Calcium Reactor


I built this reactor because I am tired of dosing calcium for my 400 gallon tank.

It is a modified version of Larry Maras's (no longer available on-line) design which is a modified version of Sanjay Joshi's design.

I guess I can call my version revision 3. I have tried to tell where I got everything it took to build it. I did my best to find the best solution and price for each part.

You will notice that it is not a cheap item to build, but it costs far less than a store bought unit of this capacity. The most expensive item is the pump and it is half of the cost. You can save some money here if you like but I am a believer in Iwaki pumps.

If you find a better way to do some part of it or a better place to get the parts or tools from, please let me know. If you need help with any part or need a part fabricated, I would be glad to help. I tried to design it so that anyone with a few tools and experience working with PVC could build it. I stayed away from fancy acrylic work which would have cost less but this would increased the necessary skill range and tool requirment.

Please read all of the instructions and look at all of the assembly pictures before you start this project to make sure that you have everything you need to complete it.

 
The following abbreviations are used throughout this document and many people ask me what they stand for so I wanted to explain them here to avoid any confusion.

NPT -- National Pipe Taper
FNPT -- Female National Pipe Taper
MNPT -- Male National Pipe Taper
Water Distribution Assembly
 

Make two 4 ½" diameter acrylic disks out of ¼" thick acrylic.

I used a RotoZip with the RotoZip Circle cutting attachment and it only worked so so.

Drill 1/4" holes in each acrylic disk.

I used a ¼" Plasdrill to drill the holes. You will have much better luck with the Plasdrill because a normal drill bit has a very high tendency to crack the acrylic disk.

Be careful not to drill a hole too close to the edge of the disk because it can crack out even with the Plasdrill.

Try to drill at least 24 holes so the pump intake does not starve.

Cut two 4 ¼" diameter circles of fiberglass window screen.

Click here for a picture of the water distribution plate.

 
Main Chamber Base Assembly
 

Click here for a picture of the main chamber base parts.

Cut a 3 3/8" piece of 4" PVC pipe.

Glue this piece of 4" PVC pipe into the toilet flange.

Glue a 4" PVC coupling onto the 4" PVC pipe.

After the glue is dry (24 hours) drill a 15/16" hole for the ¾" NPT tap in the side of the toilet flange.

Tap the hole with a ¾" NPT tap.

Drill the hole between two of the mounting holes in the toilet flange.

Click here for a picture of the assembled main chamber base.

 
Secondary Chamber Base Assembly
 

Click here for a picutre of the secondary chamber base parts.

Cut a 3 3/8" piece of 4" PVC pipe.

Glue this piece of 4" PVC pipe into the toilet flange.

Glue a 4" PVC coupling onto the 4" PVC pipe.

After the glue is dry (24 hours) drill a 7/16" hole 2" up from floor level for the 1/4" NPT tap.

Tap the hole with the ¼" NPT tap.

Drill the hole between two of the mounting holes in the toilet flange.

Click here for a picture of the assembled secondary chamber base.

 
Main Chamber Top Assembly
 
Click here for a picture of the main chamber top parts.

Glue a 2" x 4" reducer bushing into a 4" coupling.

Cut a 2 ½" long piece of 2" PVC pipe.

Glue this piece of 2" pipe between the threaded half of a 2" union and the 4" x 2" reducer bushing.

Glue a ¾" x 2" bushing in the other half of the 2" union.

Cut a 2" long piece of ¾" PVC pipe.

Glue this between the ¾" x 2" bushing and one end of a ¾" tee.

Glue a ¼" FNPT x ¾" bushing in the other end of this tee.

Install the John Guest 1/4" MNPT x 1/4" tubing ball valve in the ¼" FNPT x ¾" bushing.

This valve is for burping the main chamber after it has been opened. It is also a place to take a sample of the main reactor loop water for a pH test.

Click here for a picture of the assembled main chamber top.
 
Secondary Chamber Top Assembly
 
Click here for a picutre of the secondary chamber top parts.

