Introduction and building the Paludarium
I will start with a short story about how it all started, me building a wooden tank. At first I must tell you that my hobby is placed in the loft. This is a compromise with my wife who does not want my fussing and tinkering in the living room. I must say, finally the compromise suits me very well and for the following reasons: As we have two little children we decided after the birth of the first one not to smoke in the house, leaving the garden and the loft as smoking areas. During the summer the garden is a perfect choice, but at times when it is cold I prefer to be inside… At second when I am working at my tank and I made a real mess, I can leave things as they are and continue the following day without having to bother about cleaning up the mess I made in all my enthousiasm. In short I am quite pleased with my loft, which is redesigned to a second living room.
Now something about my self. Years ago I started keeping an aquarium This was a cichlid tank with lots of stones in it. My second tank was a South American tak with dwarf cichlids such as Apistogramma. Beneath you see an impression with a picture of the technique which I think comes with our hobby.
And now, let's talk about the new tank.
As I practice my hobby in the loft, of course I see also my fellow hobbyists there. One of these "soul mates" is my friend Rob wich whom I spent many hours in the loft enjoying a cigarette etc. Happily for Rob he stopped smoking, but this does not keep him from - despite my smoking - visiting me to think about and help constructing the new tank. After a while, as long as two and a half years - looking at the old tank, I discovered that there remained quite some space next to the tank to construct a new, bigger tank. This was also because Rob had the idea to construct a tank of his own, with the dimensions 300/90/300 cm! Yes, there is always someone bigger. Now back to the space I wanted to use. First I needed to discuss the subject with my wife, I realized just in time. At the loft we had a walk-in changing room; that had to go of course. But where to put the wardrobe? My wife liked the empty, spacious bedroom and was used to not having a wardrobe around in our bedroom. Very cautiously I started suggesting the enlargement of our bedroom with a dormer. The room will get nice and big, I said. She argreed with me. We could at last place a nice big wardrobe in our bedroom, I quickly added. And it's so cold in the loft, changing your clothes in winter, I said so convincingly as possible…
To keep a long story short, and to continue with the actual story: the dormer was built, the wardrobe was placed and now I have the space of my life. And now let's continue with the paludarium that we are making.
Of course some time went before designing, constructing etcetera. At first I needed to calculate the weight of the complete tank with further structure, water and glass. Soon we realized that there would be a considerable weight, all things put together. The aquarium 250/85/60 cm would contain nett 1275 litre and added to that the structure: 5 plates of plywood for aquarium and top structure, 3 plates of plywood with joists for stengthening etcetera. Het whole contraption had to stand in the loft, so it seemed advised to look at the carrying-capacity of the concrete floor.
Of course you understood already: the concrete floor was not strong enough. Happily there was a wall made of 20 cm concrete. New calculations followed. I was happy that Rob is an engineer en he has the expertise to make calculations for construction of else knows someons who can do that (thanks again, Rob!). We could carry on with the plan, for we had 4 steel consoles especially made. We could build on. The consoles were attached to the wall with special 16 mm bolts wich were chemically fastened 15 cm into the wall. The bottom of the aquarium is now situated 60 cm above the floor, so the consoles are 60 cm high and 95 cm across.
Because it had to become a paludarium I did not want stabilising strips on the glass and I wanted the front panel glazed at three sides, because I did not want to look at a long girder above the water. No, just glass at the front en above that sliding glass panels for the paludarium part. This made a lot of further calculations necessary, for a glass front panel had to resist the total water pressure. Calculations showed that 15 mm float glass should do the trick, or else 10/10/2=2,1 cm layered glass. The aquarium is constructed of wbp or waterproof plywood 18 mm, double layered, so a double layered bottom, back and sides, because it had to be a very firm construction because of the absence of stabilizers in and on the aquarium.
As you can see on the above detailed picture, we have at first made a model to see how the plates could at best be screwed on and to eachother: this was quite a puzzle. So far the first part about the construction and the first batch of pictures. For the remaining part of the construction I shall proceed with the treatment of the wood in order to get a watertight tank and construction. After that we will come to the technique used in and around the aquarium and the paludarium. Eventually the furnishing of the aquarium will be discussed, as well as the furnishing of the paludarium and finally the animals and fishes that will form the population of it all.
So, let's get on with the tank!
The plywood plates en the top structure are glued and screwed together, so the raw construction is ready. The inner corners of the aquarium are treated with a thick layer of epoxy resin, as you can see on the picture.
After that you can apply the first layer or impregnating medium on the treated parts to ensure a good fastening. If you want to go on right away, you can apply the first mat(s) of fibreglass as long as the impregnated layer is still feeling sticky.
The meaning of these rounded corners is, that when you apply fibreglass mats, these are not glued squarely tho the wood, but follow smoothly the finished inner corners. After the treatment of the corners, with due observance of the time things need to dry, you can sand the resin and the wood that need further treatment with sanding paper 80.
For the aquarium part I need 300 gram mats and for the top structure240 gram mats. The fibreglass mat which is applied sticks in some way into the still sticky impregnating layer. Then you saturate the fibreglass mat very well with the epoxy resin and the hardener that goes with it, by use of a fleece roller and a brush. Then roll out with a special metal roller to press out occurring air bubbles. In our case I applied two 300 gram mats for the aquarium on top of each other, of course with some time in between, and a single 240 mat for the top structure. After applying the last mat you need to apply an aftertreatment layer of epoxy resin twice. That is each time when the layer still feels sticky. You can of course let each layer dry completely before continuing with the next, but in that case each layer has to be sanded when dry. Eventually we spent 14 hours on end doing all that with my tank.
