Feeding The Disease:
The Art of Space Utilization
By Zack Wilson

Southrow

The Fishroom, a shot of the South row as of 9/06. North, South, and West walls are lined with tanks, and an additional 40 tanks are held on an island rack in the middle of the room, just barely visible in the above photo.

 

As many of us are eventually are, I was faced with the dilemma of how to maximize the number of tanks I could fit into a limited space. I don’t think you can really have too much space, so I’d probably be saying “limited” in any case. I was fortunate that I was taking on this issue prior to actually even starting any aquariums up.  Other priorities in life (*gasp*) had forced me to close down my entire fishroom for a couple years, and so I was starting from scratch, rather than having watched a room full of aquariums spring up like plants here and there. So my understanding wife and I had bought a home, and it just happened to have come with an unfinished basement. There it sat tempting for months. Having a new child of my own left me a minimal amount of time to think about such things for some time, but finally in about October of ’05, I found myself with some spare time and renewed thoughts of little fish swimming in glass boxes. Through some Providential circumstances I came upon the opportunity to finally seriously begin planning a new fishroom.

The Canvas: Here are some shots of various areas of the basement near the beginning of this project. Actually the last three are after some work. I'd already done some work on the walls as floors by then.

 

Since I was going to be building from the ground up, I wanted to give some real thought to how I wanted my fishroom to look and function. The last time round was really a product of my growth and development into the hobby. The two rooms that my tanks inhabited were a hodge-podge of variously sized aquariums that I had picked up as a matter of necessity when my fish started multiplying and my interests started branching out. This worked at the time, but it certainly didn’t maximize my space usage and it didn’t look as nice as it could have. This time round I wanted to create a room that would be enjoyable to walk through and view my fishes in, while also achieving the goal of cramming every last bit of water I could into it. 

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The transformation begins: You can see some of the changes as my project moved along. First spackling walls, then painting, tiling, etc. Eventually it started to look like a liveable space instead of a dank dungeon. I was going for an inviting cave, using earthy colors for the walls and floor.

 

The first thing I had to do was decide what size tanks to go with. This is an important aspect, as uniformity is a key to efficiency. I ultimately decided to go with 30 breeders (30”L x 18”W x 12” H). I really like 20 longs for their viewing window, and they seem to be about the perfect size for keeping fish of my main passion-dwarf cichlids...and catfish...maybe tetras too--er. The extra front to back room made for better surface area and also gave me a good bit of extra room to aquascape—one of my other passions on which I plan on expanding. Thirty gallons is also a nice size as it’s big enough for holding growouts or larger numbers of other fish when the need may arise, without getting into something large and space-consuming.

My next challenge, one I spent a good amount of time on, was to figure out what configuration would allow me to maximize the number of tanks I could fit while still providing a good flow through the room. I felt that to be comfortable there should be at least 3-4 feet between any row of aquariums, and one shouldn’t have to wind around too many corners or bends to get to the next bank of tanks. After toying with a bunch of layouts on a graph, I finally decided to go with a number of parallel rows that would run the length of the room, with several smaller island racks that would be placed perpendicularly to the other racks and up against the support pillars in the basement. Given the height of the ceiling (7ft) I figured if I wasn’t too greedy with the space between one tank and the next, I could even manage to get 4 tanks per column. This was working on the assumption that I would be making my racks of lumber, which seemed to be the most economical option. Had I used steel or some such, I might have had even more room, but I had limited resources. By this plan, I also left myself wall-space along the west wall where I could build racks for larger, odd-sized aquariums I might want/NEED.

So all said and done I came to the conclusion that I would be able to fit about 150 30 breeders into my basement. I had about 1,200 sq. ft. to work with, given that the laundry room and a small storage room are taking up space as well (storage room may later be “modified”). This wasn’t a bad start, but still didn’t sound like enough. Fortunately when I started advancing in the process of building the racks, I began to see that 4 feet + between rows was actually more generous than necessary. This left me with some open room to squeeze in a few extra tanks here and there. I figured a few large “show” tanks here and there wouldn’t be bad as focal points.

