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Sump Basics:

NicholasCNicholasC Member Posts: 355
edited January 2012 in Marine / Saltwater Fish
There has been talk latley about the benifits of sumps as the filtration of marine tanks. There are two main reasons fish keepers use sumps, they are to increase the tanks volume (making water parameters easier to control) and to hide vital tank equipment from the main tank (such as heater, protein skimmers etc). Other uses for sumps include housing the refugium which is as the name says a refuge for: bullied fish, copeopods, amphiopods, shrimps, snails, coral frags and other organisms which would normally be eaten or damaged within the main tank.

The basic of marine sumps work in this order: Syphon from tank -> Bubble trap (3 pieces of dividers which eradicate micro bubbles caused by syphoning) -> refugium -> Bubble trap -> pumps -> return to tank. This method uses the refugium as another source of filtration.

The best filtration within a sump is biomass, refugiums house both organic sand (worms/organisms in sand) and liverock which is covered in benificial bacteria. As long as there is sufficient water movement over live rock this will be the best option for filter material. FIlter material to avoid is sponges, although they can work if properly maintained once their bio mass is reached they will start to produce high levels of nitrate which is of course highly toxic in a marine tank.

Personally within my tank my water flows through the refugium (filled with deep sand bed and liverock) then skims onto a thin layer of sponge then through bio balls to the pump. The sponge MUST be cleaned every 2-3 days and is only used as a catchment for any solids that may pass through. Other ways to reduce solids is to use a bucket trap on the IN part of the sump, this is just a container filled with fine filter material that can be easily accessed and cleaned.


  • GNARKILL_89GNARKILL_89 Member Posts: 60
    Thanks for the info nic.

    Is there any lighting requirements for your type of sump? If so what?

  • NicholasCNicholasC Member Posts: 355
    I find that sumps do need lighting but as they are hidden under the tanks this can be difficult. My tank does however use a little 27cm T5 gro-light for the sump. I got the ballast years ago for my old hex tank and mounted it under the tank above the sump.

    If you use a old tank as your sump and have the room I would suggest mounting a 1-2 foot fluro either soft daylight or actinic over the sump just to provide extra growth for your liverock, algae etc. The best option would be a soft daylight and then use blue LED ligthing to provide the blue part of the spectrum.

    Also on another note i left out information on protein skimmer, the best method is to mount the skimmer within the pump housing (providing your water level is high enough). Other options is to mount them inside your refugium but this is best avoided if possible.

  • DeadSledDeadSled Member Posts: 303
    Lighting wise.. you can just use those clip on lights for the pissy little freshwater beginner tanks.. that'll work fine.

    IMO.. having a tank drilled is SO much better than syphoning.. i've got my 2ft with a syphon and 4ft with a hole and a weir / overflow.. and i bloody hate the syphon setup on the 2ft. It quite frankly works terrible.

    Also.. sump design is purely up to the person whos tank it is. Theres numerous ways you can do it.. like for example my 2ft sump is as Nic explained.. syphon out of tank into chamber 1 with a skimmer, into chamber two which is the fuge and then overflows into chamber 3.. but my 4ft goes into chamber one with the skimmer.. and from skimmer back into chamber one so it could be skimmed numerous times before it overflows through the sponge into chamber two which is the pump.. and as it gets pumped out, 70% goes to the tank and 30% goes to the fuge.
  • GNARKILL_89GNARKILL_89 Member Posts: 60
    <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href=""></a><!-- m -->

    Is a great link for tank jounrals big and small. It has so many sump designs for anyone looking to build their own sumps.
  • brendonrookbrendonrook Member Posts: 86
    A couple of things with the use of sumps. Firstly is sumps provide a greater area for biological bacterial culture then just about any other methods of filtration (besides moving bed filters, another subject altogether), which also helps in stabilising the water chemistry. Secondly is sumps have got to be sized correctly! The sump should have enough volume to be able to coupe with at least 10% of the aquariums volume (should a power failure strike) on top of the running volume of the sump, in a large tank you deffinently don't want to be cleaning up 400 litres or more of water that's overflowed from the sump, in the dark! This additional volume needs to be on top of the sumps running volume as mentioned above (the average can be worked out by the lowest water level in the sump, to do this times the length by the width by the depth of the water in this part). Thirdly, sumps will often work better with drilled tanks, as they allow a more steady flow rate (as the same amount of water that enters the tank via the return pump flows out over the weirs and into the drain/s). The biggest problem I see people having is that they use pipes too small for the volume of the water they are pumping back into the tank, which either makes the weirs slowly overflow, or the sump to run dry. Under gravity flow pipes will usually only handle an average of half of the water flow as they can under pressure (i.e: from a pump).

