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  • Build A Saltwater Mixing & Water Change Station


    Living in an apartment with a reef aquarium can present some unique challenges, it's often a difficult to find enough space to store RO/DI filters, water storage containers, and saltwater mixing buckets. I went about a year and a half mixing up a 5 gallon bucket of salt water in the kitchen every Tuesday night with a powerhead and heater in it until the next day when I’d do a water change. I kept it clean and as out of the way as I could so my wife didn't get annoyed with this whole reef tank thing. We have a small patio space that we really don’t use much aside from some storage and a BBQ, so I used that as an excuse to get my water change system out of the kitchen. My wife was more than happy to move the bucket for me!


    I know this may not be an option for everyone with a small space, but all the water change station guides I had found were written by guys with 120 gallon tubs in a garage with no worry of running out of space or it being in the way. Even though those systems were large, it occurred to me that I could fully scale the whole thing down to 2 x 5 gallon tubs, and build it the same otherwise, and it could work great for my needs. Maybe hide it in a closet? I didn’t know for sure, but I’d try it!

    RO/DI Unit

    • SpectraPure 90 GPD
    • Dual Probe Inline TDS Meter
    • Float Valve
    • Membrane Flush Kit


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    The Original Build: Version 1.0

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    • 2 x 15 Gallon Rubbermaid Roughneck Hi-top tubs
    • Mag Drive 500 water pump
    • Aqueon Pro 150 watt submersible Heater
    • Sicce Silent 3.5 water pump
    • ½” PVC plumbing (Various T’s, elbows, 45 degrees)
    • 3 x Ball Valves
    • 3 x ½” Uniseals
    • Lots of Unions
    • Lifegard digital thermometer
    • Mastercraft 4-outlet GFCI power bar


    This setup was certainly overkill for what it was, but I really wanted to get some good flow in both storage tanks so that even the clean ATO water didn’t just sit stagnant. I built out some fittings for each of the pumps to direct the flow but also slow it down a bit since they were each hugely overrated for what I was using them for. This setup I also ran off an outdoor light timer so it would turn on and mix the salt water twice a day for about an hour just so it wasn’t sitting for too long.


    The RO/DI runs up into the top tub and is controlled by a float switch so I could let it run whenever and not worry about it overflowing. The pump inside kept the water churning and oxygenated.


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    When I needed freshwater for my ATO top up, I would fill up a jug by keeping the center ball valve closed and opening the ball valve to the right with the spout. I put the ATO spout above the mixing pipe just to ensure there was no back splash or salt contamination in my clean water reserve.


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    When I needed salt water, I would crank open the center valve and let gravity feed the lower tub with fresh water. Turn on the pump and add the salt. Let it mix and heat up to the current tank’s needs and it’s good to go! For this setup I just had a valve spout coming out from the lower end of the salt tub and I would fill a bucket for water changes and carry that to and from the tank.


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    This system was very compact and helped streamline my water change process, but after spending about a year with the original design, I knew I could make some further improvements.

    The Current Build: Version 2.0

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    • 2 x 20 Gallon Rubbermaid Brutes
    • Sicce Silent 3.5 water pump
    • Lots more unions
    • ½” PVC plumbing (Various T’s, elbows, 45 degrees, barbs)
    • A few ¾” plumbing because of the Sicce intake
    • 4 x ½” Uniseals
    • 15’ ½” hose
    • 3 x Ball Valves
    • ½” Two Little Fishies ball valve
    • Silicon dish pad
    • Aqueon Pro 150 watt submersible heater
    • Lifegard digital thermometer
    • Mastercraft 4-outlet GFCI power bar
    • Air pump
    • Airline and airstone


    I had been planning out this upgrade over a few months after having used the original system for about a year, I knew how I used it and what I wanted it to do going forward. I knew I wanted it to feed out to an external pump so I could control the heat inside the Brute better. It still gets a bit hot as it passes through the pump, but the entire pump isn’t sitting inside the water heating it all up anymore. I didn’t include any pump or flow for the freshwater tank in this setup because of the heat and power, but I am using a run of the mill airstone just to give it a little aeration and oxygen when it’s on. I put the pump on a brick and slid a sliced up piece of silicon dish mat underneath it to absorb any other vibration. It’s pretty much dead silent as a whole. Even though it’s twice as big as the previous setup it’s 10 times quieter because there's no vibration anymore.


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    When I need freshwater ATO top up, it’s the same basic principle on a slightly larger scale. The RO/DI feeds into the top Brute through the float valve. On the bottom right I have the ATO top off spout.


    water change station 9.jpg


    When I need saltwater, below the ATO spout is another valve to fill the bottom Brute with fresh water. From there it cycles out the bottom of the Brute, through the pump and up to the top and back in. I squeezed a smaller tube onto the end of the pipe so it creates a faster flow as it exits for better mixing. I do have a small powerhead inside as well but I don’t usually have it on, I find there's enough flow without it. When I am ready to fill up the aquarium with new water I can take the hose, switch the two valves (one on, one off), and then take it directly over to the tank and control the flow from there with the Two Little Fishies ball valve.


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    What I Learned

    Every build thread you will read will always talk about unions. Use as many unions as you can. Seriously. Unions. They are more pricey but it’ll be worth it when you have to take out a dead pump or pipe and replace/clean it. They will make it easy to unhook everything as well so you can take it down for cleaning or a move! Unions. Just do it.


    Eventually when I do a full, proper final build I will order parts and pipe from a reef supply shop just so it all looks cleaner. The Home Depot stock pipe has all the red writing on it that makes it look budget. I know that sounds silly... but it'll look cooler and really that's all that matters. ;)


    Having a hose that goes directly to the tank to refill and not having to carry buckets through the house is amazing! I know it’s not an option for most of us but if you can do it, do it! It’s truly amazing!



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    Excellent write up!


    I don't want to take away from all the effort you put into this article and the diagrams that you've overlaid on the pictures provided.  However, could you provide a shopping list of the plumbing parts?  One of my fears to building something like this is the countless trips to the hardware store and still finding out that I'm missing parts. 

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    Nice write up....you can use rubbing alcohol to take off the red writing really easy. 

    UNIONS are so nice to use. Look up true union ball valve and that is what I would recommend on many locations when you need a union.

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    Nice write up.  I agree the writing on the outside of pipes looks wrong.  Though just as bad is purple stuff everywhere, all your joints look so clean!  Well done!

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    Looks great.  Would be even cooler if you had a 1 button (even remote or timer based) controller that controlled a series of electric butterfly valves and did a 15 gallon water change completely automatically.  including measuring out 7.5 cups of salt mix into the bucket... 


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    Great write up! I’m new to the hobby and don’t have my aquarium set up yet. I just recently started to think about where and how I want to set up my water changing station. This gives me a lot of ideas, thanks for sharing!

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    Great guide, but I have one question. You said "When I am ready to fill up the aquarium with new water I can take the hose, switch the two valves (one on, one off), and then take it directly over to the tank and control the flow from there with the Two Little Fishies ball valve."

    My question is how you control the amount of water you move into the tank, do you always wait until entire water from brute goes to tank - if so the pump should run dry for a couple of seconds? Or you can turn off Two LittleFishes ball at given moment to stop it, if so where goes the pump water, when both waves are closed

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