Aquaponic Gardening

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DIY Heater, build your own 2000 watt heater for $20 ***DONT USE COPPER OR NICKEL ELEMENTS!

submersible virsion... ...this how-to has the link for the stainless elements.

After many variations, this is the simplest heater I've been able to build. I had to come up with this last year while waiting for my $600 heater to be built and delivered. when it finally arrived, I just left it in the box and continued to use the home built unit.

DO NOT USE THE COPPER ELEMENT FROM HOME DEPOT!  YOU MUST ORDER A STAINLESS STEEEL ELEMENT.   ....This is a 2000 watt element from Home Depot, a 1-1/2" to 1" reducer, a 1-1/2" uniseal, and a fitting with net pots to keep the fish off the element. I found that a heavy duty timer works for a thermostat. I run it for 15 mins on the hour to keep my 150 gallon tank toasty. this would be adjusted according to your needs. i have used this on as much as 600 gallons, but would recommend going to the 240 volt, 4000 watt for anything over 400 gallon. Note - the 2" net pots slip right onto a male threaded 1-1/2" nipple.

The top pipe is optional, i like to keep it as tall as the water level will allow. This will create a convective flow of water across the element. Works great!

here is the newer version...

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Do you drive to the ocean, and bring back water in glass carboys for your fish?

I have kept fish for 30 years.  If what you say is true my dead fish sure do eat a lot of food.

Craig Mullins said:

I disagree with ya on copper and galvanized. Your animals will die. I been breeding saltwater fish for some time now... I'll say it again - They will all die.

What does glass have to do with copper or galvanized pipe?

No I use PVC containers and never use ocean water; it's much too polluted where I live (San Francisco, CA area) if I were to collect it form the shoreline. I'd need to get a boat and collect the water from a few miles out.And if I don't keep the water aerated and use it ASAP massive die off of all the organisms occur and pollute the collected water and make it unusable.

I use RO water and salt and mix my own saltwater; it's just more stable that way,i know what I'm getting every time and don't have to worry about any pathogens in my system.

Glad you've never had a problem. I haven't been so lucky when I've used those materials when I first started out.

Here's a university study saying they both are toxic to fish.

FYI: I use PVC for all my piping. I was just throwing it out their - that their is leaching of chemicals in the water from it. Not sure we have a better option? Anyone?

Getting a lil off track, this thread is about heaters. hehe

@Craig Mullins - I hold you, Rob and others on these forums in high regard.  But I feel the finer technical points of aquaponiics are often over stressed.   I get that zinc and lead and copper have been recognized as harmful to fish, but I'm 60 years old.  I grew up with leaded gasoline, lead based paint, water fittings with lead,  asbestos floor tiles, asbestos brakes, asbestos siding and asbestos ceiling textures and many other materials that are known to be detrimental, and banned from construction.  I remember regularly using carbon tetrachloride as a cleaning agent.  The point is this stuff is not healthy, but it's not lethal in small  quantities.

When people get serious about something they love, they often strive to be perfect.  Nothing wrong with that, but the reality is it can be over the top.  Do we really need to wear the same running shoes as an Olympic runner, or ride carbon fiber bicycles to enjoy our sport?

Few people I know have RO machines.  Most freshwater aquarium owners like myself just fill their tanks with tap water, and enjoy their fish.   I've never encountered a problem with water straight from copper and galvanized pipes in my freshwater systems.

The point could be made that recirculating water through these pipes would accumulate higher amounts of metal, but my fish still appear to be doing well 9 months after installing this heater; despite the water recirculating though 10 feet of 3/4" galvanize pipe. .

I believe you are right to avoid unnecessary metal in your system, but it's probably not as critical as many enthusiasts make it out to be. 

Now hold on Craig you said, "Any time a plastic is used their is leaching. But what can we do? Make everything out of glass? I believe the chemical was di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). I just read a new university study about it. I'll try to find it. We can only do so much I guess...". 

