Project: Digital-Reefer – Part 1
By J Clipperton
(originally appeared in issue 66, October 2017)
They say that moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do. Well, I think that moving house with a large reef tank would easily double the stress level! That’s precisely why I decided to break down my 4x2x2 well-before I moved, trading most of the livestock back to a local store and then selling the equipment and tank. I did keep a few prized bits and pieces in a nano tank though, and this came with me right through a stay at a temporary address for a few weeks between the move. I always wanted to go back to a larger tank though, and once settled in the new house plans for larger quarters for my remaining livestock naturally began to take shape.
The spot I had in mind was in a converted ground floor garage in the new house which was now my new office. The inner back wall of this room was of a suitable length for a 4-5 foot tank and there was space to go up to 30” front to back. What’s more, there was the promise that an opening could be punched through the wall to create a window into my lounge, thus creating an in-wall system on that side with the bulk of the tank in the office for tinkering. Several friends and family assuredly tapped the wall and declared it ‘just a stud’ so I happily began early explorations armed with a hammer and chisel. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a stud wall turned out (rather obviously in hindsight) to be a solid block supporting wall. It would be easy to knock through said a tradesman but after consultation with a structural architect it turned out that, because of a doorway in the same stretch of wall, the lintel required would need many inches of support on each side of the aperture essentially making the viewing window about half as wide as I would have wanted. With several other household projects on the go I decided it was ‘too much too soon’ and that a conventional tank would do at least for the next few years. With this in mind, I investigated bespoke systems to fit the bill but sadly their cost ended up being to prohibitive. Luckily though, it was around this time that the new Red Sea REEFER Peninsula and XXL tanks were launched and these turned out to offer everything that a bespoke tank would, and more, for less. With the deal sealed, I ordered an XXL 625 and set to work patching the battered wall, papering and painting in preparation for installation of the new system. I also had a water feed brought through from an adjacent downstairs w/c for purposes which I’ll cover shortly.
A couple of weeks later the tank arrived and the delivery driver and I managed to haul it up my driveway and then down a side passageway (with literally a millimetre to spare) so it was safely ensconced on my back patio with tarp covering to protect it from the elements for the time being. Even this, the smaller of the two XXL models, was one heavy crate and it took me 3 weeks before I could muster enough manpower (3 pals, plus myself) to get it into my house. Part of the cabinet was packed underneath the tank so, to avoid having to have my helpers return for a second visit, I had to get creative and as a result I up-ended a chunky bookcase (that was due to go anyway), and used this as a temporary support for the tank. I also bought two 150kg rated wheeled dollies and put the bookcase on top of these to create a makeshift heavy-duty trolley of sorts that was slightly higher than the cabinet would be. On the day of the move, the team lifted the tank off the pallet and through some rear patio doors and placed it on this waiting ‘trolley’. This was then pretty easy for just one person to carefully ‘drive’ into the office, just fitting through the internal doorway. With the tank-laden trolley parked-up out of the way, I was now free to build the cabinet at leisure, and I did this during the next week or so with no issues. Once in place, I levelled the cabinet but then things got a little complicated as I tried to work out how to move the tank from the trolley onto the aquarium. This would be quite a simple thing you would think but because the tank was going into a corner it was impossible to lift it into place. Also, it couldn’t be slid into place as part of the plumbing protruded from underneath the central weir which would surely be damaged, or damage the cushioned part of the cabinet top if slid across. After much planning, I called back a couple of pals and firstly we wheeled the trolley so it was parallel to the front of the tank. Next, we replaced the wheeled dollies one by one, lifting the bookcase a little to pull them out and to slide in wooden blocks to reduce the height difference down to just 2 cm or so. With enough clearance still for the plumbing collars to clear the tank top, we then pushed the tank backwards off the trolley and, as it gradually moved further back into place, I inserted a length of 20mm diameter wooden dowel under the entire length of the tank. As the tank began to pivot as it passed the half way mark of support provided by the trolley, the dowel became supportive and rolled with the tank until the plumbing collars were over the custom cut hole at the rear of the cabinet top. With the trolley now removed, the tank was supported in a see-saw like manner on the dowel and we tilted it so the rear edge touched down in place and then lifted the front of the tank just enough so the dowel could be withdrawn. With a gently thud, the front of the tank was finally lowered in place… and it looked stunning!
Time to pimp
Over the next few weeks I set to work on installing the various pieces of kit I had hoarded and I also made some planned modifications to the system as I had been really impressed with some of the ‘pimped out’ reefers on the web. Perhaps the main modification was the installation of a secondary, inner door at the front of the electrics cabinet which I’ve seen done a few times (although I had my own ideas on how I wanted to do it). I built this using wood sourced from Ikea to create an inner frame and hinged door which, as well as providing a fascia to install control devices so they were easily viewable and accessible, also allowed for two 8 gang switched, surge protected plug bars to go on the back to also be easily accessible. Having had a system where I’d had to squat down and essentially insert myself headfirst into the cabinet just to turn off a pump, this was something I didn’t want to have to do again. In a similar stress and effort reducing move, I hooked up an RO unit to the water feed I mentioned earlier and linked this directly to the top-up reservoir of the reefer as I didn’t want the hassle of filling and lugging buckets of RO through the house on a weekly basis anymore. In terms of fail-safes, firstly the RO unit is sat in a container so any drips or leaks should be at least initially contained and a battery-powered leak detector is placed in this container so the main feed line will be immediately blocked if any moisture is detected. Next, the water enters the reservoir (the standard Reefer ATU tank) via a high quality fixed float valve (which wasn’t cheap!). This turns the RO unit off when the water level rises to certain level. The RO unit is a pumped model so I incorporated a timer to only make it active at times when I am usually around. The system doesn’t run at night for example indeed it will only actually be on for a couple of hours a week in total. Finally, even if the float switch stuck on, the position of the top-up reservoir means that it would overflow as a trickle into the sump. Although a slim possibility, I also installed a Tunze water safety valve which uses the optical and float sensor of the Tunze 5017 water management module to activate a solenoid if it the water level reaches it. The optical sensor is placed just above the float valve in the reservoir while the back-up Tunze float switch is down in the sump just above the red sea float valve but lower than the rim of the top-up chamber. Essentially therefore, the system has 4 fail-safe systems. Incidentally, the RO unit is also modified, having a secondary 50gpd membrane fitted, a secondary DI pod and the CTO prefilter was swapped-out and replaced with a GAC block as I couldn’t get a straight answer out of my water company about Chloramines in my supply. There’s also a TDS meter showing post membrane and post DI resin readings to monitor the performance of the unit. All-in-all I’m happy with it and having tested it for some time already under close scrutiny I’m confident in its reliability (although time will tell of course). Obviously, I will be monitoring it regularly.
