Technical questions from a n00b


Junior Poster
Feb 2, 2010
This is my 2nd post now... and it may be a long one.....but you all still have to go easy on me :)

I just ordered a Mr. Aqua 24x18x18 rimless tank from and this will be my first venture into a true planted aquarium. I have had 3 all-fish tanks during my life but that was years ago and they were always the cheap ones with cheap filters and cheap lights etc.

But this time I want to "do it right" since I am older now and I am able to spend more time at home to take care of it...and I won't have to scrimp and save just to buy a new piece of driftwood (don't miss those college days eating Romen noodles).

I have been trying to read as much as I can so that I can hopefully buy things just once. I learned a while ago to just spend the money upfront and get the better one now. Otherwise you buy the cheap one and then 3 months later you buy the nicer one that you wanted in the first place and end up spending more money than if you would have just bought the better one in the first place. are my first few questions that I can't seem to find answers to.

1. I am not asking about lights or watts/gallon (yet), but rather about the fixtures. In the past I have always had the cheap fixtures with built in lid that sat on the plastic rim around the top of the tank. But it seems most aqua-scape/planted tanks have lights hanging from the ceiling or on legs that hold it up above the water 6 or 8 inches. Why is that? I can't think that there is much heat generated from florescent lights. Do you need to move the lights closer to or away from the water surface from time to time for any reason? Seems like a lot of light would be "wasted" as it bleeds into the room instead of into the tank.....but I am sure there is a reason.

2. Another light fixture question ....why are they so expensive? I can't see why the LFS and online places have lights that are $300 + dollars when I can get a fixture from the hardware store that is $30. What is the difference between the "nice" $300 aquarium fixture and the $30 dollar fixture I have hanging in the garage? I know there are better shaped and polished reflectors in the $300 fixtures and I have seen some with built in timers....but what are the other differences to justify the cost?

3. What is the best way to change water when you are concerned about disturbing live plants? In the past I always filled a bucket, dropped in some dechlorinator and poured the bucket onto the big decorative rocks slowly to keep the bottom gravel from being disturbed too much. But now I am thinking about how this needs to be done when there are live plants in a carefully crafted aqua-scape. I read an article about a guy who used his canister filter to aid with water changes. What he did was to have shut offs and t-fittings with a length of tubing on the output and input of the canister filter. Then he could use the pump in the canister filter to pump water out of the tank and into a bucket to drain the tank.....and then the opposite to fill back up where he would pump clean water out of a bucket through the canister filter back up into the tank. Will that work? That sounds like a great idea but I worry about damaging the pump in the canister filter somehow. Any thoughts on that or water changes in general?

Well I have a bunch of other questions I still need answers to .......but I will save them for another time.

Thanks again for your patience and any input or guidance you all care to share with me.

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Plant Guru Team
Lifetime Member
Sep 23, 2007
South Florida
Hi Bill,

1. Many folks mount their lights higher so they can adjust the amount of light the PLANTS recieve. Many folks have way too much light and this eventually causes issues. Light is what drives plant growth so the less light the less growth and need for as much c02 and other nutes.

2. Aesthetics, better reflectors, built in fans, etc.

3. It is a good idea. You just need to incorporate a T and other fittings inline with the pump. Then you turn valves to flow the water the direction you want. Many examples of this on the web.

Hope this helps.


Lifetime Charter Member
Lifetime Member
Jan 15, 2009
One of the reasons for the lighting pendants is the evenness of the light. If you take a flashlight and put it a foot away from a wall and turn it on you have a "hot spot" of light right in front and a very dimly lit area around it. If you move the light a few feet away, you still have a hot spot, but it's not as intense and now the surrounding area gets more evenly lit. If you put your hand in the beam up close your hand casts a very stark shadow. Pull the light back a bit and it's less defined and not as dark. Now picture the flashlight as a pendant above the tank and your hand as a fast growing stem plant overgrowing other plants and you'll get the idea. Pendants give you this flexibility easier than an enclosed hood plus it's easier to have plants grow out the top and flower and such where you can see them. Not having covers let's dust/dirt/cats/small children fall into the tank and encourages "pranks" by ---hole roommates who add things to the tank not realizing they just killed 450 dollars worth of discus because they don't like white russians or other fruity drinks or other creative items. There are tradeoffs to be had here...

Yes, you CAN use the 30 dollar shop light and it'll work just fine. It IS fugly for one, and far more cheaply made for second. You don't NEED 20 dollar lamps x4 and you don't NEED a 300 dollar fixture. It WILL give you bragging rights which is no biggie. It WILL also have a higher aesthetic value which is useful for the living room placement with guests. They ARE better built than the cheapo shop lights, but may not necessarily do the job better.

If you plumb in a couple of ball valves on either side of a T fitting in the EXHAUST side on your cannister filter you'll be fine. Turn the ball valve closest to the tank OFF. Open the valve to the hose all the way to ON and you'll pump water from the filter to wherever. Cannisters aren't usually all that strong, but it should get you to the tub and probably faster than a straight siphon. When you're done draining, turn off the filter, OPEN the valve to the tank and add dechlor to the tank. CLOSE the valve closest to the filter and fill the tank. You MUST isolate the filter from the faucet water or you'll flush the bacteria in chlorine/chloramine. Not a good thing for them. When done filling, CLOSE the hose valve and put the hose away, OPEN the filter valve and turn the filter back on. As long as you didn't drain the tank to the point where air was sucked through it the filter should start right up and you're done.