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Old 01/24/2016, 07:15 PM   #1
Brian Crook
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Brian's 520 gal. Plywood Build + Fish Room

I've been working away for the past few months on a significantly up-sized new aquarium build, and I'd like to share some of my progress and start documenting it officially on Reef Central. Feel free to read my story below, or just skip to the pictures..

You can check out my last build here:
Brian's 220g In-Wall Build

A while back I came to the realization that my 220g tank would not lend itself to a nice layout of my recroom. I wanted to have a nice bar rail, sectional couch, television, guitars, etc, etc... and the location of this tank just wouldn't fit with that plan. My recroom measures approximately 36' by 12.5 ft, plus a large entrance and hallway. I decided the best way to go would be to create a fish room on one end of the recroom, and take the opportunity to improve on several problems with my first tank and fish room.

... Oh, and also upgrade from 220 gallon to 500+ gallon along the way!

When deciding on the size, shape, and material choice for my new aquarium, I came to the conclusion that plywood was the best choice. To pay Miracles or another manufacturer to custom build me a tank would have worked, sure, however I would have been limited by the width of my basement entrance and stairwell / hallway. In addition, I absolutely was not comfortable with the risk of carrying such a massive glass aquarium into the house and trying to squeeze it around corners and down stairs. Not to mention that the price of a custom, large glass tank is quite high.

Living in a rural part of Ontario does not afford me with much selection for custom aquarium manufacturers, other hobbyists, or even a lot of people that have ever seen a saltwater aquarium before. I also really enjoy working on the house and undertaking renovations, so building the tank myself actually appealed to me. I even considered purchasing glass panels separately and building my own glass tank. However, ultimately I decided that I was much more comfortable working with wood and decided that plywood was the way to go!

I should mention that I would not have been able to make this decision if not for the excellent aquarium build threads posted by others on this forum (and also thanks to my wife for supporting my aquarium sickness). There's actually quite a few plywood threads on here when you go digging, but there are two in particular that I found to be very helpful and encouraging:

CyclistMT's 300 Gal Plywood and Glass Build

AcroSteve's 220gal Plywood/steel hybrid. Pull up a chair, this will take a while.

Prior to starting work on the tank itself, I had to do quite a bit of demolition and construction of the new fish room. This time around I planned on having a proper, dedicated space for the aquarium and other hardware. I wanted to have more than enough space to setup a sump / refugium, frag tank, and vessels for auto top-off and water changes. I also wanted to have my own sink, counter and work space, and storage space.

To accomplish this, I wired up four dedicated 15A circuits and one 20A circuit and provided several outlets around the room. I installed a Panasonic WhisperQuiet ventilation fan and wired it to an automatic humidistat for control. I ran plumbing through the wall and will now utilize a floor drain which has always existed in this corner of the room. I insulated the walls and ceiling with Safe and Sound insulation and applied vapour barrier throughout. I applied moisture resistant paint on the walls and ceiling.. The list goes on; I'm pleased with how the room is coming together.

To start thing off, here's a "before" picture of my recroom and 220 gallon aquarium (as you can see the space wasn't being utilized all that much):





















Last edited by Brian Crook; 01/24/2016 at 07:37 PM.
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Old 01/24/2016, 07:26 PM   #2
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After insulating the new fish room and installing the door and vapour barrier, it was time to start tearing up some of the floor on the display side.

My vision was to create a bar ledge directly in front of the tank where I could have a couple of nice stools, and have the floor here wrap around to the fireplace. This would not only be an excellent spot to sit and watch the tank, but the new tank location would be absolutely optimum for the rest of the recroom, with a clear viewing angle from anywhere in the room or hall.

Presently with my 220 gallon tank, the sump / maintenance side is actually visible *first*, prior to seeing the actual tank, when you're coming down to the basement and walking by the utility room entrance. This has always bothered me and will be a thing of the past with the new build, since the entrance to the fish room is well past the display side.

Anyways, the photos continue!






















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Old 01/24/2016, 07:30 PM   #3
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I intend to do some stone veneer and custom oak trim on the wall under the aquarium, to really give it a bar / lounge feeling.








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Old 01/24/2016, 07:43 PM   #4
Neoz
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Nice job so far. Should be an interesting build for sure. Tagging along..


