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An external aquarium pump is a fish tank pump that sits outside the aquarium water. An external water pump attaches to a plumbed aquarium sump.

An external aquarium water pump has many advantages over a submersible pump and one disadvantage. Although harder to setup, an external pump often offers more flow, higher pressure, and transfers less heat into the fish tank. An external pump is often a necessary component of large fish tanks.

An aquarium return pump is rated in flow (gph), head pressure, and watts. Flow lists the maximum gallons per hour with no resistance. Head pressure lists the maximum resistance. Each vertical foot or 90* elbow adds 1’ of head pressure, and every foot of pressure reduces flow. A "flow rated pump" will have high flow but low pressure, while a "pressure rated pump" will have high pressure with lower total flow. If your sump is in the basement or you have a complex aquarium manifold, you may need a high-pressure water pump.

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