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1. Shut your photoperiod down to only 8 -10 hours or so, it's all the plants need and excess is only helping algae form. Keep using the "CO2 helper" stuff, it's probably Excel or similar, which is primarily gluteraldahyde (sp) aka algaecide. Spray some directly onto the black brush algae with a med syringe - filters off for five minutes or so.

2. Get a canister filter, your issue is common with HOBs on a planted tank. You may be able to use an Aquaclear filter with more space for media - less buildup- but a canister is going to cancel the issue completely and give you more options should you ever start injecting CO2, it'll also give your bioload more support.

3. The smell is probably from sulfur pockets (from anaerobic bacterial activity in compacted areas and dead spots). I choose to have Malaysian trumpet snails in my tanks to combat compaction, if you don't like snails you can try mounting a powerhead low in the tank to improve flow in any dead spots that may exist, or keep stirring the substrate up weekly. I wouldn't vacuum so hard, it'll steal nutrients the plants can use and may also upset your cycle, creating small ammonia spikes that assist algae growth. Of course, consider your bioload before taking that advice to heart, in a normally stocked planted tank, there's not much reason to do anymore than a quick surface sweep. If nitrate is building weekly, that's a sign that more work has to be done to the tank.

4. I don't believe it, all my tanks have glass. There should be openings for filters etc anyway.

5. Tricky one. Some would say (even me) stop vacuuming and let your gravel do the work, you're only gaining a little Fe from the fluorite and that can always be added if needed. That said, I have done sub switches both ways, either way you're potentially spiking ammonia etc and helping algae
every time you disturb the bottom, so I'm inclined to say do it all at once rather than prolong any potential issues, but wait till you have a canister filter running for a month, to keep the biofilter working during the process.

6. Surface agitation is only a worry for those injecting CO2, otherwise you have nothing to lose, your tank water will always be at equilibrium with the surrounding atmosphere no matter what. When you start increasing CO2 beyond atmospheric levels, then you need to worry about gas off.

Hope that helps. Welcome to plants! -J
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