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Thread: DIY Sump how to

  1. #1

    Default DIY Sump how to

    In an effort to help explain a simple but often misunderstood topic I decided to write about the making of my wet dry sump.

    Why did I decide to make my sump? Well I have a 110 gallon South American tank that was filtered by a Marineland Penguin 330 and 350b. Two very good HOB filters that I messed around with trying to find a good balance for filter media, something inexpensive and effective. I tried the cartridges that came with them and they disintegrated after a couple weeks. I used AC filter foam, but it wouldn't filter fine particles. I then tried register filters wedged behind the filter foam and that clogged too fast. I had to rinse them every two days otherwise it would bypass. Then I decided to run one with foam, and one with the regular filter cartridges. In the case of the one with filter cartridges I used register filters as pre-filters and this worked okay. However I was still unhappy with my mechanical filtration and it still clogged after a few days. Along side this I was running a cascade 1500, but it was running medium foam and ceramic bio media in it because it clogged way too fast for me to disassemble constantly.

    If you managed to read all that, you should have gotten one thing out of it. I could not find a way to get enough mechanical filtration because of a lack of room and/or swift clogging. my HOB's were also really really loud. They didn't agree with the sand and replacing impellers didn't seem to help a whole lot. So my choice was either buy another large canister filter, which would still be a pain to pull take apart and clean, or build a wet dry which is something I wanted to do anyway.

    My plan was to remove both HOB's and run the cascade 1500 in conjunction with my wet dry so in the worst case scenario one could always back up the other. My priorities were easy of service and to provide excellent mechanical filtration.

    The first step was to find a sump. I was going to use a 30gal I already had, but it wouldn't fit under the stand. In the end I settled on a 20 long. I wanted a tank that was 12" wide because my media chamber was going to rest on it. (like this)

    Since I was designing my sump with the intention of replacing 2 ~300gph HOB’s I estimated that roughly 500 GPH effective in the tank would suffice. I decided on a Pentair Aquatics quiet one 3000 pump. It is rated at 780 GPH at 0 feet of head height. Using the 3000’s flow chart and estimating about 4 ft (vertical distance between the pump and the end of the line) I estimated
    I would see 500-550 GPH effectively in the tank.

    Here you can see from this chart that my pump flowed just shy of 600gph at 4 feet. I wanted to slightly above what I was looking for understanding that I could always reduce the flow later on.

    Here is the overflow I went with. (My Over Flow)
    I was impressed with the overall quality of the pieces considering it was just over $40 shipped.
    Most overflows come with 1" PVC fittings on them so I knew I would use this as a starting point.
    I went with 1" tubing to make the bend under the stand.

    For the sump construction I knew I wanted chambers. This required a trip to the hardware store to have two pieces of glass cut for dividers. I used 7" tall by just under 12" (the inner diameter of the tank). The idea behind the pump divider is that should something happen to the overflow (it gets clogged / looses siphon) the pump will drain the water down until it gets to the 7" mark. At this point it will only have the water in the divided section so it won't pump the entire volume of the sump into the tank. To install the dividers I siliconed them in making sure they were straight and perfectly perpendicular.

    If you notice I left the pump in there to make sure there was enough room for the pump.
    (first divider all done)

  2. #2


    heres the first divider all done

    i let it cure for 24 hours, and then leack checked it. its important to make sure it doesnt leak because this divider is an important safety precaution. if it leaked the pump could eventually overflow the tank.

    the second divider was more for separation than anything. in case i want to have fish or plants in the sump it keeps the media chamber area separate. glaive gave me the idea to raise this divider up a bit to maintain flow from the media chamber down and under the divider. i used CD's (2 high) to space the divider up a bit and the rest was the same as the pump divider. leak checking this section was neither necessary or possible..

    the only thing left to round off the sump was a lid. i used the very versatile egg crate light diffuser and cut it to fit the top of the tank. you can see a light on top of it, i will use it if i put plants or fish in there.

    i then cut holes in it for the pump tubing and power cords for the heaters and pump.