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Old 01/24/2016, 08:22 PM   #5
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Looks like you have a good plan.


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Old 01/24/2016, 09:05 PM   #6
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I like the little fireplace with the thermal powered fan. Not super efficient but still worth it.
FYI I'm building/built a plywood tank that is probably similar dimensions.
Mine will be just for filtration though.

Daniel.


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Old 01/24/2016, 09:12 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by scubadan206 View Post
I like the little fireplace with the thermal powered fan. Not super efficient but still worth it.
The previous owners of this house actually heated the whole house with this fireplace and circulated the air with ceiling fans to save energy. We use it more for fun but it really does blast the heat in the winter and keep the propane bill down for the furnace. Canadian winters can be tough.


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Old 01/24/2016, 10:02 PM   #8
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I'm famous!!!!

Er, well, at least I know one person read my thread anyway.

I can't believe all the work you got done in one day! I need you to come help me with my projects.


Seriously though, loving that wood look tile. Really nice job man! Can't wait to see how you progress on the tank.

Good luck!


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Old 01/24/2016, 10:29 PM   #9
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I would be a little concerned about having a point heat source that powerful so close to a glass pane. Also, by the size of the opening, I would guess you are planning a monster tank. I think you will want a panel for front access.

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Old 01/25/2016, 09:23 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by CyclistMT View Post
I'm famous!!!!

Er, well, at least I know one person read my thread anyway.

I can't believe all the work you got done in one day! I need you to come help me with my projects.

Seriously though, loving that wood look tile. Really nice job man! Can't wait to see how you progress on the tank.
I've got to give credit where it's due! Your tank turned out great and you did a great job documenting your steps. I even ended up purchasing the same Diablo saw blade for making most of the cuts.


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I would be a little concerned about having a point heat source that powerful so close to a glass pane. Also, by the size of the opening, I would guess you are planning a monster tank. I think you will want a panel for front access.
The wood stove produces a very even heat in the room. I found that even with the damper fully open all night, while the room and basement overall would be quite warm, the temperature at the aquarium wall would not be much different than the rest of the room. The only place where you notice a significant increase in temperature is directly in front of the glass door of the stove, which is facing away from the aquarium and into the room. My 220 gallon tank was also not much further from the stove than my new build, and I never had any reason to be concerned, so I don't think it'll be an issue.

Your comment regarding the front access panel is one that I've considered more than a few times! Though my new tank will be quite a bit deeper (front to back) than my 220 gallon, ultimately I decided I would make do with rear access... probably with the help of some grappling tools for picking up items near the front at the bottom of the tank. A front panel would have been nice, however I will be creating a Chicago-style bar rail and top which will be right in front of the aquarium, and I didn't want to have to stand on it in order to get into a panel. I also prefer the look of the wall without access panels and potential light bleed.

Thanks for the comments and questions; keep 'em coming as it helps me consider things as I go.

I'll be purchasing the rail from this company:
http://hardwoodsincorporated.com/


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Old 01/25/2016, 12:34 PM   #11
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Awesome. I always love plywood builds, and they are easy. My 860g DT was based off a combination of builds


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Old 01/25/2016, 01:40 PM   #12
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You didn't give any tank measurements (or I'm blind). I am curious as to tall you will build your tank and why, as I can find no information on height limitations for plywood tanks. (Yes, I am seriously considering it.)

Dave.M


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Old 01/25/2016, 03:10 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by dave.m View Post
You didn't give any tank measurements (or I'm blind). I am curious as to tall you will build your tank and why, as I can find no information on height limitations for plywood tanks. (Yes, I am seriously considering it.)
The external measurements of the tank will be 96" x 42.5" x 31.5" tall.

There will be 29" of water level, so a little bit more than my current Marineland 220 gallon tank.

Internal measurements will be approximately 94.5" x 41" x 30" tall.

I will be building a large external overflow on either end of the tank. I originally considered a coast-to-coast on the back, but seeing as I will not have access to the front of the tank, keeping the back as empty as possible was a big consideration. Overflows on either side make more sense for the layout of the fish room too.

The hole you see in the wall right now is slightly oversized on each side (~1 inch or so). The stand also needs to be installed, which will raise the tank up to approximately bar height (40") off the floor. The external overflows will be offset from the front of the tank so that they can fit in behind the drywall on the fish room side.

