Undergravel filters with powerheads..opinions?

mannye(z10 Miami Beach)May 26, 2005

I use an undergravel filter with two powerheads (small ones, in a 20gal tank). I feel there is not better way to keep a tank in top shape. It's quiet and easy to maintain. (Note...I'm sure there are better ways like wet/dry systems and the like, but I mean no better way for a joe six pack type)

I vacuum the gravel every two to four weeks. I would say more often at the 2 week interval than not. I must admit that I get what seems like huge amounts of detritus for the small amount of fish I have (list of fish at the end of the post) but the water is always crystal clear (I admit to cheating with a water clarifier) and the fish are thriving. They grow large, breed and are always active and long lived.

I have been asked by a friend to set up a tank for his kids, and I'm thnking this willbe the best way to go. They vacuum the gravel once in a while, change out 10% of the water every other week, and they should at least refrain from killing the first batch of fish.

I don't like outside filters because:

1. They are ugly

2. They need more attention like changing cartriges or other media

3. They make more noise than submerged powerheads

4. And the most important...newbies often tire of staying on top of them and they end up with the same cartridge for 6 months.

I figure with an undergravel they will at lest have a bacteria culture under there taking care of business if the fish load remains low.

Anyone think different?

My fish:

A little school of neons (8 of the little buggers)

A pleco (it gets changed out about once a year cause they just get too darn big)

A betta (Also rotated with new ones because I can't stand seeing them in the little bowls so I often give on to somone that has a big tank with compatable and get a new one.

Every year or so I also get a new batch of neons because I just like the little guys better...my local place is very happy to take the larger ones in trade. I also worry that for 20 gallons the load gets too high when they start getting bigger.

There are some pretty knoledgeable guys on here and I would love to hear if I'm doing OK and if this setup seems OK for my friend.

Oh...no real plants... They have proven to be too much of a pain in the ass for me...it's my next step..learning to keep live plants that thrive.

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woeisme(z7b NC)

If UGF is prefered I wont argue. I would not reccomend one however. If it is insisted I would reccomend a a reverse flow kit. Some of your res=asons I do dis agree with."1 They are ugly" A HOB type only has 1 lifter tube that can more be easily hidden than 2 lifter tubes with powerheads on the top.2 the "more attention issue" Depending on water conditions the only thing that needs to be done is to rinse out the pad part when doing partial water changes. It also allows for additional media and carbon to be added that are much safer than using a chemical addittive for clarity. 3 more noise. I have a HOB and powerheads/pumps for my 29 gal setup an both are relatively noiseless. (the powerhead is used for additional circulation for a heavily plantted tank, the pump is for a DIY CO2 reactor).4 newbies not maintaining . If they cant do something as simple as rinse a flter pad or replace them when needed (A waste of money in my opinion) Than I would care to guess the rest of the maintainance wont be done and they wont have a fish remaining to worry about. OK i disagreed on all the reasons heres some more benefits to other means of filtration. You can get a HOB style filter for under $20 for your size set up / 2 pumps and the UGF itself about $35 i would estimate. To have successful plants that thrive you need to remove the UGF, Most plants just won't survive without problems with one. Added chemical filtration option through use of different type of media instead of posibly unsafe chemical additives. UGF's sometimes need to be removed completely to maintain deppending on water conditions. The plates can clog causeing a "bad" bacteria growth resulting in cloudy or lethal water. Any thing that works for an individual is fine theese are just a few things that I have come across with various setups.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 12:11PM
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"Regular" flow ( water being drawn from the aquarium, through the gravel, sucked by the powerheads and pumped into the aquarium again ) works "well" as long as you keep the filtering media ( gravel ) relatively clean, regular siphoning of the gravel, regular partial water changes will keep the aquarium in good conditions, things go sour when the maintenance is not done regularily, the deritus builds up, phosphate and nitrite levels rise and I´ve seen aquariums in such degree of neglect that the gravel has turned into a slab of glued gravel, the regular flow is not as highly efficient, anything you place on top of the gravel causes a dead spot in the gravel below it diminishing the available surface area meaning less filtration, also the depth of the gravel is important, the thicker the bed the more "dead" gravel you have, oxygen is consumed by the bacteria living on the upper layers and the layer of gravel on the top of the UG is dead because there´s no oxygen to support anything. Reverse flow, which is a better and more efficient option when using UG filters, can be obtained by using reversible powerheads or with a cannister filter, since the flow is reversed the water flows from underneath the UG maintaing the bacteria alive, the remaining bacteria is kept alive because it takes the oxygen from the aquarium water, dead spots are eliminated because ornaments sitting on top of the gravel do not obstruct the water flow, detritus accumulation is less notorious but still, the gravel has to be vacuumed regularily and the partial water changes have to be done.

You don´t need water clarifiers for anything, if you need water clarifiers then something isn´t right with your aquarium.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 6:32PM
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mannye(z10 Miami Beach)

Thanks for the feedback! I never knew that my inability to keep live plants might have something to do with the UGF.

My powerheads are reversible, so I guess all I would have to do is flip the switch. I imagine I would first have to do a very thorough cleaning of the gravel.

I guess it's been working so well for all these years because I do keep the gravel clean and change 10% a week from my RO unit.

I'm going to try reversing the powerheads and see what happens.

