The Perfect Fish Room
by, Jim Langan

I've always wanted a "Perfect Fish Room."  One where my only task is to watch the true beauty of killifish raise their young and provide them to others who are unknown to our hobby.  I know this is idealistic and not practical, however, there are tasks which can be eliminated which will make fish keeping more pleasant.  It is my opinion that "Almost any feature which can be added to a fish room which significantly reduces tank maintenance should be considered."

My fish room consists of approximately 72 tanks.  Of course this depends on the day of the week and if I've had any total tank die outs.  My single most time consuming task is water changes.  My 72 tanks consist of 508 gallons of water.  If I perform minimal water changes which should be 20% per week, this results in 124 gallons of change out per week.  With a family and a demanding profession this task becomes burdensome. I have decided to implement an automatic water change system.  After this decision was made, I made a careful review of my fish room and my fish keeping practices.  This revue proved that most of my time went into the filling of my fish tanks.  Being this is the case I decided to implement my water change system in two phases.  The first phase is the water drain system, second phase is a automatic water fill system.

The first major task is the drilling of my glass tanks.  This is much easier said than done.  After many conversations with fellow fish keepers Mr. Patrick Cannon and Mr. Rick Ivik to name two, I received many varying reports on glass drilling.   Finally in total confusion I consulted a glass specialty company in my home town of Madison, WI. After reviewing the different options and the cost versus time impact  and the number of tanks I needed to drill, I decided not to use the popular diamond style glass drills.  Glass drills cost between 80-150 dollars and will drill a limited number of glass pieces generally between 10 - 20.  With a cost averaging over 5.00 dollars per tank I needed a different solution.

The drilling technique which I chose utilizes a brass drill fixture and a very hard carborumdum glass grinding compound.  Instead of cutting the glass this method grinds through the glass.  Instead of taking 1-2 minutes as with the diamond drill this method takes between 5 - 15 minutes.  The brass drill bit costs 14 dollars for a 1" diameter bit.  I've already drilled 20+ tanks and the drill bit is in excellent condition.  The carborundum compound costs approximately 10 dollars per 8 ounces.  I've used less than .25 ounce on my tanks thus far.  My drilling costs are between 25-50/cents per tank. Because my water drains are overflows, I must drill very close to the top of the tank.  My system requires a 1" hole to match my selected hardware.  My first step was to make a drill template.  This template acts as a guide to prevent the drill bit from skimming all over the glass surface.  The template focuses the drill bit on one specific area.  The templates are made from 1/2" thick plywood each one measures 3x4 inches.  One template has a 1 inch hole drilled through it for drill bit guidance. The glass needs to be prepared for drilling.  The glass' surface must be extremely clean.  This is really a pain on used tanks.  New tanks are much easier to drill.  I've found that cleaning a tank for drilling is actually harder than the drilling itself!  I use steel wool to polish the glass' surface where I intend to drill.  Next I install the two templates one on the outside of the glass and the other template on the inside of the glass directly underneath the top template.  I use "C" clamps to hold the templates in place.  Be careful to make the clamps tight but not extremely tight, "C" clamps too tight will cause the glass to crack when the drill bit grinds through the glass [very undesirable].

Next put some cutting compound in the template hole, then add a little water.  The consistency of the compound water mixture should be similar to syrup (thick but not at all dry). The water acts both as a lubricant and as a coolant.  No water equals cracked glass.  I use the slowest speed on my variable handrill.  Using a slow speed generates less heat  than faster speeds.  Slower speeds are less likely to crack the glass. Once drilling begins stop periodically and inspect  the hole.  Especially in larger tanks (10+ gallons) remove any accumulated debris in the hole.  As the glass is cut small glass particles fill up the hole and inhibit the grinding compound's efficiency.  After removing this debris add new compound and some more water.  I use a very fine screwdriver to remove this debris.  I place the debris in a glass of water.  the compound can be separated from the glass, dried out and reused later. Just before the glass is cut through inspect the hole for debris.  Remove any accumulated debris and add fresh compound and water.  Start drilling, however, use very little pressure.  Using less pressure at this point  significantly reduces if not eliminates the possibility of glass  cracking or fracture. After the glass is cut remove the clamps and clean the tank.  Usually a thorough rinse is all it takes.  The residue from the drilling does not stain and washes off easily.  When the glass is drilled a circular piece of glass will be stuck in the drill bit, it is important that this piece of glass be removed.  Forgetting to do this will result in a broken next drill and possibly shattered glass thrown in your face.Be certain to practice on some junk glass.  Your local hardware store can provide you some scrap 1/8 and 3/16 inch thick glass very inexpensively.  It may take you three or four pieces to get the hang of it.  It's a valuable trait to learn especially if you have a lot of tanks. This drilling technique is fairly messy.  Cut glass will splatter, WEAR SAFETY GOGGLES.  Do not compromise your eyesight.  A high quality pair of safety goggles costs about 7 dollars and it far less expensive than a trip to the hospital.