Glue a 2" x 4" reducer bushing in a 4" coupling.

Cut a 2 ½" long piece of 2" PVC pipe.

Glue this piece of 2" pipe between the threaded end of a 2" union and the 4" x 2" reducer bushing.

Glue the ½" x 2" bushing in the other half of the 2" union.

Glue the ½"x ¼" FNPT bushing in the ½" end of the ½" x 2" bushing.

Assemble the SMC needle valve and the ¼" FNPT x John Guest ¼" tubing fitting.

Screw the SMC needle valve into the ¼" FNPT bushing.

Click here for a picutre of the assembled secondary chamber top.
 
Upper Circulation Loop Assembly
 
Click here for a picture of the upper circulation loop parts.

Cut a piece of ¾" PVC pipe 8 ½" long, 11 ½" long, two pieces 6" long and one piece 1 ½" long.

Glue the 1 ½" long piece of PVC pipe between a ¾" male adapter and a ¾" slip x ¾" slip x ½" FNPT tee.

Glue one of the 6" long pieces of PVC pipe between that tee and another ¾" slip x ¾" slip x ½" FNPT tee.

Glue the other 6" long piece of PVC pipe in the other end of that tee. Glue the 8 ½" long piece of PVC pipe between the ¾" tee on top of the main chamber and a ¾" elbow.

Glue the 11 ½" long piece of PVC pipe in the other end of that elbow.

Install the compression fitting between the free end of the 11 ½" long piece of PVC pipe and the free end of the 6" long piece of PVC pipe.

Install the ½" MNPT x ½" hose barb elbow in the upper threaded tee port and the ½" MNPT x 3/16" hose barb in the lower threaded tee port.

Click here for a picture of the assembled upper circulation loop.
 
Lower Circulation Loop Assembly
 
Click here for a picture of the lower circulation loop parts.

Cut 4 pieces of ¾" PVC 1 ½" long.

Glue the lower circulation assembly together.

Install the John Guest ¼" ball valve in the lower tee and the ¼" John Guest ¼" MNPT x hose fitting in the upper tee and the ¾" Norwesco ball valve on the upper male adapter.

Install the completed assembly in the main chamber base.

Click here for a picture of the assembled lower circulation loop.
 
Bubble Counter Assembly
 
Click here for a picture of the bubble counter parts.

Cut two disks of acrylic with the 2 1/4" hole saw.

Sand the edges of the disks.

Re-drill the center holes with the 7/16" Plasdrill.

Tap the holes with the ¼" NPT tap.

Pipe taps are tapered so be sure and mark the side of the disk that the tap started on because this will be the outside side.

Use Weldon-16 to attach the acrylic end plates to the ends of the 6" long 2" OD acrylic tube.

Screw a ¼" MNPT x 3/16" hose barb in one end of the bubble counter.

This will be the top.

Screw another one in the female end of the check valve and then screw the check valve into the other end of the bubble counter.

With the check valve at the base of the bubble counter the CO2 bubbles are a nice uniform size and no water can back up the CO2 line at all.

Use teflon sealer or tape on all fittings.

Be sure and leak test the bubble counter.

Click here for a picture of the assembled bubble counter.
 
Bubble Counter Hanger Assembly
 
Click here for a picture of the bubble counter hanger parts.

Cut 2 ½" off of the 1 ½" pipe hangers.

Cut 4 ½" off of the 4" pipe hangers.

Use any good epoxy for plastic to glue the 1 ½" pipe hanger to the 4" pipe hanger.

These two pipe hanger sets will clamp around the main chamber and the bubble counter.

Click here for a picture of the assembled bubble counter hanger.
 
CO2 System Assembly
 
Remove the hose barb fitting from the regulator and install the brass ¼" MNPT x 1/8" FNPT reducer in it's place.

Install the 1/8" x 2" brass pipe nipple in the reducer.

Install the solenoid valve on the other end of the pipe nipple.

Install the needle valve in the other side of the solenoid valve.

