Introduction: Aquarium Water Changes With Your Canister Filter.

Feeling tired changing water in your aquarium? Too much water and mess? Too many buckets? Back pains? Time loss? Dead fish? Directly putting tap water back with chlorine/chloramine because you're bored?

I have a possible solution: make use of your existing canister filter, if you have one.

All the solutions I've encountered to fix it, are either too heavy or complex to setup each time (pumps, hoses, leakages, power sockets, re-priming/drinking fish waste) or dangerous for the fish (putting tap water directly back in the aquarium) or very expensive (reverse osmosis auto-refill)

The result is a setup where I'm using my existing JBL e901 filter canister to act as the pump that removes water from the aquarium and also puts back the new one at the end.

Step 1: How the Setup Will Look Like

You will basically need to:

- Use your existing canister filter setup (canister, input and output pipes),

- Purchase the parts I will detail in next steps

Start building it.

Step 2: Needed Materials

My setup uses a filter with 12/16 water pipes, so everything is using that size. You can apply the same concept with 16/22 canisters too.

a. Two T-adapters (used to split both I/O pipes)

b. Four simple taps. (close hoses before and after the T adapter. If you rely only on the double taps, you can only purchase two of these)

c. Two quick release double taps (detach hoses but keep them primed)

d. One large (PVC) water container. (store, adjust temp & treat water). I have one of 60l for 120l aquarium. I place it on chair so it has enough height to help out the filter push water faster.

e. Few(X) meters of water hose exactly like the one your filter uses (same size, e.g. 12/16 or 16/22).

X = 2 * (15+15+15+15) cm + Z + Y + W meters

First = used for the small pieces you need to connect between the T adapter, the filter and the taps

Y = the distance from filter to the bottom of your water container

Z = the distance to the nearest water drainage - sink/bathtub/toilet)

W = the distance from a tap water faucet to your water container).

f. Curved/bent water pipe (12/16 or 16/22 depending on your filter) to hang on your sink/tub/toilet. I used a JBL used outset.

g. Any carbon or glasswire rod with the length a bit longer than the height of your water container. You will tie the hose to it, so the hose doesn't bend and reaches almost the bottom of your container without losing water priming.

h. One quick release water faucet hose connector to replace your standard faucet filter. I used a Gardena one. Use whatever allows you to connect a water hose to it. We will use it to supply water to the water container after one water change is complete.

i. One hose quick release adapter that can connect the one at point h with your hose. (see pics)

j. Some teflon tape, used to tape the hose to the rod at point g (sounds funny).

Step 3: Start Building It (part 1 - the Filter Setup)

Keep a bucket close to you, as some water might start draining fast if you do something wrong (also use it to empty the hoses). If water starts flowing, don't panic, think that always the water tank is the source of water, so you have to remove/close whatever hose comes out of it to avoid accidentally draining your aquarium until you figure out what you did wrong.

Start by:

1. (Optional)Clean your canister filter and hoses the normal way you are doing it (watch out so you don't kill beneficial bacteria, so don't wash it with tap water; use neither hot nor very cold water - use water prepared for it with one day before)

2. Remove the hoses from the input and output of the tank (first), empty them in the bucket and then remove them from the canister filter. Mark them on their end with a pen so you know which is which (I or O).

3. Add one tap to each of the hoses you have just removed, at the end that connects with the canister filter.

4. Cut down two 15 cm hose from the new hose you just purchased, and connect them with the taps just installed at point 3.

6. Add the two T adapters in one of the straight line ends of both 15 cm hoses you just installed

7. Cut down again four 15 cm hoses and add them at both ends of each remaining free ends of the T adapter

8. Connect the bottom part of each hose back to the canister filter input and output (check markings from point 2).

9. Add two more taps at the end of the ramification hoses coming out of the T adapters.

At this point your setup should look like in the picture.

10. Connect the other ends back to where they were connected in the aquarium.

With the Taps on the ramification closed, (usually it's position is perpendicular to the hose), and the taps on the main hoses opened, you can start your filter back (so you don't leave filter shut down too much).

11. Prime your hoses with the filter pump like normal and wait for it to start functioning properly without any air bubbles. Shake gently your canister filter to help remove air.

If you close down the taps on the main circuit, you will create pressure inside the filter, so whenever you want to do this, make sure the filter is turned off. Also, please make sure the connections are tightly fitted and properly screwed, where you have screw adapters for the hose. You don't want them to sepparate in the middle of the night.

Next, water container setup.

