had a brackish water, Rift Lake Cichlid, semi-aggressive, community and plant only set ups.
    3. Nothing now, but I kind of answered that previously.
    4. YES! Ever since I figured out a "recipe" for FW planted aquariums that I was very successful with, I wouldn't do one without live plants. With the exception of Rift Lake and Brackish, but that doesn't mean I would never try it.
    5. It would depend on the size tank and type of tank. But since it seems like you are looking for an effective yet less demanding set up with plants. There are actually 2 favorites. First is a drilled tank with an overflow and sump. All the heaters, filters and misc. equiptment are in the sump in the cabinet. The only thing in the tank is the return and intake. You also have more water volume to the system with a sump. I like to have as large of one as possible. If you have the room the sump can also have a refugium section that has several uses. 2nd choice, I like 2 (or more) hang on the tank (H.O.T.) filters and some small low flow in tank filter/pumps. And of course don't forget lush growing plants. Reason for the HOT filter is its ease of cleaning. Nothing to take apart except every 3-6 months to wipe out the impeller. I use a pre-filter on the intakes. The pre-filter is just coarse aquarium sponge. I use plastic cable ties to keep them in place. I use 2 filters for better flow, also if one decides to crap out you still have number 2. Small pumps with sponges over the intakes. My tanks are usually pretty heavily planted or become that way. The small pumps serve several purposes: Circulate nutrients in the water column to the plants, kick up debris from the fish and plants to the filters and distribute the heat better. I usually direct the flow of a pump directly at a heater to keep the water evenly heated. The reason for the sponges over the intakes is to keep plant leaves from getting sucked into the impeller. This prolongs the life of the filter and is also extra bio-filter surface material. They are great to seed a new filter for a new set-up or QT tank.
    6. Sumps, HOT, Wet/Dry, sponge, corner in tank filters.
    7. Cost, ease.
    8. Sumps, take a while to set up and get running properly at first. HOT's, all the wires, heater and visible equiptment in the tank.
    9. Daily- Feed, or not. Check for any fish or plants concerns.
    Weekly- Ultimately, but not all the time, change 30-65% of the water. I have gone 2 months without any PWCs, I use a gravel vac. to remove the old water and suck up any crud from the surface of the gravel. I don't plunge the gravel vac. in like with a non or artificially planted tank. Usually have to remove over growth of plants. I would trim the tops and/or split the plant. Always check CO2 injection bubble count if you use it, if no CO2 injection add CO2 supplement like Flourish Excel.

    Monthly- Same as weekly, or not.

    9 months to 1 +Year(s) - Remove fish to a QT or bucket. Remove all plants from 1/2 the tank. Thoroughly gravel vac. that 1/2 of the tank. Large water change 75%-90%. Repeat the next month to the other 1/2 of the tank.

    10. Yes, just use the medium from the old filter in the new one. I went from HOT to sump before. I used 3 part cartridges in the HOTs. The ones that are clam shell type. They have a thin blue sponge and then a floss type pocket that you put media of your choice in, usually activated carbon.

    11. My lighting on for 12 hours a day at 4 watts fluorescent per gallon with a glass canopy over the tank was usually enough. 2 heaters is better then one. Drs Foster Smith has good deals on them, about 1/3 less then you will spend in a LFS. The use of small pumps directed at the heaters usually helps alot. Or, just the one heater in a sump works great. The one in the sump heats the water as it passes through and the return flow distributes it nicely. These things don't have to be expensive if you are handy and can build some things yourself, like a sump.

  • birdwidow
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    I got my first fish in the early 1940's. I still have both the glass 5 gal. tank and the little MIJ ceramic bridge decoration that graced it. The goldfish didn't make it.

    The little decor must be pre-war though, as at the time, the US and Japan were engaged in the mutual mass slaughter of the best of their young men.

    Some years later, after I was married and we had our first house, I got several 10's, a 20, a 29 and kept Gups and a total wimp of a pirhanna that lived in the 29 on chicken hearts it took from my hand. I gave it to the Shedd Aquarium when I caught my toddler trying the same trick.

    Soon after, I became a full time career woman and the fish and tanks were disbursed. All but the wonderful old polished SS slate bottom 29 with the matching hood, still packed away in the barn loft. One of these days, I'll list it on eBay.

    But I always enjoyed the fish and about 5 years ago, started back into them, only this time, I had the time, money and space to set up what I had really wanted so long ago, which was a combination of large show tanks in a fairly large, but now underoccupied house and breeder tanks in a heated greenhouse in the garden, mostly to get them and the powerful but noisy blowers out of my basement laundry room.

