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Old 02-05-2021, 06:48 PM   #1
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Join Date: Dec 2016
Location: Melbourne, FL
Posts: 76
Aquaponic Filter Upgrade

It's been a while since I've been on the forum :-(
Health issues and Work have plagued my free time.
As the work load has lightened, and my health has improved,
I'm finally getting back to getting to some projects I've been
putting off.

Many moons ago, I tried my hand at a DIY Aquaponic filter to
reduce Nitrates in my aquarium. That project was very successful
in many ways, and had its fair share of flaws. The original project
shown here:

It's still running today, and is doing an exemplary job reducing those
toxifying Nitrates, but, it was made with 'less than durable' parts, and
a few makeshift work arounds that have not stood the test of time.
  • The Planter Box is cheap thin walled plastic and is bowing outwards.
  • The bulkheads are not true bulkheads, but rather big box store part hacks.
  • Those 'bulkheads' are now starting to leak/drip... Ack.
  • The dividers held by aquarium silicone did not stay in place.
  • The 'Net Pot in a Net Pot' system to hold the pot(s) in place failed miserably
  • Using a MDF laminated shelf proved VERY stupid, because it's bloating and peeling

Here's a few pics of the old Aquaponics filter's deteriorating state.

So, I consider these learning opportunities.... Now it's time to make a
proper Aquaponics filter worthy of being more of a 'showpiece'.
The design is sound. I've decided to stay with the overhead setup, as
it's works great, and requires very little fiddling. Just the occasional root
and plant trimming.

The NEW and IMPROVED design has a proper 36 inch PVC watertight
planter box (Joints are PVC welded, not silicone adhered).

The Net Pots are a heavier duty 6 inch variety, and will 'hang' on an
acrylic tray in the planter.

I've sourced proper bulkheads. A 3/4 inch inlet bulkhead, and a 1 1/2 inch
drain/outlet bulkhead, and will be using PVC pipe for 90% of the plumbing.
Ball valves will also be put in each side

The PVC sheets will be made into dividers that will 'slide down' into the box,
so they can be removed for cleaning.

These 'upgrades' should all improve looks, and performance. I hope to
get 4-500gph circulation (up from ~120gph) and having the planter
covered better should minimize any 'excessive' evaporation.

As you can see, I did get started, by painting the planter box black. A trip
to the home improvement store tomorrow, and I'll get a proper wood shelf,
and paint and polyurethane it (black also).

As this project will be 'fit and finish', it'll probably take a few weeks to
complete, so I'll post up as I make progress.

Stay tuned!

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Old 02-06-2021, 06:56 PM   #2
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Join Date: Dec 2016
Location: Melbourne, FL
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I started some fabricating today. I cut strips of Polycarbonate
to create a frame the net pot holder will rest on, and the spacers
will slide down into. The spacers will have holes drilled into them
so water can pass though. The (2) end chambers will hold foam
filter media to help with filtration, and keep little plat bits from
draining back into the tank. I've used cyanoacrylate glue to attach
the strips in place. I'll add some Aquarium silicone later.

The protective film is on for now, makes for better pictures.

The 'frame' for the net pots is also Polycarbonate, and cut tight
to fit, so it will rest on the strips glued to the walls. The pots will
rest on the frame, suspended about 3/4" from the bottom of the planter.

Like so....

Picked up the plumbing fittings for the feed and return, and have to go
back to get the pieces I forgot to buy...

Tomorrow I cut, stain and urethane the new shelf.

The planter will need at least a week to de-gas... It still stinks.
That leaves plenty of time to make things purdy and sturdy.

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Old 02-10-2021, 01:50 PM   #3
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Location: Melbourne, FL
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Started getting the plumbing set up. The feed line will be a 3/4 inch PVC
sch 40 pipe, that will run from the pump (in the aquarium) up to the
Aquaponics filter, through a 3/4 inch bulkhead.

The Return is a 1 1/2 inch PVC pipe, reduced to 1 inch then back to the
Aquarium. I'm making the connections on the lower end of each valve a
screw on, so I can shut the valves, and remove/replace the lower pipes for
cleaning, and to make set up a little easier.

I'm also going to install an overflow onto the Aquaponics filter, but I'm
not sure exactly where it will go, or if I will use PVC pipe, or flexible hose.

I've also started the tedious task of making holes in the slide down separator
panels... I'm thinking three rows of 1/2 inch holes on each one. More may
have to be added if I don't get enough water flow.

The shelf will also need at least one more coat of Polyurethane...
It must be able to handle a little water.

So far so good.... Things are moving right along!
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Old 02-13-2021, 03:09 PM   #4
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Seems like baby steps these days, but, things are getting done.

The Net pot holder has had the rough edges smoothed out, and the
protective plastic removed. I am going to install a small flip-open
door at either end to access the filter compartments.... Soon.

I'm trying to keep the evaporation down to a minimum in the filter,
so a complete cover should help that.

The two divider panels are finished also, once again, removing all
the plastic burrs and cleaning them up is probably the most time

These dividers slide in, and I can flip them to direct water flow high
or low, as needed.

I've cemented all the PVC connections from the bulkhead down
to the lower tubes, and I'm giving them all a few coats of satin
black paint to keep things 'color matched'. The down tubes that
go into the tank need to be cut once the filter is in place, then I
can paint those as well. Looks like the fish will have a week with
no Nitrate filtration.