Just as I was looking at the daunting task of building the racks, a couple of my good friends volunteered to give me a hand. Gotta love free labor.

 

Stepping back a little, once I picked the tanks, my other big consideration I needed to tackle was one any of us must look at when we have more than a few tanks. How am I going to change water on and keep so many tanks clean? Well, I really have never thought of the typical overflow system as being very efficient for pollutant removal.  You’re always flushing out new water along with the old and by that method you drain a lot of water before you really get a good percentage of old water out. I much preferred the idea of removing a given percentage of tank water (75% works for me) and then replacing it with fresh water. My idea was to drill each of the tanks in the system one quarter of the way up from the bottom and then install a bulkhead with a cap. The water could then be drained into a larger diameter PVC pipe that I could run around the fishroom to each rack and then to the drain. By putting the pipe at a gentle grade all the water runs to the laundry room where we have a floor drain (another really nice feature of the basement). So the draining problem solved, all I really had to do was figure out how to return the water. Being that I wasn’t going to go with a centralized filtration system I had to figure out how to run water to each individual tank. Again I went with pvc, this time about 1/2” diameter, and ran this from the water mains in the laundry room to each rack where the lines fanned out to each row, allowing for a ball-valve and sort of faucet to be put in through the top of each tank in back. I didn’t really feel like drilling another hole for returns and I needed to be able to access the valve. So that sounded easy enough—yeah right.  The idea is sound, but it’s a bit of work assembling 150+ T’s with ball-valves and countless lengths of pvc. I’m still in the process of finishing this, but at least I’ve got the drains done. I should also mention here that due to the lack of gravity all of the bottom tanks, which sit on the floor, are not able to be part of the drain system and therefore have to be done by Python unless I come up with a brilliant solution to that. Oh well, such is the cost of another row of tanks.

Next up was filtration. I didn’t like the idea of centralized filtration for the whole room, and individually filtering every one of those tanks would be insane, and insanely expensive. I hate the extra noise of blowers, and they can be expensive too. So I finally decided to go with a couple of linear airpumps. These pumps are insanely quiet for their output and are very reliable and low maintenance. They also put out very good pressure and even running 250 some sponge filters I get very high flow. It also helps that I went with 30 breeders, as the shorter height provides less back-pressure. After installing pvc around the perimeter of the room I then installed enough outlets for each of the tanks using nickel/brass air valves and voila. Not a bad part of the process. Each tank could then be filtered with a sponge filter or two and the cost of operation is pretty darn low.

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One of the two linear air-pumps running my sponge filters for the fishroom.

 

From there it was mostly details. I did install a number of outlet boxes periodically throughout the fishroom for times when I may need power. I also installed a couple extra circuit-breakers for this draw—don’t need to be worrying about running the dryer or washer or something. I did recently also install an air-exchange unit to bring in fresh air from outside. With this many tanks the humidity can get very high very fast—not healthy or safe.  I also still want to paint the racks and put up screens over the top portion of each tank to prevent light from bleeding out. Speaking of light I’m still toying with my options there.

After putting some of my ideas into action, I have found some things I would have done differently. My biggest brain-fart of the whole process was the outlets. Not giving it enough thought, I was more concerned about making sure I had enough outlets and that they were spaced out enough over the room. I didn’t even think about the height of the boxes.  As it turns out they come up quite nice and square behind the second row of tanks from the top. Not the end of the world, but it makes for some fun contortion tricks trying to get plugs into outlets.  I might have adjusted the height, but it would have been a lot of work, and funny as it may sound I can be lazy. It’s been about 8 months of hard work, from re-pouring the floors myself, to redoing the concrete walls, painting, tiling the floor, and on and on.  It’s really fun and rewarding to see it coming along, but it’s been back-breaking at times. Fortunately I’m most of the way to where I want to be, and at least there is an end. I'll continue to tweak things I’m sure, but it’s a great thrill to actually be bringing The Fishroom into reality.

So now, if you've actually made it through this article, I congratulate you, and wish you happy fishing. Enjoy the Digital Fishroom and feel free to check back often!

 

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