    I think it's fair to say that I have tried literally all types of filters, from the old air driven syphon types that always lost it just when most needed, to UG's with and without powerheads, to assorted brands of HOB power filters and other than the need to get creative in attaching a sponge to the intake, have found that for HOB's, the Emperor's both the 280's and 400's, give the most bang for the buck, while also being the easiest and cheapest to keep clean, as I buy bonded filter media by the roll and cut it to fit half of an extra media basket.

    Extra media baskets are the key. All that's needed to replace a cartridge is half a media basket, bonded pond media cut to fit and some rubber bands.

    But keeping so many tanks makes my experience totally different than it is for someone with only a single or even several show tanks.

    For one, I have both an excuse and genuine need to buy in bulk, and keep duplicate equipment.

    For instance: I use a combination of box and sponge filters in all of my breeder and Q tanks and have enough of them to allow me to switch the box filters daily if needed, then empty and dump them into a tub of hot bleach water, soak, rinse, set out to dry, refill and have all I may need lined up and ready to be used, with never less than a dozen on-hand at a time.

    Having multiple tanks running at the same time also allows me to set up a new tank overnight, using the same technique as does anyone else with the same: fill it half full with water from a healthy established tank and when I know I will need a bunch of them, such as coming up soon, a shipment of new fish: I dropped clean sponges in established tanks last week, where they are being loaded.

    I agree with woe on the superiority of sumps, but with only 3 show tanks currently set up and none all that huge; a 125 L, a 55 and and a half hex, flat back 65, all planted and all black water, I decided to make it even easier, so have them set up with oversized canisters, with UV filters on the outlet lines. So they each have only the intake set at the bottom at one end, with sponge prefilters attached to the intake screens, and the outlets at the other end, running through spray bars.

    That's really the only way to completely filter any tank: Take it out from the bottom at one end and return it at the top at the other.

    But I'm still a water change freak and have yet to find fresh conditoned water to be anything but beneficial to any fish.

    All of my tanks are water changed at least 50% weekly and many get 20 - 30% daily, particularly fry and grow outs. The benefit of frequent water changes on the growth of fry has been too well established by too many successful breeders to argue the point.

    Any fish in any tank, regardless of the filtration method is still living in it's own toilet, and the more frequently it's flushed, the healthier it is for the fish.

    I consider UG's to be time bombs, just waiting to go off when least expected and in spite of having a bunch of them in storage, will never use one again.

    If you want a planted tank, lay in any good clay based medium and top it with whatever decorative gravel appeals to you, then make it a point to wiggle it around a bit around the plants with a thin stick about an hour before changing the filter media, to loosen up excess mulm, then let the filter clear the water. Do that at every water change and the need to take down the entire tank becomes problimatical.

    BTW: I have matured in my fish keeping and have no community tanks with more than 5 species in them. All are primarially species tanks and all of the schooling species are kept in schools.

    My favorite is the 125 L, that houses only a large school each of Red Line Barbs, Clown loaches and a shoal of 10 Bumble Bee catfish, that are a gas to watch when the tank lights go off and a red nightlight mounted under the hood goes on. If I turn off all of the room lights, I have a nocturnal view of the Red Lines drifting, the Clowns laying on their sides looking dead, and the BB's doing their thing in what they believe to be total darkness.

    This summer, I plan to put about 3 pairs of the Red Lines outdoors in a 350 gal. stock tank heavily planted in coarse sand over mud and see what comes out in the fall.

    Oh yes, heaters: Other than a few highly sensitive species such as discus and some FW rays, in a climate controlled home, as long as the room in which the tank is kept maintains a temp not lower than 68, tank heaters are really unnecessary.

    Presuming timers on the tank lights, which are truly the fish keeper's and fish's friend; the tanks will be slowly warmed in the morning as the lights warm the water and reverse the same at night, just as occurs in nature.

    Another fact long established by too many successful breeders to be argued, is how well most tropcals can and will adjust to slightly cooler water temps, and how quickly too high temps will kill them.

  • budcarlson
    Original Author
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Everybody, thank you so much for your posts, I'm learning quite a bit.

    I think I need to change a little bit about what I'm asking; the answers made me think more about what info I was looking for. I'm trying to gather as much real-life experience with as many types of systems as possible, and I think my first post was too broad.

