Sump-thing About Choosing Your Materials Carefully

     If you’ve successfully built your own sump and it worked flawlessly the first time, meaning that you had nothing break, your water levels consistently sat just right, and it worked impeccably with your display system, then consider yourself lucky!

     Here I am on my third sump design after several overhauls and I’ve come to the realization that I made a big mistake when choosing the materials for my baffles. Mind you, it’s only a 20 gallon sump, so I was under the impression that 1/8” glass from Lowe’s would be plenty durable to withstand 20 gallons (figuratively) of water pressure. Well, sure! They’re strong enough, but there’s one major flaw…

     That stuff breaks like a Kit Kat Bar if you hit it the wrong way! Obviously we do most of the work in our sumps. From adding chemicals, changing filter socks, changing media pads, emptying your skimmer cup, or even just adding water, there’s plenty of opportunities to be unintentionally rough with your sump. Here are a couple of scenarios to prove it.

Scenario 1:

     My PH was reading a little low, so I went for my trusty 8.4 to add just a little bit. The bottle was just to the left of my sump, up on a shelf.  So as I was grabbing for the 8.4, my dang Calcification bottle dive bombed into the return chamber of my sump, cracking one of the baffles which enclosed my bubble trap. No big deal… I cut the silicone, removed it, and it still worked fine after some rearranging. I lied, it WAS a big deal. It was about a 5 hour process of staying up all night.

You can see here just how much damage a little bottle did to my 1/8" tempered glass!

Scenario 2:

     I’ve got a special output vent that I made and installed onto my Reef Octopus protein skimmer that feeds over a baffle and into my refugium to create some extra flow for my macro algae and silence the output of my skimmer. I made the dumb mistake of rough housing it around to reposition it without thinking, “This thing is sitting on top of 1/8” glass, you probably shouldn’t be rough housing it.”. After kicking the voice in my head to the curb, I noticed the very unpleasant sound of cracking tempered glass. Well, luckily, this time it only cracked a small crescent shape out of the top, so it was still functional and only called for a sigh of relief.

Here's my DIY output vent silencer redirected into the refugium (BEFORE the incident)

Bonus Scenario:

     The first sump baffle fail I had was due to using 1/8” acrylic. I don’t speak of this moment much in my life because I should have known better. Thin acrylic bends and it bends hard! Although it never physically snapped or cracked (I’ll give it that!), it bent so far under the water pressure that it ripped out of the silicone seal.

     Needless to say, the smallest things that you do to your sump can be disastrous, so I’m currently in the brainstorming process of designing my new 20 gallon sump. My current design works great, but it’s time for a change before I break something else!

     Anyways, I’m not completely discouraging the use of 1/8” tempered glass from Lowe’s. It’s probably the cheapest option, they’ll cut it for you, and it’s got plenty of strength; but if you’re accident prone like me, you’ll probably want to stick with ¼” material, be it glass or acrylic, but I’ll tell you first hand that ¼” glass is going to be a pricey route!

     And finally, here’s my bonus tip of the day for you guys to get that nearly perfect silicone seal you dream of! Use painter’s tape to tape off about ¼” from each edge you’re sealing. This gives you the freedom to be a little messy and still end up with great, clean seals.

Got any burning questions? Any advice to share with the community? Feel free to comment, share, or like below!