Vortex Freedom Filter | Water Changer | Dosing Pumps | Mega Water Changer | DIY PVC CO2 Reactor
Studio Lighting

Here's my Vortex Freedom Filter. All the factory hoses have been replaced with 5/8" aquarium hose.

I've attached garden hose quick-disconnect fittings to all hose ends. Above left is the hose end coming off the filter's pump assembly. Above right is the mating QD fitting on the in and out hose ends.

The faucet has been fitted with a 3/4"garden hose adapter with another QD fitting for easy attachment of the garden hose.

This following pictures show the set up steps I use. The process is simpler in practice than the following description makes it out to be...

1. Place a cup of DE into the pitcher along with both hose ends.

2. Connect the output hose to the filter's output connector. Connect the garden hose to the filter's input connector.

Turn on the water and fill the filter bottle with water. Once the bottle is filled, water will run out of the filter and into the pitcher. Turn off the water when the pitcher is nearly filled and the ends of both tubes are submersed.

Now, disconnect the garden hose from the filter, then connect the free end of the input hose to the filter.

Next, plug in and turn on the filter for a few seconds to start the water flow.

Once water is flowing through both hoses, turn off the filter, and place it on the floor. Next, carefully lift the output hose so that its entire length is above the filter. This will allow any air in the filter bottle to escape through the outlet hose while drawing water in through the intake hose. It is critical that both hose ends remain submerged in the pitcher during this step, otherwise you'll break the siphon.

At this point I take everything over to the tank I'm about to filter then turn the filter back on until the water in the pitcher is running clear. Now, with the filter still running, carefully submerge and tilt the pitcher into the tank so that the intake strainer remains submerged at all times. Once the pitcher is submerged in the tank you can pull out both tubes and remove the pitcher. The main objective is to keep the siphon strainer under water at all times.

When you're done filtering..
Turn off the filter and remover both hose ends from the tank (put them back into the pitcher to keep from dripping water onto the floor). Take the whole mess back to the sink, remove the end sections of hose (which should cause the filter to start draining).

Connect the garden hose to the outlet's quick-disconnet and turn on the water. This will back-flush the DE and tank debris out the symphony end of the filter. Shake the filter vigorously while back-flushing to loosen the DE and debris from the filter bag. When the water in the filter bottle is clean turn off the water, disconnect the garden hose, then invert the filter to let the remaining water drain out.

Water Changer

This is the water changer I put together using more garden hose fittings. The heart of it is a garden hose Y valve. This allows you to open/close either the drain or fill sides (or both) as needed.

The drain side is connected to an Aquaclear 402 powerhead using some PVC fittings, hose barbs and vinyl tubing. I've zip-tied a length of airline hose (with one end tied off) to the aerator hole in the powerhead's outlet to keep water from spraying back into the tank while draining.

The fill side of the Y is more PVC fittings, barbs and vinyl tubing that ends in a hose-end shower sprayer. This allows for a gentle, dispersed water flow when refilling.

This setup has worked really well for me since I built it. With it I can do a 50% water dump in my 125g tank in about 25 minutes. If I add in a secondary Python to help drain the tank I can get the water dump down to under 20 minutes.

Dosing Pumps

In preparation for an upcoming vacation I've decided to automate the dosing in my tanks to eliminate the need for any pet-sitting services (from family or others). The method I've chosen involves the use of peristaltic pumps (APT Instruments SP100 OEM).

Here's the setup on my 125g tank. The reason for 5 gallon buckets is that these pumps will be adding both ferts as well as top-off water to the tanks. I've calculated the weekly evaporation rate and the 10 gallons of solution should leave me 3-4 gallons short of full after a three week period..which will be just in time for a return from vacation water change. The white bucket is for macros (N-P-K) while the yellow is the micros (in this case, TMG)

Here you see close up of the pump on top of the bucket lid. The lid is mainly to keep solution evaporation down to a minimum. The acrylic tube serves the purpose of keeping the draw tube inserted fully to the bottom of the bucket (as seen in the next picture). Also in the bucket is a small water pump to mix the solution while it's being dosed.

Here's the setup for my 40g. Same as for the 125 but with smaller buckets (3.5 gallon).

Here you can see one of the drip tubes held in place with a rubber-band clamp. The clamp has just enough tension to hold the tube in place without the risk of constricting it. The drip tube's end is submersed to eliminate the possibility of any of the ferts crystallizing and clogging the opening while the pumps are off.

Here's the permanent setup on my 20g tank. Since this tank is closed top I don't have to worry about adding water to top it off so this setup is much cleaner. Solutions are stored in 500ml water bottles. No acrylic tube is needed for these since the draw tube is so short. The wrapper around the rear bottle is to keep light off the micro solution (CSM+B) since the back of the cabinet is open.

The solution (PPS standard + Flourish Excel) for the 20g tank is being dispensed into the HOB filter.