    I'm going to slightly modify my list here, and make it so you can cut-and-paste the question list so readers don't have to keep going back and forth to see what questions you're answering:

    I still want to hear about your experience level, you know, what kinds of fish you keep, size aquariums, etc, whatever you want to tell about what you've done in the past & what you're doing now.

    Give a quick synopsis of your personal experience with each particular type of filter that you have utilized. I guess this is the information I was really hoping to gather, just hadn't thought it all out before.

    Here's another list to start from. In case you can't tell, I'm a 'list' guy...

    a) Filter type (duh)
    b) Water type (fresh, etc)
    c) Gravel/sand/etc
    d) Plants/amount
    e) Daily/weekly/monthly/yearly maintenance (filter only)
    f) Necessary yearly supplies
    g) Major long term maintenance issue
    h) Advantages
    i) Disadvantages
    j) Realistic monetary investment per year
    k) Have you ever had a catastrophic filtration system failure, and if you remember or know, why did it happen (and how could it have been prevented). If you had a near-failure, how did you save it?

    There you go, cut & paste a-k and fill it in.

  • garyfla_gw
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    WOW you're really old lol. Got a ?? for you . What do you think is the oldest model of a true "Aquarium" that can be found?? I saw pix of a 1910 hex shaped wrought iron with puttied windows.,not really an aquarium in the strictest sense but did have glass windows rather than a "fishbowl" Almost nothing about it was original as you could imagine. The two gallon one I had was wrought iron framed so wish I'd kept it I didn't even keep any SS frames.
    Have seen "bowls " dating back ancient Egypt China.
    Of course "aquariums" require great leaps of technology not to mention finances lol gary

  • birdwidow
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago


    I'm pushing 70, but in my mind, I'm still young. When people start thinking old, they start to die and I'm not ready yet.

    The glass fish tank I had as a child had a painted iron frame with a slate bottom, but all glass ones, usually mounted in wrought iron frames have been around for at a long time. The fanciest I ever saw was in an antique shop in Brighton, England. The proprieter claimed it was early Victorian, which would have put it at somewhere around 1860- ish. It was about 5 ft. high, with a hand blown bowl that fit into upturned arms, with all sorts of elaborate bits of metal and glass embelishments on it; cherubs, fanciful fish, vines, flowers, glass balls, etc. Frankly, I thought it was hideous.

    But the Victorians did have larger, metal framed glass aquariums and kept the fish alive with continual water changes, which is easy if you have an estate, a conservatory, and an army of servants. Following the Great London Exibition and the Crystal Palace, glass conservatories became all the rage among the monied, landed Brits.

    My own love affair with small tropicals started in the Balanced Aquarium Room of the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago in the 1940's, when keeping any FW aquarium fish still depended far more on a balance between plants and fish than mechanical filtration and one of the reasons I still strive to affect it. The better balanced the tank, the less dependence on any filter.


    A survey? Okay, but I honestly don't know that it will help you, because every fish keeper has different likes, dislikes and tanks, as well as their own notions, but for what it's worth....

    a) Filter type (duh)

    Box, sponge, canister, UV.

    b) Water type (fresh, etc)


    c) Gravel/sand/etc

    It's called substrate, but in my situation, it depends. The baby, grow-out and Q's are all bare, but fairly loaded with live plants in clay pots. I use a lot of low to lower light level types in my black water show tanks, as well as java moss and naja (guppy grass) in the livebearer tanks, as cover for babies and harried fems.

    I've been experimenting with different substrates in my show tanks. One that's worked well is sand over Flourite, but Gary wrote of using garden soil and I'm finally going to try it in a big stock tank this summer, but it will be outdoors, so if it turns out a muddy mess, I can just stir it up to slurry and use a sewage pump to send it all through a hose to the tomatoes.

    d) Plants/amount

    As all of my tanks are Amazon or Asian, all are farily heavily planted, mostly with Cryps and Anubia, but I keep the light fairly high in baby and grow-out tanks and have many wide shallow clay pots of Vals.

    e) Daily/weekly/monthly/yearly maintenance (filter only)