Moving onto the main sump and I did consider changing the stock plumbing slightly, mainly to incorporate a manifold on the return line. I eventually decided this was unnecessary though, instead going for a single Vertex RX-u 2.0 reactor powered by its own dedicated feed pump. As well as proving space consuming and an impediment to return pump flow, a manifold would also be at odds with the Sicce SDC return pump (see ‘Close Look’ review in this issue) which has some interesting variable flow modes I wanted to try. As well as the single reactor (for GFO/GAC) and 5 litres of 25mm Siporax (to be doubled in the future), a Vertex Omega 200i with Vectra automatic neck cleaner was included in the main part of the sump. Both will ultimately be run through smart plugs to allow for either app or voice control. Bi-weekly 15% water changes using an AWC will also be integral to this system and I included a Tee off the RO product pipe so a line to fill the AWC can be added. Oh, and I did modify the return line at the top of the weir as the standard Red Sea 90 degree elbow is perhaps a little constrictive in my opinion. I replaced this with 90 degree and 45 degree 32mm schedule 80 elbows and some tinkering. I’ll also be adding a doser in the future as mineral demands increase and there is space for both this and the necessary containers in the electrics cabinet. You may also notice a Tunze 7000 Smartcontroller on the fascia panel. This controls the two 6155 streams plus two Hydor Theo 200watt heater and a 6 inch fan. It also monitors Ph and can display recent history in graophical form on the Samsung Galaxy Tab A 10.1 that is also mounted on the fascia. The Sicce SDC controller is also controllable through this interface but the controller is also located on the fascia panel. Technically, any smart plugs could be controlled via an app also, and of course remote control is possible for all of the above.
Let there be light
For lighting, I chose to go with two Philips Coralcare lights as I like the promise of more ‘even’ lighting having has issue with LED shadowing in my last tank. Check out the review piece in this issue for my thoughts on these fixtures. All together I’m very impressed although the units are very heavy and perhaps not as pretty as other options. Actually, to be able to sleep at night I had the floorboards in my son’s bedroom up so I could insert some reinforcing structures to hang these babies safely. A few thick wooden batons across the joists and a length of steel pole resting across these did the job. I did actually hope to incorporate a roller shutter motor in this space to allow the lights to be raised and lowered at the touch of a button but the motor had stopped working while the unit was in storage and I didn’t have the time or expertise to fix it. This might be something I add in the future but I’m still not sure how to fix the hanging wires to the barrel of the motor in a satisfactory way. Ultimately, I’ll also be adding a floating pelmet to screen the lights and to cut out any glare while I sit at my computer desk at the opposite end of the room but this is also proving an interesting challenge. On the subject of cosmetics, I also added LED lighting strips to my cabinet areas (the colour changing mode was a novelty for about 5 minutes and I’ve now settled on a purplish-blue colour).
Until next time
To finish off this instlalment, let me also share my aquascape with you as I’m pretty pleased with how it turned out and I have to say it’s creation was an absolute dream compared with all my previous tanks. Rather than going for live rock this time, I obtained 2 boxes of Caribsea Life Rock ‘shapes’ and a box of ‘Belize branch rock’. I was able to ‘scape this dry on my patio and I used 2 tubs of ITC Reefix to stick it together. I created 3 bommies using the shapes rock and then placed these in the tank carefully. I then added the branch rock later and again stuck most of this in place with Reefix (which I highly recommend!). All in all, this allowed me to really take my time creating the structure and most importantly, I am sure this aquascape will be a massive amount more stable than my previous ones. There’s nothing more stressful than placing a coral only for half of your rock to collapse, so I’m hoping that’s another stress I’ll have conquered with this system!
Look out for part 2 next issue in which I’ll get the system running and start adding livestock!
Tank: Red Sea REEFER XXL 625
Size and Volume: 59x25x25”, 625l with sump
Lighting: 2x Philips Coralcare
Nutrient control: Vertex Omega 200i with Vectra neck cleaner, 5l Siporax, Vertex RX-u 2.0, water changes
Mineral Replenishment: water changes for now… doser planned for Balling Lite in the future.
Temperature: 2x Hydor Theo 200watt heaters and 1 six inch fan running off Tunze Smartcontroller 7000
Circulation and flow: 2x Tunze 6155s running off Smartcontroller, 1 Sicce SDC 7.0 return pump
Other notes: Ph probe monitoring, Seneye monitoring, Caribsea rock, Prodibio salt and probiotics, caribsea substrate, Tunze water management module