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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
See the EDIT below, I updated what information I'm looking to gather....This starts with the original message...

I would like to hear from as many people as possible about their personal experience with all different kinds of filtration techniques. The purpose is purely selfish, I'm trying to decide what to do with my own aquarium, but I'm sure others will benefit from any information posted. If they don't, then they'll just have wasted a little reading time, and they can move on with their lives.

I am mainly interested in freshwater, but welcome information about marine as I may delve into that realm someday...and I don't want it to be short-lived.

I would like to hear your stories, along with the following background information, just so that we know that you know (or DON'T know) what you're talking about.

Again...see the EDIT at the bottom for an updated list...

1. How long have you been an aquarist? (is that a word or a Bushism?)
2. What size and kind of aquariums do you keep? (fresh, marine, tropical, cold, etc)
3. What kind of fish?
4. Do you keep live plants?
5. What is your preferred filtration method?
6. What other methods have you used in the past?
7. What made you decide to use your preferred method?
8. What, in your opinion, are the drawbacks to your method of choice?
9. What do you do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to maintain a healthy aquarium? (this means what YOU actually do, no necessarily what you're SUPPOSED to do. Everyone gets lazy. Read my story)
10. Have you ever successfully CONVERTED an active aquarium from one filtration method to another? If so, let's hear it!

11. Finally, Here's my selfish part of this all: Given all of your aquarium expertise, what configuration is best for maintaining a warm (76-80), tropical, well planted 55 gallon community tank, taking into consideration physical and monetary maintenance requirements????

Feel free to embellish on any other unasked question if it's appropriate. If it's inappropriate, don't embellish much.

Ok, since I've thrown down the gauntlet, here's my story.

1. I have been an off-and-on aquarist for over 20 years.

2. Tank: 55g, Tropical freshwater, 3 inches of medium non-colored gravel (whatever medium means. It's not sand and it's not big honkin rocks. If you opened a box of Nerds and found that one piece that's abnormally bigger than the rest, my gravel is bigger than that.) In the past I have a 37 high also, and a 10 gallon for the office, when I worked in an office. I think I kept a fish in a spoon somewhere once too. That didn't work out for long.

3. Fish: Community. My current tank contains: 3 mollies, 5 platys, 3 swordtails, 3 guppies (+1 fry, found while cleaning one day), 5 neon tetras, 2 gouramies (1 dwarf flame, 1 opaline), 2 barbs (gold/rosy), 2 danios, 2 misc Tetras, 1 Rasbora, 1 rainbow shark. 30 in all. I have 4 kids they just want more fish, how do you say no.

4. Plants: Yes, but I just started trying some different ones. In the past I kept Cabomba and Anarcharis, now I added Vallisneria, Wisteria and just got a couple Echinodorus and another sword. Just because I wanted to, I unpotted them and planted directly in the gravel. Maybe I'll kill them, but I got a deal at Petco on Sunday, 3 for $10 Woo hoo!

5. Filter: UGF w/power heads

6. Other filter: Additionally had a HOB Whipser, until I set it back up after sitting in a box for 5+ years and it leaked and the impeller assembly self-destructed. That was bad. It could have been worse though. I tossed it.

I also have a Magnum 330 that I've used over the years to polish the water using the diatom filter & powder. I started using that when I had severe algae bloom problems in my 55 20 years ago, which was strategically placed right next to a big window. We also had well water, which in addition to being extremely hard also contained something that loved to cause the water to go solid green so that you couldn't see halfway from one end to the other within 2 weeks of a water change. I would run the diatom filter for a few hours after a change and there was no bloom. Weird but it worked. I've used it ever since, I run it once a month. It's running right now, in fact, and it even appears to be removing the tannins from the driftwood, because my water is super-clear. More on that later.