    I switch box filters in baby tanks daily, so I can load on the food without fouling the tank. But I don't use loose floss in them. I cut bonded pond filter media to fit the boxes and rinse them clean, getting at least 10 -12 uses from each and it makes changing easier, as does keeping the charcoal and zeno in net bags instead of loose in the filters. But the box filter frames are bleached cleaned after each use, and why I have at least 4 dozen of them. I do them in bulk, weekly. Foam filters may go several days in baby tanks, but are all doubles or quads, which allows me to squeeze half in tank water and the other in fresh, to make sure at least one is always loaded but one very clean, as to draw the most effectively. The plastic housing of the power filters are flushed out at least bi-monthly regardless and washed completely clean as new whenever they accumulate enough gunk to make me think they aren't flowing as well. The sponge pre-filters on power filter intakes are only to trap fines, not for bio-filtration, so are squeezed out in clean water in a bowl with repeated fresh water until it's clear at least bi-monthly.

    f) Necessary yearly supplies

    Impossible to make a comparison. I load in frozen foods from F & S once a year during winter, to take advantage of the flat rate shipping. Overwrap a package in foil and seal it into a freezer weight bag and as long as the freezer holds at 0 deg., it will be as good a year later as the day it arrived rock hard via FedEx Overnight.

    I buy dry food in single ingredient bulk bags from Ken Menard ( and make my own custom mix, with something to appeal to every species I keep. I mix it up in a 20 gal. tub, then pack it into small zip bags, inside larger freezer bags and store it also in the freezer.

    g) Major long term maintenance issue

    Keep to a regular maintenence schedule and there aren't any, unless you have a glass tank that suddenly starts leaking and if it does, as long as the glass is intact, resealing one like new is easy- IF you know how, and I do.

    h) Advantages

    To what?

    i) Disadvantages

    For me, being retired, instead of freezing my ass off in Illinois, messing with fish, I could be in Aruba, eating them fresh caught.

    j) Realistic monetary investment per year

    Also impossible to make a comparison. For some, the cost of setting up a 5,000 gal. reef tank is chump change. For others, a 5 gal. Eclipse with a single Betta is their limit.

    k) Have you ever had a catastrophic filtration system failure, and if you remember or know, why did it happen (and how could it have been prevented). If you had a near-failure, how did you save it?

    Certainly. That's when I learned the Awful Truth about UG's. It happened because I did everything I was told to do, using powerheads on both uplift's and suctioning the water at changes through them, but in the end, all it took was my getting too sick for a week to do a good change and the gasses trapped under the filter plates exploded and I lost an entire breeding colony of Sterbi.

    If I ever had a near failure I was unaware of it, because I did something to avert it- probably a water or filter change. Unless the filter quits and you aren't paying enough attention to your tank to even notice it, if you keep the tank clean with regular water changes, a filter break-down alone- CAN'T kill your fish.

  • woodnative
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Great thread!!
    I have kept fish for about 30 years or so. I successfully looked over a friends reef tank for about a year during his relocation, but most of my interest/experience is freshwater. In the past I have bred guppies, angels, killies, various cichlids, danios and some of the easier tetras. At one time my tanks were all live plants. At this time of my life I don't ahve the time or compatible fish, so the only live plant I have is java moss. My 75 gallon tank had floating water sprite for years, but for some reason it recently crashed. BTW, I currently have a Raphael catfish that I have had for about 24 or 25 years, and a silver dollar that is maybe 17 years old. Of course a lot of other fish have come and gone.

    Right now I maintain 3 tanks. The largest (75 gallon) has some sort of power filter. I occasionally rinse the sponge filter inside it. A 10 gallon tank and a 29 gallon tank have only air stones. The water is crystal clear (the 29 has large goldfish in it which are outside in summer). I think the biggest thing with the filters is the circulation, adn the most important tank maintenance is through water changes. I use a "Python" type siphon to remove water and debris from the gravel and then refill. Weekly would be good but I sometimes don't get to it until 2 or 3 weeks. I generally change at least 50% or more of the water at a time but smaller, more frequent water changes would probably be better. I don't both with chlorine removers but add the water (of similar temperature) right from the tap. This may not work for more delicate species, but works fine for me. My fish are healthy, live long, my Oscar has no "hole in the head" disease. I have experimented and used different filters etc. over the years, but this works just fine for me. Of course, if you are raising fry a box or sponge filter is almost necessary, along with more frequent feedings and water changes. A varied diet is also important IMHO, including some live food if possible.
    If you want plants, get some Cryptocorynes....they grow slow but are less demanding to light and they are beautiful!! At one time they carpeted a 10-gallon tank bottom of guppies .

