Thursday, November 12, 2015

How To Mix Saltwater for Your Reef Aquarium

Through the evolution of keeping a reef tank, one thing that stays consistent is the need to perform water changes. Water changes remove waste and replenish the necessary elements your tanks inhabitants need to grow and thrive.

Many of us start by purchasing saltwater from a local fish store for water changes, which does have its benefits—but also leaves some mystery in terms of the quality of water and what is actually going into your tank.

If the store's filter system is not regularly maintained, there may be nitrates, phosphate or other impurities in the water. Some salt mixes work better for fish-only aquariums while others with higher levels of calcium, alkalinity and major/minor elements are better for reef aquariums. If a store changes salt mixes, it may also have unexpected effects in your aquarium.

Mixing your own saltwater at home is in fact a much better way to obtain saltwater because it allows you to choose the salt best suited for your aquarium and allows you to control many of the variables.

Thankfully mixing saltwater is fairly easy but must be done correctly and of course you will first need all of the necessary equipment.

You will need a large container that can hold 10% or more of your tanks water volume. Here at Marine Depot, we use the food-grade Brute trash cans with caster wheels which make it easy to move the water. Aquariums and various other plastic containers also work very well. Just be sure to get something that is food grade or suitable for potable water storage because Lower grade plastic containers may leach phosphates and other unwanted chemicals into the water.

To measure the salinity we recommend the use of a refractometer for accuracy. Hydrometers can also be used but should be calibrated regularly as they can become inaccurate over time. A powerhead is needed to mix the water as well as an aquarium heater to match the water temperature of your aquarium along with a thermometer to measure the temperature.

First, fill the mixing container with fresh RO/DI water. You will want to mix enough water to complete the desired water change and I always mix a few gallons extra just in case the unexpected should occur.

Next, drop in the powerhead to start aerating the RO/DI water.  This helps to remove excess CO2 and ensures a proper pH. You can also add the heater in order to get the water up to temperature.

Now look at the instructions for your salt mix and calculate the amount of salt needed to match the salinity in your aquarium. Each salt mix is different so be sure to read the manufacturer instructions carefully but basically the concept is the same, add enough salt to reach the desired salinity level. This should be maintained at 1.023-1.026 specific gravity for a reef tank.

We are using the Brightwell Aquatics NeoMarine salt mix which calls for ½ cup per gallon of freshwater for a salinity of 1.025 specific gravity. Since I have 20 gallons of water to mix, I will need 10 total cups of salt mix. One important note here, if you are storing your salt mix be sure to seal it well. Salt mix will draw moisture from the air and turn into a solid rock if left unsealed for any extended period of time.

Add the salt mix slowly into the RO/DI water inside your mixing container. It is normal for the water to cloud when you add the salt mix but it will clear up. After a few hours of mixing, measure the salinity using your refractometer or hydrometer and adjust the salinity as needed.

Once the desired salinity level is reached you should let the water continue to mix and aerate for the amount of time recommended by the manufacturer.  Some salt mixes are best used within 3-4 hours of mixing while others should mix for 12-24 hours before use.

Photo courtesy of Eddie Zia

Mixing saltwater at home saves you the hassle of lugging around cumbersome containers of water to and from your local fish store. It will also ensure that all the water entering your aquarium has consistent parameters and is free of unwanted contaminates. If you are looking to start mixing saltwater at home or simply have some questions, contact our trained team of aquarium experts today for fast and friendly support.

If you found this article and the accompanying video helpful, please like, share and subscribe to help us bring you more informative content just like this.

Until next time, take care and happy reef keeping.

> Watch Salinity: How to Measure and Why It's Important

> Watch How to Build a Saltwater Mixing Station

> Read How to Measure Salinity in a Saltwater Aquarium

> Read 5 Ways to Change Your Aquarium Water Like a Pro

> Read How to Mix Saltwater and Perform a Water Change

Monday, November 02, 2015

Auto Top-Off Systems: Which ATO is right for you?

In a saltwater aquarium, maintaining a constant salinity level is extremely important to the health of your fish and corals.

Water constantly evaporates from the aquarium, while the salt in the aquarium does not. A replenishment system is required to replace the water that evaporates or else the salinity may quickly rise to unsafe levels.

One option is to manually add water to your aquarium each day. Unfortunately, this can be quite a strenuous task. In addition to lifting heavy buckets, adding a substantial amount of freshwater to your saltwater aquarium at once can be stressful for the tank inhabitants.

