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Thread: Thinking of plumbing a few tanks into one system, what should I watch out for?

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    Thinking of plumbing a few tanks into one system, what should I watch out for?

    So I've been tossing this idea around for a while in my head of plumbing together a few tanks into one large saltwater system. I've finally got my 90g cleared of freshwater fish, and I have another 54g bowfront tank that's already drilled and ready as well. I've never done this large of a setup connected together though, so wanted to be sure I took everything into account before I start building.

    One thing I plan on doing is keeping the max water level the same across all three tanks by ensuring their drain heights are all the same. I presume that will be helpful so you're not risking a flood or something during a power outage.

    I was thinking of using clear PVC between the tanks, are there any drawbacks to doing that? Does anyone know offhand if 'furniture grade' PVC is safe to use for tanks? I know they have an exterior coating to protect from UV damage, but wasn't sure if there were anything internally I'd need to watch for. Would the pipes end up just coated with coraline anyway and you'd lose your 'window' effect so why bother?

    I'm thinking of adding valves between the tanks so that I could run them as separate systems if needed. Any risks from that other than if someone were to shut off just a return or drain line, a tank may overflow?

    Anything else I should be taking into consideration? I'm willing to accept the fact that if all three tanks are connected, problems from one tank may/will migrate to another.

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    Clear PVC will algae up if there is any kind of light.

    Are you dumping all 3 into a common sump and then returning to the tanks or just having all 3 tanks connected? If you do the common sump, make sure your sump can take all 3 tanks overflow, if you lose power. Use ball valves so you can isolate each tank from the sump, for cleaning, etc. Use unions so that you can take your pipes apart. Union needs to be AFTER the ball valve so the tank stays isolated, after you close the ball valve.
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    If I had just one sump it would need to be huge, wouldn't it? I'm thinking each tank will have their own sump setup for things like heaters, filters and then their return line will go from the sump to another tank?

    So basically water runs in from an 'outside' line, drains to the sump, then the sump pump for that tank pumps the water to the next tank in line.

    Or would it be way smarter to have a return line from the sump back into the tank, and then use a T valve or something to allow the tank to pump water to the next tank in line? I think there would potentially be quite a few situations where being able to have each of the three tanks run as a self contained system would be smart.

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    IMO, keeping water levels equal in 3 tanks plumbed in series is going to be hard. One tank will have much higher flow rate than the last one in line. I would go to one sump, or multiple sumps ala Static Reef, and use that as your reservoir and fuge.
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    Senior Member maxthedog2000's Avatar

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    Just don't do it! It seems nice and all but it's not worth the hassle.... I plumbed a 75 and a 72bowfront into a 75 fuge to a sump then back to each tank with independent ball valve controls to monitor water levels. Ich outbreak in one tank destroying the other tank also. Not to mention one problem after the next when trying to manage them. Granted I was super new to saltwater but IMO keep sperate systems. I ended up going back and separating everything out.

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    My two cents:

    I have two tanks plumbed together with one 180 gallon sump. It's over 600 gallons total volume between the two tanks and one sump. I wouldn't hesitate to plumb another one in. In fact if I had ANY more room in my cave, I would do it. I much prefer one set of tests, one dosing system, one ATO, one water change outlet, one Apex controlling it all, one filter sock it runs through, the larger water volume, and the stability that comes with that. Everything in this hobby is a trade-off, and each person weighs things differently. For me, the benefits of everything plumbed together are greater than the negatives. I thought about using a sump for each tank but realized the difficulties with water levels I would have if I did that. I like having a really big sump for increasing the total water volume, but I don't think you have to have a huge sump to have multiple tanks plumbed together.

    I don't have three tanks, but you can stop by and check out the way I have mine set up if you want. I have no issues with tank water levels or sump level. I have two return pumps running into the larger tank, and one running into the smaller tank. It all gravity feeds into the same sump. I have a Jebao DC return pump feeding the smaller tank. It has variable power settings. The highest setting can be a little too much, but any other setting works with the drain rate just fine. If the power goes out, the tank can't siphon or drain too low. I have two drain lines so a clog won't flood things.

    I had another small tank not plumbed in with the system. I hated having to worry about another heater, another controller, another ATO, another tank to test and dose. I hated the extra work and took it down.
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    Senior Member Kirblit's Avatar

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    Quote Originally Posted by Joe View Post
    My two cents:

    I have two tanks plumbed together with one 180 gallon sump. It's over 600 gallons total volume between the two tanks and one sump. I wouldn't hesitate to plumb another one in. In fact if I had ANY more room in my cave, I would do it. I much prefer one set of tests, one dosing system, one ATO, one water change outlet, one Apex controlling it all, one filter sock it runs through, the larger water volume, and the stability that comes with that. Everything in this hobby is a trade-off, and each person weighs things differently. For me, the benefits of everything plumbed together are greater than the negatives. I thought about using a sump for each tank but realized the difficulties with water levels I would have if I did that. I like having a really big sump for increasing the total water volume, but I don't think you have to have a huge sump to have multiple tanks plumbed together.

    I don't have three tanks, but you can stop by and check out the way I have mine set up if you want. I have no issues with tank water levels or sump level. I have two return pumps running into the larger tank, and one running into the smaller tank. It all gravity feeds into the same sump. I have a Jebao DC return pump feeding the smaller tank. It has variable power settings. The highest setting can be a little too much, but any other setting works with the drain rate just fine. If the power goes out, the tank can't siphon or drain too low. I have two drain lines so a clog won't flood things.

    I had another small tank not plumbed in with the system. I hated having to worry about another heater, another controller, another ATO, another tank to test and dose. I hated the extra work and took it down.
    This!

    Coupled with proper quarantine, having multiple tanks tied together has many benefits. As long as you have the sump volume to handle any backflow when power goes out there really are no downsides. I have had a couple separate tanks before and they were a pain. I'm doing my new build with 3 tanks tied in to one.

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    Joe, I may drop you a PM this week and see about stopping by to check out what you've done. I'd much rather learn through someone else's experiences than to make the mistakes myself first. for the quarantine setup, I assume everyone recommends just setting up a bare tank with a heater and a sponge filter? Would something like two 20 gals be enough for most fish? I've gone a year into the salt hobby and only bought three fish, I've mostly stuck to various corals and inverts. Sounds like ich has ruined the hobby for more than one person, so if I start buying more fish it sounds like a tank transfer setup is the way to go.

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