    now for the fun part. the delicat media bucket. i chose this because it sits on the tank perfectly leaving just enough spacing underneath and its square so it maximizes media volume in the square sump. you can see how it sits in the earlier sump picture.

    i cut out the bottom of the bucket leaving a 1.5" rim for a piece of egg crate to sit on. to cut it i used 1" drill bits in each corner then a sawzall to go from corner to corner.

    heres a view from the top down with some of my bio media (lava rock) in it.

    i decided on lavarock because its cheap available and effective. i didnt crush it because i didnt want it making its way through the egg crate. if you decide to use it and you want to crush it into small pieces and maybe drill many many holes in the bottom thats an option to but i wanted to make sure there was no obstruction to flow. i also tossed in a few pot scrubbers in there too. i then placed another egg crate divider on top of the bio section as a base for the mechanical to rest on.

    for mechanical i decided to reuse some of the AC 70 foam filter blocks that were already in use in my HOB, this was the first coarse filtration. 2 blocks of foam lengthwise on one side, and 3 blocks side to side fit perfectly. then i used 2 sheets of bonded filter pad (readily avalible in any store) cut to fit. beneath that i used register filters i was able to use 6+ sheets. having medium coarse and fine filtration on top of each other like that means i should be able to go a long while before it clogs. heres all the media spread out on the floor (minus the lava rock.

    and here it is from the side so you can see the layers

    for the plumbing i wanted to make some kind of a spray bar to evenly distribute unfiltered water over the mechanical filtration. i also wanted it mounted to the lid so it was sealable (for noise) and removable for maintenance. this is what i came up with. its not pretty but it works.

    i glued a T to the 2 45 degree fitting on top of the lid using a small piece of 1" in between snugged right up to each other to make it a rigid single piece. heres the top, use your imagination to put the top and bottom together ;)

    so at this point the sump was all set, i then put the sump in the stand and started to work on the plumbing.

    here is the media side

    i then worked on combinations of fittings to make a good transition from the overflow tubing into the media chamber. i used 2 45's offset, then a piece of 1" pvc that would mate up to a 1" pvc coupler. this one part was not glued so it would be removable. i cut a hole in the back of the stand and ran the tubing up to the overflow box and cut/glued everything to fit.

    heres the pump side, i installed the pump tubing, drilled a hole (larger than the size of the tubing to make sure the tubing doesn't touch the stand, vibrations from the pump will be transfered to the stand making alot of noise if they touch.

    on the other end of the pump is a directional U tube
    Last edited by Jcushing; 01-27-2009 at 10:10 AM.

  3. #3


    now onto the overflow box..

    its pretty simple really, i glued a 1" pvc to NPT adapter to the bottom, then threaded in a NPT to barb adapter to attach the tubing.

    this overflow used a spong prefilter ontop of the drain to quiet it down. i found that while quieter than nothing at all, its still quite loud. the best solution i found so far was to suspend a peice of tubing inside the drain pipe, i belive the ID was 11/64ths. this allow the air to flow down into the drain pipe without gurgling. its barely visible from this picture but its the gray plastic thin on top of the sponge, i have the tube inside that.

    once i got it all setup with water and turned the pump on i found that the pump outflowed the overflow by a good amount. considering that the pump was pushing near 600gph at 4 ft (it could be more) its not supprising so i put a 1" pvc ball valve to reduce the flow in the pump line. ill touch on more options for this later.

    with the flow reduced, i was able to adjust the overflow box. you raise or lower the height of the internal box to set the water height in the tank. after this is set the water level in the tank never changes even with evaporation.

    heres a video of it running with commentary by my daughter. i belive i accomplished my goals of having a relatively quiet setup while having superb filtration.