This is why so many hobbyists have found the use of an ATO or automatic top-off system to be extremely helpful. Today we will cover the various options available when it comes to choosing an ATO system and provide you with some insight that will help you select the right ATO for your tank.

Mechanical Float Valve

The most basic type of ATO systems are mechanical float valves that are used with a reservoir located above the float valve. Several companies offer these mechanical float valves, including AquaFX, Eshopps, Kent Marine and SpectraPure.

Using the force of gravity, water simply drains down from your reservoir into the float that is mounted in your sump or aquarium. Once the desired water level is reached, the float simply closes off the water line.

Eshopps Auto Top-Off Reservoir Tank

Mechanical float valves are very affordable. However, salt creep, calcium build-up and various other obstructions can cause float valves to fail. Additionally, it can be difficult to find a suitable place to mount the water reservoir above the float. For these reasons, it is best to use mechanical floats on a freshwater tank or in conjunction with your RO/DI system to keep your freshwater reservoir full at all times.

The second group of ATO systems are ones that utilize float switches. These moderately-priced systems have an electronic float switch(es) that are used to trigger a relay which then controls power to a water pump that is located in your ATO reservoir.

Marine Depot ATO System w/ Pump and Magnetic Sensors

Our Marine Depot ATO systems are one of the most affordable options and are available with a single float or dual floats. All the necessary parts are included so you are ready to go out of the box. One of the great features is the acrylic guard around the float switch. This guard helps reduce turbulence and helps prevent snails or other critters from obstructing the operation of the float switch.

JBJ ATO Water Level Controller

The JBJ ATO features dual float switches that can be set up in multiple configurations, including dry-run protection for the top-off reservoir. It has a standard outlet so you can plug in just about any type of powerhead or water pump to deliver water from your reservoir into your aquarium.

Tunze Osmolator Nano 3152

Next is the Tunze Osmolator Nano. The Osmolator Nano includes a single magnet mounted float switch with a low-voltage DC water pump. It is simple, effective and great for smaller aquariums

The last group are the more costly ATO systems that feature more advanced sensors. These ATOs use higher-end sensors or multiple types of sensors to make the system as fail proof as possible.

Tunze Osmolator Universal 3155

The Tunze Osmolator 3155 is our best-selling ATO system. It uses an accurate optical sensor with a mechanical float as a backup. The combination of the two sensors makes it extremely accurate and nearly fail proof. The included low-voltage pump is also replaceable and fits perfectly into 5 gallon water jugs.

AutoAqua Smart ATO System

Our next best seller is the AutoAqua Smart ATO. This ATO uses an advanced infrared optical sensor that measures the water level accurately. Additionally, the integrated Auto Feedback Security (AFS) algorithm programmed into the unit will learn and detect overfill as well as sensor failures. Its small size and the magnetic sensor mount makes installation a cinch. The kit also includes a small water pump that fits in just about any reservoir.

Hydor Smart Level Control ATO System

The Hydor Smart-Level ATO uses a temperature sensor so there are no moving parts. Having a temperature sensor also means that you don't have to worry about snails climbing on the sensor or algae and calcium build-up. A slight drawback is that it does not include a water pump and has a larger water level variance of ½" to ¾". Still, it is one of the more affordable advanced ATO units.

Innovative Marine HydroFill Ti ATO Controller

The Innovative Marine HydroFill ATO uses high-tech conductivity sensors. The electrodes in the sensors are inert, so there is no chance of rusting and are they are very durable in a saltwater environment. They can be used with just about any water pump—or you can purchase the awesome HydroFill pump which is a self-priming diaphragm pump (that means it can sit above the water reservoir and will draw water up into the pump and then into your aquarium).

An ATO system is one of the smartest investments you can make for a reef tank. Not only does it save you time, but it also helps ensure you maintain a stable aquatic environment. Plus, with so many options available, it is easier than ever to find a system that fits your budget and the needs of your aquarium.

Thank you for allowing us to share our experience with you. If you found this article and the accompanying video helpful, please like, share and subscribe to show your support!

Until next time, take care and happy reef keeping.

> Watch our Auto Top-Off System Video Playlist

> Read 10 Helpful Ways You Can Use MJ Pumps

> Read Aquarium Top-Off Systems: What is the Difference?

> Read Fed up with carrying buckets? Try an auto top-off system!

> Read Tunze Nano Osmolator 3152 Product Review

> Read Hydor Smart Level Control ATO System: Product Review