Step 4: Water Container

1. Clean well with tap water couple of times the NEW 60l (or more/less depending on your needs) water container. (NO detergent nor any substances please! Make sure no chemical smell gets out of it. It should be new, so probably it will smell like ugly plastic or chemicals. It it does, fill it with water and leave it a few days like this, then empty the contents, wash it again and smell it. Repeat until it doesn't smell at all. For a white PVC container, one day was enough for me.)

2. Get your 60 l water container in the final place where you want to position it. I keep mine in a small bathroom, close to the aquarium's position, and also next to a faucet. Position it on a solid chair (I use a wooden flat no back rest one). The chair has to be sturdy enough and larger than the bottom base of the container. Otherwise use a wooden plate large enough between them.

3. Connect the faucet adapter to your sink faucet.

4. Cut the needed length of water hose between your faucet and half of the inside of your water container.

5. Connect to one end the hose adapter, plug it in your sink faucet adapter and the other free end of your hose, inside the water container.

At this point you can fill your water container with water (don't fill it yet). If you purchase the right hose connector with a valve inside, when you unplug the hose from the faucet adapter, the valve will prevent water above the level of the hose to be ejected from the water container.

6. Add the right amount of water treatment, according to the size of your water container and instructions of the product.

7. Start filling water and PAY ATTENTION when it's almost filled to close it down. I started doing something else first few times and water spilled all over the place when it got filled :) If you feel hacking even more, you can cut a hole in the water container and install a WC reservoir floating stop like the one attached. I haven't yet, can wait two minutes next to the container as tap water pressure is high for me

8. Leave it to rest for at least one day so your treatment completes and/or chlorine evaporates (chloramine needs treatment afaik, depending on your local water plant treatment). Also allow it to reach the ambient temperature (in the winter you will need more time or just add a simple aquarium heater inside, to help it reach the right temperature before using it, if you have very sensitive fish.

Next step. Quick release hoses and water drainage.

Step 5: Quick Release Hoses - Water Input

1. Tape hose to the rod with the purchased teflon tape (or any tape that is safe for water use). You need to leave at least 5 cm rod space at one end, so it doesn't suck the dirt or treatment deposited at the bottom of the water container

2. Position the hose around your place starting with the rod sitting on the chair next to your water container and drag it around next to your filter. That hose will be used for clean water intake.

3. Attach a quick release double tap end to the hose. Make sure the tap is closed

4. Insert the rod with the hose inside the water container now.

5. Get a bucket close, open the tap, start sucking air from the water container hose, until water starts flowing nicely (you've primed the hose) and then close the double tap.

You now have a primed hose ready to eject water from your water container.

6. Cut a piece of 15cm hose and connect the other end of the double tap together with the INPUT circuit tap. Basically you will use water coming out of the water container to enter the T adapter. When you want to put new water in the tank, you work with the INPUT taps, stopping inflow tap from the aquarium, and opening the taps from the water container, allowing the filter to push the clean water in the tank, while not draining any water back. If you do this and the water level is vey high, you will spill water out of your tank, of course. Use common sense and logic.

At this point you can basically insert clean water in your tank with the help of your canister filter.

Next. Getting dirty water out.

Step 6: Quick Release Double Taps - Dirty Water Out Circuit

1. Get the U shape adapter.

2. Connect some new hose to it. Hang it on your sink/toilet/bathtub (see attached pic)

3. Position the hose in your house until you get to the filter.

4. Put the other double tap quick release

5. Cut another 15 cm hose and connect the other end of the double tap with the OUTPUT circuit T adapter tap that is still not connected.

6. Mark each end of the connected double taps with I, I and respectively O, O with a pen. This way you know when you disconnect them, how to position them back correctly (quite important)

With all things connected, you can test the water ejection out. Close the output tap which allows water to go back into the water tank (literally blocking water going back in the aquarium) and open up all three taps on the same circuit, that are positioned after the T adapter junction. This way the filter will eject the water from the tank in the sink, so you should start seeing dirty water flowing in the sink and water level of the aquarium dropping. Reverse when complete.

Next. Recommendations...

Step 7: Usage

Use the setup like this:

- Connect both double quick release hoses according to markings.

- First eject water from the aquarium. E.g. Close the Output higher tap, open the 3 taps (one simple and the double quick release ones) on the T adapter of the same output circuit. You are basically shutting down water returning to the aquarium and forcing it through the T adapter, then through the other tap, the double taps, up to the sink and down the drainage. Reverse all when complete. Watch out so you don't drain all water out, fish needs it. :) Also never change more than 50% or you can de-cycle your tank. You now have removed a certain portion of water from the tank, according to your water change needs.