7. Why: It's all I really know. I've always thought it was the preferred method in general until now.

8. Drawback: You have to suck the gravel, other than that...not much. Don't know about plants/growth, I hear it's harder but unsure why (I'm a 20 year newbie, how about that for an oxymoron)

9. Maintenance: Currently, I clean the living heck out of this tank just to be safe. When I say living heck, I mean more than I ever have in the past. I do a 10% water change every 2 days, using 2 day old water with aquarium salt added (1 tsp/gallon) and I usually siphon a random amount of gravel. In the old days, I used to religiously do a 25% water change every 3 to 5 weeks. Sometimes not quite so often. See Embellishment for the results of that technique. Knowing what I know now, I was an frakking idiot! (Let's hear it for the BSG fans.)

10. Changing: No. That's why I'm posting this - I'm thinking about it...

11. That's for you to fill in. Personally, my UGF/power filter setup is very low cost and maintenance is easy as long as you keep doing it.

The Embellishment part:

I have always used UGF, mainly with power heads. My last tank crashed in 2000 because I basically neglected it, and lost all my beautiful 4 year old cichlids that survived 2 moves, one over 120 miles in a 5 gallon bucket! I'm guessing that they survived because I moved so much, and ended up breaking the tank down every year to do so, then when I finally settled somewhere and practiced my long-term non-cleaning technique described in #9, well, you get the idea. They all died except my Synodontis, Fredo, who lived to a ripe old age in a cramped 10 gallon at the office and at someone else's home. I knew it was him, he broke my heart. Get it? Fredo?

I never set my tank back up until this year (1/1/9 to be exact) and encountered a whole new philosophy, at least to me: no one uses undergravel filters anymore. At least, that's what a couple of the local pet stores told me.

I live in Des Moines, IA, and we have your usual chain pet stores, and a few locals. I had already set up my tank and needed new tubing, and to my complete and utter surprise, couldn't find it - you know, because that's not needed anymore, right?

I finally went to Aqualand and they had it - and they told me that UGFs work fine if you do what's needed, anything else is just more $ to buy and maintain. That worked for me because that's what I wanted to hear. Plus I already had the plate, gravel, and water in the tank.

If you enjoy laughing while learning, visit Aqualand Pets Plus. His site is great. Read the Q&As too. I think he literally posts any e-mail that gets sent to him. Some are frakkin hilarious.

Recently, I went to yet another locally owned place and just for kicks asked what he thought. He told me that that stopped using them because you have to break down the tanks every year or so to get rid of the sludge or else you could end up with nitrate problems. I used to clean out my tank for no particular reason when I was in high school, I just felt like torturing myself. I scoffed. What did he know, they've only been keeping for, like, 20 years and run a pet store! He couldn't possibly know anything.

So I turned to the internet, because you can get everything you could possibly ever want to know from the internet. Here's some great sites I found to spark the debate:

The Under Gravel Filter Controversy - The First Tank Guide - Truth About the Reliability and Safety of Under Gravel Filters
The Undergravel Filter Controversy
Why we love under gravel filters

Personally, I agree with the first and last, but I'm way biased and resistant change. Change is bad and evil. But I'm open to it if what I'm currently doing is indeed badder and eviler.

I want to grow healthy plant and keep healthy fish, but I don't want to have a ton of equipment and spend a buttload doing it. So how do ya do dat!!??

EDIT:

Everybody, thank you so much for your posts, I'm learning quite a bit.

I think I need to change a little bit about what I'm asking; the answers made me think more about what info I was looking for. I'm trying to gather as much real-life experience with as many types of systems as possible, and I think my first post was too broad.

I still want to hear about your experience level, you know, what kinds of fish you keep, size aquariums, etc, whatever you want to tell about what you've done in the past & what you're doing now.

Give a quick synopsis of your personal experience with each particular type of filter that you have utilized. I guess this is the information I was really hoping to gather, just hadn't thought it all out before.

Here's a list to start from. In case you can't tell, I'm a 'list' guy...

a) Filter type (duh)
b) Water type (fresh, etc)
c) Gravel/sand/etc
d) Plants/amount
e) Daily/weekly/monthly/yearly maintenance (filter only)
f) Necessary yearly supplies
g) Major long term maintenance issue
h) Advantages
i) Disadvantages
j) Realistic monetary investment per year
k) Have you ever had a catastrophic filtration system failure, and if you remember or know, why did it happen (and how could it have been prevented). If you had a near-failure, how did you save it?

