Does anybody still use downdraft skimmers?


Hey folks, been a while. Ended up taking a hiatus from the hobby due to a move from the city to a remote rural ranch. I'm finally about to resurrect my original dream tank build, and I'm realizing a LOT has changed in the hobby since I first amassed my equipment. So I've got some questions for y'all:

First and foremost, the build as it stood in 2009:

142 gallon 6' long x 2' wide x 20" deep acrylic tank with built on external dual overflow, partial open hood (back side), custom stand, and 55 gallon custom acrylic sump.

Filters/Skimmers/reactors: Gigantic external downdraft skimmer with bioballs, Ca reactor, Sulfur reactor, filter socks, live rock sump compartment.

Pumps/water flow: external return pump, dedicated closed loop external pump with a wave generator/surge generator (a hydraulic valve, magnetically controlled, that opens 2/4 circuits at once for rhythmic flow), a secondary valve controlled wave generator on closed pump for extra randomness on wave flow, and of course a high head pressure external pump for the protein skimmer.

Biofilter: I built this back in the hay day of dsb's and had planned on bare bottom tank with remote sand bed in the sump, divided from a mud bed with mangroves, and a dedicated refugium compartment/return chamber to boost pod populations for my mandarins.

Lighting: 3 250w MH fixtures with electronic ballasts in Sunlight Supply reflectors with custom tempered glass shields, plus 72" VHO's in actinic blue, with a VHO fixture for refugium.

Climate control: heaters with controller, and a 1/3 hp chiller with controller.

Obviously lighting has come miles from where it used to be, but I have an awful lot sunk into metal halides and I just like the lighting from those better than LED only. My question is, should I swap the VHO's for LED strip lights, or T-5's? I had ran my 58 gallon tank off T-5's and had a LOT of electrical problems. Maybe it was just that first gen T-5's were sucky. I ended up drying the tank out after the fifth lighting related failure and am basically starting from scratch on the 142 now.

Next question, and a big one, does anybody still use downdraft skimmers? My sump is plumbed for it and I really loved that thing, even if it was loud AF. It worked great, and I do plan on an SPS dominated system with a decent density of fish. However, I'm married to my husband, not the skimmer, so I'm willing to entertain other options, with an emphasis on preferring external skimmers (too many bad experiences with pumps in sump and now I have a phobia about them).

Third question: my pumps were mainly snappers and hammerhead. I might be misremembering that slightly, there might have been a third smaller one in the mix, they're still nib in the back of my garage. Given that I live in a area prone to outages, should I swap out for DC return pump? I do have generator backup, but there's a chance I could be out when it goes dark, etc. I had originally used a non aquarium related DC pump to power my tiny wave circuit during outages just to keep water going in the tank, and that worked great in town, but I'm seriously in the sticks these days and we are in fire season. I'm trying to build as much long term safety as possible here, with the knowledge that maybe I'm just nuts. :D

Fourth question, anybody have experience swapping bioballs for those ceramic filter balls in a downdraft skimmer? Or does the melting-away issue that seems to be reported a lot with the marinepure stuff preclude that?

Thank you for reading my wall of text.

Vinny Kreyling

Premium Member
If you are OK with a big pump for the skimmer then use it. They do work well. Don't change it. As far as the pumps in storage you have to check what the generator can do & what you plan on running before the tank is included. Do you have enough juice?
VHO or an LED strip-- Do they still have the VHO bulbs? This will help you answer those questions.


New member
welcome back to the hobby!
I think LEDs are just the way to go.
The spectrum stability and control.
The lack of heat being put into the water
the electricity savings

on the skimmer... well I'm still running one with a big pump and venturi valve. idk. Works well.

My problem is always mechanical filtration.
I dont use any right now. I have bare bottom so I vacuum it when I do water changes, but I could prob do better here. I just never manage to keep up with the maintenance of these filters, so I don't think I'm helping my water quality at all doing that and have always kept an eye out for something next gen with no mess super simple maintenance.

For water movement I have a couple of maxspect gyre's (240G aquarium). They're fantastic.

I just recently bought a pretty inexpensive salinity and pH combination monitor (the 2 things I like to always have an eye on) and it's great. Nothing fancy. No iphone app.. Just a digital screen that I can look at. I've been doing checks on it's accuracy and I'm surprised that it's been staying on point. Salinity monitors used to drift after a while due to quite salt buildup on the probe.