View Full Version : Does a protein skimmer use up more water?

05-20-2009, 05:44 AM
Hi all. I recently revamped my hardware setup and added a skimmer to my new- to- me 135 gal FOWLR tank. It has a sump tank with three separate compartments... the return from the overflow goes in the tallest part, the submersible skimmer is in the middle part, and the sump return pump is in the lowest part. However, since I got the skimmer it seems I have to add a gallon of water every day just to keep enough water in the sump for the pump to run. Is this to be expected? Do all the bubbles in the skimmer cause excess evaporation? If I just made the wall lower so more water travelled from the middle compartmetn to the lowest compartment, would that solve the problem? Am I back to having a flood risk then? My hubby made some beautiful custom acrylic lids for the sump, so perhaps the evaporation will be less.

Also, although the water is now crystal clear and beautiful, when I did my chemical checks I found I had a small amount of nitrate(5) and nitrite(.25), which I almost never have. That surprised me, I thought the skimmer would remove those even more thoroughly. Unless it's related to the water drops in the sump, as this morning when I got up it was partially sucking air, as was the Fluval filter. Any thoughts?

05-20-2009, 06:09 AM
I would imagine that there would be some evaporation through the use of a skimmer. The pump that is being used for flow through the skimmer will add heat and thus evap as well. As for the the water properties changing I have no idea, Im sure someone else on here will be able to chime in. If the skimmer was bought used than maybe there was some additions through that. But what do I know... Im a blonde :razz:

05-20-2009, 07:04 AM
There will be some evap through the bubbles in the skimmer... I've been told that a skimmer can humidify air quite well, the more air through the skimmer, the more evaporation (seems logical to me).

OH yeah, you're running a fluval filter? Do you have bioballs in it? The reduced water flow through it when it was sucking air likely caused some bacterial die-off, which could cause a mini-cycle (where the nitrite could come from). As far as having nitrate, I have no idea... skimmers don't remove nitrite or nitrate, they should actually remove some waste products before they break down to that point.

05-20-2009, 06:19 PM
+1 on the fluval. It is ok if you are using it for extra flow, but if it has filter media, then you should be cleaning it every 2-3 days. Otherwise, it just becomes a nitrate factory.

05-20-2009, 07:59 PM
Yes, a protein skimmer will increase evaporation because of the increased surface area created by the bubbles. More evaporation is GOOD in reef tanks because it aids in gas exchange and temperature regulation. You will find that your pH will fall and your temperature will rise if you purposely prevent evaporation. Furthermore, if you are using kalk then more evaporation means you can add more kalk.

I agree with the others with the NO2, NO3 spike being caused by the canister. Get rid of it. It is not required and will usually do more harm than good.

05-20-2009, 11:32 PM
If you need the canister for circulation, it will work fine for that... but do remove the media, it will move more water and won't cause issues if this happens again.

05-21-2009, 04:49 AM
All right, I'm more than I little confused. I thought having proper filtration and ripe media were an absolute MUST for an aquarium. You're telling me I don't need either? What filters the water then?

I have had the tank since May 2, and was just starting to wonder when/how I should do filter maintenace on the Fluval. It was going to be my goal for this weekend. I had a vague idea what I should do there, but now even my vague idea is out the window. ACK!

Also, what is kalk? I can see how evaporation affect salinity, but I can't follow the issue with pH dropping. BTW, my pH has always been 7.8... is that too low?


05-21-2009, 04:56 AM
Sump, skimmer, live rock and in some instances the sand bed provide filtration in saltwater systems. As mentioned, the canister may be used for extra flow, water volume or to run carbon or GFO for phosphate removal. All other media in the canister is counter productive.

05-21-2009, 05:43 AM
My understanding of what everyone has said (fairly new to this myself) is that when you do your filter maintenance, which should be done soon. You should remove all the media (Bioballs, filter pads) as these add more problems than they their worth. Run the canister empty (or with Carbon) if you need the circulation, if not don't even bother using it. The sump is going to do the job of the canister, with the skimmer housed inside is your filter pads. The live rock is your bioballs (sorry bad analogy).