If you don't have an answer to all of these, don't fret!! However, if you don't have an answer for any of these, you should probably fret. You may also want to check to see if you're on the right forum. We're talking aquarium filtration on this one. Are you lost?

Plus, if you have any links or reading suggestions, go ahead and post those. I'm looking for all the info I can get.

Also, before I found this forum, I posted the same questions on another forum, and got some interesting responses there. Feel free to comment!

The Great Filter Debate - Aquariums Forum - GardenWeb
 

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Hi,
let's give it a try...
1. How long have you been an aquarist? (is that a word or a Bushism?)
Definitely a word ;). I've been into aquaristics for almost three years now, but as I'm also a specialized aquaristic translator and forum admin of a board dedicated to crustaceans I've read quite a bit ;).
2. What size and kind of aquariums do you keep? (fresh, marine, tropical, cold, etc)
3. What kind of fish?
My tanks are all freshwater and run without a heater. Max. temperature is 25 °C. There are Malayan trumpet snails in all the tanks, and a bunch of Clithon and Neritina snails are put in to eat algae wherever they're needed.
5 l - Hyalella azteca: filterless
12 l (in transition) - red cherry shrimp (selected for color): shrimp-safe interior filter
15 l - white pearl shrimp, pink and white ramshorn snails : HOB made shrimp-safe by a filter sponge over the intake
17 l - wild form of the cherries, red-orange ramshorns: HOB made shrimp-safe by a filter sponge over the intake
30 l - black tiger shrimp and wild-type tigers (possibly bumblebees, identification pending), pink and blue ramshorns, Neoheterandria elegans (just for the time being): self-made combination of undergravel filter and Hamburg Mat Filter, switched from an air-driven sponge filter only recently
64 l - Endlers, celestial pearl danios, Betta imbellis, red cherries (the pale ones), green shrimp and Amano shrimp, assorted snails: HOB made shrimp-safe by a filter sponge over the intake
400 l - Danio erythromicron, Norman's lampeyes, European freshwater shrimp (Atayephyra desmarestii), Amano shrimp, bamboo shrimp. Snails: apple snails, Pleurocera canaliculata undulatum, some Goniobasis sp., a Brotia sp. and Tarebia granifera: Hamburg Mat filter

4. Do you keep live plants?
Yes, definitely! Lots.
5. What is your preferred filtration method?
I like the undergravel filter, it's the most elegant and room-saving method I know. Unsuitable for filter feeder tanks, though, as the water clears up very quickly. I made it myself out of a coarse filter mat, some clay cylinders and the tube of an air-driven filter.
6. What other methods have you used in the past?
Filterless (lots of work as you have to change water more often) and air-driven sponge filter (problems with rot under the wood, so I had to think of something to get the ground well streamed-through - that's why I switched to an undergravel filter in this tank).
7. What made you decide to use your preferred method?
The HOBs are easy to install and maintain, but I think I prefer the undergravel filter. The Hamburg Mat filter is also a good filter, easy to build and the materials are affordable, but it needs a lot of tank space.
8. What, in your opinion, are the drawbacks to your method of choice?
The substrate over the UG filter is really high, you have to like that ;).
9. What do you do on a daily/weekly/monthly basis to maintain a healthy aquarium? (this means what YOU actually do, no necessarily what you're SUPPOSED to do. Everyone gets lazy. Read my story)
All the smaller tanks: weekly: water change of about 30 to 50%, fertilizing. Feeding: daily. If necessary I take out or clip back some plants, but that's on an irregular basis.
10. Have you ever successfully CONVERTED an active aquarium from one filtration method to another? If so, let's hear it!
Sure. Switiching from the sponge filter to the undergravel filter: I took out all the inhabitants, saved about 2/3 of the water and let the sponge filter run in it. Then I totally emptied the tank, put the UG filter in and set up the tank again. Filled the water back in, filled up with fresh water, squeezed the sponge out in there very thoroughly and put the inhabitants back in. No spikes.
I threw out the interior filter of the 12 l after it had shredded about 40 shrimplets and let it run filterless. That one went through a bad nitrite spike, but the shirmp didn't care (they don't have hemoglobine and thus don't react to nitrite as fish do). When I decided to let it run with a filter again I simply put it in. No spikes.
11. Finally, Here's my selfish part of this all: Given all of your aquarium expertise, what configuration is best for maintaining a warm (76-80), tropical, well planted 55 gallon community tank, taking into consideration physical and monetary maintenance requirements????
The Hamburg Mat Filter or a self-made undergravel filter.