Be sure to install the solenoid valve in the right direction, it has an arrow on it.

Install the 1/8" brass coupling on the other end of the needle valve and install the 1/8" MNPT x 3/16" hose barb.

I used a check valve in place of this brass coupling in my original design but I ended up moving it to the bottom of the bubble counter so water could not back up in the CO2 hose at all.

Use Teflon sealer or tape on all fittings.

Click here for a picture of the assembled CO2 system.
 
Finishing Up
(Click here for a picture of the completed system)
 
Use Teflon sealer on all CO2 fittings and Teflon tape everywhere else. I know that the PVC manufactures do not recommend this but it has always worked for me. Just make sure that you don't over tighten the fittings.

Glue the main and secondary chamber tops and bottoms on the two 24" sections of 4 ½" OD acrylic pipe.

Install the pump between the upper and lower circulation loops.

Set the two chambers and the pump on the piece of acrylic sheet.

Mark the four holes in each chamber base on the acrylic sheet.

Drill the eight ¼" holes in the acrylic sheet with the ¼" Plasdrill.

Bolt the two chambers and the pump to the acrylic sheet with the nylon bolts and nuts.

Run a piece of the ¼" polyethylene tubing between the John Guest fitting in the lower circulation loop and the John Guest fitting in the base of the secondary chamber.

Put a piece of the ¼" polyethylene tubing in the John Guest valve on top of the main chamber. This is the burp and water sample line.

Put a piece of ¼" polyethylene tubing in the John Guest fitting on the SMC needle valve. This is the calcium reactor output line and should go to your tank or sump.

Hook the water supply from a pump to the ½" barb fitting on the bottom circulation loop.

Fill the bubble counter with water.

Connect the 3/16" ID vinyl tubing between the 3/16" barb fitting on the upper circulation loop and the 3/16" hose barb on the top of the bubble counter.

Leaving the CO2 off turn the water supply on.

After both chambers fill start the circulation pump. You may need to use the John Guest valve on top of the main chamber to burp the main chamber.

Close the SMC needle valve and test the system for leaks.

Open the SMC needle valve until the water is dripping out. Let the reactor run like this for at least 24 hours.

If all is well turn the water supply off and the circulation pump off and fill the main chamber with SuperCalcGold and the secondary chamber with the Caribsea geo-marine substrate.

Open the SMC needle valve all the way and put the output line in a bucket.

Start the water supply and the circulation pump.

Let the output run into the bucket until the water is clear then close the SMC needle valve down to the desired drip rate.

Now turn the CO2 on. You can check for CO2 leaks with soapy water.

Set the regulator and Whitey needle valve to about 30 bubbles a minute.

Let the system run a few days and keep an eye on the calcium and alkalinity in your tank.

You can check the pH of the effluent in the circulation loop by letting some water out of the John Guest valve on the top of the main chamber.

Adjust the two needle valves to raise or lower the calcium and alkalinity.

Good luck and happy reefing.

 
Construction notes
 
You can use Jaco fittings in place of the John Guest. I list the John Guest Super Speedfit Fittings because I love them and I am not a fan of Jaco fittings.

You can cut the water distribution disks with a hole saw or a scroll or band saw. Use whatever you have.

www.plumbingsupply.com has very good prices on PVC fittings and better prices on pipe taps than Aquatic Eco Systems but they have an interesting shipping charge rate so make sure that you take that into account when comparing prices. It favors buying everything at once rather than several different orders. They charge $3.50 plus 5% or 8% of the order depending on where you live. You can also check www.savko.com and www.scottys.com for plumbing parts.

You will need to put an electrical plug on the Iwaki pump cord because it does not come with one. If you are uncomfortable installing an electrical plug, then please for your own safety get help.

De-burr the inside and outside edges of the ends of the PVC pipes so that joints go together well.

After you glue something be sure and wait 24 hours before you try and use it.

Be very careful putting the PVC primer and glue on the clear acrylic tube because you can wipe it off but it discolors the tube. I left the paper on my tubes until I was almost done so that they did not get scratched up.