The next morning we looked at the result right away of course. The bottom of the tank looked nice an smooth, the walls however had some spots where the fibreglass mat could be pushed in. Yes, laminating is a trade of it's own and some expertise is needed. Expertise which we did not have… How to proceed, was the first that came to my mind. You could inject the spots with air behind them and then fill them with resin. I had to admit that the project with resin and fibreglass mats was nog completely succesful.
This was not caused by the product used, but we simply had not enough expertise with laminating and the use of heavy fibreglass mats. The tank would probably be watertight, but I didn't want to take any risks. In the end I chose to have the inner side of the aquarium covered with 6 mm glass on top of the epoxy layer. This meant extra costs, but I could not take the risk of having to put a bucket here and there below the aquarium. Eventually a nice watertight tank, I hope. I have to fill it yet…
In the meantime the lighting hood got ready. In the hood I placed two electric fans: one to blow air from above across the front window. At the back of the hood three ventilation gratings were placed as you can see on the picture. In this way a good circulation comes into being throughout the vivarium and the lighting hood.
The second fan is meant to - whenever desired - suck heat and moisture out of the lighting hood. My advantage is, that I already had a chimney shaft at my loft, to which I connected the fan. This makes it possible to cool the tank faster to approximately 20/21 degrees Celsius at nightfall, when the lights dim. Also during the summer with warm days it is possible to suck out warm air from the tank and hood and to get it outside through te shaft.
The two fans have regulated r.p.m., and I have to find out by trial and error which is the best setting and which are the best intervals for the second fan, which is regulated by a timer. The lighting hood is fitted with two high pressure natrium lamps of 110 watts each. These lamps are tested in several vivaria and are treated extensively in the book "Bromelien, Orchideeen und Tropenterrarium" by Benjamin & Wolfgang Swarz. The great advantage of those lamps is, that the emit relatively low heat and as such can be used very well al lighting in al lighting hood without causing to high temperatures in the hood.
Beside this 6 fluorescent lamps were fitted: 2 of 54 watts and 4 of 18 watts which are electronically regulated. Above these lamps reflectors were placed to let the light shine where I want it to. Furthermore I fitted two halogene spotlights of 50 watts each which provide local lighting. I will have to find out which intervals I have to use for these lamps. And then there is a E 27 lamp of 7 watts for the night, to create some dim light at night. To partition off the lighting hood from the paludarium I used polycarbonate panels with reflector grids above. For now we take a break, to continue afterwards with the decoration within the paludarium.
And further we go with the inner tank
and the materials used.
First the system of conduit-pipes. As you can see on the pictures I made two overflow passages for the overflow of the aquarium to the biological filter. These overflows are about 4 cm wide and join outside the tank in a shared pipe that runs to just above my biological filter at the outside of the aquarium.
I can clean the overflow whenever needed by use of a screwed cap on the pvc. For hard pvc there were created 6 passages for the circulation of the water and for the current of the waterfalls. In the top structure I created two waterfalls which are circulated by a canister filter. At the pressure side of the pump I made a distributor with three outlets at the outside of the aquarium.
One for the first waterfall, the second for the second waterfall and a third for the remaining water. On each outlet I mounted a tap, for me to control each current. The third tap is for the remaining water with an outlet at the bottom of the aquarium, where I would expect still water. Controlling the two taps for the waterfalls, the remaining capacity of the pump (1250 litres p/h at zero delivery head) can get rid of its surplus water..
At the right side of the aquarium an outlet of a delivery pump (2200 litres p/h) is located. This pump pumps up the water from my biological filter back into the aquarium. At the right back side another outlet of a pump (1250 litres p/h with zero delivery head) is located. This pump sends water to my PH-electrode and temparaturesensor. As there is a contiuous flow of water along these measurement points I can always measure the right values. This pump also serves my reactor for the CO2 that I use to control my PH. On this pump I made a bypass, so when I have a problem or should do some work in the aquarium, I don't have to shut down the circulation; my biological filter can continue circulating. For the further furnishing of the top structure and the inner part of the aquarium I applied polystyrene and polyurethane foam.
After at first glueing and "foaming" the raw contours follows the finishing and modeling of rocks, under water landscaping and the bank, to let the bank continue to the top eventually. I used a lot of tropical hardwood roots which I attached into the back wall. I would not have done this with bog wood. The hardwood will last for a long time before starting to rot. We used a gass torch too, to add some relief. When all was modeled to my liking, I treated the whole with epoxy resin, mixed with hardener and pigments. For the top structure I used the colour dark brown. You apply the resin on a part, after which you sprinkle peat (dust) which you pat into the resin. In total you will be busy with the top structure an entire week: first you let the part that you treated get dry and the next day you proceed. Below the waterline the epoxy resin is mixed with the pigments ochre and brown. This you brush on the polystyrene, sprinkle it with sand and pat it in again. Just look at the pictures for the result. All conduits are hidden behind the polyurethane foam and the polystyrene. I kept the curved joints as wide as possible to clean the conduits at a later moment when needed. All conduits are across 20 mm with wide curved joints of hard pvc.
For the photo reportage I want to give a big compliment to David, who documented it all in a great way. I thank everyone who helped me to complete this project.
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