Sell the Fluval and go buy more fish with the bounty :mrgreen:

05-21-2009, 05:50 AM
Actually, you can still use filter pads... the cheap white fluffy stuff that is sold for this use is excellent. Change it every couple days and you're good... forget to change it and it becomes a problem. The skimmer is more like an advanced form of carbon, in that it removes dissolved organics (like how carbon removes the yellow coloration). It also removes proteins, aminos, lipids, and heavy metals.

I'm actually new to all this too, I've just been reading about it for over a year and finally have gotten my act together. Also, I retain a lot of what I read :mrgreen:

I'm going to add a little bit here for you, jassz. Most people seem to have between 1 and 2 lbs of live rock per gallon of in the display tank. Less than this, and I suspect that there may not be enough surface area for the bacteria that keep reef aquariums going to colonize. Also, sand seems to be optional given enough live rock. It seems that the majority of people have around 30x circulation in their display, and around 10x through the sump (often less). These are my observations from reading a lot of posts. Most people use a skimmer... I wouldnt' run a FOWLR without one.

So yeah, go ahead and ditch that media! I followed up on another thread where the same thing was suggested, and the guy's corals have stopped dying, and are actually starting to come back.

05-22-2009, 06:10 AM
Well, this has been a day of enlightenment. :idea:

I did put some of the media wool (or whatever it's called) in the sump where the overflow return is, partly for filtration and partly to stop the spray that was going everywhere. I didnt' realize it should be changed so frequently. It got icky looking on the underside, so I turned it over for a couple of days, and today I threw it out and replaced it. It was a week old.

I don't know how many pounds of rocks I have. If you saw a picture could you guess? It's quite a bit... I'd guess 200+ but I don't really know. It's only just starting to turn live though, and some of it is still base rock. Do you still think I dont' need a filter? I have crushed coral, not sand. If I remove the filter, will the water stay as clear? (Which, incidently, isn't so clear tonight. I really must get to that filter maintenance tomorrow).

Which brings me to my next question... HOW do you do maintenance on a Fluval 404 cannister filter? It didn't come with instructions as I bought it used, but I figured I would get the instructions when I bought replacment media. But, if I'm NOT buying replacement media because that's a bad idea, hwo exactly do I get inside this thing? I tried to find instructions on the internet, but no luck. Pictures, but no instructions. Do have have to clamp the lines to/from, or is there some sort of shut off mechanism? Would it be better to remove the lines from the tank so it doesn't flood back?

mike mentioned phosphate removal... I bought a square of filter pad that is supposed to remove phosphate. I got it mainly for another tank but never used it. Should I be using it here? I am using treated tap water, not RO water.

As far a flow, I have three sources. There are some pictures of the set up in this thread. http://canreef.com/vbulletin/showthread.php?t=52733

05-22-2009, 06:16 AM
Hmm hadn't considered this. Is there livestock in the tank of any kind (specially fish)?

05-22-2009, 06:20 AM
I have a Picasso Trigger, a white tailed trigger, a lion fish, a valentini puffer, a stars and stripes puffer and a wolf eel. All of a substantial size. No coral, just the rocks.

05-22-2009, 06:28 AM
Alright, knowing now that your rock is not completely live (and that this is a new tank), I wouldn`t remove the bio media from the canister. These sort of things normally have a locking mechanism that holds them closed, or a set of latches of some type. This would be the way to open it, I would unplug the unit, pull the lines from the display tank (though there may be some sort of union on the lines that allows you to 'unplug' them from the unit), and then attempt to open it. Once you get it open, rinse the bio media in tank water (swish real good to get the gunk off them), scrub the filter housing and pump parts in clean water (no cleaners of any type), and reassemble. You may have to pour some water down one of the tubes to prime the pump, I have little experience with these (I'm a HOB sort of guy), but that's really all there is too it. Make sure you don't wash the bio media in anything but tank water, as anything else will kill the bacteria. When you're done washing the media, put it in your sump to keep it wet and retain your bacteria until you're finished cleaning the canister.

In a couple months, you will be able to remove the canister completely, if you want... though I couldn't really tell through the pictures, it seems like you have enough rock and flow (I'm sure I saw a Koralia in there somewhere) to do the job.

