Man-Cave details

By Scott Jackson
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Scott Jackson
Posts: 40
Joined: Fri Aug 06, 2010 8:02 am

Man-Cave details

Post by Scott Jackson » Fri Aug 06, 2010 11:04 am

Hello all and welcome to "The Cichlid-Keeper's Man Cave". Foremost, I'd like to thank Juan for his site. IMHO, it is the premier private cichlid site in the world and only the ACA site is more important to our future as aquarists.
A brief introduction, I've kept fish for all of my adult life and my first cichlids were Convicts. I've shown in local and national competitions, been in a number of clubs around the country, co-originated the Jacksonville Aquarium Society (now defunct) and been in the business-retail and wholesale both as employee and owner-operator. Life and it's responsibilities draw us in different directions on amazing tangents, but my fish have always been a solace-while simultaneously providing frustrations and disappointments along the way. Cichlids are a nearly infinite challenge and reward spectrum. I am now retired from "working for the man" but have a large animal business and recreation is provided by producing then finding markets for fish. I am a 24/7 Single Dad of my greatest love of all and he is already fascinated by animal husbandry.
This fishroom is an indulgence in self-expression.
Although I have no spouse to retreat from, my man cave is a great place to hide from the world, blessedly absent of cell phone signal and spotty on cordless phone reception as well.
The overall intent was to have a LOT of gallons with minimized maintenance and as little electricity consumption as possible. I strongly support the ACA CARES program with the philosophy that we have a duty to preserve what we have for future generations.
So, on to the details of this insanity!
This attached garage was built by my late Father and his brother Daniel. They certainly never foresaw it filled with tanks, but their tremendous construction experience and mindset of overbuilding has paid off for me. The basics are: 24' x 24' with a 9 1/2' ceiling. It has 6" thick well insulated walls, 6" thick concrete floor, 8" of insulation in the ceiling, 5/8 drywall and more electric service than I ever plan to use-including 4 each 220v outlets. It has one common wall with the main home that has exposed brick with an 8' garage door to the basement. There are two exterior garage doors described by the installer as "the best available" measuring 9' and 6'. There is also a windowed walk door to the courtyard, along with two large windows, one facing east, one west. Lighting is a mere 4 fixtures with 2 48" bulbs in each.
Electrical costs can cripple a large fish hobby! I use low wattage water pumps, one air source, NO aquarium heaters and carefully consider any electrical component needs. Artificial lighting is minimal and the natural light grows an amazing rainbow of algae colors.
The first addition to the room was a vented 50,000 BTU greenhouse furnace, powered by a dedicated propane tank of 350 gallons. 800$ new and 400$ after one season of use in a hobby greenhouse. This furnace is mounted 18" below the ceiling drywall with 8" stainless triple-flue. For power-loss emergencies, there is also a 20,000 BTU unvented radiant heater that does not require electricity-this is on the home propane tank of 500 gallons. We live in the country and are not exactly on the first-fix priority list for our county. I strongly advise against using unvented propane or unvented natural gas heat sources as a constant heat source. There is strong evidence that unvented systems emit toxins into the air, evidenced by ALL greenhouses using vented heater. If you have unexplained health problems in an unvented furnace environment, buy a moderately delicate houseplant, such as a fern. It will brown and die within 30 days. I have been unable to keep pollutant-intolerant fish for any amount of time in environments with unvented heaters. End of rant.
For humidity control which is vital to prevent rotting your fishroom, and worse, growth of FATAL black mold, I chose an air exchanger. This is controlled by a humidistat and, unlike dehumidifiers, uses electricity only to power a 110 volt fan and a small fluid pump. The unit I bought is rated for 3000 square feet and my reasoning is that it will work a shorter time with each cycle and this oversized unit will last much longer. My record for longevity on a dehumidfier was 15 months and with this humidity level, I'd need 4+ of the 200$ units, lots of electricity and a high volume reservoir on each. The air exchanger was 1700$ new, and 100$ three months later when I found it on Craig's List. These are amazing devices, are deceptively simple and DIY instructions are on the internet. But for 100$, I couldn't experiment!
The water source is a 300' deep well with excellent water. Bourbon is made around here from this water and that is testimonial to it's quality. It enters the room at a chilly 62 degrees F, 7.8 PH and 200 DH. Zero iron. Due to my parents' planning, our home is on city water and the farm is on this well water. I chose to pipe well water to the room as it is far better quality, without chlorine or chloramine and is controlled by 20-40 PSI pump switch rather than the ~60 PSI city water. And the only cost involved is the electricity to get in there.
I installed a 2" PVC drain system around the room with multiple standpipes, some for permanent use on the automatic water changed tanks and some for arms-length drain points for spot water changes. This merely takes water outside to well-drained areas. I later sloped these drain lines to increase their flow rate.
Air is 1/8 HP Gast regenerative blower (thank to Craig's list again). I prefer Gast blowers for the amp useage/CFM ratio, but it's just my opinion. 389$ new, used it was 50$ and a road trip on CL. From lessons learned long ago, I always have a standby blower on hand, plumbed correctly and ready to go. A continuous loop of 1" PVC carries the air to each tank bank with metal valves to high-flexibility air tubing.
A note on frugality: I searched far and wide to obtain superior quality yet inexpensive components for this room. My rationale was "More money for tanks and fish"!
The tank arrangement and set up is going to be considerably more fun!
5-10 water valves.jpg
Solenoid valves, part of the auto water change system
5-10 water valves.jpg (59.49 KiB) Viewed 2536 times
092809 fish room 7.jpg
Part of the air distribution system
092809 fish room 7.jpg (38.58 KiB) Viewed 2537 times

