Today I have taken two baby steps forward. I have made some small tweaks to my system. #1: I rerouted my pipes so that they are now ziptied to my wire shelving unit rather than secured to the wall using pipe bands. This reduced ALL OF THE NOISE (YAY!) my system was making in my bedroom (minus the pleasant sound of flowing water, of course) because now the vibration from the pump is not transferred into the walls in the corner of my bedroom.
#2: Repaired a leak in the system. I am using 10 gallon clear plastic totes for all my containers, and the grow bed is slightly misshapen because of the weight of the gravel. The rear side of my GB was slightly lower than the front, causing water to escape from the holes in the tote handle--just a few drops every siphon cycle--but I couldn't figure out where it was coming from until today. I simply removed my standpipe, cut off 1" and replaced it. That fixed the problem. Now my water level height is actually 2" below the surface of the gravel like it should be...BONUS!
A tweak I made last week was to add a gravel guard and new siphon. Had I not retroactively installed these last week, I would have been having a hell of a time today trying to do the repair I made. Because I had no gravel guard, I bought a length of 6" pipe, shoved it down into the grow bed around the siphon, and bit by bit removed the gravel between the inside of the pipe and the outside of the bell. After the 6" pipe hit the bottom of the bed, I removed the bell and standpipe and replaced them with larger, better performing ones. Lowe's near my house and Home Depot don't sell pipe larger than 2", so I had to get creative. I banded together four 3" landscaping pipe couplings on end using zip ties and cut the slits in. The zip ties are not holding together as well as I'd like but the four couplings are not shifting inside the gravel, so it works. The U of Hawaii published a really good paper on bell siphons that I used as a reference when creating mine. In it, the authors state the gravel guard should be at least twice the size of the bell. Well, if you're not using 2" pipe as your bell, I say the gravel guard should be a minimum 4" wide because no matter how big your bed is or your siphon, you're going to need to stick your hand inside the thing from time to time to make adjustments, clean it out, or experiment with different siphon sizes and configurations.
#3: Over the last week I have been experimenting with splash containment. My FT and GB are both only 20" x 15" x 11", so any splashing in the system will land outside of the system. Over the course of a week, I end up having to add 5 gallons of water--30% of my entire system! So I lowered my FT inlet dropdown pipe and added a 90 deg elbow. This resulted in a kindler, gentler point of entry for the water coming in from the sump, and it creates a nice current that helps the tank cycle out solids as well. There is still some agitation there, so there is no worry of lack of oxygen. Besides, the GB siphon and the FT drain agitate the water probably well enough alone that I wouldn't need to worry about oxygenation occurring at the FT water inlet--but it's always good to keep your options open and keep your system operating as robustly as it possibly can--so I didn't want to lose that option if I didn't have to.
Another splash containment point was the water inlet to the grow bed. My drop down pipe was only 3 or 4 inches away from the edge of the GB container, so the water hitting the surface of the gravel created a lot of splashing that escaped the system. I contained this splashing by adding a 1 1/4" pipe with several holes drilled in the bottom--very similar to a siphon bell--in fact, I previously used this pipe in my system as a bell. I rotated my (glueless) GB inlet drop down pipe outward a little bit, slipped the splash guard pipe over the inlet pipe, and rotated the inlet pipe back down toward the bed. Then I shoved the bottom of the pipe into the gravel. Now the water is contained when it his the surface of the bed, and it gets released underneath the surface of the bed with plenty of outflow so my siphon still operates as it would without the splash guard.
I recognize the fact that I am chasing a lot of problems I would not be chasing if my system were a lot larger, but I take this experience gratefully. When I was in high school learning to play the French horn, I had a 20-year-old, dingy, dented horn with clacky valves and a bent lead pipe. I hated playing on that horn, but my teacher told me to keep practicing anyway. Learning to overcome the problems I was having with the poor equipment would make me a better player later on when I obtained a better horn. She was right. And so I'm grateful to be playing the AP game, and I'm grateful to be learning on a small system so when my larger system comes along I'll be better prepared.