Different brands of PVC fittings have different depth sockets so you may have to adjust the length of one or two pieces of ¾" PVC pipe in the circulation loop.

I made my chambers with 24" lengths of clear acrylic. You can scale this back to 12" or 18" to suit a smaller tank. This may call for a smaller circulation pump also.

You can make the acrylic parts out of clear or any other color of acrylic that pleases you. The acrylic that I used in this project was some scrap that I already had on hand. Check your telephone book yellow pages under plastic and you might find a local shop that can help you out with free or very cheap scraps.

You might want to install a gate valve between the input water supply and the reactor if the input water has too much pressure. I have found that US Plastics has the best price on gate valves that I have been able to find anywhere and they give good discounts also.

If you do not have the equipment to cut the 4 ½" clear acrylic pipe then you can buy it from AES. They will cut it to length for you. They charge a lot more per foot than USP. You may also get help from a local plastic shop. USP is now selling ¼" thick wall extruded acrylic pipe for about twice the price per foot as the 1/8" wall extruded pipe.

I have found that if you drill the 15/16" hole with a #20 UniBit first and then finish it with the 15/16" twist drill bit that the hole does not chip out on the outside and grab on the inside like it does using the twist drill alone.

I have found a plastic funnel sold by USP that is just great for filling the reactor with media. It has a 10" top and a 1 5/8" neck. It is item #78109 and it is $11.80.

The two ¾" Norwesco single union ball valves in the bill of materials are for the pump connections. I use this type of valves on all of our pumps and wherever I need a ball valve. They have female pipe threads FNPT in both ends. What I really like is they do not restrict the flow at all because the ID of the valve is the same as the pipe. They are also very economical.
 
Bill of materials
 
 
Chamber Base parts list

2 - 4" toilet flange with or without test cap. The best one that I have used is a Genova 75140 4" closet flange with built in test cap. It has a 4 ½" ID so the pipe goes into it. You then stack the 4" coupling on top of it and it works great. This is what you will see in my final system picture. If you can not find it locally you can get it straight from Genova at 1-800-521-7488 extension 1277. They are $4.65 each.

