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Thread: All About Sumps

  1. #1
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    All About Sumps

    Thought I'd put together a little write up on sumps for those new to the hobby who have heard of them, but aren't quite sure what they are or what they are all about. This write up is entirely my views and opinions on it and no-one elses so keep that in mind. Some views and opinions may vary.

    So let's get started with the first obvious question...

    What is a sump?

    In general, a sump is basically a tank, container, or anything that can hold water that is a seperate unit from your main display tank, but is plumbed/connected to it, in which both work as one unit/system. (Well that's my definition )


    What is the purpose of a sump and is one needed?

    A sump has many purposes and can add quite a few benefits to your system, but is not necessary to have in order to have a successful saltwater aquarium. Infact, many people run sumpless aquariums with great success so it isn't a must, so why use one you might ask?? Well here are a few "pros" to using a sump.

    - First off, it adds water volume to your system and the more water volume you have, the more stabilty your system will have. Just think of the effects you would have of accidentally dropping a cup of oil for eg. in a tank with only 50 gals of water volume vs a tank that has say 200 gals water volume. It is obvious the oil will have more affect on the tank with less water volume because there will be less water to dilute the "problem". Another example could be with temperature. You have a heater malfunction in a system with 10 gal water capacity vs one with a 50 gal capacity. The 10 gal will get colder a lot quicker than the tank with 50 gals of water volume so the increased water volume a sump provides in itself is a major advantage.

    - Secondly, it creates an environment to house and hideaway un-sightly equipment like skimmers, heaters, reactors, thermometers etc which if a sump was not present, these pieces of equipment would have to sit in your tank or hang on it which takes away from it's natural beauty.

    - Thirdly, a sump can have a sort of refugium incorporated into one of it's chambers which in itself, has many benefits including a place to harvest and grow a macro algae of some sort to help aid in nutrient export, a place to add a deep sand bed for those that want to use one for increased biological filtration, a place to house picked on fish or inverts (or even the bully's themselves) isolating them away from the other tank inhabitants, as well as even a place to grow food for the main display which you can choose to use and feed the tank at your own leisure or convenience. This is something not possible if you tired it in your main display as you would have no control over things etc.

    - Lastly, can help with tank circulation as water is drained from the tank to the sump (via a pre-filter/overflow box of some sort) and returned back to the tank with the aid of a return pump that can be used for increased flow in the tank or even to add a bit surface aggitation which helps with gas exchange.


    So what are the "cons"?

    The only draw backs I can think of to having a sump is well the obvious...An increased expense seeing it isn't really a necessity although I think the benefits to having a sump far out-weighs the price, but just my opinion. Another drawback could be added noise to your system as some overflows can get quite noisy as well as some of the pumps associated with a sump. Sometimes, micro-bubbles can be an issue, but all of these things can be addressed and solved it's just one of those extra headaches you may have that you would have to sort out. And lastly, it's just one more possible thing that could break and leak which no-one wants...Trust me, my wife didn't find it funny at all when my sump back-siphoned half of my 75 gal onto the floor


    Ok...How does this thing connect to your tank??

    Connecting your sump to your tank is fairly simple. It starts out with an overflow box (could be built in or hang on style) where water is drained from the tank via plumbing (hose or pvc is usually used) from the overflow, enters the sump, passes through all of the chambers and then is returned to the tank via a return pump. The main thing to be sure about is your return pump is not putting out more flow than your overflow can handle so you don't want a 800 gph return pump when your overflow is only rated at 500 gph. The other way around would be much better and if you follow this simple guidline, then you won't have any problems. An overflow will only drain water down to the sump at the rate the water is pumped back into the tank (granted you don't exceed the overflow's flow rate) which is why you are able to maintain a constant water level.

    So here are a few pictures to explain. Here are two of the most common types of hang on style prefilter boxes people use.


    Eshopps style overflow.