I will hold fast to my "outside filters are ugly" comment because Most of the tanks I have seen in homes are not the big fancy ones, but rather the smaller 20 to 30 gal types that sit low on a stand. It's visible. My powerheads are hidden from view and the power cords are run along the sides in such a way that they really have to be looked for. But that's just my personal peev. I like the tank to look the least artificial as possible...if you know what I mean.

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 11:36PM
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luxum(9/10 Tampa FL)

Good canisters aren't visible (sit under the stand), don't interefere with plant roots, are silent, extremely versatile (you can pack them with any type and configuration of media that you prefer), and require much less frequent maintenance than other filters. My canister's only visible elements are the uplift and return tubes, and those are a green color that blends in easily.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 4:26PM
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james_ny(z7 NY)

I prefer an airpump over powerheads on UG filters. Better biological breakdown occur when water is slowly drawn through the filter medium, PH's flow rate is too high. Also a reverse flow UGF should go through a filter first before the UF plates or else the plates get clogged. Go with a UG AND a hang on filter. When one dies the other may save your fish.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2005 at 11:16PM
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mannye(z10 Miami Beach)

I'm sure you guys are right about the UGF, but I must be lucky because mine has not let me down yet. Besides the occasional cheating by using a clarifier, I have healthy and happy fish.

They grow, breed and look great.

I am considering your advice seriously however and I thank you guys for taking the time to answer. I'll take somepics of the tank when I get a chance and you'll see for yourselves.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2005 at 12:29AM
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As mentioned, plants are problematic with UGF, at least those that root. One other concern is that it may well be necessary to stick a siphon hose down the tube and clean out UNDER the ugfs once in awhile. Mulm that makes it all the way through will accumulate and one can have a fish kill in short order. DAMHIK. On the other hand, I read once that someone was breaking down there tank that had UGF to set up a larger one. They found several baby kuhlis under the UGF.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2005 at 5:02PM
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bought a UGF and the instructions for set-up are non-existant! can't find suitable instructions on-line either to ensure proper set-up. Can someone send instructions or a photo of a setup. i have this setup now:
Is this correct? Thanks for the help.

    Bookmark   January 12, 2008 at 11:54AM
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Looking for some information on setting up Under gravel filter. My son and I are going from 10 gallon tank to 29 gallon. I have used the UGF with the air stones the last 2 years with the 10 gal tank and a whisper filter. I will be using a whisper 30 and the UGF in the new 29 gallon tank. I was wondering if I choose to put power heads this time do I have to use two, one for each side or can i use just one? As the water flow may be too much if two are used. I have looked for information and asked may clerks in pets stores and no one has a clear answer or idea. If someone could help?

    Bookmark   August 14, 2008 at 10:19AM
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I use an UG filter in two of my 29G tanks BUT I don't use a power head or air stones to move the water. Instead, I have the lift tube connected directly to a HOB filter intake. The tubes are identical in diameter so I simply buy a length and cut it to size. The gravel serves as a pre filter for my HOB filters and their cartridges stay clean for months. I do a vacuuming with each water change and my ammonia and nitrite levels remain at zero.

I do have a power head in two of my tanks, but those are for aeration. A power head connected to a good air pump is hard to beat for making fine bubbles.

As an aside, I would recommend a canister filter over any other style of filtration unit. A close second would be a bio wheel filter. In my 55G I have both; two Emperor 400s and a Fluval 305. Those bio wheels and media baskets are awfully hard to beat. There's no way a UG filter could compete with their ease of operation, efficiency, or diversity.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 11:31PM
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I prefer a UGJ system paired with additional filtration.

Undergravel Jets - Powerhead feeds a system of CPVC tube with output nozzles at substrate level to sweep deitrus off the bottom before it can settle. This tends to allow the main filters / powerhead filter to catch things before they settle.

Can't argue with noise. HOB's tend to leave you wondering which faucet is still running. When paired with a canister or clean hob, they're near silent. (So long as water levels don't drop too far below the spray bar)

The UGJ's seem to work out best in higher flow tanks - my cichlids love them. They use the many different flow areas to help define territories / position fry for food / etc. It also cuts down very heavily on in vac time when set up correctly.

If you've got a powerhead, odds are $10-$15 will get you the cpvc pipe/fittings to do the job. You can get quite creative (boiling and clamping fittings to create nozzles, using fish safe silicone to adhere your substrate to the piping to blend in, etc).

Not knocking the UGF at all. Personal preference. I like being able to clean to the bottom glass w/o removing everything to get to it. I spent enough time fighting with large gravel slipping under the ugf plates... ;)

    Bookmark   February 10, 2011 at 2:38AM
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I have a 125 gallon tank that is set up but no fish in it. I am going with the fantail goldfish or Koi. I have two emperor 400 HOB filters on it (The lady who sold the tank used that an UG filter) I am afraid of the UG for all the filth that was under it when we moved it. Somewhere I read that you have to remove the lifter tubes and clean under the UG filter with a vaccum. Is this true. Should I use or forget the UG filter.

    Bookmark   March 13, 2011 at 8:10PM
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mannye(z10 Miami Beach)

It's been quite some time since I visited this thread. Since then my desire to go to live plants and smaller tanks has changed my mind somewhat.

I still think the HOB filters are loud compared to UGF but my latest planted tank just wouldn't work with a ugf.

Also, even though they take a lot longer to establish, planted tanks look better (IMO) and once they are settled, are much more stable.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2012 at 10:48AM
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