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This store-bought shelving unit is the perfect size for supporting a pair of 40 gallon breeder aquariums.
40 Breeder Rack
40 Breeder Rack

I've built a few DIY aquarium racks, but I wanted to go with a steel frame for my two 40 breeders to save space. Unlike a wooden frame, these steel supports lay flat against the sides of the aquariums. Steel shelving can also support a lot of weight - 800 lbs per shelf in this case. Water weighs roughly 8 lbs per gallon, so 40 gallons of water alone is 320 lbs. When you add the weight of the glass aquarium (58 lbs for a 40 breeder), substrate, heater, filters, etc. the total weight of one 40 gallon aquarium can be over 400 lbs.

Where to Get a Steel Aquarium Rack

Edsal Storage Unit
Edsal Storage Unit

These heavy duty storage units have been recommended by several people over the past few years as an affordable store-bought option for holding one or two 40 gallon tanks. This video by Aquarium Co-op from 2014 referenced a very similar rack that may or may not still be available from Lowe's. I purchased mine at Home Depot. Similar units are available from a variety of retailers, including this Muscle Rack on amazon. Fortunately 36" x 18" seems to be a fairly common shelving size, so it should not be too difficult for most people to find.

Aquarium Rack Assembly

The cool thing about these 5-shelf steel units is that they are really two units that stack. The kit comes with eight upright posts that are 3 feet long, which makes the unit 6 feet tall when stacked. If you didn't want one tank on top of the other, you could place both sets of uprights on the floor and have two separate aquarium stands.

First Aquarium in Place
First Aquarium in Place

For my application I only used 3 of the 5 shelves that came with the unit. It has to be assembled from the floor up, so the bottom shelf goes on first, followed by the first aquarium shelf. Because the dimensions are so similar to those of a 40 breeder aquarium, the tank has to be lowered into the posts from the top. This gets tricky when you get to the top aquarium.

Hacksaw
Hacksaw

In order to be able to lift the top aquarium above the tops of the posts, I cut about 6 inches off the front two uprights using a hacksaw. Cutting through the steel was actually easier than it looks because its not very thick. Once the cuts were made, I was able to lift the top tank up (with help) and slide it down into place.

40 breeder rack
40 breeder rack

Although two of the shelves were not used on this rack, I added their steel support sections to the sides and back of the unit to add stability. Without the extra bracing, the whole rack was somewhat wobbly. In the photo above you can see two extra 36" braces positioned a few inches below each aquarium. This keeps the rack from bowing or shifting under the weight of two full aquariums.

After both tanks were on the shelves I moved the unit into its place along the wall and finished the overflow plumbing before filling with water. I also painted the bottom shelf black to match the rest of the rack. The space underneath the tanks adds a lot of extra storage to the fish room. I keep my folding step ladder tucked next to the rack so that it's easy to access when I need to work on the top tank.

Bottom Shelf Storage
Bottom Shelf Storage

1

Design

Plumbing the Water Change System
Plumbing the Water Change System

There are a few different ways that fishkeepers with many tanks choose to setup their water change systems. The optimal design for any particular fish room depends on the incoming water source, space available, and volume of water that will need to be regularly changed.

If you are on a well, you probably don't have to worry about paying a water bill or treating your water for chlorine or chloramine. Many people who have well water choose to run a continuous drip system, where new water is constantly being added. Since I have city supplied water that needs to be dechlorinated, I have to treat all water going into my tanks. So a continuous drip was not an option in my case.

Another common design is to use a large reservoir to store treated water. I didn't want to go that route because my space is somewhat limited. I needed a system that could give me filtered, tempered water on demand. And I wanted to be able to control flow to each tank using manual valves, and have drilled overflows to prevent flooding in case I forget I'm filling a tank (this happens a lot).

Fill System

Water coming into my fish room first runs through a dual-stage whole house filter system. The temperature of the water going to the tanks is controlled by a Delta shower valve , and the flow is controlled by a Pentair gate valve. The first section of the system is plumbed with PEX, because it was easy to tap into my existing plumbing.

I added a threaded 25 psi pressure regulator made for sprinkler systems to reduce the pressure in the line going to the tanks. This prevents pressure from building up at the individual tank valves and allows me to use irrigation compression tubing in some sections.

25 psi pressure regulator
25 psi pressure regulator

Each tank has its own fill line controlled by a Pentair gate valve with hose threading on the output side. I can screw on any hose attachment, including a Python hose adapter. My smaller tanks have a drip irrigation faucet fitting with irrigation tubing so I can do gradual water changes.

Fill Line Above 29 Gallon
Fill Line Above 29 Gallon

My larger tanks are fed directly from the faucets, with flow controlled using a combination of the valve at the tank and the system's main gate valve.

