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FreakIndeed 06-18-2007 12:50 PM

Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
I just found this site last night and appears to be wonderful! I'm new to aquatic plants and this is my first post. My name is Tony.

I and some helpers are currently remodeling a building to serve as my new home. It will also be production studios for a non-profit children's educational tv show (I'm the media director and full time volunteer).

We are building a divider wall that divides the entrance of one tv studio from a foyer. We are putting in an approximately 400 gallon acrylic tank that is to be seen from both the foyer and it is actually part of one of the studio sets on the other side.

We debated between saltwater and a freshwater planted tank. Everyone and their brother has saltwater tanks in their tv sets, so we decided to go fresh and planted.

While the installation of the tank is still several months away, we are getting ready to run the electric to the area. So we need to decide what kind of power we are going to need. So me being the fish guy, have the responsibility to decide what lighting we will be using. I need your advice!

Tank is custom acrylic, measuring 84" long, 34" deep and 30-32" tall. It will be heavily planted with a range of plants. Of course we will be adding Co2, ferts and whatever else is required (you'll be seeing quite a few more posts from me about these things as we progress).

What lighting do you plant experts recommend? Metal Halide? Rows of Compact fluorescent? We are not set on any one particularly. But we need to view the overall picture of initial cost, bulb replacement and energy used to run.

We would like a relatively even light as it will be used on tv and dark spots may not look so swell. Because we are non-profit kid oriented, cost IS an issue. We would like to do this just as cheap as possible but are willing to raise what we need to raise to do the project right. Lights can be as ugly as heck, they are all hidden in the wall... so style is not an issue.

In case it matters at all, tank will house Discus, Angelfish, array of Apistos, several large schools of tetras, and lots of cories.

C'mon, I'm looking for some free advice. ;) Of course I'll post pictures as we go along!



cs_gardener 06-18-2007 12:53 PM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
With the tank being 30-32 tall I think you'd have trouble getting enough light to the bottom using CF. I've no experience with metal halide, but that is probably the way you'll need to go in order to get enough light to the plants.

BTW, welcome to APC! I'm looking forward to seeing how this will progress.

Jessie 06-18-2007 02:29 PM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
I second the suggestion for Metal Halides. While they may require some extra cash and cooling, they should provide enough light and always, that pretty gleaming shadow effect.

You could probably save some cash on retrofit kits.

Welcome and please post pictures when the time comes!!

Kelley 06-18-2007 02:45 PM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
Welcome to APC! This sounds like a cool project!

With a tank this deep, it will be difficult to reach the bottom for constant pruning. I would suggest using lower maintenance plants like crypts and java fern. I can't wait to see the progress!

BryceM 06-18-2007 05:22 PM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.

This sounds like a fabulous project. I really think you've made a bold choice to go with a planted tank. Done correctly, they are absolutely stunning. I recently set up a 180g tank (72"x24"x24") in my basement which is much, much smaller than what you're contemplating. The logistical issues that arise with large tanks do so exponentially. A 180g tank is a LOT more than twice as much work as a 90g tank. Expenses scale up very quickly too.

I trust that you've got the necessary resources to do this correctly. There are certain things you can skimp on and certain things that will require a bit of money to do right. When it comes to lighting for a beast this size the only real option in my opinion is metal halide. I'd probably recommend three 250W fixtures, which would give you about 1.6 wpg. This would allow you to grow almost any of the slower-growing, low-maintainence type plants, even at the depths that you're proposing and will probably avoid any dark areas. If appearance isn't an issue, I'd go with retrofit kits. I can refer you to a few suppliers when you get closer to a decision. You could always go with five or six 150W fixtures too. Bulbs & ballasts would probably cost more though.

Keeping 750W of lighting in an enclosed space will generate tons of heat. If the top isn't open I'd recommend installing some large but quiet (ENORMOUSLY important on a set) ventilation fans. You'll be amazed at how the tank gets cooked if you neglect this. I'd plan on circutry to allow for about 2,500 watts continuous load. This would handle the lighting, heaters, pumps, timers, and a few other odds & ends with a little room to spare. Make sure it's all supplied on a GFI circuit.