2 - 4" test caps if the 4" toilet flange does not have it built in Lowes $0.69

2 - 4" couplings PSC #429 $2.79 each

1 - ¼" MNPT x John Guest ¼" fitting USP #58152 $1.10
 
Main Chamber Top parts list

1 - ¼" John Guest ball valve USP #58301 $4.20

1 - ¾" x ¼" FNPT bushing PSC #438 $0.47

1 - ¾" tee PSC #401 $0.21

1 - 2" x ¾" bushing PSC #437 $0.87

1 - 2" slip union PSC #457 $8.66

1 - 4" x 2" reducer bushing PSC #437 $4.58

1 - 4" coupling PSC #429 $2.79
 
Secondary Chamber Top parts list

1 - ¼" FNPT x John Guest ¼" fitting USP #58274 $2.35

1 - ¼" MNPT SMC needle valve USP #22317 $7.76

1 - ½" x ¼" FNPT bushing PSC #438 $0.43

1 - 2" x ½" bushing PSC #437 $0.87

1 - 2" slip union PSC #457 $8.66

1 - 4" x 2" reducer bushing PSC#437 $4.58

1 - 4" coupling PSC #429 $2.79
 
Upper Re-circulation Loop parts list

1 - ¾" elbow PSC #406 $0.14

2 - ¾" X ¾" X ½" slip x slip x FNPT tee PSC #402 $0.33

1 - ¾" male adapter PSC #436 $0.15

1 - ¾" 60410 Norwesco single Union ball valve Agri Supply #10192 $5.49

1 - 3/16" hose barb x ½" MNPT AES #62013 $0.42

1 - ½" hose barb x ½" MNPT elbow AES #62087 $0.71

1 - ¾" Lasc-O-Tite coupling USP #26402 $1.81
 
Lower Re-circulation Loop parts list

2 - ¾" male adapter slip x MNPT PSC #436 $0.15 each

2 - ¾" tees PSC #401 $0.21 each

1 - ¾" elbow PSC #406 $0.14

2 - ¾" slip x ¼" FNPT bushing PSC #438 $0.47 each

1 - ¾" 60410 Norwesco single Union ball valve Agri Supply #10192 $5.49

1 - ¼" MNPT x John Guest 1/4" fitting USP #58152 $1.10

1 - ¼" John Guest cutoff valve USP #58301 $4.20
 
Bubble Counter parts list

2 - ¼" MNPT x 3/16" barb USP #62005 $0.19 each

1 - ¼" FNPT x 1/4" MNPT check valve USP #22191 $5.40
 
CO2 System parts list

1 - CO2 regulator A Best Kitchen #REG174X Dual gauge $45.50

1 - brass 1/4" MNPT to 1/8" FNPT reducer Lowes $0.78

1 - 1/8" x 2" brass pipe Lowes $1.08

1 - solenoid valveMarine Depot $49.95

1 - 1/8" Whitey needle valve #B-ORM2 $20.60

1 - 1/8" FNPT brass coupling Lowes $0.82

1 - CO2 cylinder Local welding supply I use a 20lb cylinder and it was $120 full.
 
Miscellaneous parts list

1 - Iwaki MD-RLT20 Marine Depot $129.00

1 - male 120 VAC plug Home Depot/Lowes...

8 - ¼" x 1" nylon bolts AES #TB003N $0.18 each

8 - ¼" nylon nuts AES #TN14N $0.07 each

2 - 4" pipe hangers Home Depot $0.98 each

2 - 1½" pipe hangers Home Depot $0.80 each

1 - 50lb bag of Caribsea Geo-marine for the secondary chamber $19.95 LFS

3 - 15 lb. buckets of SuperCalcGold for the primary chamber Marine Depot $17.50 each

1 - Two sponge pack of Fluval 203 foam LFS or www.thatpetplace.com $2.99


6' acrylic tube 4 ½" OD USP #44547 $35.22
(You will need 2 pieces 30" long out of this.)

6" of 2" PVC pipe

5' of 3/4" PVC pipe

7" of 4" PVC pipe

One square foot of 1/4" acrylic sheet for water distribution disks and bubble counter end plates

12" x 24" x ¼" acrylic sheet for reactor base

One square foot of fiberglass window screen

10' of ¼" OD polyethylene tubing Home Depot/Lowes...

10' of 3/16" ID vinyl tubing Home Depot/Lowes...

 
Tools
(Click here for a picture of the tools that I used for this project)
 
¼" Plasdrill for drilling acrylic USP # 44635 $5.06

¼" NPT tap AES # BNT2 $5.60

7/16" Plasdrill for the ¼" NPT tap USP #44638 $13.53

3/4" NPT tap AES # BNT5 $15.45

15/16" drill bit with 1/2" shank for the 3/4" NPT tap McMaster # 29415A51 $24.58

A #5 Unibit will replace the ¼" Plasdrill and the 15/16" drill bit. It also seems to work better.

2 ¼" hole saw

Rotozip and bits

Rotozip circle cutting tool

A handy PVC cutter which works for rigid and flexible PVC up to 1" AES #KT3 $12.80

PVC de-burring tool
 
Supplies
(Click here for a picture of the supplies)
 
1 - can of Teflon sealer AES #370 $5.50 for sealing the CO2 threaded fittings.

1 - can of clear PVC primer Home Depot/Lowes...

1 - can of PVC glue Home Depot/Lowes...

1 - container of Goo Gone (for removing labels and adhesive from PVC fittings) Home Depot/Lowes...

1 - 5oz. tube of Weldon-16 USP #44629 $5.18
 
Web sites for materials
Marine Depot
US Plastic (USP)
Aquatic Eco Systems (AES)
A Best Kitchen
McMaster-Carr
Plumbing Supply (PSC)
Agri Supply 1-800-345-0169