Renovation of the old aquarium and construction of a lighting lamp

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How to restore an old aquarium at a low cost? I have been asking myself this question for the last few days, when I decided to reactivate a nearly 340-liter tank that had been standing outside for 8 years.

Recently, I have been drawn to a new hobby – aquarium. Like many people, I started quite modestly, with a small, 54-liter tank. Interestingly, it was not even mine – this was the ready Aquael leddy 60 set I gave my mother as a Christmas present. Regular help with the aquarium meant that one day I decided that it was time for my “pot”. So it happened. Initially, I planned to order the exact same set. However, we found a very good offer and we bought a 3x larger Wiwal tank (80x35x60cm, 180 liters). This, however, also turned out to be not enough.

My wife has quite a lot of experience in aquaristics. For a long time, she had an almost 310-liter tank, which she bought from a friend nearly 15 years ago and placed in her family home. However, when we decided to live together on the other side of town, there was no one to look after such a large aquarium on a regular basis. Her parents had neither the will nor the appropriate knowledge for this. This is how the history of this reservoir ends – it was emptied and stood in the garden, making it a greenhouse for seedlings and cuttings. And this has been the case for the last 8 years and it would probably still be if we had not made the decision to reactivate it one morning.

Check the condition of the old aquarium

The reservoir is quite old and for many years it has been exposed to the following effects: sun, high and low temperatures, strong wind and everything else that could come across it outside. The first inspection concerned the condition of the glass. For such a large capacity and a length of 140 cm, it is not particularly thick. 8 mm thick glass pane is quite small for such a large liter capacity, but the glazier did a good job before – the aquarium also has additional reinforcements along and across, also of the same thickness.

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It is worth making a thorough inspection using a flashlight or lamp. By shining from the back of the glass pane or on its edge, it is easier to spot any damage, scratches, chipping or cracks. In this particular case, the nearly 15-year-old aquarium has quite a lot of scratches of different thickness (inside and outside) and one, almost one centimeter-long chipping. It was located right on the top edge of the glass, above the reinforcement, but it was also not deep enough to damage the glass more. Many experienced aquarists recommend that the old tanks, which we are not sure, be inspected by a glazier. A specialist can cut out the damaged glass and replace it with a new one. It is also recommended to re-glue and seal the joints. The layer of old window glue and silicone may not be as strong anymore. We do not want the fully flooded tank to be released and over 300 liters of water to spill onto the floor. It would be a disaster.

In our case, we wanted to renovate the tank at the cheapest possible cost. We planned to spend the money saved in this way on the most efficient external filter with high overfiltration (for much larger tanks than ours), building our own LED lighting lamp for the aquarium and making our own aquarium cover. On this occasion, I will answer the question that may have already come to your mind – why not buy a new aquarium to eliminate the risk? It’s all about budget. Ordinary glass aquariums are not expensive. However, their transport requires appropriate protection, often a separate pallet, which significantly increases the cost of delivery. As a result, shipping alone can cost as much as the aquarium itself. Locally, it is possible to order from a glazier. These often provide the amount of the tank per liter. Many of them do not fulfill small orders (e.g. below 200 liters). The average price in Lublin for an 8mm Optiwhite glass tank is about 3 PLN per liter (around 0.7 euro). Renovating an old aquarium allows you to immediately save nearly a lot of money.

The aquarium also needed to be cleaned well. Gel vinegar, which we recently bought out of curiosity in one of the stores, turned out to be helpful. Nice to remove some limescale and other impurities. Thicker layers already required a mechanical method. The best part of the job was … a brass ice scraper for ice windows.

Checking for leaks – is the aquarium leaking?

The first inspection of the glass did not disturb us. It had a lot of scratches, but it was an acceptable element. The next step was to check the connections. These have already been corrected and smoothed in the past. In some places it was not done very aesthetically, but still quite effectively. There were no gaps to be seen, and the silicone did not stick out anywhere either. Therefore, we decided it was time to flood the aquarium. Due to the fact that the tank was standing outside for a long time non-stop and, in addition, slightly at an angle, we introduced the water gradually – no more than 20% per day. In this way, it was possible to equalize all the stresses on the glass caused by extreme weather. Filling the aquarium too quickly could simply make it explode.

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When the aquarium was completely flooded after a few days, I added my spare filter – Aquael Turbo 1500 to make the water move. In this way, I checked that its movement would not damage the old glass. After a few days the water started to get thick, but the working filter cleared it within 24 hours.

In the meantime, I ordered some essentials online. Until now, the aquarium was placed on polystyrene pieces, which was not a very aesthetic solution. My choice fell on a 200×60 10mm polyethylene mat, which I bought for around 6 euro. In addition, I also ordered 35 kilograms of black sand with a gradation of 2-3 mm, a large mangrove root and an aluminum profile with plexiglass, but more on that in a moment. 

Construction of an aquarium power LED lamp

The flooded aquarium had to stand for a few days to exclude any leaks. After a week, I emptied it. I used water in the garden. Once I was sure that the tank would be able to go home – I started to prepare the appropriate lighting for it.

Taking advantage of last year’s Black Thursday sale, I bought a supply of electronics. Having hidden a few 12V power supplies and LED drivers dedicated to power LED, I drew two LED lamps.

The first one was used in a smaller, 40-liter tank. It will serve as a nest box and a place for plant grafting. For this reason, the choice fell on an aluminum profile with a width of 16 centimeters, milled dibond, which I got at a good price.

The whole thing is covered with a piece of 3mm plexiglass, and it will stand on two legs made of PVC, inserted into the sides of the aluminum profile. In the garage I also found a supply of 1 and 3 watt power LEDs and mini-lenses that help focus light from powerLED. I used special PCB pads to facilitate soldering the wires and dissipating heat. I glued the diodes to the base with a special heat-conducting glue. I attached the supports to the aluminum profile in a similar way. In this way, the entire profile became one huge heat sink.