The phosphate removal media seems to drop the phosphate over the first couple days to undetectable levels, and then it seems to come back in some people's experience. If you are interested in trying, a macroalgae filled 'fuge harvested regularly would probably do more for your phosphate and nitrate levels than anything, specially if you're using tap water. If not, this is still better than nothing, but you may be battling phosphate from the tap water (and nitrate too) rather than the inhabitants of the aquarium.

Oh yeah, and continue changing that 'media wool' stuff every day or two, and did you get the problem with your skimmer overflowing fixed?

05-22-2009, 02:32 PM
it seems like you have enough rock and flow (I'm sure I saw a Koralia in there somewhere) to do the job.

Is that the thing that looks like a thermos? Blue and black?

I do have some green plant looking thing in the sump that is supposed to remove nitrates. Would that be the macro algae? I can get a picture.

Yes and no on the skimmer. I can have the height set just right, but if I turn it off then on, or add another gallon because the level in the sump has dropped, the level is not right any more and needs to be adjusted. But, since the lid on the sump was modified, that is a bit easier to do. It works great when it's set right! It's like emptying a potty toilet- boy does it stink! It has to be a good thing that all that 'crap' is out of the water. :wink:

05-22-2009, 06:42 PM
Koralia is a brand of powerhead. From what I can figure, when you said you had 3 sources of flow, you meant the powerhead, the return pump (from the sump), and the canister filter.

It would be great if you could get a picture of the algae in sump! It's likely a macroalgae called Chaetomorpha that likes a lot of flow (why a lot of people grow it in the sump), and grows free floating, very good for nutrient export... BUT, in my opinion a fuge needs to be rather larger than many people have made them to be efficient. Would it be possible to get sort of a full tank shot of your sump area?

I suspect that by moving your skimmer to another area in the sump you could get it into an area that has a constant level, so that you could dial in the skimmer and not have to worry about it too much... it sounds like to have to fiddle with it regularly to get it to skim properly?

It almost sounds like you need an automatic top off device to keep your water level constant.

05-22-2009, 08:55 PM
So I just finished my maintenance on the tank and cannister... oy, it didn't go well. :sad:

I vaccumed the gravel first and removed about 10 gallons or so in the process. Then I got thinking about that cowrie snail that hasn't moved in a week. Someone suggested he was eaten, but I started to wonder if he might just be rotting in the shell so I had a look. Rotting is right! Before I could do anything about it, his decaying remains fell all over the tank. I think the triggers even ate some of it, I hope they don't get sick. Perhaps that was the source of my nitrate/nitrite? It can't be healthy for the water.

Anyway, on with the Fluval. I figured out how to get it disconnected with only minor flooding. :lol: I cleaned the bioballs in the water I had just removed from the tank, replaced the foam filter with the phosphate removing kind I had, scrubbed the whole thing and attempted to put it all back together. The prev. owners had an inline heater attached to the out line. Actually, there were 2 heaters but they weren't able to install the second one because the line was too short. So, I went to all this work to get both heater aligned, and fastened up against the wall so they weren't hanging down and unsightly, only to find out that I couldn't get the replacement tubing I had bought attached to the Fluval again. The old tubing was the same diameter, but it wasn't reinforced (like my new stuff) so I guess they were able to stretch it enough. But I didn't want to use it again as it was quite disgusting looking (and too short for both heaters). In the end I just reattached the Fluval lines as they were meant to be installed, sans heaters. There is a heater in the sump, but there's probably a reason why they had more than one. But, it's quite warm now (ambient temp), maybe it will be enough. I hope so, at least until I can get a coupler or something. It's certainly not maintenance I would want to do weekly!

My biggest grief was to get the damn thing to stop seeping! It's STILL seeping in fact. :neutral: I finally wrapped a towel around it and gave up. It has taken me hours to do all this. One of my biggest impediments is that we are renovating, and don't have a sink downstairs, so I am up and down the stairs a million times, scrubbing parts, hauling water one gallon at a time. I need a nap. :wink:

I guess I have four sources of flow. The powerhead, the sump, the cannister filter, and this other thermos looking thing that shoots out water. Does the overflow count?

I will have to move that algae in to where the overflow return is then, if it likes flow. I thought it was getting beat up in there and moved it to a different part of the sump.

I don't think I could move the skimmer to another area. And honestly I can't figure out why the water level isn't constant, as it looks like it should be. But I will get a picture for you. Right after my nap. :wink:

05-22-2009, 09:33 PM
If you can't tell what's what from the pics I can try to post a short video.