    some comments regarding the water level in the sump. there should be enough room in the sump for the pump to turn off and absorb the water from the overflow till it stops flowing. you should experiment but getting it set up, shutting off the pump and then watching to see how far it rises. measure this in inches then subtract this amount from the highest point you want the water to go in the sump. mark this height on the sid eof the sump, this is the highest you want the sump to ever be volume wise. now regarding evaporation, this is a huge variable. you want to have enough water in the sump so that it doesnt run dry after a few days due to evaporation. the max water level in the sump minus the height of the pump divider is the workable amount of water the sump can have in it, less than this, and the pump will run dry, more, and it will overflow. the larger the sump, the larger the window. for me in the winter, i have no more than a week before the sump will run dry due to evaporation. this means i check it every other day and add water if it gets too low but i do water changes every week so the sump gets topped off then. if you go too large with the sump and fill it to high, then there will be more water that the pump can possibly pump in if the drain clogs so its kind of an effort in balance, having a larger sump with less water is the best bet for safety. the easiest remedy is to counteract evaporation by keeping the top of the sump AND tank air tight. just cause the water doesnt drop int he tank doesnt mean it cant evaporate from there.

    in regards to the pump, if the pump looses power, it will cause a siphon in the tank pulling the water back into the sump rather quickly. for me the outlet spout was low enough int he tank to overflow the sump. to remedy this i drilled siphon break holes just below the water level.
    Last edited by Jcushing; 01-27-2009 at 10:38 AM.

  4. #4


    so in a nutshell thats it, ill post my afterthoughts on the sump later, things id change, like dislike and some comments on sizing. ill break down pricing and scaling if you want to try this on a different size tank.

    for now though breakfast is calling...
    Last edited by Jcushing; 01-27-2009 at 10:12 AM.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    Dora, Alabama


    thank you very much sir for sharing this with us, i dont know that i will ever build one but found it very interesting and i loved the "commentary."


  6. #6


    wow thanks a ton j!! that is a wonderful explanation with pictures and all... i think ill mention something to the higher ups to see about making this an article!!
    <3 Kitty

  7. #7


    im gonna tweak this a bit over the next few days, then i think thats the idea kitty ;)

    thanks for the kind words....

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Green Island, NY


    Quote Originally Posted by Jcushing View Post
    the easiest remedy is to counteract evaporation by keeping the top of the sump AND tank air tight.
    Is this really a good idea? wont that have a detrimental effect on gas exchange?

    Other than that great write-up and seeing how easy it really is im thinking of doing this myself. Thanks for taking the time to do a write up on this.

  9. #9


    One would never get it truly air tight, but a sheet of glass vs egg crate would limit evaporation some. gas exchange should ne really be affected.
    The photocontest, like everything else is behind schedule. You get some links back today.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Green Island, NY


    he said top of tank and sump...

  11. #11


    Quote Originally Posted by Redeye75 View Post
    Is this really a good idea? wont that have a detrimental effect on gas exchange?
    between the overflow style intake and the way the water is sprayed over the filter media, i dont see this as being a problem. if you take a look at the in take overflow pic, you can see air bubbles, theres a constant flow of air bubbles in there.

    Quote Originally Posted by Redeye75 View Post
    Other than that great write-up and seeing how easy it really is im thinking of doing this myself.
    that was the idea

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Green Island, NY


    ok thanx for clearing that up.

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Jul 2005
    Holland Patent, NY


    Quote Originally Posted by MisanthropeKitty View Post
    wow thanks a ton j!! that is a wonderful explanation with pictures and all... i think ill mention something to the higher ups to see about making this an article!!
    I been pushing J for a write up for over a week now....
    "Cichlids aren't aggressive, they are territorial. Aggression is a response to inadequate territory for their breeding and feeding needs."

    "A Nation of Sheep Breeds a Government of Wolves!"

    My Tanks

  14. #14


    some thoughts regarding cost, the big items are the pump, sump, and overflow... these were around 40 each so although you certainly can make a cheaper setup than i did, i didnt want to skimp on certain things. total cost was around $150-160 considering besides the big 3 items, everything was either on hand or super cheap.

    things i decided i didnt want to skimp on...

    sump itself, i knew i wanted chambers in the sump for possibly placing fish into, or plants and also the safety reasons i touched on earlier. although you could be creative but using a large tote and maybe placing the pump inside a tupperware piece, this option seemed a bit cumbersome. totes can also bend under pressure of water and warp from heaters. again, could have built a frame (but this would be more money and time) and you can place the heaters on tiles but the potential is still there.

