Building a Display Tank


Lifetime Members
Lifetime Member
Aug 30, 2006
I'm in the process of building a new planted display tank for the LFS that I manage. I have a good idea of what I would like to do with the hardware and fishware involved in this project but I really wanted to run it by you guys for your input before I commit to anything.

My store specializes in reef and planted aquariums and is undergoing a major upscaling/remodel. Our remodel is a kid-in-a-toy-shop type of scenario in which our resident reef geeks get to build-out two new 215 gallon Oceanic Ultimate Starphire no-holds-barred reef displays. The first reef display will be a soft coral, LPS, anemone tank with loads of gorgeous fish and inverts. The other reef tank is a hard-core SPS, high-light, high-flow tank full of tangs designed by our resident marine biologist.

As the store manager (and sole freshwater geek in a store full of salties) my job is to build a planted display that will compete with these two monster reefs. Fortunately we have a custom acrylic fabricator who does incredible work. Sitting next to these two hulking reef setups is a 190G custom acrylic planted display that they built to our specifications. It's hard to imagine a 190G looking like a small tank (unless you're Tom), but next to these two behemoths, it does seem little petite. Its dimensions are 60" long x 24" deep x 30" tall. The top is open with a 3" lip and no center bracing (it's wide open) which allows the use of a hanging fixture (no canopy or lid) and will allow me to aquascape it with hardscape/plants emerging beyond the top of the tank. The hardware is already in place and I will get some pics of the empty setup and post them in a day or two.

I've worked with large plant displays before but have never had a chance to play with something of this scale. It's hard to describe how tall 30" of planting space is without standing in front of this thing and looking at it. Five feet wide, two feet deep, and thirty inches tall, oh the possibilities :)

Before I get to my questions I should detail the hardware that is going to be used and my plans for fish, plants, hardscape, etc. Filtration will be done with two Nu-Clear canisters - models 533 (mechanical/chemical: 25 micron mesh and loads of Purigen) and 547 (biological) - driven by a BlueLine T3 in-line pressure-rated pump. The canisters will be plumbed in parallel with a Mazzei 584 (3/4") venturi loop for CO2 injection. Water flow from the canister and venturi lines will re-unite and then be split back into two separate return lines, each with Hydor 300w in-line heaters, and exit back into the tank via ADA P-6 17mm lily pipe outflows.

Lighting will be done with a 60" Current Outer Orbit Pro 2x250w MH, 4x54w T-5 fixture using 8000K ADA MH lamps and Giesemann 6000K Midday T-5 lamps, giving the tank roughly 4 watts per gallon of light.

The fish will be South American soft/warm-water species: discus, cardinal tetras, Dicrossus, Apistogramma spp., etc. Plants will be Tonina and Eriocaulon-style species that thrive in the same warm, soft-water conditions. I'm planning on using ADA Aquasoil as the substrate (no Powersand, to avoid the mess it causes when uprooting stem plants and other root-feeders, as well as the associated nutrient spikes), with a bit of extra peat and mulm beneath it, a Bright Sand foreground, and some select pieces of manzanita wood for hardscape.

I've already got most of the hardware but now that I can actually look at it I have some doubts. The ADA P-6 lily-pipe outflows look adequate for the job but the V-7 inflow pipes, even though they're the largest glass pipes available from ADA, look like toys in this tank. They only drop down about 10" from the top of the tank, which leaves a good 20" gap to the bottom, not very deep for intake pipes, IMHO. And the cut glass screens on these lily-pipe intakes appear so small and limited that I can easily imagine the BlueLine T3 pump imploding them when I fire it up for the first time. I am considering ditching them and having standpipe intakes drilled into the bottom of the tank instead. These intakes could easily be hidden in the plants and would give me a lot more confidence. Thoughts?

The wood I plan on using I hand-selected from over 200 pounds of manzanita pieces that we received. It is very nice looking but I've heard of people having issues with toxicity and buoyancy with manzanita. I can easily soak it and/or anchor it but I still worry about any lingering toxicity because of the somewhat delicate nature of the fish species I plan on keeping. Has anyone had any issues with this type of wood?

This will be my first Mazzei venturi injection CO2 system and I have researched it as much as I can, selecting the hardware that I think will best suit its requirements. If anyone has any input or experience regarding best practices with Mazzei venturis for CO2 injection I would greatly appreciate it.

I think that's it for now although I'm sure there will be many more questions to follow. My thanks to anyone who has managed to read all of the way through this rambling post :)


Lifetime Charter Member
Lifetime Member
Jan 24, 2005
Sacramento, CA
In that situation I would definitely go for the bottom drilled tank over the lily pipes. Just avoiding the routine cleaning of the lily pipes alone would convince me. Tom's bottom drilled tanks really show how good this can look and how well the plumbing can be hidden. Don't get nervous, but you have a golden, once in a lifetime opportunity here, so don't blow it!


