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CO2 newbie: list of needed equipment and where to get it?


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Greetings fellow fish folks! 

I'm ready to take the plunge and start using CO2 in my 55g planted aquarium. Would anyone be able to assist me by providing a list (or point me to a list online) of all the necessary equipment that I will need to start off? I'd like to have all I'll need right there at hand rather than find out halfway through that I'm missing something I need. 

My sincere thanks in advance! 

Collette 

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co2art sells nice regulators and diffusers as well as tubing. I'd buy one of their kits - i prefer the in tank diffusers rather than inline model.

I also prefer to use a ph pen from amazon for setting the amount of gas that flows (you want a chnage of less than 1). You will also need a 10lb co2 canister - your local welding shop tends to be the best place for buying those as well as refilling them but a bit depends on your locality.

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On 6/24/2021 at 7:02 AM, Collette said:

Greetings fellow fish folks! 

I'm ready to take the plunge and start using CO2 in my 55g planted aquarium. Would anyone be able to assist me by providing a list (or point me to a list online) of all the necessary equipment that I will need to start off? I'd like to have all I'll need right there at hand rather than find out halfway through that I'm missing something I need. 

My sincere thanks in advance! 

Collette 

I have a CO2Art and I'm happy with it. I bought the kit. It comes with everything you need except the CO2 cylinder, which you can pick up as a 5 pound or 10 pound canister at a local welding supply or compressed gas store. This model comes with little black silicone o-rings and there's no need to add a washer (though the instructions will tell you to add a washer). Don't make my mistake and just screw the large nut onto the cylinder, then open 'er up and check for leaks.

It's really straightforward to hook up and to use, first gauge will read out the total pressure available inside the cylinder, second is the working pressure that's going out to your diffuser. For CO2Art in-tank diffusers you need to set the working pressure to around 30 to 40 psi, I have mine at around 35 psi. Bubble counter is nice and precise, I started at 1 bubble per second and went up from there.

I was an utter novice with CO2 and regulators, but I learned a whole lot just adding this to my tank. 🙂

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I just ordered a diy kit from Amazon and should be getting it this weekend!  From my total newbie who hasn't even yet set up her first CO2 thingy yet, I thought this video was super helpful.  In fact, I really like all of Chung's videos... he seems really knowledgeable and he kinda cracks me up with his goofy jokes.  He hasn't posted in a few months though, which is a bummer but he has a lot of informative videos.  Channel name is The Water Box (not affiliated with the aquarium manufacturer) and the link to the diy CO2 video: 

 

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Things you need:

1) Co2 cylinder - I get mine from Airgas (welding supply store). Grow shops may also sell Co2 cylinders. A 5lb cylinder is the smallest you will find in a store like those. Grow shops usually carry 20lb cylinders. A full cylinder (depending on what size you want) will usually start at about $100 for a 5lb cylinder. My local grow shops sell full 20lb cylinders for $125. When using an actual pressurized Co2 cylinder, when it runs out, you take the empty cylinder back to where you bought it from and exchange it for a “new” full cylinder. At my local Airgas, I pay $25 for a “new” full 5lb cylinder exchange. At the grow shop, it’s $20 to exchange a 20lb cylinder (I’ve never looked into bigger cylinders from Airgas). What I’m getting at is it’s not that expensive to start with a larger cylinder. A bigger cylinder means less exchanges and more time in between those exchanges. The thing that usually stops aquarists from getting a larger cylinder to start is the space required to operate it. A 20lb cylinder isn’t all that big but it won’t fit under your typical Aquarian stand (bought or diy). Usually, a 20lb cylinder will sit next to the aquarium. If that doesn’t bother you, it’s really the way to go. Most of us go the 5lb cylinder route because they will fit underneath/inside almost any stand.

2) Co2 regulator - I personally use GLA (Green Leaf Aquarium) regulators. Mine cost $300 and it’s a quality piece of gear. A lot of people scoff at the fact of paying $300 for a regulator but it really has been flawless (most GLA customers will agree). Currently, they sell a regulator for $150. It’s essentially the same regulator that ADA and a few other dealers use to sell a few years ago. If you want to go with GLA, I’d recommend either the $150 one or the $300 (you’d have to go their site and look and specs). I have no doubts in functionality of either regulator.

Co2Art is another brand that garners pretty high regard within the Co2 world. Affordable and functional. What else do you need?… However, you may run into more quality control issues and depending on where you buy them, you might be screwed on warranty repairs/replacement. DISCLAIMER: I’ve never purchased or used Co2Art regulators but the internet is full of positive testimonials that I wouldn’t mind trying one out someday.

Honestly, for the money and quality, I personally wouldn’t branch out too far from the above brands. Sure, their are a couple other brands that could work and do work for people trying to save money but pressurized Co2 setups really isn’t the place you want to go the absolute cheapest route.

3) Co2 diffusers - You could in-tank or in-line with a canister depending on what your filter is. I use an inline atomizer (GLA, NilocG) on the output tube of my Fluval 207, works great. I went with in-line because I didn’t want clutter in the tank. An in-tank diffuser is easier to manage since it isn’t connected to the plumbing of a filter. It is its own separate apparatus. The decision in which you want is up to you and your ultimate goals for your setup. 
 