    Hopefully I haven't scared people off from using sumps as they really are the marine aquarists best friend. Anyone who has any questions regarding plumbing and/or sizing of their sumps can pm or email me directly (I'll give my email out to people who've pm'd me, or it should be on my profile).
  • Fishful thninkinFishful thninkin Member, Classifieds Posts: 209
    Hi am looking at converting from fresh to salt and will be using a sump in my tank
    My first question is in the refugium is just some coral sand in there or do you put other kind of things in there .question number 2 since most of the water will go around the skimmer is it better to run a second one or is. That overkill and third question the overflow from the display tank what height from the top do you Make it .
    Any help is appreciated
  • jacobravenjacobraven Member Posts: 22
    Hi am looking at converting from fresh to salt and will be using a sump in my tank
    My first question is in the refugium is just some coral sand in there or do you put other kind of things in there .question number 2 since most of the water will go around the skimmer is it better to run a second one or is. That overkill and third question the overflow from the display tank what height from the top do you Make it .
    Any help is appreciated

    in your refuge your better putting in some live rock and shrimp maybe even algae <!-- s:) --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_smile.gif" alt=":)" title="Smile" /><!-- s:) --> then light this during off hours of your main light this will help with the nastys that build up when the lights are off
    probly wldnt be overkill if you can afford it i wld just buy what suits ur tank plus a little
    overflows can all be different weirs with drilled tanks, overflow boxes, siphons im guessing you have a tank that isnt drilled so probly thinking an overflow box?
    this will sit on the top lip of the tank height will not be adjustable? it will just fall until it hits ur sump and skimmer area
  • BrengunBrengun Moderator Posts: 1,985
    I currently have an undrilled 6ft tank and being full of water and fish, I would rather keep it that way.

    My skimmer is a big mother which hangs off the side of the tank all by itself so no need to consider sticking it inside a sump or anything.

    I run a canister just filled with coral for filtration and it then runs into the chiller and from the chiller back into the tank.
    It was the cheapest set up I could do as I wasn't quite sure what I was doing going marine or if the 'craze' would last. The tank is basically just a bit of liverock and fish, no corals so no need for the high lighting setups which can get expensive.

    I do, now I've had it a while, want to do a refugium and have been reading up on it.
    I think I could get away with setting it up sort of in the same way the canister worked in that you siphon it out, run it thru the chiller and back into the tank.
    I would look more into the miracle mud idea which is expensive but you don't need a real lot of it and its minerals do help with your water.

    Only one thing I haven't quite figured out yet is if the power goes off. I would not like a 6ft tank of water siphoning out into a little refugium with no pump working to put it back in the tank.

    Anyone got any suggestions on that? Don't say drill the tank. <!-- s:laugh5: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/haha4.gif" alt=":laugh5:" title="laugh5" /><!-- s:laugh5: -->
  • 321clayt321clayt Member Posts: 766
    <!-- s:laugh2: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/lol-1.gif" alt=":laugh2:" title="laugh2" /><!-- s:laugh2: --> Drill a hole <!-- s:laugh2: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/lol-1.gif" alt=":laugh2:" title="laugh2" /><!-- s:laugh2: --> <!-- s:laugh2: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/lol-1.gif" alt=":laugh2:" title="laugh2" /><!-- s:laugh2: -->

    Just Drill a small hole say 1cm below the water level on the outlet pipe to break the syphon effect.
  • BrengunBrengun Moderator Posts: 1,985
    NOte to self: right click and copy everything I want to post cause this USELESS forum times out when you want to post and ya lose it grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr.

    OK what about a toilet cistern setup or an itty bitty stock trough float in the refugium itself.

    When the power goes off and the water fills the refugium further the float would shut off the siphoning water without loss of suction.
    Once the power came back on the pump would lower the refugium water level and the float would open the siphon intake again.

    It would mean it could reoperate when I am not home.
  • Fishful thninkinFishful thninkin Member, Classifieds Posts: 209
    hello again
    not trying to sound stupid here, but this is how i understand how the tank and sump setup goes, feel free to point out where i go wrong <!-- s:laugh5: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/haha4.gif" alt=":laugh5:" title="laugh5" /><!-- s:laugh5: --> . well here i go you have your main tank with your fish and live rock and coral and what not and water which overflows though a tube down into your sump which has three or four sections, first section has a protein skimmer which then flows into the second section which is a bubble trap that overflows into the refugium which also has live rock and sand and maybe some inverts if i'm lucky <!-- s:laugh6: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/ROLFSmiley.gif" alt=":laugh6:" title="laugh6" /><!-- s:laugh6: --> (and this spot needs a light)which then overflows into the section with the pump which pumps the water back into the tank. so how'd i go, did i miss anything .<!-- s:smile: --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_smile.gif" alt=":smile:" title="Smile" /><!-- s:smile: -->
  • BrengunBrengun Moderator Posts: 1,985
    Yup while you're at it you might as well pump the water up through the chiller and then back to the tank. <!-- s:D --><img src="{SMILIES_PATH}/icon_biggrin.gif" alt=":D" title="Very Happy" /><!-- s:D -->
  • jacobravenjacobraven Member Posts: 22
    Yer and you'd probly want your heaters in the bottom refuge
  • fish4fish3fish4fish3 Member Posts: 83
    So this info is based on a wet (submerged media) filter? Is there a benefit from using a wet n dry filter? And exactly what's a bubble trap and why is it so important? My house has a pretty stable temp inside, do i need a chiller or is it just a luxury?
  • You will only need lights if you're growing macro algae in the sump, no other need for it otherwise.
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