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I went through several central air pump setups before finding one that I think is perfect for any fish room with 10+ tanks.

The Perfect Central Air Pump for Fish Rooms With 10+ Aquariums

Jehmco LPH26 Linear Piston Air Pump
Jehmco LPH26 Linear Piston Air Pump

The majority of my aquariums run on sponge filters. A central air driven sponge filter system becomes a necessity when you start keeping double digit numbers of aquariums. Sponge filters require less maintenance than other forms of filtration, and a linear piston central air pump uses less electricity than running a hang on back filter on 10+ tanks. I went through several air pump setups before finding one that I think is perfect for any fish room with 10+ tanks.

Fry Tanks with Air-Driven Matten Filters
Fry Tanks with Air-Driven Matten Filters

The air pump driving my central air system is a Jehmco LPH26, the smallest in Jehmco.com's line of linear piston central air pumps.

(I do not make any commission from Jehmco for recommending their products - I genuinely believe they are the best source for your central air system. Their website isn't very good by modern standards, but you can call and speak to a real human person right away.)

Linear piston air pumps are pricey - they start at almost $200 - but they're one of the best investments you can make in your fish room. Compare the cost of a central air pump and several sponge filters to buying the same number of hang on back filters. For 10 aquariums around 20 gallons each you would spend well over $300 on Aquaclear filters. The more aquariums you have, the more efficient a central air system becomes.

Super Quiet Air Pump

Before I got the LPH26, I bought a cheaper ($70) generic brand diaphragm air pump. It put out enough air for my needs, but it ran very loud and very hot. Over time it got louder and the output was less consistent. After about 6 months the noise coming from this cheap pump got so loud it was unbearable to stand near it. I never wanted to hang out in my fish room because of the constant noise.

My Jehmco LPH26 runs SILENT. Even standing with your head a couple feet away from it, you can barely tell its running. The sound of the bubbles hitting the surface in the aquariums is actually louder than the pump itself. My fish room is so much quieter, which makes it so much more enjoyable to spend time in there.

Sponge Filter
Sponge Filter

Planning a Central Fish Room Air System

I highly recommend calling Jehmco and talking to them about what you need to setup your air system. I went with one of their pre-assembled air manifolds so that I wouldn't have to spend any time drilling PVC and leak-testing valves. They sent me a pre-cut length of braided tubing with all of the fittings included to connect the pump to the manifold. I didn't have to make any trips to the hardware store to get this system installed.

Air Manifold
Air Manifold With Bleed Valve and Silencer

I used a label maker to label each output valve on my manifold. This isn't a necessary step but it makes adjusting the flow to each aquarium much easier.

Right now I'm using 11 out of 12 outputs on the manifold. The LPH26 is rated for around 20 outputs, depending on water depth, how you set your valves, etc. A bleed valve with a silencer lets me bleed off the extra air output to avoid burning up the pump. This leaves extra capacity to potentially add another rack of tanks to the same air system at a later date.

If you need your air outlets spaced further apart, you can simply run a PVC loop around the perimeter of the room. You can then drill holes in the PVC and press in an air valve wherever you need one.

In addition to a central air pump and manifold, you'll probably want to have a few other supplies in bulk. Obviously this project will require a good size roll of airline tubing. And it doesn't hurt to have some air valves mounted closer to the output of each line for fine adjustments. It might make sense to buy a bulk pack of air stones and/or sponge filters as well.

Placement for a Central Fish Room Air Pump

The air pump and manifold should be mounted above the water level of your aquariums. I've seen some people build a small shelf up in a corner for their linear piston pump. I was able to place mine in a space above the ceiling of an adjoining room's storage area. The manifold is mounted to the floor joist above my middle rack of tanks.

With the whole air system mounted above the highest water level, there is no need for airline check valves. Even if the pump dies or power goes out, water can't siphon higher than the level of the aquariums.

Manifold Mounted Above Aquariums
Manifold Mounted Above Aquariums

If you are planning a fish room build or already run 10 or more aquariums, the investment in a Jehmco linear piston central air pump is well worth the cost.

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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

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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.