It takes a lot of air to provided an adequate  supply for 70+ tanks.  This is usually a very expensive proposition.  However, there are some ways which one can really cut down that expense and have plenty of air and then some for all your fish tank needs.First, one must know that the ongoing expense of the system may out cost the initial costs of a system.  In other words lots of inexpensive equipment can cost you more money over a year or two in time via electric bills, than a well planned air system.    Central air systems are the most efficient.  My definition of a central air system is one which has one air source and a distribution system of piping to support all tanks.  This also is assuming that the tanks are somehow organized to take advantage of such an air system.

My fish racks consist of 4 shelves arranged from the floor to the ceiling of my basement.  My breeding rack consists of 32 tanks four rows of eight tanks in an even mixture of 5-1/2 and 2-1/2 gallons.  My rearing rack consists of  36 tanks four rows of 9 tanks with seven 10 gallon tanks and two 5-1/2 gallon tanks on each row. Because of the size of my tanks an the fact that I can not perform water changes regularly every week as most hobbyists recommend, I need large sponge filters powered by lots of air.  If I ever add to my fish room or move to a different home I want my system to be re-configurable and easy to dismantle and re-assemble.  I also want my system to be as cheap as possible.

I've visited a number of fish rooms  over the past ten years and I have liked the air system of Mr. Rick Ivik a fellow WAKO member and Mr. Ken Normandin (Jacksonville, FL.).  Both Rick and Ken use pollution pumps from older automobiles for their main air source. There are several advantages to using an air pump of this type as a primary air source. The first is cost, an average air pump from a low mileage automobile at a junkyard will cost you no more than 35.00 dollars.  This is a lot less than the 500-700.00 a regenerative blower will cost. Auto air pumps are similar to regenerative blowers in that they produce large amounts of air flow at relatively low pressure.  Such a system requires large diameter tubing/piping to reduce line loss over large distances.  My racks are 8 - 10 feet long and my total length of air piping is almost 20 feet.  I chose to use 2" PVC pipe.  This pipe is relatively inexpensive 20 feet is less than 10 dollars.  I needed two elbows in the pipe to accommodate a corner where my two racks intersect via two basement walls.  The elbow components cost about 4-6 dollars per corner.  I used two end caps which cost about .80 cents. I drilled 3/16" holes through the PVC linearly at a bout 1/2" spacing.  I did not thred these holes.  The air valves which I use only need to press fit into the PVC pipe holes.  I chose to use plastic valves by "SPOT" 5 per package two way valves cost 1.10 per package, a suitable replacement is manufactured by "Lee's" two, two- way valves per pack cost .45 cents per pack.  Other than the blue color of the "Lee's" and the green color by "SPOT" these valves are identical. I used rubber joints to hold my main air system together.  I did this because I may want to reconfigure or move my air system sometime in the future. I used three joints a the cost of 5.50 dollars per joint. I used metal straps to hold my air system piping in place to my racks.

So about costs:

80 valves 22.5 cents per valve 18.00
3 rubber joints 5.50 each 16.50
20 feet 2" PVC pipe 10.00
2 end cap 1.60
1 90 degree PVC joint 6.00
Pollution Air-pump 35.00
Furnace Blower Motor (used) 22.00

Total Cost 109.10

Operational Costs
Auto Pollution Pump/Regenerative Blower
4.2 Amp Motor * 120 Volts = 504 watts/hour
24 hours/day = 12.096 kWh/day
Average Wisconsin cost per kWh = .065
Cost per day = .74
per month = 22.81,
per year = 273.73
7 Supreme Air Pumps
1.6 amp Motor * 7 pumps * 120 Volts = 1,344 watts/hour
24 hours/day = 32.256 kWh/day
Average Wisconsin cost per kWh = .065
Cost per day = 2.09
Per month = 63.77
Per Year = 765.27
The above amperages are actual measurements I have made with calibrated electronic equipment.  Cost base for kWh is per Madison Gas & Electric power utility January 1999 electric bill.  Standard residential.