4) Co2 tubing - This one is simple. Get some Co2 rated tubing. Honestly, you can get away with using regular airline hose for an air pump. I have been doing exactly that for at least the last two years with zero negative affects (Lee’s tubing). Again, that decision is up to you.

5) Timer - Get a plug in timer so the solenoid on your regulator can be opened and closed automatically to coincide with the photoperiod of your lights. You can use either the cheap mechanical timers (I have for years, they work just fine but bumps to the “time-disk” are prone to change your times). Recently, I started using a USB-Wifi outlet (the solenoid on my regulator uses a usb plug for power) that I can program using my phone and it has been rather fantastic. Either will work well but I recommend a plug in Wifi outlet (if the solenoid on your regulator uses a normal plug, get that version) such as the one Cory sells. 
 

6) Drop checker - A drop checker isn’t necessary AT ALL but it does give you a somewhat accurate visual reference (as accurate as us hobbyists are going to get) of your tanks Co2 levels. The reason it isn’t necessary is because to get the reading we want to see (green) it takes several hours for the Co2 in the tank to affect the solution inside the drop checker. For example, in my tank my Co2 comes on at 10am, lights on at noon. My drop checker won’t read green until about 2-3 pm. That’s 4-5 hours after the Co2 comes on. So, it’s not an “instant reading” meaning if there were to be a problem like your fish acting strange because you think you’ve gassed them (too much Co2 so fish are suffocating) your drop checker may very well be telling you that Co2 levels are optimal because it’s still green but that color is actually from a few hours ago before Co2 levels became so saturated in the water column that it started to hinder your fish. However, drop checkers are a good way to know if there is something wrong with your Co2 setup equipment in general. Say, for me, if it’s 5pm and my drop checker is still blue, we’ll clearly there is an issue somewhere down the line before it can enter the tank. So, I would then check all of the connections within the Co2 setup for leaks. Same goes for the other way around, if it’s 5pm and the drop checker is lemon yellow, we’ll clearly there is an issue somewhere down the line. In that case, I’d check all of the valves on the regulator itself to see if something got adjusted on accident (some needle valves are very finicky and a slight bump can be the difference between 2 bubbles per second and 50). So, I use a drop checker to make sure everything is still running consistently and not so much to see how much Co2 is actually in the water.

A much quicker and much more accurate way to check Co2 levels is to check the drop in ph from when your Co2 is off and when it is on with either a ph test kit or better yet a digital ph pen. Wait a second? “Check the drop”? You mean a “drop checker????”. That’s right! That’s exactly why it’s called a “drop checker”. It “checks” the “drop” in ph from when your Co2 is off to when it’s on. Only instead of giving us a quick numerical reading like a ph pen does, it uses colors in a chemical solution and relies on Co2 dissipation inside the little tiny opening that in-tank glass drop checkers. So, it takes hours for that gas exchange to happen and therefore change the color of that chemical solution. Having said all of that, glass drop checkers can look classy in a nice setup. Personally, I use both!

7) Expectations - A lot of people assume that once they install an actual pressurized co2 system that all of their planted tank problems will go away and they will be left with a show-stopping contest winning worthy tank with luscious beautiful growth that will make them the absolute envy of the planted tank world……Just….stop it. That may be the case for the examples we all see online but those guys/tanks are the EXCEPTION and most definitely not the rule. What does happen is that you discover an entirely new world of issues lol. What you really learn about quickly is tank balance. And unfortunately, what it takes to balance your tank is completely different than what it takes to balance my tank. Or even another one of your tanks for that matter. Yes, you will experience quicker growth. But along with quicker growth, you’ll also experience deficiencies quicker as well. That’s where learning that tanks balance comes in and that my friend, is on you. The internet helps a ton but ultimately, it’s up to you to maintain that balance. 
 

Personally, I don’t use Co2 for accelerated growth or to create a show tank or anything like that. I use Co2 to provide my plants with as much of that balance as possible. All plants may not require Co2, but I can guarantee that all plants will most certainly appreciate additional Co2. For what it’s worth, even with my $500 setup for my 32 gallon, I still have algae issues and plant health issues. But, I know that Co2 isn’t the issue. So, for me at least, my issues come down to nutrients or lighting. My nutes should be good so that just leaves lighting. Yup, my lights are too intense for my plants and nutrient load (it’s not that heavy). I know my lights are too bright. They are on every tank I setup and it’s something I’ve learned to deal with. More than I’d care to admit and honestly my plants could be healthier because of it. Maybe I should turn my lights down a bit……….But again, like I said above, that’s on me. It isn’t the Co2’s fault and it most certainly isn't the plants fault. It’s mine as the aquarist.

😎 HAVE FUN!! - Seriously, that’s what this hobby is all about! If you aren’t having fun, something is wrong. Using pressurized Co2 can be a struggle. Especially when it doesn’t meat our expectations (remember ^^^^) after spending all of the money on decent gear and the time and effort that goes into all of it just for it to seemingly make things worse and just deteriorate our view on the hobby. Thankfully, that’s not usually the case for most of us and if you go into it with a reasonable expectation, than can make the struggles a little less harder to deal with.

 

Get ready to learn a lot!

Edited by Ryan W
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