Central Air System: detailed How-to Guide on Installation

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The heart of the central air system.  Here you can see the Linear air pump installed on a shelf.  Providing air pressure to the air sweep.

The fish room needs more air, Captain!

At the end of 2019 I decided it was time to start fully utilizing the available space in the fish room. That decision required I install a central air system, also know as an air sweep (in this blog article we we’ll use the two terms synonymously). This system would allow me to send air to the opposite wall of where my air pump was currently seated, which would allow me to get another 14 tanks operating with air filtration.

This was my first time installing a system of this kind. Fortunately it’s a rather easy thing to accomplish! It doesn’t require many tools and the skills required to assemble it are fairly intuitive. Here were my goals on constructing the system:

  • Build a clean and professional looking installation.
  • Use pre-built parts where I could to reduce mistakes.
  • Balance a budget with DIY labor and quality parts.

Prior to this installation, I had known I’d need to locate an air pump overhead. Therefore, during the construction phase of the fish room I had the electrician put an outlet specifically near the ceiling. I knew this location would always be above the highest tank in the room. It’s important that water can not back feed into the pump. Locating a pump overhead guarantees that gravity keeps the water in the tanks rather than back feeding into the air sweep. This will prevent any potential water damage to the pump which is the most expensive piece of this build. Similarly, it eliminates the risk of any future water spills that could occur from water back feeding.

Photo highlights the placement of an electrical outlet.  Here we are highlighting the height in relation to the room.

Here you can see the electrical outlet’s placement. This is located over 8′ off the ground. If you can, it’s important to plan placement ahead of time.

A seat fit for a King

With the electrical outlet in place I now needed to focus on the shelf where the air pump would sit. I’ve noticed a lot people in the community don’t spend much time on this aspect of an install. As a result, I was hoping to be more purposeful here. Kind of a build it once and build it right mentality. Beyond that I had a few additional things that were important to me:

  • The entire fish room is white, blue and gray. I wanted to continue that trend if at all possible.
  • Again if I was able, I wanted to utilize something pre-built if I could find it.
  • Having moisture resistant components is a must in the fish room.

Traveling down the thought process of building it right… I started by looking for heavy duty shelf brackets. I stumbled across the FastCap SpeedBrace. White, pre-built, moisture resistant and heavy duty. A little more research yields they can be paired with some purpose built mounting hardware too. This fits exactly what I am after. Unfortunately, the sheer amount of mounting hardware or “powerhead screws”, as they are called, is overwhelming. I counted over 80+ listings!

I needed a longer screw that could be sunk through the drywall and into the studs. After much searching I settled on these: 2.5″ Powerhead Wood Screws. In addition, I needed a short screw that could screw into the shelving material I chose. Again more searching and I chose these: 1.25″ PowerHead Cabinet Installation Wood Screws. That hardware paired with two of the shelf brackets was ordered and quickly arrived a few days later. Next I needed to find shelving material!

– Home Depot Hack & the battle against moisture

Lumber tag.  Here you can see the dimensions of the piece of lumber selected to be used for shelf making.

That process started with a trip to Home Depot. I found a nice big piece of Doug Fir. Here are the dimensions of what I chose to use.

One of the coolest hacks at Home Depot is they’ll cut lumber to size for you. This makes a project like this more accessible for those who don’t have the tools at home. Wall studs are 16″ apart and I’d only be bridging a gap between two of them. So I had them cut this piece of lumber into 20″ long sections. I was a bit concerned that I might crack my first attempt because the screws I chose would almost sink completely through the lumber. Having multiple pieces would make certain I was given a couple extra tries at making the shelf if I did indeed crack the first one.

Now you might be saying to yourself… wood is not moisture resistant, and you’d be right. However, I grew up in a family that did a fair amount of remodeling on rental properties. I was aware of a product that seals and is mold resistant. I’ve seen it used in painting ceiling in bathrooms. It took me a bit of searching but I found it: KILZ Original. I used it to put several coats of paint on the shelf. This took a couple attempts, a bit of sanding and weeks to cure. During that down time I started arranging my other needs to complete the project.

Central Air System: shopping list

After more research I decided on two main components from Jehmco that I would build the rest of the system around. These were the LPH80 linear air piston pump and a matching pair of AVMP-20E a 20 Outlet pre-built Air Manifolds.

