Setting up a Saltwater Sump Tank

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A Beginners Guide to Setting Up a Sump Tank

Adding a sump tank to your aquarium can be one of the most intimidating parts of starting your saltwater aquarium.  With the wires, pumps and other equipment that can exists within these units, it is easy to understand why.  However, with the proper understanding of how the system works, anyone can add a sump tank to an open flow aquarium. While there are many different variations of a sump tank, this article serves as a beginners guide in setting one up.

sump tank
Photo courtesy of Ryan Vickers – Aquatic Dreams

What is a Sump Tank?

The purpose of a sump tank is really quite simple.  It serves as a housing unit for all of the unsightly filtration systems that keep your tank healthy.  To begin with, an overflow runs the water from the aquarium down do the sump tank. The water then flows through the different compartments before a return pump, directs the filtered water back into the tank.

Compartments Of A Sump Tank

  1. Left Compartment: The first compartment of the sump tank is where the water initially enters from the overflow. A filter sock is often used at the base of the pipes that drains the water to catch any debris. If a protein skimmer is being used, it could also be placed in this compartment to remove organic material such as food and waste from the water before flowing into the center compartment.
  2. Center Compartment: The next compartment in the flow of your sump tank typically contains some kind of natural filtration. In nature, live rock, sand, and microalgae naturally remove nitrates and phosphates out of the water and the sump has the same goal.  There are several man-made options such as Bio Balls but the majority of aquarists use natural material such as live rock, macro algae, or deep sand.  My personal preference is a combination of live rock and chaetomorpha (macro algae). The algae will need some kind of light source and many aquarists also place the tank heater in this compartment.
  3. Right Compartment: This last compartment contains the return pump where it directs the purified water back to the aquarium. Some aquarists will install a float valve here and plumb it to their RO system to automatically top off any evaporation.

Properly installing your sump tank will significantly reduce the maintenance of your tank and improve the overall health.

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