  • woeisme
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Since what it seems your goal is, is to convert your UGF system into a more effective planted FW tank that won't cost a fortune and isn't a hassle to maintain. This is what I'd do. By the way, the diatom polish filter is a great idea to remove nutrients that can cause algae blooms. It's hard to get the chemistry just right in a planted tank, when you are adding things. It helps bail you out if you are OD-ing certain nutrients. Anyway...

    1. Deffinately get rid of the UGF. UGF's aren't the best for plants. Go with the HOB type. Avoid a filter with a bio-wheel or if it has one, don't use the wheel. The wheels are great for non-planted tank, but drive off too much CO2 that plants need to thrive.
    2. I like to use small gravel approx 2mm. Florite is my favorite. I would do a 50/50 mix of it or just 100% Florite. Florite is costly, get it from Drs foster smith when it goes on sale, they don't charge extra for the weight. This stuff is normally about $30 a bag in a LFS. If you want to really save money, go to a farm feed store and get Gran-it-grit or a similar crusher granite feed supplement for poultry. Get "grower" size or the next one up from that. It is just crushed granite rock, perfectly safe for aquarium use. It is usually white, black, pink and grey color.
      3)Lighting- a 55G is easy to do a low cost lighting upgrade. 48" shoplight fixtures are just the right size and you can get them for about $7, use "daylight deluxe" tubes, has 6500K rating. Home Depot usually sells 2-paks for about $7.
    3. use your pumps from the UGF for the extra flow around the bottom and heater.
    4. keep the UGF parts for future projects, they will come in handy for DIY aquarium projects.
    5. Use Florish Excel for a CO2 supplement until you want to upgrade to CO2 injection. Get the large 2L bottle on sale again at Drs Foster Smith.
    6. Join an old, new website . This site is just be set up from an old MSN location. The owner of the site would probably have the best suggestions for what you are trying to do.
  • garyfla_gw
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    This is an interesting thread so thought I'd add another two cents lol
    I worked in an all around pet shop for some time even considered starting my own but centered on aquariums ,ponds . Had the interest but the economics never worked even before the chains.
    Anyway , It was always easy to spot a newbie who would become a hobbyist from the start.
    I t usually followed these lines.
    Bought a small tank to keep costs down, Wanted an artistic statement rather than an environment to keep a living animal,plant.Refused to learn anything about the nitrogen cycle. Refused to limit stocking of the tank or wait an appropriate amount of time Refused to believe that some animals ,plants can't be kept together or that they require different conditions.
    So they ended up with a too small tank with too many animals of too many different kinds.
    I could always anticipate the next question . Why are my fish sick?? Why don't my plants grow? Why are they fighting.?Why is my tank infested with algae??
    Instead of looking for the principles they would be interested in the "magic" fix lol. This of course would be
    followed by more problems followed by more magic followed by disgust follwed by the tank offered at a yard
    A longterm hobbyist would start with "Is it difficult to keep fish A B C .? Had already setup a budget, was willing to adjust expectations . Almost invaribly had already decided some interests . Never raised the question of "artistic" lol.
    I wish I'd kept a list of various questions that people asked that were beyond belief lol.
    Some "award" winners
    "What are your cheapest fish?
    "Can I keep goldfish in a bowl.?
    "Do I ever need to change the water??
    "Is it alright to handle my fish"
    My all time favorite.
    "Can I keep a Queen angel with my goldfish?" lol
    I'd bet you gold bars to guppies not a one has a tank right now lol

  • birdwidow
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Woe; I can't disagree with much of what you wrote except the bit about bio-wheels.

    I have an Emperor 280 running on a 30 long out in the greenhouse to which I fitted a foam pre-filter on the intake strainer, as the tank is filled with wild gold sport Endlers, a colony of red cherry shrimp and 6 fem dwarf BN plecos, so the pre-filter is only to prevent fish and shrimp paste and with no male to induce territoral infighting, the fem. pleco's just eat and don't bother any of their tankmates.

    In spite of the huge amount of natural light out there, between the shrimp, the plecos and the plants, it's also totally algae free, but still so loaded with naja and potted vals I have to thin them out weekly just to give the fish space to swim freely, so the bio-wheel has obviously not affected the CO-2 necessary for the plants to grow, lush and large.

    I still believe that for any FW tank, the real key is what it's always been: The right balance between light, fish and plants. The only time I ever use any fertillizer is when setting up a new planted tank but once it's cycled and the fish have been in it for a while, their waste serves the same purpose for the plants; just as in Nature.