- Now put water back in the aquarium. E.g. Close the Input higher tap, open the 3 taps on the T adapter from the input circuit. You are basically stopping water from returning from the tank into the canister, and feeding through the T adapter water from the water container. Reverse all when complete. Watch out so you don't spill water outside your tank if you don't monitor it. Depending on the canister power, the height of the water container positioned on the chair versus the position of the aquarium (height) the water can flow back very fast or slower. Experiment until you nail down the right speed. For me it takes around 2-3 minutes to fill back 20-30% of water.

- Add the percentage of treatment needed to your water container (for the volume of water you have removed)

- Add fresh water back into your water container from the sink.

- Disconnect the double quick release hoses (make sure all taps from the T adapters towards the sink and water container are shut - perpendicular to the hose; make sure the two taps above the filter and taps are open - position parallel to the hose) and place them somewhere hidden.

You have now just completed your first water change. Congrats!

Next step: Do's and don'ts.

Step 8: Do's and Don't's

I am not affiliated in any kind of way with the products shown here. It's what I use. Either JBL, Eheim,Tetra, bla... I don't care.

- Never put fresh tap water back to your tank. Always treat it with water safe

- Never put cold water back to your tank (don't hurry the process). You can kill the bacteria from your filter or shock your fish (death).

- As you don't vacuum/siphon the gravel anymore with your water change, I use an Eheim battery operated gravel cleaner, that does wonders at sucking up all the decent sized/weight dirt. It doesn't have a strong force for big gravel, but it sucks dirt well. If you have fine sand and vaccum deep into it, it can create a cloudiness inside that will go away in one day, because of the micro particles in the sand that gets through it's fine filter back in the tank.

- You can also keep siphoning your gravel if you want it the standard way, attaching to the double tap release that ejects water to your water drain, a siphoning device - haven't tested it yet!

- Don't be scared if it starts flowing the wrong side. Shut down all taps and use your logic on whatever you did wrong.

- I use the double taps to prevent my kids from accidentally opening one out and water to forcefully flow out. If you don't want this extra safety, you can skip purchasing the taps in front of the T adapter.

- In case s..t hits the fan, make sure your filter connectors are positioned in the tank high enough, so even if you wet all your house (did it only by forgetting to close the water container refilling), you don't leave your fishes to dry out. Allow at least 50% of water to remain in the tank so position the input and output connectors slightly below that level. Never allow water to go down to that level when doing changes as your hoses will naturally unprime and you need then to re-prime all hoses.

- Before reconnecting the quick release fresh water hose, you may eject couple of liters in a bucket, to avoid pumping water that stayed on the hose for couple of days.

Step 9: What Can Go Wrong / Troubleshooting

- Nothing flows the right way – make sure to use the canister pump to eliminate air / priming it's hoses first and then prime the water container hose manually. Don't prime the dirt water one as the filter will push water out anyway on it. Plus it might have a funny taste :)

- Help! Water is draining out of my tank, can’t stop it!. Close all taps on the hoses that goes in and out of the tank and think what you’re doing wrong.

- Bacterias in the filter are killed and tank decycled (you’ve used too cold/hot water from the container or you introduced toxins/chemicals inside it).

- You don’t monitor the hoses while using them (water spills and you flood your house)

- You switch the hoses in the wrong order (you can accidentally remove water from your aquarium and add it on top of your 60L water). Read instructions again.

- You don’t clean the 60L container after 3 full cycles (water will get dirty inside it). Clean it regularly.

- You add too much dechlorinator (Use the quantity for the water you have added, not for the whole tank).

- Water is not pushed in the tank from the canister (wrong height difference, filter can’t push water – use a chair to put the container higher than the canister filter to help it)

- Substrate gets dirty (as you don’t drain it anymore during water changes, use a substrate cleaner with recirculation and batteries like the EHEIM one)

- Kid accidentally opened the Tap and flooded the house (the extra tap between the 2 tap and the T adapter will reduce chances). Make sure the taps are not visible to your kids. :)

- If it's not working, you're doing it wrong. :) Think that you are basically playing with communicating water volumes through some pipes/hoses and the one with the volume at a higher level will force water down to the lower volume container. If you use the canister filter pump to reverse nature's laws, it will work, but the debit will depend on the difference of height between them, up to a point where it will be next to impossible to push it out. Or, wait, you might have left the wrong tap closed. :)

It might look like a complicated thing to do, but it's actually very simple to do and it will reduce your weekly ordeal of changing water to just a few minutes of fun: just plugging in the hoses and opening up and closing some taps in the right order. No other heavy lifting or water drainage/spills.

Any questions or if you're happy I've helped you, leave a comment below.

Automation Contest 2016

Participated in the
Automation Contest 2016