    using a glass tank meant i could have dividers cut any height i wanted, and position them exactly where i wanted. now i bought the 20gal at full price from petco, but they certainly arent hard to find on CL for cheap or even on sale for half what i paid.

    regarding the dividers, i used window pane glass. i WOULD NOT recommend using thin window glass for full tank dividers, like say a bubble trap. the dividers i used were only 7" high, and there is very little pressure on them at that height.

    next regarding the pump, this is the biggest variable here in price, you can spend 30 bux on a ebay special or hundreds... i tried to go middle of the road and use a less powerfull pump that still had decent GPH. a less powerfull motor means less power draw, at the expense of head height. if you compare the pump i got to a mag drive the difference is clear.

    pentair 3000: 780gph pentair: 10ft head height pentair: 40watts
    mag 7: 700gph mag: 14ft head height mag: 60 watts.

    the mag is clearly the more powerfull pump motor wise, but it cost about 20$ more and used alot more power and is seriously outflowed by the pentair. the pentair has over 100gph more at 4ft head height.

    now regarding the overflow, i wanted something that would look decent in the tank, so a cut up milk jug / juice pitcher was right out. making one out of acrylic is right out too, i think i spent the same on my overflow as i would have on just the raw acrylic if i were to buy it local. it took me maybe 5 min to adjust my overflow, and its worked great so far, very consistant. if i were to make one, i would have to figure out how thick to make slots how deep, how many and it seemed like a big headache.

    regards to the pump/overflow, these certainly need to be matched. i guess i kind of underestimated my pump, as you can see from my pumps flow chart, at around 4ft its almost 600gph. well my overflow is rated for 600gph. that 4ft isnt a solid number, i was guessing really and it showed, my pump overflowed the intake and ran the sump dry in like 30 seconds... now this was great because it tested the design of the sump, i wasnt able to overflow the tank, the pump chamber ran dry first but i was quite surprised. i guess the moral is dont skimp on the pump cause you certainly need the flow in the tank, but dont skimp on the overflow either. i was only looking for ~500pgh because i was still running a canister filter, if i didnt have the second filter, no doubt i should have gone with the 1200gph version. i do believe my pump could do the whole tank though if you didnt need a ton of current.

    now regarding scaling, canister filters are great for tanks maybe say under 100 gal but it seems to me that once you go larger than that you start needing to add multiple canisters and the cost starts skyrocketing. how many people do you see with a rena xp3 or 4 and a fluval fx5 on a 120 gal tank. thats like 500$ worth of filters. with a wet dry, the minimum price to get you going with a small setup is kinda steep, but its not much more than a large canister. the exact setup i built would rock a 120 no problem if the pump was split 1 spout on either side, and a larger overflow to make up for the pump running at full steam. once you start talking about large tanks, 150-220 gal, wet drys become even more affordable as they scale rather cheaply.

    one idea i was discussing with rusty was to use a 55gal sump on say a 180-220 gal "wish list tank" that i dont have lol.. but basically, same concept, step up to the next size pump (pentair 4000 1kgph) and having the pump in the middle, with dual drains (one on either side of the tank) each one feeding its own "delicat" biotower setup media wise exactly like i have mine setup now. a 55 is 13" wide so finding a bucket to fit might be a bit more challenging but its something i think that would be easily doable. say you get a used 55, for 60 bux, larger pump for 60, and another overflow (a reef ready tank would be ideal) your talking another 80 bux (over what i spent) to filter twice the tank. the nice thing is that you could service one side at a time to maintain bacterial levels, and in my case, i could just take the bucket i have now, and put it in a larger tank, and it wouldnt even have to cycle. (my canister can filter my tank bio wise on its own)

    one thing i should have done was remove the labels off the container. i was so enamored with having the delicat logo, i guess i never thought that they would do anything bad. well one side is peeling of and growing a slight amount of fungus.... now i have to pull the bucket out and scrape it off...
    Last edited by Jcushing; 01-28-2009 at 10:35 AM.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Sep 2007


    thanks for a excellent write up and how to complete w/ pics and video. very nice!

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