You may have been skim reading the study, or confused the words "plastic" and "plasticizer". THERE IS NO LEACHING OF DEHP FROM RIGID u-PVC PIPES. Particularly since no DEHP is used in the manufacturing of u-PVC.

It's the flexible vinyl you should be concerned with. Pthalates like DEHP, BP-A, DBP...all those bad boys are "plasticisers"... that is, the component that makes a piece of vinyl, plastic, soft, pliable, or flexible. And yes, since there is no covelant bond between the plasticizer and the primary resin, they tend to leach out over time. But not all vinyl, let alone plastic contain pthalates. So, it's neither fair, nor true to use statements like "anytime you use plastic there is leaching." Rigid u-PVC piping is, well...rigid. And the "u" stands for...get this "unplasticized"...It's very important to make these distinctions. It is equally important to distinguish between a materials manufacturing process (which may be particularly 'nasty' and/or harmful to workers or the environment) and it's use by a consumer (which may be quite safe and inert)...And then of course the materials end of life impact needs to be considered as well. All in their proper place.

I doubt you were purposely trying to misrepresent those studies, but it seems you may have misunderstood some things. No disrespect.

Right on Vlad. 

Bob, in the same breath that you are alive, despite your exposure to nasties like lead and asbestos, there are others who have not been so lucky. I have personally lost friends to both of those banes, and a little offended that you reason your well-being as evidence of their safety. And with all toxicities, some are more susceptible than others. It is so simple to eliminate the metals from our fish environment, and so blatantly obvious why we should do so, that I can't imagine why one would argue otherwise. 

So, a little chemistry... home water supply does not recirculate. It is a one-way path from source to tap. It may pick up any number of impurities along the way, but exposure and conditions for dissolving those nasties are not optimum. Many municipalities add alkalinity to source water just to decrease metal erosion and thereby increase the longevity of the pipes. Our fish tanks are the exact opposite. The presence of highly oxygenated and acidic water are exactly what erode (dissolve) metals into the water. If we were to pick up a grain of sand while filling up a water glass (actually not uncommon for us well-users), no big deal. Drink it down, no worries. However if we pick up and add a grain of sand every hour for a year? No more water, all sand. Drink a glass of wet sand and tell me it's just the same as tap water. 

"Correlation does not imply causation", and just because one uses galvy or copper in tanks with no fish deaths (yet), does not imply the safety or relative harmlessness of the metal. Two things are fairly common in AP, especially among newbies, that will mask the effects of metal toxicity; high pH and abundance of dissolved calcium. These often exist together, and when zinc and copper are present their toxicity is mitigated, perhaps even permanently as long as pH is high and calcium abundant. As soon as the newbies learn how and why to drop their pH, then the time bomb starts ticking. And when the fish die, well, "I wonder why that happened?". 

Point is, eliminate metals from your system and sleep easier.

I agreed metal is bad.  But my first heater was PVC and the first time it lost water flow it burned and polluted the water with a noxious chemical odor and brown color.   I had to move the fish, clean the tank and replace all the water.  Compared to a little zinc I can tell you that was by far the worst.

But Rob has created a really good design and I will look into building it.  But I hope you see my point about over emphasized fears.  

What is an unsafe limit? 

Do all of you use RO for your AP systems?  

Yeah, I gotta go with Jon on this one. Metal toxicity (copper and zinc mostly) as it relates to fish is just such an extremely well documented phenomenon that it's hard to argue with. That said there are definitely conditions that will help to mitigate the manifestations of such Jon already mentioned. High pH and carbonate alkalinity being the biggies...along with lot's of organic matter and phosphates present lending a hand.

The one tiny detail I would contend (and it's a small technicality really, but I'm a sucker for that kind of stuff) is that I don't think that it's the calcium per say that is responsible for helping to stave of metal toxicity, but rather the bi-carbonates/carbonates that the calcium comes bundled up with...I could be wrong, but I do believe that the carbonate alkalinity, usually in the form of calcium carbonate, or more correctly calcium bi-carbonate (along with perhaps some organic matter) is what is responsible for helping to precipitate say, copper from it's cuprous form to it's less harmful cupric form then to even larger and harmless precipitates such as azurite or malachite...(along with the pre-requisite 'high' pH that such carbonates bring to the table).

