My Betta Fish Bunkhouse

My Betta Bunkhouse consists of 4 rain gutters with leaf guards each one 10’0” long. Each row holds 27 bunks (beanie baby boxes), each box holds 1/3 gallon of water. There is a 5th row above the bunkhouse for isolation of fish that I do not want to house in the bunks.

The water flows clockwise. Starting in the sump on the bottom right, the water is pumped through a UV sterilizer, a cartridge filter (out of sight), up past 4 hand valves, across the top and back down to the bio-filter inlet to the sump. Water from the circulating loop can be bypassed into aquariums on the far right end. The aquariums have an overflow, which drains back into the bio-filter & sump At the lower left there is a hose bib and garden hose where water can be dumped for partial water changes or used in spawn tanks.

Each hand valve leads to a Ύ” PVC water supply header. Each header has 27 pressure regulating drip emitters. The emitter drips into the Betta bunk, the bunk overflows into the rain gutter, the rain gutters are 1 inch higher on the left than on the right so the water drains to the right.
On the right end a 1.5” sink drain returns the water to the bio-filter & sump.




The sump consists of a Rubbermaid Roughneck 31 gallon tub. After a year, the tub has started to bulge, so I am looking for a more rigid replacement. Tap water is supplied to the inlet filters via a valve and 1/4” flexible tubing connection (icemaker tap). The first filter is a paper cartridge to remove suspended solids (sediment- mud, algae, etc). The second filter is a carbon cartridge to remove dissolved chemicals (chlorine). The twin filters supply a float valve located on the backside of the tub. This float valve maintains the water level in the sump. Water is lost to evaporation and when water is taken from the system for other uses. Low water in the sump will cause the pump to run dry and could damage the pump. By adding water slowly through the small inlet tube, temperature & pH swings can be minimized. The float valve was less than $ 10 and found at a local fence & feed store. A hole was drilled in the sump for the 3/4” NPT bulkhead connector and RTV sealant was added as a precaution, however the float can be adjusted to maintain the water level below the switch body.

The Sump Pump

My original design used an external pump, which worked fine but was extremely noisy. On the second revision, I changed to a Sears direct drive sump pump. Which worked well but heated the sump and the entire system 10 degrees higher that the fish room. Not a problem in the winter but not sutable for Texas summers. For the third revision, I used a magnetic drive submersable pump.

108 bunks at 1 GPH drip rate is only 108 GPH but there are pressure losses due to the bends in the pipe and the inline filter which are high when it gets dirty and I wanted additional flow for my Aquariums. So I selected a mag-drive pump rated for 700 GPH at 6′ head. Defenately over kill of this application.


UV Sterilizer

I am currently using a CustomSeaLife Double Helix Ultraviolet Sterilizer. It is designed for 250-gallon systems. I have the power plug connected to the sump pump plug so that I can’t run one without the other. This prevents damage to the sterilizer and provides protection for my Bettas. Do I need it? I don’t know, but I use tap water and I’d rather be safe than sorry. My first Sterilizer was larger but the internal tubing collapsed and caused the entire system to stop flowing. (Also burned up my first pump).
I am currently looking for a cheap low flow alarm.

In Line Filter

Drip emitters have very small openings and they tend to plug if you have anything in the line. The UV may kill algae, but dead algae can still plug the emitters. Plugged emitters have to be removed and cleaned or replaced, which is time consuming. This 25-micron filter cartridge costs less than $ 5 and gets dirty in about 6 weeks. The clear plastic case allows me to see how dirty the filter is and judge when to change it.

Hose Bib & Hose

This hose allows me to dump water from the system for partial water changes whenever necessary, it also allows me to top off other aquariums in my fish room or fill a new spawn tank with water I don’t have to treat. I have added a shutoff valve at the tip of the hose to allow me to turn the water on or off at the tank I am filling.

