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1951 Rathburn Rd E

Mississauga, ON   L4W 2N9

Setting up a drip system for your aquariums

Updated: Apr 9, 2019

If you're thinking about breeding any type of aquarium fish en masse, there's a lot of time and planning that goes into it. The biggest hurdles that you will need to tackle are water quality (for your fish) and time management (for you). Here are some important things to consider when setting up a drip system for continuous water changes that will save you a ton of time.

Automate your water changes

If you have a handful of aquariums, water changing your tanks the good old fashioned way is probably best for you, but what happens when you have 20, 30 or 50 aquariums? In order to get your life back and still enjoy your hobby, setting up a drip system can eliminate your need for water changes. I set up a #dripsystem for under $600CAD, and it costs about $16CAD in parts for each aquarium I add to it. Is it worth it? Well, I haven't water changed an aquarium on the system in over a month, nitrates are below 30ppm, and my average tank has about 100 fish. Not too shabby.

Tanks placed on a rack are easiest to organize. Ensure that the rack you use can support the weight.

Your layout is key

This is a measure twice, cut once scenario. For simplicity, your should have a #rack, or your aquariums should be placed in a line. If you have aquariums all over the place then you can still do this, but you're going to be adding piping everywhere. Ensure that your tanks are organized, and preferably, in their final location. I used a rack from Uline after trying out racks from Canadian Tire and Costco. While they were rated for a higher weight than I required (and cost much less), they bent and twisted under half their rated weight. The Uline rack held up nicely...100% will purchase again. Snap-On makes a reliable rack as well. If you can twist/squish/bend the steel by hand, it will not support your aquariums reliably no matter what the weight rating says.

Think vertically when you're designing your set-up. The average ceiling is 8' tall, and your average aquarium is 18-24" tall. The more fish tanks per square foot of floor space, the better. Also ensure that you're leaving enough space to work in between the tanks, both for you to move around and to be able to get equipment in and out the tank.

Easy to access bulkheads and drain pipes are critical to your layout.

How will you access your system?

It's all fun and games until something goes wrong. Make sure your drip system and #drainpipe are accessible. What happens if a bulkhead starts leaking? What if the drain pipe gets clogged? Both are unlikely scenarios, but you don't want to have to break down 15 tanks to fix a drip on one. I chose function over fashion and drilled the front of the aquariums, and also ran the drain pipe in front of the rack. You can hide these things as it suits your set-up, but access is key.

This water filter is tapped into the line that feeds a faucet.

Filtration is the heart of your system

You can't use untreated tap water for your drip system, so you need to get a #waterfilter. Yes, you can science the crap out of this and use a #gravityfed system with a float valve refill line that leads into a secondary holding tank that drips into your aquariums....or you can just make it simple. The water that comes out of the tap should take the path of least resistance into your aquariums. The simpler your system, the less chance for points of failure.

Here's what you need to consider:

  • How much water will I be using?

  • How long do I need the filter material to last?

  • Where can I hook up the filter?

  • What filter can fit in the space I have available?

  • How does the filter modify the water?

  • Are the replacement catridges cost effective and easy to find?

I wanted a filter that lasted about 30 000 gallons. I worked out that the catridges would need to be swapped every 6 months, which is the lifetime of the cartridge anyway. If you buy a filter can do 50 000 gallons, but you only use half of that by the time the cartidges expire, you're wasting your money. You may have higher water requirements, or less, but after a lot of research I found that a "whole home" filter by iSpring was both the most cost effective and useful in my scenario. I hooked it up to a water line that was feeding a faucet, and mounted it on my wall.

Cheap irrigation line and drippers used to water plants. Not ideal for indoor use.

Don't cheap out. Seriously.

I did, and I regret it. Instead of running PVC pipe from my filter to my aquariums at an estimated cost of $60CAD per row including dripping valves, I decided to order a cheap $29.99 irrigation kit that could outfit 72 tanks. Wow, what a deal I thought...well, that was a mistake! In the middle of the night, one of the drippers blew out and flooded the room. Run PVC piping from your filter to your tanks. The cost of proper hardware is worth the piece of mind.

Standard 1/2" hose faucet into a 3/4" PVC line. You can see the strainer guard I made in the lower right.

Control your flow

The #waterpressure running to a house or commercial unit can swing. By adding a #pressureregulator to your setup, you're able to better set your drippers and keep them consitent. If you set the drippers when the pressure is low, then they'll spray water into your aquariums when the pressure rises, and vice versa. I set my regulator for 10 psi, and rarely have to tweak my valves. Prior to the regulator, I had to adjust 2-3 times a day. Pressure regulators can go for $100 in stores as a specialty order, but I found this model online for under $30 and it has worked great.

Make it modular

Design your system so that pieces can be removed, replaced, and expanded on as required. By making your system #modular, your future self will thank you. Ensure that you're adding ball valves to stop the flow between sections, and union fittings that easily unscrew in case you need to remove a segment of your drip line.

Hose valves set up over a row of 20 gallon aquariums

Cold water drip

My drip system draws water from the cold water line, and one of my biggest concerns was how the water temperature in the aquariums would be affected. The heaters in my aquariums are sized at 5w per gallon, and and are able to compensate for the slow drip of cold water. I've tested the volume of water being fed into some of my tanks, and found that even at a 15 gallon/day drip, the heaters are able to keep up with the cold water flow. I did notice a $15/month increase in my hydro bill, so take that into consideration as well.

Set it and forget it

If you're on the fence, do it. I calculated how much time I spent doing water changes vs. the cost of the components, and realized I'd come out way ahead after just one month. Having a drip system in place let me focus on other items that needed my attention, like creating new articles for my blog!

Leave a comment, a question, or even a contradiction down below and we can learn together.

#aquarium #angelfish #altumangelfish #waterfiler #dripsystem #waterchange #fishtankrack

Andrei Vexler is an aquarist with over 20 years in the fish hobby. Having run a fish room with over 700 freshwater and saltwater aquariums, Andrei found his passion in South American cichlids, particularly altum angelfish. Growing and wholesaling angels to the GTA and surrounding area, he shares his years of experience in his blog for advanced aquarists.