I planned to use 32 LEDs in two channels. The first is 20x1W (350 mA), the second is 12x3W (700 mA). Most of them went to the perimeter of the aquarium and they are pure white LEDs – between 6,500 and 8,500 Kelvin. Both circuits are connected independently to the switch, but both operate in series. Inside there is a place for stronger – colored LEDs. How to calculate the appropriate power and voltage of the power supply? In the case of serial connection – the individual power of the diodes and the voltage with which they can work are added up. Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that the voltage in the entire system is not too high. You can mix diodes of different colors (operating at different voltages), but note that 1W diodes work at a lower current (A) than 3W (350A vs 700A). You will also find 5W PowerLED and Cree LEDs on sale. There are also multi-color LEDs, which consist of several small LEDs of different color and can glow in many colors.

Why am I mixing white by adding colder colors? For the maximum amount of blue light without the use of blue LEDs separately. Cold white has enough of it.

The second thread is a kind of experiment. It consists of the following LEDs: warm white (3200K), several deep red (~ 660nm), one orange (~ 600-625 nm) and two green (~ 500-580nm). In this way, I filled the full spectrum of light used by plants for growth. I also added one royal blue LED, which is a slightly darker shade of blue.

The second lamp will also be made on an aluminum profile, but with the use of ten 13-watt COB LED modules operating at a voltage of 12V. I connected the modules in parallel with the use of wago connectors and a two-pole switch.

Thanks to this, I can turn on both sides of the lamp independently. I made the lamp 30 cm shorter than the length of the aquarium and placed it on the transverse reinforcements of the tank. From the bottom it is covered with plexiglass, and the edges are secured with a plastic profile for tiles cut and pasted on silicone.

Before sticking the led cob panels, I drew individual places on the aluminum profile. They are not accidental – the aquarium has two reinforcements on which a lamp is mounted. They would block the beam of light.

Why not powerLED? The tank is quite tall and long (60 and 140 cm respectively), so I would have to build two such lamps using about 50-60 three-watt LEDs each.

The lamp can be hooked on the edges of the aquarium glass. The water in the tank is blue due to the prophylactic use of blue to block the algae band and sterilize the water

By adding the appropriate LED drivers, it would raise the amount several times. COB modules gave me quite a good beam angle and penetration of the water surface. 8 modules have a color temperature of 6,500 Kelvin, which provides a fairly wide color spectrum for plants.

I completed the spectrum by using independently switchable two 4300 Kelvin modules and one red bar. Thanks to this, the power and spectrum of light favor the growth of all plants, but also emphasize the color of the fish.

After measuring the operating temperature, it does not exceed 35 degrees Celsius after a few hours of working. For comparison, a test version with similar power (3x50W), but using cob LEDs operating at 230V, made the profile heat up to 75 degrees and would require the use of additional, large heat sinks or cooling with fans. Without it, the lamp’s life would drop, and the lamp itself could heat up the water in the aquarium too much.

Final preparations before flooding the aquarium

A quite popular solution is to stick decorative graphics on the back of the aquarium. Sometimes they are underwater landscapes, but also recently solid colors are gaining popularity. I have seen several aquariums with a dark substrate and a dark background. I like this solution the most, because it enhances the color of plants and fish. However, I decided not to use foil because the aquarium had a scratched glass on the back which would not look very good with the foil. I found a can of plastidip in the garage, which is spray rubber. I once bought it for another project. Color: mat black suited me very much and I decided to cover the back of the aquarium with it. Plastidip has the advantage over other canned varnishes that you can tear off the entire layer at any time like foil, but also the rubber paint covers all scratches and glass splinters nicely. It also dries pretty quickly.

I attached a few strips of double-sided tape to the solid chest of drawers where the aquarium once stood. Then I put the mat I had purchased on top of it. Using an old wallpaper knife (I always buy it and then lose it somewhere), I cut the mat to the shape of a chest of drawers. It is profiled at the front, but I deliberately did not cut the mat to the shape of the aquarium, only the furniture. By combining the whole thing with a dark substrate and dark silicone, it gives extra depth to the tank from a distance. And when doing any work on the tank, the water drips onto the mat, not on the piece of furniture, so it won’t swell over time and it’s easier to clean up after maintenance work.

I used the following: Azoo 11-in-1 starter bacteria, woody slate, dragon rocks and fine sand (for the beach for Corydoras). However, I had to invest in a heater (Aquael 200W Platinium) and a longer pipe for the external filter. The one in the set is too short for me, because the filter is on one side of the cabinet. The ultimate solution is to place the filter outlet on one side and the inlet on the other. 

An aquarium now

By saving on the tank, lamp and other elements, I could afford to buy a more powerful filter. The choice fell on the JBL E1502 Geenline external filter, which is capable of filtration in aquariums up to 700 liters. You can find his review in another material. I also planted plants, this time watching over the appropriate plans for each species. The next step will be to make our own cover using foamed PVC. Why not buy a ready-made one? The aquarium does not have a standard size, so only a made-to-measure lid is possible. Looking through the offers of specialists, it would be an expense of over 250 euro (aluminum). However, a friend of mine recommended another DIY project using PVC. I just ordered them via web and the entire material cost me PLN 25 euro, so over 10 times less than I would have to pay to a specialist. You will find out what you can do with it in the next post.

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Jakub Markiewicz
Jakub Markiewiczhttps://jotem.in
Hi, I am the author of the Jotem.in blog and series of thematic portals since 2013. I have nearly 15 years of experience in working in the media, marketing, public relations and IT. If you are interested in cooperation, you would like me to write about something or test a product - let me know.
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