    Uploaded with ImageShack.us



    CPR Style overflow








    Sumps come in a variety of shapes and sizes as well as they are made from a number of different types of materials. The most common types of sumps you will find will either be made of glass or acylic. Both have their pros and cons.



    A glass sump made from a standard glass aquarium with baffles added on the inside(picture taken from google c/o fishforum.com)





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    A type of acrylic sump





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    Sketch on water flow from tank to sump and back to tank





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    Last edited by Krish; 01-23-2011 at 03:49 PM.
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  2. #2
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    In real life...I will use an old setup of mine to show it all working together as just an example.


    CPR Overflow hanging on tank. As you can see, part of the overflow sits in the tank and the rest hangs out of the tank with a drain which is how water gets from the tank down to the sump.




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    This shot shows the water coming into the sump. As you can see, I have my skimmer plumbed into the sump off to the left. One of the many ways you can go about using a skimmer. Second shot shows my simple output of the incoming water. The pump next to the output is the feed pump for my skimmer





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    Full sump shot. Water passes from input chamber, through refugium (in this case) to the return chamber which feeds water back to the tank.






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    So there you have it. General info about sumps and how one works. You can see an animation of one in action put together by Marc over at Melev's reef found here http://www.melevsreef.com/allmysumps.html . There are tons of ways you can go about using a sump as I suggested and what I have shown above is just one way. With that said, just looking at all the equipment in the sump, it can clearly show how a sump is beneficial in just hiding all of your equipment out of sight.
    Last edited by Krish; 01-23-2011 at 03:35 PM.
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  3. #3
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    Btw, if anyone feels I may have missed out something or would like to add to the thread with their own info, pics or whatever, you are more than welcomed to. The more info we have here for those new to the hobby the better.

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    Dear Krish,

    I think that your were a little too timid on the second reason for a sump as a place to hide equipment. As pointed out in your images, a sump allows a much wider range and size of skimmer vs hang on the back. The sump can also do a much better job of removing microbubbles and treating the water than a closed loop alternative..

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    Quote Originally Posted by TheKraken
    Dear Krish,

    I think that your were a little too timid on the second reason for a sump as a place to hide equipment. As pointed out in your images, a sump allows a much wider range and size of skimmer vs hang on the back. The sump can also do a much better job of removing microbubbles and treating the water than a closed loop alternative..
    Definitely! Thanks for adding that in. Some systems really need a sump just to support an appropriately sized skimmer for the tank as I have yet to see a hang on skimmer rated for a 250 gal system.

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    Good thread Krish

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    Quote Originally Posted by mojoreef View Post
    Good thread Krish

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    Thanks Mike!
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    I would look at a sump as more of a place to process water and hide equipment. With all the biologicals running in our tanks we need to have mechanical processes to reduce and remove them as natural filtration (LR/LS) does not actually export them. I also one big point that is often overlooked in a sump is that the equipment (skimmers/uv/ozone/algae/sandbed and so on) all require significant contact time in order to do what they need to do, so slow water flow through the sump is a key, one many reefers overlook.

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    Here is a picture of my sump. It is a 55 gal glass tank and is located in a fishroom behind the display and water travels through the wall to get back and forth to the display.



    Water enters from the 20 gal display into the skimmer compartment, then goes through a bubble trapp weir and into the return pump compartment. There is a tee off the return line that sends water to the refugium compartment which overflows back into the return area. I like this setup best for a 'fuge because you can control the water flow through the 'fuge with a ball valve separate from the flow in the rest of the sump.

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    Thanks Mike and Russter for chiming in here with some added info and pictures.
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    I have 2 questions krish? I've done a large amount of research and came down to two stuck pionts that i cant catch as of yet

    1) the small item on top of your CRP is that the OVER FLOW controller? So do you ensure if power goes out the the tank doesnt keep FLOWING?

    2) in you Sump/Refugium how many WALLs or glass partitions are (best) from the intake are to the refugium, then from the refugium the the outake and perhaps height for a 55gal that's 48x20?

