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Written by: Mike DiFIlippo (Fishyman)






    Equipment needed:

  • Tank
  • Pump
  • Acrylic or glass Aquarium safe silicone
  • PVC pipe and many fittings (explained below)
  • PVC primer and glue
  • PVC cutter or saw


  • This can just be a cheap tank you have laying around or bought, no top is needed and you do not have to drill the tank if you do not want (we decided not to drill the tank). We used a 20 Gallon long because it fit well where we were putting it and it would be a good match to our 37 gallon display tank.


  • You want to do some research before buying a pump, you need to know about how much head height your going to have (vertical height from the pump to where the water will empty into), and an idea of how many gallons per hour you need. If you do not want to drill the tank then you need a pump that can be submerged. We used a Mag3 but soon upgraded to a Quiet one 4000 because the Mag3 was not powerful enough.


  • This will be used to create your baffles (dividers) the size of them depend on the dimension of your aquarium, if you use acrylic make sure to leave about a 1/8 inch gap on both sides (the silicone will fill this gap, if you donít do this you could crack the tank as acrylic can expand). Itís a good idea to go with 3/8Ē or 1/4Ē glass or acrylic. Also follow the directions on the silicone and make sure to let it fully cure before filling.

    PVC pipe and fittings

  • Go to your local Home Depot or Lowes youíll find they usually sell it in 10 foot lengths the size really depends on the size of the tank and such we choose 3/4Ē for both of our lines (waste and return to display). Fittings, your going to need a lot (90s, 45s, Ts, caps, ball valves for control, unions, so on and so forth) try and draw up a little diagram of what you want before you go to buy so you donít have to make multiple trips. Also pick up PVC primer and glue and either use a hack saw or other type of saw or a PVC cutter (very nice to have on hand makes life easier).
    Building it:

  • The size of each compartment in the sump its self will be based on your preference, the size of the tank, and what you want to put in it. We used 3 pieces of 3/8th acrylic as the dividers spaced 1Ē apart and alternated them up down so that the water would flow over the first one, under the second one, and over the third one into the return chamber where the pump is. One thing you want to make sure you do is that your baffle that the water is going over is at least 2Ē away from the top of the tank. This will make sure you donít over flow the tank by normal use.

    photo of the sump
    Here you can see I spaced the baffles and used painters tape to hold them in place while the silicone dried


  • After the silicone has dried place the pump in place and put the tank where it will be sitting. Start figuring out how your going to plumb your tank. Try to have as few 90 degree bends as possible as they will limit flow, 45s are much better to have. Dry fit first and once youíre satisfied then go and glue the PVC together by first applying the primer then the glue on top of the primer. Apply primer to both pieces (lets so the pipe and the 90 degree bend) then apply the glue to the pipe only, push it all the way in and hold. Once it dries (about one minute later) the piece will be stuck for good so make sure you mark the pipe and the fitting so you donít mess up. If any of the plumbing includes threads be sure to use Teflon tape or liquid Teflon tape to keep from leaking (this is how most pumps will be attached).

    3d plumbing image
    3D drawing of what I wanted the plumbing to look like, helped me plan and buy materials

    actual plumbing image
    Some of the plumbing here you can see, to the right we have some ball valves that will help control water flow


  • To get the water out of the display and into the sump you have a few options. First you could buy an overflow box that is composed of two boxes one outside the tank and one inside. The one outside the tank is a little lower than the inside one and using a tube moves water from the tank into the overflow which you then connect to the plumbing.

    overflow box


  • Another choice is to drill your tank (this requires a special drill bit and if you crack the tank youíre going to need a new one). After drilling the hole(s) you attach a bulkhead to the tank and run your plumbing from that.

  • The way we plumbed our waste is by using the power of siphon. We ran our PVC pipe over the top of the tank (using 90s) and built strainers by drilling holes in the pipe and putting a cap at the end. Then pulling a siphon by filling the line with water gets the flow going into the sump. Anyway you choose be prepared to do a lot of fine tuning with flow control.

  • Always realize that using a sump will make chances of a flood higher so when making your sump tank into consideration how much water will flow out of the display tank and into the sump, and how much water would flow out of the sump into the display if your waste line failed.

  • Finally add any rock, macro algae, and sand you wanted and youíve got your self a DIY sump.

    complete sump
    Here you can see sand and rock in one section of the tank.



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