Scott Jackson
Posts: 40
Joined: Fri Aug 06, 2010 8:02 am

Tank, rack and filters installed

Post by Scott Jackson » Sat Aug 07, 2010 7:54 am

Mmmmm, on to the tanks, the fun part of room setup and construction!
Most of the room has industrial steel racks. I chose 24" deep racks with a mix of 75" and 100" horizontal beams, bought 12' tall uprights and cut them in half for a top shelf height of 6'. With the 9 1/2' ceiling, I strongly considered making the racks 7' tall but honestly, the 24" tall tanks on the top position of 6' shelves are difficult to feed and otherwise maintain. Consistent flow of air is aided by the open area above the tanks and the air is stirred well by the outdoor-rated ceiling fans pushing air down.
The current economic difficulties in our country have made aquariums inexpensive. All tanks are cheaper than in sunny economic times, big tanks are even less expensive per gallon and fish store type acrylic banks are about 25% of material costs. Having been a fish retailer and wholesaler, I can attest to the challenges of this business even in good times. Although I am very sad to see our friends leave the business or shrink down, the fact is that if we buy their fixtures in an auction environment, we are paying more than anyone else present. Rather than feeling like a vulture, I know the tanks I have purchased would have brought even less had I not been the winning bidder. Constructing a fishroom in these gloomy times is riskier than usual, but my feeling is that I am supporting the business, will enjoy it while things are slow and might even capitalize when things improve.
So, most of my purchases have been with three LFS that chose to close.
The tanks purchased and set up are:
5 acrylic tanks 96"L x 24"D x 12"H on a massive 300 gallon homebuilt drip system with proprietary media. Return pumps are Rio submersibles totaling 2400 GPH at return height with spray bars venting water into each compartment. Tanks are divided into 6 compartments each and all have sponge filters as well.
The oddest system is a former saltwater crustacean display set. 6 tanks measuring 96"L x 8"D x 8"H with only 28 gallons capacity each. Return pump is a magdrive 12 with spray bars that put water into each compartment, sump is a homebuilt 100 gallon drip system with proprietary media. 2 of these tanks have 12 compartments, the remaining 4 have 18 compartments each. This system has been a challenge to utilize but now contains fry grow-outs in one tank, guppy varieties in two others and wonderfully separate quarters for several varieties of crayfish. It is also a jail for proven murderous cichlids.
The last drip system was also constructed for saltwater fish, it is 96" long and has three tiers of compartmented tanks of varying sizes with a 150 gallon sump below. All water passes thru bio balls and drip trays with unusual media. Total tank volume is 200 gallons.
The oddest duck present is a 42" round x 60"T, 3/4" thick acrylic. It came from a laboratory at a local university and the bottom was literally falling off when purchased. Drilled and tapped for 3"L 1/4" x 20TPI stainless bolts at 6" intervals. Dow Corning 795 silicone is the final sealant used due to minute flex when filled. A 400 gallon cichlid community tank without corners! Filtration is provided by sponges and airlift tubes from bottom to top.
Two wooden racks contain a 90G wide, 6 each 45G and 2 each 55G, all with sponge filters.
A 180G, 3 each 150G, 2 each 240G, a 120G wide, a 96" 220, a 50G low, a 60" 80G are all on sponge filters.
Best system for last, these are on a Rainbird irrigation controller with solenoid valves. Daily water changes of 10-15% accomplished via drilled overflows and have sponge wall filtration as well. This is by far my favorite system and most other tanks will be converted to this method ASAP. Tanks on this system are 20 each 20G and 10 each 30G. These racks also hold 15 each 20G with sponge filters below the auto-water changed tanks.
Ahh, is that it? well, for now. Additionally, outside there are two steel farm vats, with 400 and 600 gallons capacity, just for goldfish, turtles and unusually quarrelsome cichlids. There are also 4 ponds on the farm with the most interesting fish being 30" hybrid catfish. Others include Crappie, Bluegill, Large and small mouth Bass and evil snapping turtles. I operate a working specialty cattle farm so "outside" is important also.
In the house are display tanks that include 230G wide, 180G, 150G, 100G, 2 each 90G, 2 each 55G and my son's tanks-but don't blame me for those :)

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