I'd absolutely recommend a closed-loop system to allow for filtration, UV (optional, but recommended if it has to look good on filming days), heating, and CO2 addition all in one convenient location. You'll need some massive quantities of CO2 for a tank this size. My 180g uses a 20-lb cylinder every 5 or 6 months. You'll need a suitable space to keep this and other equipment hidden from view. Getting CO2 evenly distributed to the entire aquarium is sometimes an issue with larger setups.

You'll need some careful planning when it comes to equipment. Discus are beautiful, but possibly a bit touchy for a tank that won't get daily TLC. I assume you're an experienced aquarist, but another fish choice might be more forgiving.

Four bits of unsolicited advice:

1) Don't attempt a tank of this size unless you've got plenty of experience with establishing and keeping succesful smaller planted tanks. This is especially true if it has to look good by a certain deadline. I'm not the dumbest planted tank guy on the block, but had to deal with a horrific algae storm that affected my 180g tank for the first 6 weeks of it's existence. It looked like a living sewer for the entire time.

2) Do the plumbing and electrical work right the first time. Spend the money, hire the right people, don't skimp on things that will bite you later on.

3) Don't underestimate the total cost required for a tank of this size. I don't know what you've budgeted, but I'd guess you'll be into it at $3,000 to $5,000 beyond the cost of the tank, stand, and cabinetry. You could certainly get away with less, but each corner you cut makes it a bit more likely that you'll get a nightmare instead of a beautiful addition to the studio.

4) Automation is ABSOLUTELY required for a tank this size. My 180g tank requires about 15 or 20 minutes of attention per day and about 3 hours of trimming, cleaning, and fussing every two weeks. I grow lots of stem plants that require frequent attention, so you might get away with less. I can reach the bottom of my tank though (just barely, with a stepstool), which is a luxury that you WILL NOT HAVE. Plan accordingly. Long tweezers and scissors are nice, but they only get you so far.

FreakIndeed 06-18-2007 06:26 PM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
Thanks for your replies, especially guaiac_boy for your long and well put reply. I'd like to comment and add a couple additional questions about what you said.

As far as sources, of course we can always use more. ;) However, we are taking our time and will be purchasing pieces and parts over the course of the next 6-8 months. We are non-profit and hope to ask for donations for some of the needed components as well. The cost is going to have to be spread out, hopefully with a very exciting culmination.

I am a fish enthusiast myself with a moderate amount of experience. I currently have two 55's a 20 and a 125 myself. However, I'm not experienced with plants at all. This will be changing over the next several months though as I anticipate making both of my 55's planted to start gaining experience. As I mentioned, I'll actually be living in this production center as well. So I'm giving all plants and fish I raise over the next 8 months to the organization for this large tank. In return, I get to use the equipment as we obtain it, so I hope to gain experience with it. I'll be doing all the maintenance, TLC, and a whole bunch of enjoying of this new big tank as well.

As far as the matience goes, I'm hoping to be able to do all trimming, cleaning, replanting, ect. at the time of the weekly water change when 40% of the water is emptied. As for how I've tested, I should be able to reach the bottom of the tank when standing on a ladder with my whole upper body in the cabinet/wall. LOL! We are making very large doors so I can really get in there. We would also like to put the lights on some sort of pulley so I can raise them out of the way. As for lights...

I'm very interested in keeping fast growing stem plants in this tank as well. Due to the fact that you can get a very thick and full look with them, are very bright and grow fast enough that I can hopefully propagate the tank relatively quickly. Will I need more than the 750 watts you suggested? I don't think making the tank too bright will be an issue, because when the tank is in the set and the set is live, there will be more than 2500 watts of hot, tungsten light blaring down.

We are still trying to work out ventilation. How big of fans are you talking? Will several computer style fans be adequate or are we talking radiator fans?

Thanks for the electrical advise. I'm not the electrical guy, but we have a couple very smart volunteers in that area and I'm going to pass the link of this thread onto them.

Thanks a bunch for taking the time to read this!!!

FreakIndeed 06-18-2007 06:28 PM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
Oh, and as for the Discus, we definitely won't start out with them. They are a dream... maybe down the road. I'm thinking maybe Pearl Gouramis at the get go. :)

BryceM 06-18-2007 07:00 PM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
The temperatures needed to keep discus happy interfere with many plant choices. Successful planted tank discus keepers have figured out ways to deal with this, but it's worthy of mentioning.