Header Hand Valve

Each row has a hand valve & swivel union, so that I can shut off the water supply for that row while continuing to supply all of the other rows. This is necessary when I do not need full capacity or when I am removing and cleaning drip emitters. The addition of the in line filter has greatly reduced emitter cleaning. The union allows me to remove the entire header for service and the swivel allows me to align the emitters properly.

Pressure Regulating Drip Emitters


One of those things they teach you in Physics is that water has weight and atmospheric pressure is measured in inches of water column. If you have rows of bunks at different heights, then you will have different pressure on each header because of the height. Which means if they have the same size hole then the one on the top row will drip less water than the one on the bottom row. So some smart person created pressure regulating. With these, all the holes drip at the desired rate.

Once again, I chose the largest (bigger is better) but with hindsight I realize that I do not need to supply 24 gallons of water a day to keep my Betta happy. A ½ GPH emitter will provide plenty of water. Emitters come with a barbed tip. They are designed to be press fitted into a small hole in a soft plastic hose. The soft plastic hose is soft, it sags between the supports, so I chose to use 3/4” PVC pipe. If you press fit the emitters into a hole in the PVC pipe, the barb will break off when you remove the emitter for cleaning (leaving pieces in the header to plug other emitters).

So I chose to use this assembly. Beanie boxes are 4”, so every 4.125” drill a 1/4” OD hole and using PVC cement, glue a 3/4” long piece of 1/4” OD clear rigid plastic tubing. Then using a 1/4” ID piece of soft air line tubing, connect the emitter to the header. This adds an inch to the space required between rows. Using a hot soldering iron, melt an overflow drain hole in the side of the beanie box slightly lower than the drip emitter. I used 8.5” tall boxes and my gutters are 13.75” apart. If you are planning on mounting to a sheet of plywood, use shorter boxes.

Rain Gutter Drains


The Rain gutters are 10’ long but can be cut to shorter length. The end caps have rubber gaskets and snap fit, but I chose to also use plenty of RTV. The leaf covers are 5’ long and must be cut to fit (clear the drain). To make the gutters drain properly, the left side is mounted 1” higher than the right side. All the water overflows into the gutter and flows downhill to the end. At the end you must provide a drain either through the end cap or through the bottom of the drain. I chose to use 12” long 1.5” dia. sink drainpipe through the bottom. They come with a lip on one end. Drill a hole through the gutter leaving enough room for the drain lip to clear the end cap and seal with RTV. This retains almost no water in the gutter when the system is running



The top gutter drains into the next gutter and so on and so forth, until you get to the bottom gutter. I used a standard sink “S” trap to drain the bottom gutter into the center of the bio-filter. The trap is to keep a fish from falling into the dry part of the filter if he makes it into the drain system. The Bio-Filter consists of a large plastic hanging flowerpot fitted into a hole cut into the cover of the sump. Extra holes were drilled into the bottom of the pot. But melting holes with a soldering iron would have been better. The bottom of the pot is lined with two layers of foam filter pad cut to fit and then the pot is filled with bio-balls. The filter foam will plug up and needs to be cleaned every two months.

The water circulation loop goes over the top of all the bunkhouse and drops down to a hand valve to control the flow back into the Bio-filter


There is also a branch line that feeds some aquariums and returns to the bio-filter.

Do not apply glue before you cut & test fit all PVC parts.

If you use a direct drive pump, do not deadhead your pump. If will damage the pump
(Make sure that if you close all the valves, there is someplace for the water to go)
If you use a Magnetic Drive pump do not bother to loop the header back to the sump.
It is designed such that it will not be dammaged if you deadhead the pump.

Instead of using a hand valve on the pump return to the bio-filter, use a cap with a small hole drilled in it.

Do not let your sump run dry.

Do not add strange new fish to your system without isolating them for 30 days.

Do not forget to check your water quality frequently.

Do not build a row so high that you can’t feed the fish without a stepladder.

Do not forget to buy one more PVC fitting than you need.

Do not forget to buy spare emitters when ordering

Do not buy parts before you finish your design.