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Old 12-01-2014, 03:12 PM
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Default Dearth's Basics of SW aquarium setup

There are a lot of people who are becoming more and more interested in the Salt Water world though many are very intimidated by it. There are three basic styles of salt water aquariums; the reef aquarium, and the fish only aquarium, and the fish only with live rock (FOWLR) aquarium. There is the “nano” system which is generally any system roughly 45 gallons and smaller. I will discuss basic equipment and basic accessories for getting started.

The first thing to understand with cost if you go cheap you get what you paid for, and there is the greater potential for malfunctions on cheaper items. Do your homework and you will find a wide variety of equipment and pricing. Ask questions – see what other reefers are using on forums and read their aquarium builds. It is important to remember to not under budget yourself as it will lead to you spending more than you bargained for. You can buy it one piece at a time if you need to over a period of time as this is a long term investment.

It is important to decide what size tank you're getting because when it is filled with water, rock, sand/crush/gravel that tank becomes quite heavy. It is also important to note where you live - is it an apartment complex, duplex, house, rental or other form of living quarters as each one has its own weight limitations. Will it be on the second floor of your dwelling or sitting on a concrete pad in the basement?
Try to keep your tank out of direct sunlight as it will promote algae growth. Shaded areas or areas with indirect sunlight are the best areas to place tanks. Once you have decided on what size of tank your getting and placement in your residence you can start buying hardware.

The basic hardware are lights, circulation pumps, heaters, protein skimmers, timers, salt, and a reverse osmosis deionizer (RODI). If using a sump you will also need the sump, return pump, and plumbing.

Lights - There are three basic types of lighting LED, fluorescent, and metal halide lights. All three have their advantages and disadvantages. Metal halides give best light spectrum, but cost a lot to buy and run. LEDs offer a huge variety in colours and spectrum and are cheap to run, but expensive to buy. Fluorescent lights again offer a wide variety of spectrum, but again can be expensive to buy and is middle of the road in running costs.

Circulation pumps - Salt water aquariums require quite a bit of water flow in the tank for your critters to thrive and to prevent detritus from building up. Remember the ocean continually moves and we have to recreate that with pumps. There are many types to choose from. I recommend you buy pumps that you can keep in place with magnets as suction cups tend to be unreliable. One common question is how much flow do I need in my xx gallon tank? Using a 75 gallon tank as a template you will require a powerhead that pushes between 1000 to 1300 gallons per hour and while one powerhead that pushes that much water will suffice two powerheads on either end of the tank that alternate every couple of hours would be even better as it will not only recreate tidal currents they will help prevent buildup of detrius in otherwise dead areas of the tank if it was pushing from one side.

Heaters - You have to maintain your water at a certain temperature in order for your reef to survive. There are many styles of heaters to choose from. I like the fully submersible ones. The cost varies greatly on these. Commonly asked question asked is what is the ideal temperature range in the SW aquarium and the answer is between 26-29c(80-85f)

Protein Skimmers - These skim the water to take out organic material and larger particles. There are two types of skimmers - hang on the back (HOB), and in-sump skimmers. Depending on the size of tank you are running, one may be better than the other. As a general rule of thumb get a skimmer that skims a larger tank than what you have. An over-sized skimmer will save you a lot of grief in the long run. For example, if you have a 60 gallon tank get a skimmer that is rated for up to 90 gallons. If you have a skimmer that is too small or rated at that tank size it will not remove enough organic material and larger particles leading to an unwanted build up of detrius in the tank and that will affect your water conditions and unwanted gasses released into the water affecting water parameters.

Timers - You will need timers at the very least to turn your lights on and off if your lights don't have built-in timers. Your fish and critters need a set routine. Leaving your lights on 24 hrs a day could cause serious harm to your fish, coral, and critters.

Salt - There are many types of salt out there it is basically a personal choice on what type to use. Some types are geared towards reef tanks, others are geared towards fish only tanks.

RODI - We use these water filters because generally our tap water contains trace metals and chemicals that can harm or kill our tanks so we use these to filter out those metals and chemicals. These filtration systems can be bought at your LFS. The cost varies greatly depending on what is in your local tap water.

Sump - This generally is another tank roughly one third to half the size of your display aquarium that sits under or beside your display aquarium. The sump serves many different functions - you can hide all your equipment down in it (such as heaters and skimmers). There are many different styles of sumps so choose what will best suit you.

Return Pump - The return pump used in conjunction with a sump pumps the water from your sump up to the aquarium. Using the 75 gallon tank as a template you are looking to turn over the water in the display 4-6 times an hour you are looking for a pump that pushes 350-450 gallons per hour (Note-you have to also factor in pipe diameter, how high it has to push the water up to the display tank and how many bends in the piping so going to a slightly larger pump would be beneficial)

Plumbing - The plumbing connects the sump to the aquarium. Any PVC pipe or hose you use should be water grade so as not to potentially contaminate your system. Use PVC fittings as stainless steel will corrode over time and brass is toxic to saltwater aquariums. Regular PVC glue will do to connect pipes.

This is your rock, sand or other substrate.

Rock - There are two types of rock - dry rock and live rock. These can be bought from LFS, online suppliers or other reefers. The rock comes from many different places in the ocean and are in many shapes and sizes and weight. Live rock contains organisms and critters that will help your tank cycle and mature. Dry rock is dead rock - nothing is alive on it. It will eventually become live rock in your tank again after a period of time. The pros and cons of live vs dry rock is live rock already comes with needed beneficial bugs, algae and nutrients however live rock can include unwanted pests, algaes and nutrients as well. The benefit of dry rock is that you start with a clean slate with no unwanted growths, bugs and such however it will take up to several months in your aquarium to seed itself and become live rock again.

Substrate - This is a personal choice on what to use and how much you want in your tank. Anything from a thin layer to a bed that is several inches deep. Sand is pleasant to look at and many fish and critters will use it to hide in. You can get fine sand or coarse sand. Sand has a downside in that it can get blown around in the tank (especially fine sand) and depending on how deep the sand bed is it can trap gases and detritus in it and when released can affect water parameters of your tank. Crushed coral is larger and heavier and won't move near as much, however the downside is with a lot of surface area it can attract algae buildup and be very difficult to clean.

The above is a very basic list of your equipment there is a lot more to be said but this will give you a general idea of what to start with.
My aquarium is nothing but a smorgasbord for my cats.....

Last edited by Myka; 12-01-2014 at 03:18 PM.

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