How I built my fish ‘roomette’

This is the story of how I got into fish keeping, and the evolution of my small fishroom…

For years I had a small 65l tropical freshwater tank, rammed full of fish – without much knowledge or care of how to look after them properly. A surprise birthday around 2010 of a 4ft tank with cabinet and all the ‘gubbins’ prompted a visit to the LFS to find something ‘big’ that would go with my current fish. I returned home with 5 juvenile Discus – I would later find out these were very poor quality, and were not even close to being compatible with my other fish – they all promptly got sick and died. However, in efforts to save them I joined various forums and Facebook groups seeking advice and my interest was piqued, I dived in to the Discus world!

Fast forward through many more mistakes, disasters and lessons learned, I had a group of very nice Discus fish in the 4ft display tank. I had also collected a few other tanks to use as quarantine, hospital, and potential breeding tanks. So began operation “Get those bloody fish tanks and mess shifted” as my wife called it. Plans to move a couple of tanks into a spare room quickly spiralled into me commandeering a section of the garage to put in a racking system, on the proviso I cleared it out first. The garage had become “The room we shall not speak of” in our house as it was around 3 feet deep in ‘stuff’ all round, the type of room you open the door and stuff spills out before you cram it back in and quickly shut the door – so this was no small task.

Over several weekends and many trips to the dump I finally saw some garage floor. Research into other fish room builds and quizzing people who had done it before led me to believe that insulation would be the greatest concern. My garage is internal, so I only really had the door wall to worry about – I set about insulating the door with foil backed bubble wrap and high density insulation polystyrene, expanding foam to fill all the other gaps around the doors with a very low tech draught excluder at the foot of the door. This enabled me to buy the best toy (tool, it’s a tool) I’ve ever had – a hot wire polystyrene cutter! Once I’d fitted all the insulation I spend days looking for reasons to cut polystyrene shapes! Initial results on the insulation were good – even without a heat source as such, the ambient temperature was significantly higher. Job done (The first of many times I have used this phrase in error)

Space was an issue as I have 3 kids and still needed the garage to function as a dumping ground for the sort of things that get dumped in garages (I’m given to understand once upon a time cars were kept in garages, but have not seen this phenomenon myself!) so I then set about building a stud wall for the dual purpose of separating the tanks and inevitable splashing and flooding from the boiler and electrics in the garage, and also somewhere to keep kids bikes etc. Rather than build my own racking I went for some BigDug pallet racking (MAX1) thinking it would be easier to assemble and stronger than something I build myself. After much pounding with a rubber mallet the ‘simple slot together construction’ was complete. Until I started adding tanks and realised I hadn’t left enough room to get my hands in to clean / move fish etc – shifted the shelves around and all was ok.

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Water and power were my next concerns. I wanted options, so got a hot and cold feed routed from pipes hidden in a void above the roof from when that room used to be the kitchen and had a bank of sockets running off a new separate breaker installed above the rack. The water and power were the only bits I got a professional in to do for me (they are also the only elements that have failed on me so far – but that’s another story, but at least I had someone else to blame!). Hot and cold feeds run through a thermostatic mixer valve (with a cold bypass) then through a HMA filter giving me fresh water on demand, heated if required. I did have RO at one point too, but didn’t really need it as my water is pretty good straight from the tap. The soil stack ran through the garage so that was the ideal drain point. The plumber put the entry point to the drain about 3 inches higher than the overflow of the sump (despite me telling him 10 times what I wanted and marking on the wall what the max height was) which kyboshed my plans for a         constant drip and overflow water change solution.

For lighting I just went for LED strips from eBay attached by staple gun to the underside of each shelf – I hadn’t intended having any plants so lights were purely to see by. Obviously I then stuffed a couple of tanks full of plants in an effort to reduce nitrates (which works very well) so had to revisit that, and now have a very eclectic mix of lighting.

At this point I could get all the spare tanks moved into the garage and get a couple of tanks running, connected to a 3rd I converted into a simple sump. However my plans were getting grander and I soon ordered 6 new tanks from Barlows. I drilled these for overflows and bought up Sheffields supply of push fit pipe, fittings, overflow pipe and sealant. I made lids from Corotherm sheets. A 3500lph pump in the sump fed all 3 tanks through a series of T junctions and taps. These all then overflow into the sump. I have a 2nd small pump that switches on 10 times a day via electronic timer for a couple of minutes to empty water, which refills through a float valve in the sump fed from the HMA. This combined with daily poop siphoning changes around 300l per day. A STC-1000 heating controller regulates the temp with around 800w of heaters in the sump.

Recently a breeder friend was reshuffling his fish house and gave me a 2nd rack system, which has allowed me to add 2 further larger tanks opposite this rack, running as standalone tanks with canister filters and homemade sumps / filters. I’ve hooked them up with feeds from the HMA and float valves and small pumps to empty 20% daily.

At this point I’d raised a few batches of Discus fry, but had decided to branch out and try a few more species, starting with 1 tank dedicated to a pair of Bristlenose plecs and another to a group of small L181, then Cories, Kribs and other smaller Cichlids, shrimp and of course the ever present guppies! I’m still going to keep the discus thing going – hoping to get to a couple of shows, and if I ever get a fish worthy, showing too.

Next jobs – I needed to upgrade the system pump. It was quite cheap but annoyingly noisy and just getting worse with time. The two racks facing each other form a very definite fish section in the garage – I considered another stud wall but in the end simply hung a heavy thermal curtain to properly separate it off / insulate more, it worked perfectly. Also considering a dehumidifier – not convinced I need it yet, but will if I close off the fish area.

Fast forward a few years and I started to document things on YouTube – first under the name ‘Discus Newbie’ which was the name I’d joined many forums with. I mainly took short videos of fish and breeding logs purely to keep track myself. I hadn’t even considered people might start watching my videos. I didn’t even speak or edit or anything!

Another rack system sprouted up in the fish room, I added that dehumidifier (I definitely did need one) and a few more tanks too – I change things around from time to time, but I think 20 tanks was the most I was ever able to squeeze in there! Now extra tanks sprout up in other rooms when some space goes unclaimed for a few days! I’ve bred all sorts of fish and changed from central sumps to individually filtered tanks to give me more options for fish that require differing water parameters, and I finally have that continuous drip water change system. The YouTube channel has grown, and trying to make and edit videos has become a new hobby in and of itself.

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