Plant Guru Team
Lifetime Member
Sep 23, 2007
South Florida

Good luck with this.

I think you should go with some pre-drilled intakes. This is a big tank and discus will get big. You will need to have good flow and excellent filtering.

I don't see you mention a sump, but they would be good for you I think in this case. The mazzei should handle any c02 loss with this setup, and the wet/dry would also be good overall. You can then add some of those add-on overflows as desired.

I am not familiar with lily pipes, but I do have a 180 that has similar dimensions (72x24x24) and you just have to think bigger than normal. You may want to use some loc line type return, that way you can control more of the flow.

Lighting seems pretty intense. You don't plan on all of that all day do you? You are going to get some pretty heavy c02 and nutrient demand with all of that.

Are you going to have the MH come on during a midday burst?

I have the outer orbit and I like it a lot. Very nice operation, look, and very quiet fan.

Other than that, sounds great.

Also, keep in mind that 30" depth requires a LOOOOONG arm, so keep this in mind as you scape. You don't want to go swimming every time, you need to get in there............

I know that several folks have/use mazzeis and I am sure they will chime in.

I am going to get one myself soon, so will be following this thread closely.

I think the 584 would be good for me too............

Good luck!

Tom Barr

Staff member
Jan 23, 2005
You will need to build the base up like you do the reefs, otherwise lots of work, lots of trimming and 36" deep.

You will not be able to trim anything without doing a 50-70% water change and hanging in there.

You should get a 24" tall and 36" deep tank instead.
Look better, much easier to care for.

I added a 2000gph Maxi jet SURE FLOW conversion to my 180 gal, I'd suggest the same here. This will take the demand off the filter.

Berlin style sump might not be such a bad idea either at this scale. (use a 50 micron sock etc and ABOUT 1200-1600gph, add the mazzei there at the return pump intake).

Add pre done fill and drain valves.
Thank me later.
Bright sand will be a PITA over time on this sized tank.
It will be tough to keep it clean.

Tom Barr


Lifetime Members
Lifetime Member
Aug 30, 2006

Tank has now been hard-plumbed, leak-tested, and up and running for about a week using a Blueline 70 running a closed loop system: two Nu-Clear canisters with a parallel 584 Mazzei loop. CO2 injection efficiency with this much pressure is incredibly impressive. It took me a couple of days to properly seal the Mazzei to prevent it from sucking in atmospheric O2 and filling the tank with bubbles. I can drop the pH a full point in less than 45 minutes if I open the Mazzei full-bore. It's just amazing. With the Blueline 70 I have great flow and great pressure, too much of both unless somewhat throttled. I have no complaints at all about this pump on this tank.

I'm also very happy with the ADA P-6 17mm Lily Pipe Outflow. It delivers the water back to the tank very evenly from top to bottom, leaving no noticeable dead spots. And the surface skimming vortex it creates is equally great. I'll be the first to admit that I thought these things were high-priced toys for ADA fanboys until I tried them. I'm sold now, although I can do without the ADA glass intakes, way too small. If I tried to hook them up to the Blueline running this tank they would probably implode.

I will post some picks of the tank soon.


Lifetime Members
Lifetime Member
Aug 30, 2006
Forgot to mention that the intakes were drilled into the back wall of the tank (rather than using bottom-drilled stand-pipe intakes) 12" up and 15" in from either side. I used PVC T connectors with dual intake strainers on each one for redundancy. They are almost invisible right now, even though the plants have not yet grown in to obscure them.

Thanks for the advice on tank size Tom but unfortunately this one got ordered for me before my advice could be heard. I'm OK with the depth (I've got a 2 foot long set of planting tweezers/tongs) but I would much rather have a 24" deep tank for ease of use.

The 2x250w 8000K MH lamps look fantastic and appear to be adequate for carpet plants at 30" depth. We will see how things go in the next month.


Guru Class Expert
Feb 23, 2006
Travis .. I am growing Tonina Belem, fluviatalis, and Eriocaulons as well as ludwiga glandulosa, one of the babies of your original blyxia which has split a dozen or more times...

I still also have a bit of pantanal .. all with 2.5 watts per gallon.

I didn't realize manzanita was toxic. Mine is fine.. my cardinals are all strong after a year, as are apistos, rasbora espies, rummies that are 3 years old and just won't go to the light. Hell I have a lemon tetra that is 4 years old. I know because it was a present from cat when I was pregnant with Sam.

I boiled the manzanita until it was willing to sink, and just stuck it in the tank. I wonder if I just got lucky?

If you like I'll shoot the tank and send a pic. It can use a little trimming, but is in decent enough shape.

the fluviatilis and belem are both weeds. be careful you will be trimming a lot! I have kept a bunch of annubias in the far corner just to cut down on pruning.