As Reefnation is headquartered in the Midwest, we go through the four seasons and each one comes with it’s own complications. Spring and Fall are great as we get to crack the windows and let the fresh air gust through the house. Not only do our families enjoy the fresh air, but our tank mates surely appreciate the rise of pH in the tanks.

During the summer we’re running A/C units, and during the winter we’ve got the furnace cranking and the fire place going. It’s amazing to watch how quickly the pH can also vary season by season. When we are relying on HVAC equipment, the house is closed up and the carbon dioxide is building up causing our pH levels to plummet. For anyone in the reef hobby who has experienced this will quickly remind you, there is no quick fix for this issue!

What have we tried?

We have tried all the ideas and concepts we wrote about in our “Dealing with low pH in a Reef tank” article. We have also tried increasing the macro algae volumes in our sumps, growing mangroves and leveraging air pumps with bubble stones inside the tank to try and increase the oxygen levels.

Many at this point would have just throw in the white flag, said “That’s it! I’m out!”, but not us here at Reefnation. Here we like to try every last possible option to see what we can come up with. Due to the costs involved with the hobby, we always try to look for creative DIY ways to solve issues to our problems. It’s not uncommon to run into Justin or myself at Home Depot, Menards or Lowes on a weekend or week night scouring the plumbing, electrical or HVAC aisles.

Where are we at now?

After a Friday night brain storming session, we thought about an idea based on when our tanks are the most vibrant and healthy in the Spring and Fall. How can we get more fresh air into one of our tank rooms that is located in the same room as our furnace and hot water tank. Now, before we go any further, many here will say “Come on guys, why would you put your tanks in that room?” Justin and I might be running the show here at Reefnation, but the wives also have a say in some of our tank placements at the home front and as the old adage goes “A happy wife = a happy life,” we chose wisely and decided not to rock the boat.

So, there are several solutions that can be purchased and installed in conjunction with your HVAC systems such as an air exchanger system from manufacturers like Broan or Panasonic. As we stated before, we’re more of a DIY group, so off to Menards we went. Here’s what we purchased for a grand total of $72:

  • 8′ of 6″ semi-rigid aluminum duct
  • 3 pack of window insulation kit
  • 6″ corded inline duct fan
  • 6×6″ vent
  • Duct tape (the main tool for all DIY projects)

Here’s a picture of the finished product and now I’ll explain what we have done and the success we’ve had and the other improvements we are working on adding or making.

First, we installed the 6×6″ vent in the wall where there was an opening between our tank room and our work out room that had 2 windows.

We then cut the semi-rigid aluminum duct in half and installed the 6″ corded inline duct fan in between both and installed a few set screws and then wrapped the unions with the duct tape. The last part was to install the open end of the aluminum duct into the window opening. Our basement windows vent in, so we cracked it open, inserted the aluminum duct and then wrapped the duct and window opening with the window seal to ensure it was airtight.

Once we turned on the fan and started pumping the fresh air into our tank room and furnace room, we quickly raised the pH by about .2 and into an acceptable reading of 8.0 from 7.8! Success right? Wrong! As we let the fan run and draw more of that nice, crisp cold air from outside into the tank room, the cold air was dropping onto our frag tanks and causing our temperature to drop nearly 6 degrees from 78 to 72.

The good news, we confirmed getting fresh air into the room helped us raise the pH levels in the tank! The bad news is the fresh, cold air brought with it a new set of issues we weren’t planning on fighting.

Although this might seem like the next set back, the advantage we had with the fan was that it came with an AC plug and the Apex EB8 was right on the other side of the wall. We plugged the fan into an open outlet and configured it to run for 10 minutes every hour. Our initial estimate is that is enough air to offset the CO2 build up, while ensuring we don’t pump too much cold air in to drop the temperature in the tanks.

After 2 weeks of running this DIY fix, we have been able to stabilize the pH swings from 7.6 – 7.8 to 7.8 to 8.1. A much healthier pH swing than we were battling previously. We’re sure a properly installed air exchanger would net the same results, but at a cost of roughly $700 – $1,000 installed, we’ll run with our DIY kit and see how it goes thru the winter.

If you have other solutions you’ve used or built, let us know!