Designing a Plumbing Roadmap For a Reef Tank

Designing a Plumbing Roadmap For a Reef Tank

When starting a reef tank it is always a great idea to lay out your plans for how you want to plumb together or connect all of your equipment. I call it a plumbing roadmap. I start by breaking out a pad of paper and doodling some sketches to see what works and what doesn’t work. Once I am happy with my design I bring it to life on the computer with some more defined and legible sketches (my handwriting is the worst).

Sketchup is a great program for this purpose and I highly recommend it for anybody who has the skill set to work with this type of software. I am still learning it so when I set out to sketch the deign for my new tank I leaned mostly on PowerPoint with a little help from Sketchup.

reef tank plumbing road map
Plumbing Roadmap For My 187 Gallon Reef Tank

As for the specifics of my design, my goal was to come up with an efficient way to plumb together my sump, display tank and frag tank and also have the ability to easily do large water changes. I really like having two return pumps in case one fails and this extra pump served a vital role in my design.

My Plumbing Roadmap – A Walk Through

Return Pump 1 was set up to send water from the sump to both the display tank and the frag tank while return Pump 2 also fed water from the sump, through the chiller, to the display tank. Additionally, return Pump 2 would be utilized to feed water through a media reactor (used for activated carbon) sitting inside the sump. Ball valves 1, 2 and 3 would be open while 4 would be closed.

To do water changes I would do the following:

  • Shut the system down.
  • Close ball valves 1 & 3.
  • Open ball valve 4.
  • Turn on return Pump 1.
  • Drain desired amount of water into slop sink.
  • Pump an equal amount of water back into the sump from the salt water reservoir.
  • Open ball valves 1 & 3 (2 is already open) and close 4.
  • Restart system

I also have a pump in my RODI reservoir so after a water change I pump RODI into the salt water reservoir, mix with salt and heat to the desired temperature, giving me a new batch of water for the next water change.


There are certainly other options for designing a plumbing roadmap for a reef tank so create something that works for you. And spend the time to think things through with the end goal of making it easier to run and maintain your tank. You will be happy you did.

Additional Resources

If you would like some help with a new tank build, including help designing a custom aquarium, or help re-configuring your current setup then you can visit this page for more information. And if you are looking to add some equipment, I do sell GHL, Pax Bellum, Reef Octopus Calcium and Kalk Reactors and Royal Exclusiv products, including Dreamboxes, which is the equipment I use and recommend. I also sell Reef Brite metal halide and LED fixtures as well as Maxspect & IceCap Gyres.

As for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my YouTube channel. For an even deeper dive into reef tank care you can check out my Reef Keeping Master Class. This online course is an immersive and one of a kind educational tool designed to help reef aquarium hobbyists build and maintain a beautiful SPS reef tank. The course is a series of video presentations with some supplemental video from my YouTube channel. There are also quizzes to help students retain and understand the information presented in the course.

Need some frags…..I can help with that as well 🙂 Please visit my SPS Frag store to see what is available.

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