Air distribution manifold connected in the closed loop central air system.  Pre-built one can see it mounted and delivering air to individual airline tubing drops.

Twenty outlet manifold mounted and providing air in the fish room.

I decided to mount a manifold behind each of my tank racks and 20 outlets would be enough air to meet my immediate need with some room for expansion in the future. That choice in a pre-built manifold also guided me to using 3/4″ PVC for the entire air sweep that would travel around the room. Here is the entire shopping list minus the components used to build the shelf and the consumables used for assembly:

Home Depot

  • 6 x 10′ Lengths of 3/4″ PVC
  • 4 x 3/4″ 90° (Slip x Slip) PVC Elbows
  • 1 x 3/4″ (Slip x Slip x FPT) PVC Tee Fitting
  • 4 x 3/4″ x 1/2″ (MPT x Slip) PVC Reducing Adapter (Male Adapter)
  • 1 x 3/4″ x 3/4″ x 1/2″ (Slip x Slip x FPT) PVC Reducing Tee (Female Adapter)
  • 1 x 1/2″ x 2-1/2″ Schedule 80 PVC Nipple

Jehmco

  • 1 x LPH80 Linear Air Piston Pump
  • 2 x AVMP-20E Pre-Built Air Manifold (20 Outlets)
  • 1 x PGV-1/2 Adjustable Bleed Valve
  • 1 x RGES-1/2 Air Diffuser, 1/2” NPT (bleed silencer)
  • 15 x 3/4″ Plastic Pipe Clamp

– Horseshoes & Hand grenades: when close is good enough

I found I could do all my cutting with just one tool. I used a RIDGID Plastic Pipe and Tube Cutter. This tool was great and I had it around from a previous project (I’ll be linking that project soon). It was very, very sharp! If you place both hands around the device and give it a firm and steady squeeze it cuts right through the PVC. However, by the end of this second project the blade was starting to dull, creating some slightly angled cuts. However, all the pieces were still usable. All those almost perfect cuts were hidden inside the PVC fittings and would not cause any issues, but it was something I noticed and consider it worth mentioning.

Some assembly required

I paired this cutting tool and a cordless drill with the following consumables for assembly:

Here are the core tools used on the installation of the central air system.  A pipe cutter, pvc cement and thread tape.  Not picture cordless drill.

I chose to buy clear PVC one-step cement. It acts as both primer and cement, allowing me to preserve that clean look. Other primers have a purple color to them.

I am sure that purple color is an important visual indicator for plumbers to ensure complete coverage in other applications, but our PVC is going to be completely visible. So I chose to spend a bit more money to reduce steps and get the cleaner look. The Oatey Fusion One-Step PVC Cement – Clear was very easy to work with. It’s got a lot of viscosity. This is handy when you are up on a ladder, as it stays put where applied, but still can be manipulated around the pipe and fittings without running. This product worked great and I’d use it again.

In addition, I paired that product with the Hercules Thread Seal Tape. It was used on all of the threaded connections. There were only had a few of these:

  • The braided hose running from the linear piston air pump to the air sweep has a threaded and barbed connection where it meets the air sweep.
  • The bleed valve and silencer/muffler have a couple threaded connections.
  • The pre-built manifolds are threaded on each end.

– Appreciate the small things

I’d like to comment further on these pre-built manifolds. Someone has put thought into their design. I was happy to see these are threaded on each end. A convenient feature because they never have to be cemented into place. This would ensure that if they would ever need to be moved or reclaimed for a future build I could do so without destroying them. I would just need to hacksaw the slip fitting off each end and spin off that fitting. In that scenario, the fittings would be junk, but it would preserve pre-built manifold.

Gears in motion

Now I had all the required parts and tools to start assembling the central air system. I started by mounting the shelf brackets. It didn’t take long to locate the studs, although later I’d find this more difficult when mounting the pipe clamps around the central air system. I mounted both shelf brackets.

Here one can see a stripped torx drill bit.

The powerhead screws were really tough on the driver bits. It could of been the settings of my drill, but both boxes of screws came with two free T20 Torx drivers, so I lean towards this being a known issue. It would be wise to have more of these on standby for a larger job.