05-22-2009, 10:02 PM
Oh, and here is a shot of that algae (if that's what it is).

05-22-2009, 10:40 PM
Alright, well you're on your way! The nitrite and stuff should sort itself out.

I don't see a problem with your sump, so I can't really say why your skimmer acts wierd. Do you give the collection cup and stuff a chance to get a little dirty? They skim better once they've been running for a while...

Well, the algae is grape caulerpa. Excellent for export, I would keep a light on over it 24/7 and harvest regularly. When you harvest, remove whole chunks. As far as the thermos thing, I can't really say... probably an internal power filter of some sort. Remove any media that is in it, and keep it clean like the canister filter.

Hmm, perhaps you should get another heater for the tank? Most people recommend around 3-5 watts per gallon, depending on how cold the room is that the tank is in.

05-23-2009, 03:33 AM
Oh, the algae needs light! I took the light that was over the sump out when I put the protein skimmer in, and didn't think about the algae. There is no light there now, though it does get some light from the window, and the room is equipped with daylight lights. That's probably not enough though, is it? I guess I'll have to get a small light to hang over it or something. If I put it in the tank, they would eat it, right?

I haven't given up on those inline heaters being installed. I've just given up for today. :lol:

Good news, the Fluval has stopped seeping. :mrgreen:

05-23-2009, 10:01 AM
Ah, nice. This is all good to hear... yeah, the algae need light :lol: And I don't think any of your fish would bother the algae too much, if you did decide to grow it in the display... BUT, now you need a bit of info about macroalgae.

Macros are mostly seasonal in nature, and are known to go 'sexual', meaning that the plant releases male and female gametes that come together to form new plants. When they do this, they empty all of their cytoplasm (the squishy stuff inside), which if it happens in a tank will have 2 effects... the first is that the water will cloud, like milky white. The second is that all that cytoplasm will fuel a bacterial bloom (sort of like dumping a large canister of flake food into a tank, as I read on a thread here somewhere) which will devour all of the dissolved oxygen in the water, choking off anything else in the tank.

People that keep macros in a fuge with 24/7 lighting and occasional heavy pruning seem to experience this less, though it's not a common occurance even in marine planted tanks. People that have experienced this have attributed it to a sudden change in the environment and a lack of nutrients, together, but the evidence is sort of anecdotal.

Just know, about this particular algae... it can be invasive on your rock, though pruning it regularly will probably keep it from taking over. If you do decide to plant your FOWLR, there's an excellent resource for information about this sort of thing... www.marineplantedtanks.com

Oh, lastly (there's always something more I want to say :lol:) you don't need any fancy lights for the macro in your fuge, a decent wattage CFL will be fine. Just leave it on all the time.

05-23-2009, 05:02 PM
The daylight bulbs in your basement are not actual spectrum. i used to work for Phillips lighting. they are simply an imitation. i would not want to rely on those for anything but sterile looking white/blue lighting in your home.

05-23-2009, 08:07 PM
I was thinking the regular CFL twist bulbs, the 3500 K ones. People have had success with them when just growing macroalgae.

05-23-2009, 11:37 PM
I was thinking the regular CFL twist bulbs, the 3500 K ones. People have had success with them when just growing macroalgae.

I use the daylight, phillips CFL's for OT tank at present. (6500 deg K) They grow cheato and feather caulerpa very well.
Also have some sps and lps in there as well, waiting for my 120 gal build to be finished. Trumpet, digitata and montipora cap. They are very near the surface. Not ideal, they are growing though, not fast, but they definately are not dying.

05-24-2009, 12:56 AM
The daylight bulbs in your basement are not actual spectrum. i used to work for Phillips lighting. they are simply an imitation. i would not want to rely on those for anything but sterile looking white/blue lighting in your home.

I wouldn't doubt that, but many reefers have been using "daylight" or "6500K" bulbs for refugiums very successfully and they sure look a hell of a lot better than "soft white" CF bulbs.

05-24-2009, 09:44 AM
I did a little more research and the ones I'm talking about are the 'daylight' ones. I thought they might the 'soft white' 3500K ones but I was wrong. Though I'm sure those will grow algae just as well.