    I stay on http://www.melevsreef.com/allmysumps and other areas for research but can't catch this aspec of putting all together. Thx and truly enjoyed this outline.

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    Quote Originally Posted by DTECH07 View Post
    I have 2 questions krish? I've done a large amount of research and came down to two stuck pionts that i cant catch as of yet

    1) the small item on top of your CRP is that the OVER FLOW controller? So do you ensure if power goes out the the tank doesnt keep FLOWING?

    2) in you Sump/Refugium how many WALLs or glass partitions are (best) from the intake are to the refugium, then from the refugium the the outake and perhaps height for a 55gal that's 48x20?

    I stay on http://www.melevsreef.com/allmysumps and other areas for research but can't catch this aspec of putting all together. Thx and truly enjoyed this outline.
    Maybe I can help with those questions

    1) The small thing is a Tom's Aqualifter. It ensures that no air builds up in the top of the siphon tube and helps to keep the suction in the siphon strong. It also helps to start the siphon after a power failure. These types of overflows have the potential to not start up after a power failure, causing flooding. They are also notoriously noisy. Some people seem to have good luck with them, but IMO I don't trust them. If you want a dead silent overflow, check out the BeanAnimal style coast to coast overflow like I have on my tank. Completely quiet and 100% safe.
    2) Most sumps have 3 compartments with dividers between each (however krish's has 4 compartments with a divider between his reactor and return pump. Please correct me if I'm wrong Krish ). You will probably want to incorporate a bubble trap from after the skimmer compartment to help control microbubbles. My bubble trap uses 3 partitions so that bubbles must go down, up and then over into the return area. So that would make 4 partitions needed in total.
    There a couple of different configurations for sumps and I think the most popular one is probably SKIMMER > REFUGE > RETURN with water entering in the skimmer section. This is one of the easiest to set up but only has one flow level through the whole sump. Mine is set up SKIMMER > RETURN > REFUGE with water entering at the skimmer section. You then tee off your return and can really slow down the water going through your refuge. Both types work well, but I think a good refuge should have slow water movement through it to allow maximum contact time for nutrient export from macro algae.
    Hope that helps and good luck with your sump.

  13. #13
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    Russter said it all. As for my sump, the reason there are 4 compartments is because I needed an extra section to hold water as with the 3 chambers I initially had, couldn't support the back siphon coming from my sea-swirl when my return pump was shut off. So I had to have another section built which I added on to my existing sump. Nonetheless, you don't have to have 3 or 4 chambers. I once ran a sump with only 2 chambers...One for the skimmer and the return chamber seperated by the bubble trap and that was it. It all depends what you need your sump for. WHen I get home (or if I can find it here) I will post up the picture for you to see. There is no one way to setup a sump and can be tailored to suit your needs.
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    Russter and Krish,

    That hit the mark! Knowing that accidents happen (overflow and power outages) i wanted to ensure that i didn't come home to 50+gal on my floor or think it's running while all along it's not. I had my eye out for a CPR but i'm also going to look into your suggestion Russter, thx. Oh "Pictures are worth a Thousand words" and thx for the visual and easy write up. I'll post Pic's of the NEW Stand build and Refugium as the project launches in T-14days. Thanks again and Krish & Russter i'll be looking for those Additional pics .

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    Quote Originally Posted by DTECH07 View Post
    Russter and Krish,

    That hit the mark! Knowing that accidents happen (overflow and power outages) i wanted to ensure that i didn't come home to 50+gal on my floor or think it's running while all along it's not. I had my eye out for a CPR but i'm also going to look into your suggestion Russter, thx. Oh "Pictures are worth a Thousand words" and thx for the visual and easy write up. I'll post Pic's of the NEW Stand build and Refugium as the project launches in T-14days. Thanks again and Krish & Russter i'll be looking for those Additional pics .


    Haha!! Sounds good!! I will add in that other simple 2 chamber sump I ran when I get home.
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