Once the vacation over, and I can dose the open top tanks without concern for top-off water, I'll mount their pumps inside their stands, too, and store the solutions in smaller bottles.

As for the actual dosing regimen, the past three weeks I've been logging the amount of ferts dosed to each tank while doing no water changes. Using this data I was able to calculate the total amount of each fert needed for a three week period. These were added to the bucket and topped off with water. The total amount of solution is based on the water added to top off the tanks over the past three weeks. So in the case of the 125g tank, it took 12g of top-off water so five gallons of macro solution and five of micros should leave me just a little short of full when I get back. Of course these pictures are of my three week trial preceding the actual vacation so I'll be able to make any necessary adjustments before I leave.

Each pump's flow rate was measured by running it for five minutes then dividing the output by five to get the ml/min delivery rate.

Mega Water Changer

Well, there probably aren't many folks who have a spare 1200gph pump lying around, but it so happens that due to a foul up in an online order I do. Now for the past several months I've been doing water changes using the water changer shown above, but even with that it was taking too long to drain my 125g tank, so enter the mega changer. Here it is with all the misc components I got for the project...

After toying with the idea of using a drop in drain tube I decided to be a little more sophisticated and plumb the pump into the existing intake lines from my two canister filters. So after stopping the filters and pinching off the water lines I was able to insert a garden hose "Y" adapter. In the picture below the water line is running right-to-left. IN the picture you can see it installed inline with only the filter line connected. The open side will be connected to the pump.

A close up look at the adapter...

The pic below shows both filter lines plumbed with the "Y" fittings and the secondary lines consolidated using a brass "Y". I used the brass "Y" for this connection mainly because it's fully open on the inside. Since the pump will only be used to drain the tank I'm not concerned about any heavy metals leeching out of the brass.

Here's the water pump fitted with a gate valve as a secondary precaution should one of the "Y" adapter ball valves start to leak...or more likely get accidentally opened by me. The pump gets connected to the water lines with some 3/4" tubing. You can see the hose barb on the pump inlet. Attached to the upper end of the gate valve is a quick disconnect fitting for easy attachment to a hose pipe.

So with all this in place when it comes water change day, I shut off both filters, close the ball valves leading to the filters and open the ones to the pump, connect the hose pipe to the QD fitting, open the gate valve and plug in the pump.

With this pump alone it takes about 10 minutes to do a 50% drain. If I add the other water changer and my Python I can do about a 70% drain in the same amount of time.

The bottleneck is still the small water lines in the bathroom so replacing the ~60 gallons of water takes 20-25 minutes.

Mega Water Changer


Here's a parts list for the above syte reactor...

Part Lowes SKU Qty
2" coupling 23902 1
2x1/2 SPXFbushing 51013 2
3/4x1/2 Threaded T bushing 23932 2
3/4x3/4x1/2 El 24085 1
2" Adapter Male 23904 1
2" Adapter Female 23906 1
1/8" ID barb x 1/4  25673 1
1/4x1/8 brass reducer bushing 35098 1
1/2x2" nipple 56007 2
1/2" hose barb OSH* 2
1/2" hose barb El OSH* 2
2" PVC pipe 9" 1
2" clear PVC 9" ** 0

*OSH = Orchard Supply Hardware which is a northern California chain of hardware stores. You can probably find these barbs at a local ACE Hardware store.

** 2"clear PVC can be purchased online at Aquatic-Eco or US Plastics. Clear PVC allows you to see the bubbles within the reactor, but does not offer any functional difference from white PVC tube.

Studio Lighting

I decided to buy an inexpensive monolight kit from Amazon to use for taking aquarium photos.

The kit came with a pair of 110w flash heads, a 40w slave flash (which I didn't use), along with light stands and a backdrop kit (stand and white background cloth).

Setting up the softboxes.

The two flash heads with softboxes positioned over my 120g tank.

From another angle.

With the backdrop setup with some black curtains I picked up at Walmart. I use this to eliminate room reflections.

First test shot.

The lights were causing lens flares so I placed some aluminizes insulation wrap in front of them to cut off the glare.

Side view so you can see the insulation baffle.

And now some shots...

The lights cover the full tank so I was free to roam end to end without the hassle of repositioning flash heads. All these shots were taken with my lens poking through a gap between the backdrop curtains.

Now the setup over my 125g tank. Since I didn't removethe light fixture from above the tank I had less room to position the flashes. My first attempt had them angled toward the rear of the tank so the flashes cleared the bottom of the light fixture. But this resulted in the back wall being illuminated and showing through.

After a few test shots I decided to squeeze the flash heads under the light fixture and point them straight down. Because this tank is 2' loger than the 120g tank the softboxes didn't fully cover the tank so I pulled the flashes toward one end of the tank and concetrated my piucture taking there.

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