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DIY - How to Make an Automatic Water Change System
by Wayne DesLauriers at Wayne'sWorldAngelfish

This is a useful guide on how to plan, prepare, and implement an automatic water changing system to eliminate manual water changes, leaving you with hours of free time each week!

To begin you will need:

  • 3 whole house water filters

  • 1 sediment cartridge

  • 2 carbon block cartridges

  • electric timer/controller

  • assortment of drip emitters

  • 1½" & ½ PVC piping

  • 1½" & ½" PVC 90 degree elbows

  • PVC Reducing Tees (½" Slip x ½" Slip x 1/8" FPT*)

  • 1½" Slip Tees

  • Brass male adapters 1/8 MPT* x 3/16 barb

  • ½" MPT x ½" barb elbow

  • black 1/8 tubing

  • ½" ball valve

  • hacksaw

  • Teflon tape

  • Tubing cutter

  • PVC Cleaner & Cement

  • ½" clear hose

  • plastic tie wraps

  • suction cups

  • ¼ - 1/3 HP sump pump (If drain is above waste water container)

  • waste water container (at least 20 gallons)

  • 1½" bulkhead

  • tape measure

  • level

  • pencil & paper

  • * Note - If your water supply contains chloramines, then you will have to figure out a way to remove it (possibly using a dosing pump with water conditioner).

    This system can be used on drilled tanks and non-drilled tanks.

    Starting with the incoming cold tap water, it is run through a 5 micron sediment filter then 2 carbon block filters. I purchased these filters and cartridges at home depot for about $60. The water is then plumbed into the timer ($75). I purchased the C017 model from DripIrrigation.com.


    I would recommend looking into a AC powered type controller (timer) instead of the DC (battery) powered one in case of a power failure. The valve would stay shut and not add any water if there ever was a power outage. If you have a battery operated controller, it will cycle normal and add water. But the waste sump pump which runs on electricity will not come on without power, and the result would be a mess. I thought about this after mine was up and running and had to purchase a normally closed solenoid valve for my own peace of mind. If the power goes out, the solenoid valve will close, therefore not allowing any water into the tanks.

    The controller is then programmed to come on every four hours to cycle for an hour each time.

    The water is now plumbed into the fish room using the standard ½" PVC. I made a closed loop around the top perimeter of the room. Using the correct Tee fittings the water is spliced into smaller hoses every foot or so, so there is one for each tank. Use Teflon tape on the brass barb and screw it into the PVC Tee. Use plastic tie wraps to secure the 1/8" tubing onto the brass barb to prevent it from blowing off in case there is too much pressure. I ended up changing the standard airline tubing to a black 1/8" tubing because algae was growing in the tube, clogging up the drip emitters over time. Water pressure is regulated by manually adjusting a ball valve. Tubing and fittings were purchased at AquaicEco and drip emitters at The Drip Store.


    The drip rate is controlled by the correct drip emitter. For small tanks, like 15 & 20 gallons, they will get 1 gph (gallon per hour) emitters, 29 gallons get 2 gph, & 55 gallons get 3.3 gph emitters or a couple 2 gph's. I used pressure compensating emitters, because they are agricultural grade, and claim to be the best on the market.

    On my drilled tanks I use bulkheads/standpipes and on my non-drilled tanks I use a siphon overflow device.

    The overflow device is effective, yet cheap to make. ($4- $5 each) Think of this device as a hang on power filter like an aquaclear 300. If the aquaclear pump stops working, water will remain in the filter box from the intake tube siphon. The water line equalizes between the two.

    Now, picture this.... The overflow device "is the aquaclear filter box" the black elbow at the top determines the water level. The green hose attached to the black elbow goes into another 1½" PVC drain pipe which is gravity fed into a big vat outside of the fish room.

    Overflow Bulkhead / Standpipe

    To construct a siphon overflow device, simply cut a one foot section of 1½", cement on a 1½" end cap to the bottom and 1½" slip x 1½" slip x ½" FPT Reducing Tee on the top. Use Teflon tape and screw in a ½" MPT x ½" barb elbow. Connect a ½" hose to the barbed elbow, secure it with a tie wrap. Now, plumb the hose into the 1½" drain pipe Tee located about 1 foot off the floor. The drain is by gravity, so make sure to put a grade lowering the water into the waste water container. Use a 1½" Tee for 2 to 3 hoses. You can also use pvc piping instead of hose to save some costs.

    Use another piece of hose for the siphon part. Put one end of hose all the way down into the siphon device. Using a suction cup and plastic tie wrap, attach it to the other end of the hose and into the tank. Creating a siphon can be tricky. I've found the easiest way is using a submersible small pump, such as a power head, putting the output right up to the hose blowing water through the hose and into the overflow devise. It is best not to have any air bubbles at the highest part of the hose for an unsurpassed siphon. I stick a chunk of foam filter over the end inside the tank to prevent any small fry getting lost.

    All waste water is drained by gravity using 1½" PVC into the vat connected by a bulkhead. It has a sump pump inside it, which pumps waste water into the house waste or garden/yard. I use a "brute" storage container made by rubbermaid. □


    *MPT = male pipe thread
    *FPT = female pipe thread


    Disclaimer: By building this DIY project you agree not to hold the author or the owners of this Web site responsible for any injury or bodily harm you may cause to yourself or others. Always wear safety glasses when working with tools and keep chemicals and power tools away from children. Read and understand all safety instructions pertaining to equipment prior to use.           

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