    The mfg. of aquarium equipment would love to sell as much pricey stuff as we can fit in and onto our tanks, but if you think about the success enjoyed by some of the old timers, you have to admit that they managed to pull it off with nothing more than air pumps, siphon and/or box filters filters, lights, regardless if natural and/or mechanical- and clean water- LOTS of CLEAN WATER.

    If old Paul Hannel could come back to see what Gup fanciers have done with what he literally bio-engineered in his basement so many years ago, with little more than a series of 20 gal. tanks, hundreds of 1 gal. glass jars to get virgin fems. and clean water, he would be amazed, but would likely shake his head at all the overpriced junk so many aquarists seem to think they need, just to keep a healthy, planted tank of FW fish.

  • woeisme
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    You are 100% correct! You can have lush plants with a bio-wheel. I don't dislike bio-wheels at all. Here's my reasoning for usually saying they aren't the best for a planted tank. The bio-wheel will drive off more CO2 then a HOB without the wheel. There is a certain ammount of CO2 that gets "added" to the water from contact (exchange), but the "extra" agitation from the wheel subtracts more then adds. The biggest benefit of a bio-wheel is the added oxygen to the added surface area of the bio-filter. A healthy planted tank has way more oxygen saturation then a non-planted with or without a bio-wheel. The cost of the bio-wheels is another factor as you mentioned. Then there is a noise factor, that churning sound of the wheel. This is just splitting hairs, but if I'm asked what filter for a planted tank I will always say, don't waste the extra money on a bio-wheel type. To add, a 50% water change every week is awesome and gives every benefit you mentioned for fish and plants.

  • birdwidow
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago


    I won't argue the loss of CO-2 in the wheel, as you have a far better technical grasp of water chemistry than I do. But if you weigh the positives against the negatives, for the health of the fish, particularly in a tank maintained by a casual owner who may not be as fanatic about water changes as we are, I still believe the bio-wheel wins and given sufficient light and balance between plants, light, fish and clean water, a planted FW tank will thrive, regardless.

    It's also true that a bio-wheel filter will sometimes rumble when first started up, but if the wheels are maintained properly, they operate silently. To maintain a bio-wheel, an aquarist's best friend is an old, very soft toothbrush. If the wheel mounts on the filter housing and spindles on the wheels are kept clean, they will turn smoothly. The churning sound is the result of debris on one or another, or a partially clogged spray bar that if not flowing at full force, will cause the wheel to jerk and hesitate. Otherwise, the sound of the water running or splashing into the tank is no different than any other HOB. Of course, if the mounts or spindles are damaged, they must be replaced.

    Yes: At minimum, a 50% change weekly, although with some species, such as Goldies, as long as it's properly conditioned, no amount of water change is too much.

    But when all is said and done; regardless of opinions about filters and bio-wheels, too many casual aquarium owners are taken in by pet stores and mfg. They see crowded tanks in stores and don't understand that the shops often lose as many fish as they sell, then write them off as business losses and are running huge flow-through filtration systems with automatic top-off's that allow them to overstock those smaller display tanks.

    Then they sell whatever fish strikes the customer's fancy, regardless of the water parameters the fish need, or their habits, particularly as most of the FW fish sold in pet shops are schooling and should be kept in schools of at least 8 - 12 per species. Then they push junk the maker's claim will eliminate the need for frequent water changes and the results can be found listed on eBay.

    Hundreds of nice tank set-ups, listed by people who became discouraged after they did everything the pet shop told them to do, but all their fish died anyway.

  • garyfla_gw
    12 years ago
    last modified: 6 years ago

    Gee not one mention of the problems of running a fish shop lol.
    How else could you run one??
    Since buying the animals is about 5 percent of the cost of running the shop. If it weren't for writeoffs I doubt there would be any aquariums let alone "petshops"lol
    There is no way you could setup a shop like a home aquarium unless it's in your home lol.
    In the shop where I worked 80 percent of the profit came from petfood. On a yearly average the fish produced around 1 percent. Marine was almost always negative. Of course due to wholesale costs the price was around flat or 1 percent markup. FW averaged around 300 oercent But even that produced less than 5 percent of total revenue. Equipment sales produced at least 85 percent of income but even that often fell negative.
    The entire operation was supported by the owner being a vet. He also happened to be fish nut. Never bothered him a bit that he wasn't even breaking cost. lol
    He spent 22 grand on an 800 gallon display tank. Never ever sold one fish out of it . Did sell 3 pieces of coral fo almost 22 bucks. Another 50 years and he'll be even?? lol