I will be building the aquarium out of 3/4" oak veneer plywood, as it's the best quality plywood I can obtain locally within reason. I'll incorporate two cross-braces and a full euro-brace. I'll be installing fiberglass around all the edges and then full sheets across all faces, and then pouring as many sides as I can.

Lots of work ahead!


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Old 01/25/2016, 07:48 PM   #14
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Dave.M mine is 43" tall


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Old 01/25/2016, 07:50 PM   #15
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Your plan is great Brian. Well researched obviously. Keep it coming. Took me about 3months from initial start to water and rock in


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Old 01/25/2016, 10:31 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brian Crook View Post

I will be building the aquarium out of 3/4" oak veneer plywood, as it's the best quality plywood I can obtain locally within reason. I'll incorporate two cross-braces and a full euro-brace. I'll be installing fiberglass around all the edges and then full sheets across all faces, and then pouring as many sides as I can.

Lots of work ahead!

Please, please, please let me talk you out of this. There is no point in spending the money on oak for this. Cabinet grade (gaps filled and sanded) is good enough. Plywood is the mold, epoxy is your actual structure. Save your money for more corals. Up to you but i think you can do without the fiberglass. Once you see an 1/8" to 1/4" layer of epoxy you'll understand what I'm saying.

As for front access, if it's not too late think about putting it in. There's at lot of good reasons for doing it but here's the main one, coral placement. You want to be able to see what you're doing. If you don't have front access to do this, you gave to run around the tank to check where things are put. Sounds like a little thing I know but trust me, it becomes a serious pain.


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Old 01/26/2016, 06:12 PM   #17
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Please, please, please let me talk you out of this. There is no point in spending the money on oak for this. Cabinet grade (gaps filled and sanded) is good enough. Plywood is the mold, epoxy is your actual structure. Save your money for more corals. Up to you but i think you can do without the fiberglass. Once you see an 1/8" to 1/4" layer of epoxy you'll understand what I'm saying.

As for front access, if it's not too late think about putting it in. There's at lot of good reasons for doing it but here's the main one, coral placement. You want to be able to see what you're doing. If you don't have front access to do this, you gave to run around the tank to check where things are put. Sounds like a little thing I know but trust me, it becomes a serious pain.
Sorry, but oak it is! Hah, I appreciate your suggestion and I'm sure that regular plywood would do, but it wasn't really that much extra for the veneer wood and it seemed to be better quality all around (not just the surface, but the quality of the ply itself). Also, I may end up finishing the outside in clear epoxy, or stain it and then epoxy it, so in that case the oak would actually be visible (and look good).

It's never too late to reconsider the front access. I will weigh that one out as I go. My current 220 gallon does not have front access... now sure it's only 24" front to back but I still never really had many issues with it. Positioning rock was definitely a pain, but I didn't have to do that too often.

This time around I intend to do some real "aqua-scaping" and perhaps incorporate some sort of skeleton to support my rockwork, rather than my tried and true fashion of stacking rocks which I have used for so many years. So I intend to do a lot of the rockwork when the tank is empty, and then add in my liverock throughout afterwards.

All that being said, if I find I can't live without front access, then I will add it in after the fact (ie. cover over top of tank and do a bit of demo / construction).

One question for you CyclistMT: when you installed the glass panels in your tank, did you support them underneath or from the sides, or just rely on the silicone adhesion to keep them from falling off from their own weight (particular concern while empty, however what happens if someone presses hard on the glass or something falls onto it?)

Thanks


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Old 01/26/2016, 08:17 PM   #18
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An easy test would be to tape up some cardboard boxes (using duct tape, of course, a la Red Green) to match the proposed tank size and then see how fun it will be to reach over from the back to place a ten pound piece of live rock when you can't actually see what you're doing, mount a coral plug, remove a dead fish, scrape coraline algae off the bottom of the glass, pick up the darned piece of equipment that unavoidably falls into the front of the tank when you least expect it, etc.