Still working on the overflow. Once I drill out the bulkheads, I
think I'll have a better idea on how the overflow will work.

I should be drilling out those bulkheads this weekend... the scary part.
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Old 02-14-2021, 09:48 PM   #5
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Only had a little time today, so I didn't get a lot done, but, it
is starting to look more like a 'sump' than a planter!

I shattered my fear, and drilled the hole for the 3/4 in. feed bulkhead.
Measured about 15 times, then went for it. On paper the riser pipe
will pass perfectly through the back of the aquarium cover.

That's a huge victory.

Next, I cut and installed the doors that will cover both end
compartments. Glued some hinges in place, and a couple of
stops for the doors to rest on, and viola! Fully covered.

I have to figure out the water level on the drain bulkhead before
I drill the 'big hole'... So I'll do some testing tomorrow, hopefully
I'll have the drain bulkhead set up tomorrow, then start testing
and fine tuning water flow and noise.
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Old 02-15-2021, 05:02 PM   #6
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Drilled a BIG hole today...

That'll fit the 1 1/2 inch drain bulkhead (a 2 1/2 inch hole).

That was pretty nerve racking, but it's done, and the drain tube
is within 1/16 of an inch of where I was trying to put it! Very pleased,
and breathing easier now. A little oversight, was the door on the
drain side hits the bulkhead, so I'll have to trim it down to fit.
No biggie.

Next step was to take it out side, and hook it up to the pump, and
run it, to see if it all works together. Sorry no pics for that, too much
going on, and wet (non-conducive to my phone). The pump is VERY
strong, and runs the system at the lowest setting, but the lift height
was only 2 ft. The tank set up will lift about 5 ft, so I'm hoping it'll
lower water flow a little. There is some drain noise, and I might have
to put a breather in the drain side elbow to quiet it down some. All
in all, it operates as it should.

Planter box does not leak.
Neither of the bulkheads leak.
Pipes on both side do not leak.
Pump delivers adequate water flow.
(hoping the longer riser helps me out with that one.)

I tried to get a pic of both set ups in one shot, to see
the overall difference.

Now I have to work out the overflow issue, and start getting filter media
ready for the swap over, which should happen in about a week or so.
The Clay pellets the plants sit in take a few days minimum to clean,
as they put off a ton of fine dust that'll cloud water, and the need to
get saturated with water, so they do not float!
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Old 04-04-2021, 12:25 PM   #7
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Real life got in the way, and put off the build for a little while, but I'm back to it!

I've figured out the overflow issue, and put an overflow pipe in the back/center
of the filter body. The overflow is 1/2 inch pipe, so it won't dump a full 300 gph.
I've never had a complete drain blockage on my current system, so I'm
confident the overflow will drain fast enough to keep a partial blockage
from becoming a partial flood.

I've also tightened all the bulkheads, and gave it a nice long leak test,
which I'm happy to report passed... leak free!

This means I'm real close to the install!!!

Some prep work needs being done, some of which has begun about a month
ago. The plants. Strawberry plants. Which have been grown from seed in
an aquaponic grow kit.

The other job is 'sinking' the clay ball grow media. The media floats right
out of the bag, so I have to saturate the clay so it sinks and stays at the
bottom of the net pot(s). I'm going to be using the existing grow media
I have in the old set up, so I just need enough to fill the larger net pots..

I've put a bunch of clay balls in a net pot, then zip tied another net pot on top,
then submerged the whole thing in a bucket of water, topping it with a rock
to keep it submerged. This takes a few days...

The grow media is ready when there's no more clay balls at the top.

I've also done some PVC pipe and fitting painting. My next step will be
figuring out plumbing into and out of the tank, which requires removing
the old aquaponic filter...

More to come!
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Old 04-11-2021, 04:52 PM   #8
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Finally got the time (and nerve) to complete this project.

The swap out was fairly straight forward... remove the old
set up, lower the shelf a few inches, then install the new system.
Fortunately, all my measuring, and re-measuring, and re-re-measuring
paid off, because the only modification I had to make was to the right
rear of the tank cover. Cutting about 3/4 of an inch to allow for the return
pipe from the aquaponic filter.

Here's what the end result looks like:

The "IN" bulkhead:

The "OUT" bulkhead:

Behind the valve is the overflow pipe, which drains back into the tank.

The pump is affixed to the intake pipe with a 1/2 in. ID hose. I'm going at
about 240 GPH.... based on a 5 gallon bucket fill time, of 1 min 12 secs.
It falls a little short of my 300 GPH goal, but still a considerable upgrade
performance wise.

Top side:

The 1st two strawberry plants have been planted, and as they were grown
from seed hydroponically, should do quite well... We'll see!
I've ordered more clay pellets, and have to wait on planting the final two
plants. The far left compartment houses bio-balls, and the the right compartment
a foam cell pad, however the foam will be coming out in a few days.

The drain is a wee bit noisy at the moment. This is due to the waterfall effect
when the water goes into the "OUT" bulkhead. I held a 1 1/2 in elbow up to
that bulkhead, and it was much quieter. I am going to install a 1 1/2 inch street
elbow when I get it.

That pretty much concludes the build. Hope you enjoyed it!

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filter, filter upgrade, upgrade

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