Hope this helps :)

Cheers
Ulli
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Ulli, thanks for the information. I personally have never heard of a Hamburg Mat filter, so I googled it and this link gave some great information, for those interested. This makes great sense to me! And even though I can read and speak a little German, I didn't have to use it at all!

Hamburger Mattenfilter

Or, of course, you can just go to Ulli's Crustacean forum. Great info!!

Hamburg Mat Filter (HMF) - www.crustaforum.com

Can anyone tell me why - supposedly - plants and potted plants in general are difficult to grow/maintain using a UGF?

Also, was I wrong to take my potted plants out of the pots and bury them in the gravel?
 

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Ok so I had always used undergravel filters with my tanks with a gravel substrate.
This worked extremely well as it is simple easy and works!
However I wanted to move to planted tanks and more biotope specific set ups so I had to change to a small size substrate ie sand for the plants to grow. Sand does not work with undergravel filters so I brought a couple of External canister filters which have been superb but bewarned some models are a nightmare to prime and the hose attachments can be terrible (I went on holiday came back to find and empty tank and dead fish as the hose had come away draining the tank!!!) The up side of external filters are that you can create interesting features like waterfalls and strong currents they also clear the water very fast when using murky sediment as a substrate.
Internal powerfilters are cheap but hard to disguise in the tank and the filters block fast meaning you have to then move your wood and rocks that were hidinng the filter to clean it out. you also have to becareful not to kill the bateria inside the filter or it creates a non cycled tank system full of fish! (very bad news)

so in summary
External canister = Plants interesting biotope options, current flow minimal maintainance although impellers do wear easily. (can go horribly wrong very quickly can be noisy and use a lot of electric)

internal filter = plants, current flow, hard to hide, clean out often.

Undergravel filter = few plants simple set ups, very simple inexpensive reliable, invisible cant use fine substrates or large rocks covering more than 30% of filter.
 

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Ok in a heavly planted high tech tank, you could actually get away with no man made filter, if you stock it lightly. The palnts filter the water, what we need to be concern is that you have some water movement but not to much. If you use heater cables in the the tank you could create enough flow that way, beleave it or not.