Dave.M


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Old 01/26/2016, 09:59 PM   #19
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Originally Posted by Brian Crook View Post
Sorry, but oak it is! Hah, I appreciate your suggestion and I'm sure that regular plywood would do, but it wasn't really that much extra for the veneer wood and it seemed to be better quality all around (not just the surface, but the quality of the ply itself). Also, I may end up finishing the outside in clear epoxy, or stain it and then epoxy it, so in that case the oak would actually be visible (and look good).

It's never too late to reconsider the front access. I will weigh that one out as I go. My current 220 gallon does not have front access... now sure it's only 24" front to back but I still never really had many issues with it. Positioning rock was definitely a pain, but I didn't have to do that too often.

This time around I intend to do some real "aqua-scaping" and perhaps incorporate some sort of skeleton to support my rockwork, rather than my tried and true fashion of stacking rocks which I have used for so many years. So I intend to do a lot of the rockwork when the tank is empty, and then add in my liverock throughout afterwards.

All that being said, if I find I can't live without front access, then I will add it in after the fact (ie. cover over top of tank and do a bit of demo / construction).

One question for you CyclistMT: when you installed the glass panels in your tank, did you support them underneath or from the sides, or just rely on the silicone adhesion to keep them from falling off from their own weight (particular concern while empty, however what happens if someone presses hard on the glass or something falls onto it?)

Thanks


Understood. All good rsasons to go with the oak. It's just the frugal side in me coming out.

Unless I'm misunderstanding the question, the glass will not be falling out. You'll be turning the tank on its face and installing the glass parallel to the floor. Remember, the silicone is a gasket in this application. The weight of the glass pushes against the silicone to create the seal. You can silcone around the edge of the glass too but you need the gasket.


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Old 01/26/2016, 10:06 PM   #20
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Unless I'm misunderstanding the question, the glass will not be falling out. You'll be turning the tank on its face and installing the glass parallel to the floor. Remember, the silicone is a gasket in this application. The weight of the glass pushes against the silicone to create the seal. You can silcone around the edge of the glass too but you need the gasket.
Yeah, I guess I was thinking that after I put the tank right-side up again with the glass installed, the 'gasket' would be adhering the outside of the glass to the inside of the tank wood, but there would be empty space around the perimeter of the glass since it doesn't butt up against the other sides of the tank... or at least, it can't because I'll be pouring filets into the corners.

Perhaps I am underestimating just how strong an extra wide bead of silicone is, as this seems to be common practice for others while making these tanks... hmm


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Old 01/26/2016, 10:49 PM   #21
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Yeah, I guess I was thinking that after I put the tank right-side up again with the glass installed, the 'gasket' would be adhering the outside of the glass to the inside of the tank wood, but there would be empty space around the perimeter of the glass since it doesn't butt up against the other sides of the tank... or at least, it can't because I'll be pouring filets into the corners.

Perhaps I am underestimating just how strong an extra wide bead of silicone is, as this seems to be common practice for others while making these tanks... hmm

Ah, I get it now. Once the silicone is cured the glass will not fall out when you upright the tank especially if you use RTV silicone.


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Old 01/27/2016, 05:20 PM   #22
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The build is coming along nicely. I'm anxious to see it come to fruition.

You're not in the Ottawa area by any chance? I'd love to help out on a project like this.


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Old 01/27/2016, 06:16 PM   #23
Brian Crook
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The build is coming along nicely. I'm anxious to see it come to fruition.

You're not in the Ottawa area by any chance? I'd love to help out on a project like this.
Thanks, I'll have some more to share shortly. I'm actually out the other way in Bruce County, where apparently I'm the one and only person into saltwater aquariums..


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Old 01/27/2016, 06:56 PM   #24
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As described in an earlier post, I opted for some oak veneer plywood to build the aquarium. I also purchased some oak hardwood flooring that I'll be using to build my 'bar top' on the display side.

I built the stand using 2x6's spaced every 12". On the display side they each land on a 2x4 in the wall, and on the fish room side the weight is distributed through three large legs. I will also be skinning the stand in oak veneer plywood, although probably not for a while. Each leg of the stand is anchored to the concrete, and the plywood skin will provide additional rigidity once it's added... although it's already rock solid.

After getting the stand built and installed, I finished off the flooring in this room.










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Old 01/27/2016, 07:19 PM   #25
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Looking very smart! Nice job on the tiles.

Dave.M


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