As far as air movement for the lights is concerned, most computer fans are really too small to be effective for this sort of project (unless you use tons of them). You'd be much better off with some large (6"), low-speed fans. Allied Electronics has a website with tons of options. Just pay close attention to the sound rating (dB) and voltage (12V vs 115V).

Be careful with rapid-growing stem plants in a tank that size. You can easily push the trimming requirements to an hour or two per day. My 180g is maybe 1/2 or 1/3 of stemmies and it already takes so much time that I'm transitioning to fewer and fewer of them. If you want to grow some of the higher-light plants I'd probalby go with closer to 1,000W of MH for a tank that deep. That should be adequate for most species.

There are a few journals around on the internet for bigger tanks. Scolley at Planted Tank is doing one right now. I journaled my 180g setup here if you're interested. It might give you some ideas and thoughts about the initial setup. Once the hardware is in place you're sort of stuck sleeping in the bed you've made.

Yes, yes - absolutely get some experience with the 55g tanks. You'll need to figure out what sort of plants do well in certain positions in the tank. You'll also want to learn trimming techniques before you need scuba gear to work on it. Aquascaping a tank that size requires some thought too.

Putting the lights on a pulley system is a great idea. A handy cabinetmaker or carpenter could easily rig up some rails that would allow the lights to smoothly move up and down. Be careful to keep in mind the need for some light so that you can see what you're doing at maintainence time. Jostling hot MH lamps might shorten their lifespan too, but I'm no expert in that category.

Laith 06-19-2007 12:16 AM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
Welcome to APC! :)

Take a second look at point number 3 in guaiac_boy's first reply. For big tanks, the cost is what usually surprises people.

And for big planted tanks, the cost of the plants is almost always underestimated. Remember, to get a good running headstart in having a beautiful planted tank, you should plant heavily from day one. Adding a plant here and there over time is not the best way to go!

So make sure you budget for a heavy plant mass...

Sounds like a great project: good luck!

Here's some interesting reading material that will give you some basics on planted tanks:

Enjoy! :D

30searay 06-19-2007 06:00 AM

Re: Big Tank. Big Lights. Need Advice.
I thought I would chime in with some advice from a fellow newbie to larger, planted aquariums. I have a 30 inch deep 110 gallon (48x18x30) that has been up and running for only a few months. I have had planted aquariums for over 15-20 years but never larger than a 55 gallon. For reference, I run compact florescents (6x55watt - 330 watts/3wpg) that appear to do quite well with most types of stem plants. Lights my kitchen up like a christmas tree but my kids love it. I am still experiementing with various types of plants.

The tank is only now beginning to look like I originally envisioned. Figuring out which plants will do well is still quite a project for me with these depths. Ground cover plants (glosso, baby tears, etc) are not doing well at all. Crypts are doing very well though, and spreading already. Algae on the leaves of the crypts seems pretty tough to stop though. The stem plants grow ridiculously fast with CO2 - watch out. My hygrophilia grew from 2 inches tall to crawling across the top of the tank (and shadowing my large swords) in under 2 weeks! Cutting them back doesn't slow them down. I am already seeking out alternatives.... Other stems that I like better in my tank are Cabomba, which is doing well but grows slower (a teeny bit) and anacharis (easier to trim and replant than hygro). I am just now experimenting with some red leaf stem plants such as Rotala Indica and Rotala Magenta.

I would note too that the algae disaster I encountered around week 6 was one I hope to never see again, although it is now well under control. It was just too difficult to stop with limited plant biomass and so much high-intensity light. Sticking to fertilization schedules and waiting for the plants to really kick in got it under control (along with the appropriate tank mates).

The last lighting issue I am still dealing with is the heat generated from the CF lighting (I would believe that metal halide is even hotter). With the enclosed canopy the lights have heated the tank up to 87 degrees, which has been cooking my fish. I am still working through solutions to this problem and some other members here have helped me find the fans necessary to (hopefully) get under control soon. I am still running over 80 degrees right now.

Footnote: my entire set-up to date has cost over $35/gallon.

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