Reef Tanks

Reef Tank Lighting:

It’s a preference, but I don’t really like reef tanks that are splashed in blue light.  It reminds of a sterilizing chamber.  It makes the coral glow an awesome bright green, but it gets old unless you’re popping XTC.  I prefer a more natural light that’s closer to sunlight.

This is lit with 2×18 watt T5 HO 10K/460nm, which is my personal preference.  The corals look bright and there’s no seedy nightclub feel.

Sea Star LED fixtures have a nice and slim form factor, and are pretty inexpensive.

Reef Tank Rock:

I didn’t know you can make dead rock into live rock.  If I could do it over, I’d buy some uncured live rock for some bio diversity and hitchhikers.

Reef Tank Substrate:

The unsung hero of all tanks.  You should concentrate some effort on what substrate you want.  It’s something that will not die, break, and will be in your tank 24/7 so investing some research and money on this is not a bad idea.

A note about pool filter sand:  I actually like this stuff- not everyone does.  A HUGE bag is $20 at Leslie’s Pool Supply.  I like the grain size and the color.  It’s speckled with different colors and doesn’t cloud the water a whole lot.  What I hate about it is that it scratches the glass VERY easily, so you have to be careful when you’re scrubbing with a nanomag.  You’ll see a lot of LFS use pool filter sand in their tanks.

I hate the look of the live sand bought in LFS.  It doesn’t look like sand- it looks like finely ground sea shells.  In some cases it is.  I spent an embarrassing amount of live sand.  I didn’t know you could turn regular sand into live sand.  The same goes for live rock.  A personal preference of mine is really white, fine sand.  You can find good stuff at Marco Rocks.  This is Bahama Argonite:

Reef Tank Filtration:

A sump is basically a smaller tank connected to your aquarium through pipes.  You are not supposed to see the sump, as it’s place you can hide all your ugly equipment like heaters, carbon media, filter sponges, extra live rock, chaetomorpha algae (you’ll need to shine a light on it) and submersible protein skimmers.  I couldn’t figure out how one worked in the beginning, only to realize later that they’re idiotically simple.

This is the thread that showed me, in no words, how water in your aquarium, falls down an overflow, through some piping, down to the sump, by gravity.  The sump heats the water, filters it, and sends the water back up to your aquarium by a strong water pump.

Ridiculously easy, right?

Some words you may want to know are “bulkhead”, “loc-line” and “overflow”.

Owners of Saltwater aquariums, sooner or later, will decide they will need a sump.  Eventually, they come to the realization that the best course of action is to drill a hole in their beloved tank for the gravity powered overflow.

Try to get your tank drilled professionally, but if that’s not possible, drilling glass isn’t as hard as it sounds.  You’ll need a diamond drill bit and some water.  Just don’t push down on the drill very hard, and keep the drilling surface wet.  Practice on scrap glass that you can get at Lowes.

But first plan on your flow rate- take your tank size at multiply it by 4.  Some people are flow junkies and multiply by 10.  For a 40 gallon tank, I want 160 gallons per hour.

Then go to the reef calculator to see how big the overflow hole in your tank should be.  Now you know how wide the hole should be and the how big the overflow box should be.

Go to Glass Holes and buy an overflow kit.  While you’re there read their hilarious install instructions.

Then you’ll need to pick up a return pump that will sit in your sump and deliver heated, filtered and possibly UV sterilized, protein skimmed water back to your aquarium.  Everyone loves the eheim series because they’re quiet and reliable.  You’ll have to pick one based on your GPH and the vertical head you need to pump the water, so find the distance from your sump to the top of your aquarium and examine the following charts to see which pump you’ll need.  Remember that elbows in your piping will decrease flow too.  There’s calculator for that too.

For Eheim Hobby Pumps 1046, 1048 and 1250

For Eheim Hobby Pumps 1260 and 1262

My 40 gallon tank is at a head of 6 feet, so I opted for the Eheim Compact 3000, which is adjustable.  If your pump is not adjustable you can always attach a ball valve at the output end of it and close it partially to dial it down.

I’ve read that the Reef Octopus 110 is a good skimmer for a 40 gallon reef tank, so I’ll try to get it used on the reefing forums.

Hardware stores will sell the rest of plumbing parts you need.  Now I just have to pick up a $5 ten gallon tank off of craigslist for my sump and I’m good to go!

Reef Tank Cost Breakdown of a Complete System

Ok, so here I list of the equipment that I would buy personally.  Of course you can save tons of money by getting cheaper alternatives like HOB Filters (Hang on the Back), but I’m trying to reduce unsightly equipment and noise as much as possible.  My goal here is to achieve elegance and at the same to time save money whenever I can.

ADA 60-P Tank
$200 + shipping at

24″ LED Sunstrip

Used 10 Gallon Tank for Sump
$5 at

Glass Panes for Sump
$10 at Lowes (Home depot doesn’t cut glass)

DAP Aquarium Safe Silicone for Sump
$4 at Lowes

Eheim 1250 Universal Hobby Pump
$110 + shipping at

MP10 Powerhead
$150-200 used, on forums.

Carbon Filter Media
$5 at

Filter Sponge
$5 at

Nano Complete Overflow Kit
$45 at

[5] Feet of Vinyl Tubing
$5 at Home Depot

Gate Valve
$8 on Amazon

Used Aquarium Heater 10watt
$10 Reef Forums

Reef Octopus 110 Protein  Skimmer.  Bitches love Reef Octopus Skimmers.
$150 + Shipping.  I’ve seen them as low as $75 on reef forums!

20 lb bag of Bahama Argonite Sand (Way too much for a ten gallon, but the smallest bag we can order)
$30 at Marco Rocks

Reverse Osmosis Unit- A recommended brand is Spectrapure.


Aquarium Thermometer
$1 at Walmart

Instant Ocean Salt Mix
$20 at LFS

Live Rock and Various other Things
$100 at LFS

Get corals at local reef clubs if possible.

Note: Sumps do make noise, which is actually a big concern of mine.  Some people forego skimmers and use canister filters (which are silent), which isn’t usual for reef tanks, but if you’re on top of your filter maintenance, should be ok.  Another solution is to install a Herbie overflow, which is essentially two drain pipes- one is a full siphon to the sump, and the other has a very low trickle flow to the sump, making it silent.

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