Hose Valve Above 90 Gal
Hose Valve Above 90 Gal

I can run slow, simultaneous water changes on several tanks at once with this system, or I can change out a lot of water on one tank very quickly. But the best feature is that I never have to fill and carry a bucket of water across the room! To quote the great rainbowfish keeper Gary Lange: "Gary don't carry", and neither do I.

Drain System

When it comes to draining water out of aquariums, there are obviously a few ways to go about it. You can use the old hose and bucket method. Or you can make the upgrade to a Python Clean and Fill System (which I use to perform water changes on my client's tanks). Or you can plumb the tank with a drain, either permanently by drilling a hole for a bulkhead, or temporarily using PVC. I prefer to drill aquariums whenever possible. A drilled overflow will never lose siphon the way an over-the-top PVC built one could. I wrote this post and this other post about drilling tanks if you are planning to try it.

3/4" Overflow Drain
3/4" Overflow Drain

Each drilled tank feeds a flexible braided hose that connects to a 1.5" PVC drain line which runs around the perimeter of the room. Below, you can see the PVC drain manifold underneath my 29 gallon rack.

1.5" Drain Manifold
1.5" Drain Manifold

There are a total of 4 sanitary tees spaced out along the drain line, and each can be expanded to handle multiple drains. The pipe starts about 12" off the floor, and runs about 20 feet around the room with a gradual decline to the floor drain.

1.5" Drain Line
1.5" Drain Line

You can see the 90 gallon sump overflow hose alongside the main drain pipe in these two photos .

Floor Drain
Floor Drain

This system took a couple months of planning and tinkering to implement, and I learned a lot about plumbing a fish room in the process. During that time I was constantly looking at examples of other people's systems to help influence my own. Hopefully seeing my design is helpful to someone else in the process of setting up a water change system.


6

Completed Filtration Install
Completed Filtration Install

**Important note: I am not a licensed plumber and this plumbing configuration may not meet building codes in your area. Please check your local regulations before taking on a project like this**

Why Add a Whole House Water Filter

The city water in my area is somewhat hard and sometimes has a chemical odor out of the tap, so I installed a whole house filter system to bring down sediment levels. This means we no longer need to keep a brita filter in the fridge for our drinking water, and I know the water going into all of my aquariums has had the heavy sediment removed.

This system is installed in front of my house's water heater. Removing sediment before water reaches the hot water tank reduces buildup inside, which can extend the life of the appliance.

The installation was pretty simple and I'll go over everything I used for the project here.

Supplies

This system uses two Pentek big blue 20" filter housings with a dual stage 50 / 5 micron sediment filter cartridge in front of a radial flow carbon cartridge. All of the filter parts used are listed below:

Sharkbite fittings and PEX tubing made the plumbing really simple. The process was the same as my fish room sink plumbing project (I listed the tools out in that post). The only difference is here I am working with the water supply line before my water heater, so it is 3/4" pipe rather than 1/2".

Mounting the Filter Housings

The first step was to secure a piece of plywood to the wall to support the weight of the lag screws that hold up the filter brackets. I used wood screws to attach the wood to the studs behind the drywall. Then I used 1/4" x 1" stainless lag screws and washers to attach the filter brackets to the wood. I tied the two housing tops together with a section of PEX before mounting them so that they would be level with each other on the wall.

Filter housings mounted to wall
Filter housings mounted to wall

With the housings mounted, all I had to do was plumb the system into the cold water line coming into the fish room.

Plumbing

Its important to "dry fit" all of your connections before making the pinch clamp connections, in case you need to make changes. Once a piece of PEX is clamped onto a fitting, its difficult (though not impossible) to remove. A 10 foot stick of PEX tubing is cheaper than a brass fitting, so cutting a new piece while testing out your configuration isn't a big deal.

Making a pinch clamp connection
Making a pinch clamp connection

My system has a bypass line with a ball valve above the filter housings so that I can shut off the flow to the filters. Without a bypass, changing the filters would require shutting off the water to the entire house. There is also a ball valve on either side of the filters so that they can be entirely isolated. Water will still flow to all of the downstream fixtures while I change the cartridges.

Sketch out your fish room plumbing before you start
Sketch out your plumbing before you start

I recommend drawing out your plan on paper before you start making connections. This should include the direction of flow through the system. The handle of a ball valve in the open position should point in the direction of water flow. The picture above shows all 3 valves open, but the bypass valve at the top remains closed while the filters are in use.

After I finished the bypass plumbing, I extended the PEX lines up to the ceiling to join with my cold water supply. I made the connection to the copper pipe using a 3/4" sharkbite fitting on both ends of the system.

3/4" Sharkbite Connection
3/4" Sharkbite Connection

This project took me a few days because I took my time figuring out where I wanted to tap into my existing pipes, but the actual plumbing could be completed in an afternoon if you have it planned out. Based on my usage the filter cartridges should last somewhere between 3-6 months. So I should only have to touch the system a few times a year.

Finished Plumbing
Finished Plumbing