Anyways...a good and high fish keeping pH, heavy on the carbonate alkalinity is one thing, but if you happen to have 'soft' aggressive water and metals?..forget it...dead fish galore. As our bio-filters use up the carbonate alkalinity (remember that for every 1mg of NH4 that is oxidized to NO3 our bacteria consume about 8mg of carbonate alkalinity) and pH starts to naturally fall to a more plant hospitable range, metal toxicity becomes more of an issue. (For about the same reasons iron "lock-out" starts to disappear as a problem)...

I understand your point, Bob. Indeed, many trivials are over-emphasized. However, meal toxicity is not one of them. Death by hanging or death by lethal injection is still death. If the risk of toxicity were low, I could agree with you. Just my two cents, no use beating it over the head.

I don't use RO water, and I'm sure that most who do probably don't really need to. Personally, of there is nothing specifically toxic to remove, then it doesn't make sense to pay to strip water clean, then pay to put it back in.

Hey Vlad I posted the wrong study... Couldn't find the one I was referring to...

Bob - Never had an issue with tap water directly out of copper pipes either. It's when it's continually recirculated around I have had issues.

I tend only use RO water for my saltwater tanks with corals and invertebrates in them as they are sensitive to nitrates. I would say it's best to use normal tap water (depending on the quality of course) with an aquaponics system. The RO filters out a lot of the elements we need. I guess it depends if you do aquapoincs and don't supplement much as far as fertilizer or if you add various hydroponic nutrients to your setup on a regular basis.

The place I have in Pleasanton is fine; water is great city water. My farm in Valley springs uses a well. It's high in all kinds of stuff especially chloride and has a very low PH. The copper pipes in my house are ready to disintegrate the water is eating them all the way thru almost and they are only 2 years old. Pretty crazy...

I'd be curious what your copper and zinc levels are. Would be interesting to add to discussion. if your bored you should head down to a fish store and have them check your water (usually free) :)

Either way Craig, if you know of a credible (hell, even an incredulous one) study that posits that rigid u-PVC manufactured post 1977 poses any leaching issues of any kind (as would be found in an AP or drinking water application), there are many here who would like to read such a study...

Yeah, I understand Bob's gripe to a degree. The main problem I have is not so much that it has driven up my costs for "doing stuff", but that time and time again industry is asked or forced to replace one material or substance for a "safer" (and usually more expensive) one, only to find out 5 or 10 years down the line that the "new and safer" chemical/material is even worse for the environment/human health than the one it replaced. That kind of thing seems to have happened so often that it'd be humorous if it weren't so creepy...Anyways...

I can see RO or rainwater being of some value depending on your source water parameters...especially for top-ups. Might allow you to run a mighty tight ship as far as a good and low pH goes...again, depending. A lot of us luck out and find that our top-ups (from the tap/well) are just the ticket to buffering our pH...and can replace the potassium buffering source with something like KCl 

Amen on that, Vlad.

Vlad, you may be right about carbonate hardness specifically reducing the toxicity of zinc and copper, however I have read otherwise. I'm still green at this (malachite pun intended), but I understand that it is the divalent ions (mostly calcium and magnesium) that block the sites. Here is a quote from SRAC, and a damn good read for all interested in AP. Borderline threadjacking here:

"Metals such as copper and zinc are commonly used around aquatic environments (tanks, plumbing and copper sulfate). These metals become more soluble in acidic environments. The soluble or free ionic forms of these metals are toxic to fish. High total alkalinity increases pH and available bases which produce less toxic or insoluble forms of copper and zinc. High concentrations of calcium and magnesium (hardness) block the effects of copper and zinc at their sites of toxic action. Therefore, copper and zinc are more toxic to fish in soft, acidic waters with low total alkalinity."

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