But sense most of us don't have the time and knowledge to create that type of system we use man made filters. You ask why you don't use underground filter in planted tank it simple they get clog up with plants roots. The way UGF works it depend on the flow of water throuh the up stacks by eatheir bubble or a powerhead, which cause the water to be pulled through the gravel and plate slits breaking down organics so they can be removed bya power filter or WC. Once this get clog with roots just not in the slits but under the UGF that water flow is interupted. Pockets of staggant water will form, and when these are release in to the water they arre very deadly to fish. for Planted tank heater coils are much better and the benifiets are much greater. the cost can be up there but hydor makes a much more affordable system now but still on the high side for something that not required. They work great, I'm running one in a 75 gal tank and I love it and so do the plants. For planted tanks that will be stocked normally than a canister filter would work best, because you will want to use some form of CO2 gas as plants will deplete any C02 in the tank quickly and without it plants can't and won't grow. It just as important as adding ferts to the tank. With a canister filter in planted tank you can use a spray bar unter the surface of the water so you don disturb the top of the water to much, as this release the gas in the water and when you injecting CO2 or even worse mixing yeast every week , it becomes very important to have the palnts use every bit of it. Canister filters are good for most tanks and alot of people perfer them as the require maintence every 3 months if you are not running any form of medium in them other than floss. There are alot of different prices for these filter, some have great names that everyone stick too , but I have found that a name is just a name. Look at the amount of gals its recommend for, the compasity of the of the bins and number of bins it has for adding medium. the most important thing you need to look at is the blow by rate of the filter as that determines how it really filters the water. The blowby rate is the amount of water actual does not get filteres because it blow by the medium. I would not recommend buy the cheapest non brand filter, but research and look for the best you can afford. They can get a bit noisey if not setup right or if you have an air leak. In a early reply someone stated the canister filter empellors wore out quickly and they also stated they us sand in their sub. Ever use sand paper? I have 2 that sit out in the room and you hear nothing, You actually can hear the waterfall from a 40 gal that has a HOB filter on the other side of that room. (tomorrow I'm doing it weekly maintence)I perfer the Cascade filter from PenPlax, they are affordable work will and meet exceptable standard for craftmenship and quailty. I have 3 on different tank, I have no problems with them. thats just my choice, you should research and see what you like. you have to live with it not anyone else.
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
I keep reading on this and other forums about a UGF suddenly going downhill and causing a total loss of water stability. Can someone explain exactly what conditions set this up, and how to avoid it, if possible?

I'm guessing it's this, but tell me if I'm wrong. Poor maintenance of the tank results in a compaction of the substrate and buildup of sediment (mulm?) underneath the filter plate, which causes pockets of anaerobic bacteria (stagnant water) in the substrate and ? underneath the filter plates. This must hit some kind of critical mass and causes some cascade of chemical changes too quick for the water or fish to handle, and the system crashes. But why?

It seems to me that if you regularly vacuum the sediment out of the gravel, and regularly stir the areas you can't vacuum, you will never get a buildup of this 'anaerobic' bacteria. But how regularly, and if you don't and you get a pocket, if you disturb it, what does it do to damage the balance of chemical in the tank? What gets released, the anaerobic bacteria or the chemicals they harbor/live on/give off?

Here's a for-instance: I've got a piece of driftwood attached to a piece of slate in the middle of the tank, covering the inner edges of each plate, it's 6"x6", so should I occasionally take that out, vacuum, stir, and replace or just leave it?

For large rooted plants, couldn't I just poke and prod to loosen the gravel every now and then, or get a Malaysian Sand Snail (I just learned about those) and let that root around for me?

As for the 'mulm', I can see under my tank and after 1 month at least 10% of the bottom is covered. I know fish can live in this, because I've had kuhli loaches live under there for years. So how it that stuff bad? Also, you could setup a push-pull to fluch this out, I envision hooking up my Magnum 330 with some extra connectors, plug 'out' into one stand tube hole and 'in' in the opposite end and just flush the stuff out, problem solved. But how often would you have to do this, and how would it affect the fish/water?

I have yet to hear a good explanation for what causes a UGF crash so let's hear it.
 

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Discussion Starter #8
That addresses one of my questions, but I find that hard to believe that just vacuuming the gravel is the ONLY long term maintenance you need to do to keep a UGF from crashing - or else you wouldn't hear so many people complaining how they will never use one again, etc, etc.

Any other information? Answer to other questions?
 

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Hello,

New to the forum and stumbled across this post and thought i would answer.

I personally keep Oscars and Angels. I use a Fluval 405 Canister on my Angel tank and a Rena XP4 Canister on my Oscar tanks. The 180g Tank is now equiped with 2 Rena XP4 Canister filters.
 

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If you keep the gravel from compressing (by gravel vacumming and keep agood water flow thur the stacks you can and I have used a UGF on 20 gal tnk and thats it, with weekly water change and proper feeding. UGF have a place in this hobby a most people that have had problems with them, usallly comes from improper setup and not maintaning the tank weekly.
 
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