Mounting the wooden shelf came last. Most importantly, I knew assembling it in place rather than on the ground and lifting it into place would be way more manageable while working up on a ladder. I also chose to leave a gap behind the shelf knowing I may want to run the main braided hose down that way. See here:

Gap highlighted between the wall and the shelf.  This shelf does not rest up against the wall.  Rather a small gap runs parallel with the wall to allow for tube management.

This gap also provided the room necessary to add a Velcro strap to secure the pump.

The Velcro strap was a later addition. I wanted to make sure the air pump stayed in place. Not only was it the most expensive piece of the build, but it would surely cause major damage to whatever it fell on. I felt much better about the entire air central system build with it in place.

Practice makes perfect

Now that the shelving was mounted into place I could move forward with measuring, cutting and dry fitting the rest of system. In hindsight I was able to make the entire loop in just six cuts. A loop is important as it ensures even pressure throughout the entire central air system.

A panoramic shot of the entire air sweep.  The entire central air system can be seen in this photograph.

Here is the air sweep. It makes a complete loop around the fish room.

A dry fit is mocking up your cuts to check that you’ve measured and cut them properly. This gives you a chance to make changes before moving to the PVC cement which creates a permanent bond. It’s an important step to help you visualize the air sweep and reevaluate your placement choices. Now is a critical the time to make changes.

Once I was happy with the dry fit, I began sinking some of the plastic pipe clamps through drywall and into studs. As mentioned earlier, I struggled a bit here. The Stanley IntelliSensor was giving off false positives. There is nothing more frustrating that punching unnecessary and unproductive holes into drywall. It was probably the most frustrating part of the entire build. I’ll definitely be in the market for a new stud finder.

Life long student

I was able to get the entire loop finished within a week. I did conference with Jehmco by email once or twice during this entire project and I must say their email support is great. They did guide me towards adding a bleed valve to the central air system as the pump I had chosen was a bit oversize for the amount of “drops” or air lines I had running into tanks. This piece was just as easy to add as any other fitting you’d find in the air sweep. You can see a more detailed photo of it here:

Close up shot of the bleed valve assembled.  Here you can see the valve and air diffuser.  The diffuser acts like a muffler would a vehicle.  Helping reduce the sound produced by the entire central air system.

This adjustable valve allows you bleed extra pressure of out the air sweep. This reduces back pressure and preserves the longevity of the air pump.

Once I finished, I gave the entire air sweep a couple days to cure to my satisfaction. By that time the lingering odor from the PVC cement had dissipated. Soon after I put the central air system into service by plugging in the air pump. Everything pressurized as expected, and I went to work on getting the other rack of tanks online.

Even the best of us could due with fresh coat of paint

It was about one month later when I noticed I didn’t have quite enough of the plastic pipe clamps in place. I was getting some sagging specifically in the corners of the installation. In one corner it appeared the sagging actually caused some contact with the wall. That contact and the slight vibration inherent in these systems cause a mar on the wall. Here you can see the mar after I had filled it with some joint compound:

Here is the brand of joint compound I used to patch holes in the fish room.  I enjoyed the consistence of the product.  It was easy to work with.

Joint compound helped me patch up this spot and any of the holes I poked accidentally when searching for studs for the pipe clamps.

I waited a day for all the patched spots the cure, found the paint can I used to paint the fish room initially and touched up all the spots I had patched. It’s important to mix your paint if it has been sitting. I used this Helix Mixer. I had it from originally painting the fish room. Another Home Depot hack or any hardware store… is to bring your old paint can into the store; as long as you purchased the paint from them initially they’ll put it into the shaker for you.

Retrospect

In conclusion, I am very happy with how the whole installation went. I’ve gone back and calculated the entire cost of materials for this build, it totals just shy of $500 USD. The linear air pump accounts for almost 60% of that cost. Anyone could find a good used air pump and significantly reduce the budget required for this build. I think a central air system is a necessary component of any growing fish room. It’s my hope that this article will help others on their path. I’ll be answering any questions and/or comments left below.

This is a portrait of myself, Marshall Joas.  If you are visually impaired and listening to this I hope this blog post has brought additional value to your life.

Written By Marshall Joas – Owner & Operator of InvertzFactory.com

Marshall runs the day to day operation of the fish room. Packs the orders and answers all the emails! He is passionate about sharing his journey in the fish room and providing quality pets to this amazing hobby.

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