Proper setup of a 300 reef...on a budget?

Discussion in 'The Reef Tank' started by Anonymous, Apr 11, 2006.

  1. My name is Alan, I just joined this forum, here's my situation.

    I've had salt water aquariums (fish only) since I was a kid (in the 1970's). I currently have a 300 gallon tank (built in the wall) that I was on the verge of selling because of the high cost of salt water fish and supplies, the constant battles with the ugly red algae and the neccessary monotonous water changes (not to mention my appraisal business is not booming like it used to be). Then it dawned on me, I could start a reef tank, sell some coral (maybe even start a small business) and keep my salt water hobby alive!

    I've always been intimidated by how technical and expensive reef tanks are so I always stuck with fish only tanks (I've had crabs, snails, star fish, anenemes...but they never lasted very long). I think I'm ready to go reef...but I'm on a limited budget.

    I have a standard size acrylic 300 gallon with two over flow boxes leading to a wet/dry (20 to 30 gallon apx) full of bio balls. That leads to a Oceanclear canister filter, thru a 30" Lifeguard sterylizer, thru a chiller and back into the tank. I had a turbofloater 1000 in the sump. I have 4 cheap 48" (2-40 watt bulbs each) shop lights(from Home Depot).
    I have apx 10 pieces of dead coral show pieces, and a case or two of what use to be live rock (its been dried out and is in storage...base rock?). I have two 5 gallon buckets of real old crushed coral gravel in storage. Even with all this fancy equipment I would always have fairly high nitrates (ok for fish only...right?)

    In an effort to save money I converted the tank to a fresh water tank with clown loaches, little sharks, etc but its far from the beauty of a salt water tank...and the kicker is my wife said if I'm going to keep the tank it should be salt water!

    Based on this scenerio, can you tell me what you would do to get started in the reef world. Is 300 gallons too cost prohibative? What about a refugium?

    I can picture a beautiful aquarium but I don't have $1000's of dollars to work with.

    Alan Myrick

    ps I'm located in Los Angeles if thats any helps
  2. Theres alot of ways to save money when doing a reef tank, but as far as it operating correctly and efficiently, you really shouldnt skimp on the gear as far as lighting, skimmer, pumps etc,etc,etc. You will only regret this in the long run, trust me. I for one, would not use crushed coral as a substrate, but would opt for either live sand or dry as a substrate. Both of these substrates will aid in the denitrifying effect needed to break down the nitrates naturally. Using Base Rock will get you started, but the addition of some live rock will be necessary to aid further in the denitrifying effect. To save money on the lighting, you have a few options..... if you want to stay away from costly metal halide setups, one is, you could use T5 lighting usually cheap and effective for keeping most live LPS coral and some SPS coral. Second, you could use T12 or (VHO) lighting, (VHO- Very High Output), a little more pricey because you will need to purchase ballasts, endcaps and the bulbs themselves. Another thing i would not skimp on would be a skimmer, you could ask anyone here, that being one of the most important pieces of equipment in operating a successful reef tank. Also if you are using tap water instead of RO (Reverse Osmosis) water, that could be why you have never had success in keeping anything alive. HTH, i could go on and on, if you have anymore questions, im sure you could find plenty of other experienced reefers here to help you out and get you started in keeping a successful reef tank. Ill be more than happy to help get you started. :D

    PS: Welcome to the Club! ;)
  3. oimate842005

    oimate842005 Gem Tang LARC Supporter

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    Nola exile in Florida
    First let me Welcome you to the forum! GPreefer and Carl gave you a good brief overview of the challenges youll face in setting up a tank of that scale. Even with cutting corners, I cant see a tank this big getting by without spending a good chunk of money. A good adequate skimmer rated for this size of tank will be on the low end of $400-$500 (ASM G4x) and on the high end could run you $800 or more (Euro-reef 250-400). And that is just 1 piece of equipment. GPreefer stated the cost of Live Rock/Sand/. And lighting can run you on low end $500 or easily more then 1000$ with a multiple halide and actinic supplemented fixture. And these costs are even BEFORE you add 1 drop of water in the tank!

    The flip side to all of this, is that hopefully you will enjoy this hobby and it will be a learning experience for years to come.
  4. JLouv

    JLouv Harlequin Tusk

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    I don't mean to be all doom & gloom here, but my intention is to toss my opinion out here.....please don't consider this a flame...just read it and think about it for a bit....the final decision is of course yours to make...

    Setting up a tank of any size at a time in your life when your finances are questionable is simply irresponsible, selfish, and most definately not a good way to get into this hobby. Small marine tanks cost a lot of money to set up and maintain. Larger tanks cost a lot of money X 10.....

    My advice is that if you're worried about what it'll cost, then you should fill it with guppies and tetras and wait until you're financially able to shoulder the responsibility of maintaining a delicate marine ecosystem. In addition to the costs of the initial set-up, there will be long term recurrinig costs that would include, but not limited to, salt mix, food & the extra $75-150 on the electric bill
  5. I see so far everyones opinions are valuable and true to the "T". You should really consider this strongly before just jumping into a tank that large setup as a saltwater tank, not just saltwater but a reef tank. It is true, the bigger the tank, the easier to keep. But, the bigger the tank, the larger the setup cost and expense in the gear to run it. IMO, you could save a ton of money by buying everything you need used, like skimmer, lights, etc,etc,etc. You may even get lucky and find some one here or on selling rock for really cheap just to get rid of it fast. I dont really agree about the fact that you need to put a pound or even a pound and a half of rock per gallon. You should aquascape the tank the way you want it anyway. I think that 150-200 pounds would give you a really nice stack goin on in there. If you split that in half, meaning the bottum half could be less attractive base rock that will cost you around 1.99-2.50 a pound, and then cap that with the pretty stuff all coralline covered and purple and that will cost you anywheres from 5-9 dollars a pound. I think you could do this, but if your already questioning how much this will set you back, you may just think of this as a money pit and not really a hobby, and this hobby may not be for you. Not that you have to completely deck the tank out and completely fill it up to the gills, but a tank that big is expensive to fill. Seriously think it over and no matter what you do, take your time and do it slowly. This is one hobby you just cant rush at all. ;)
  6. southerncoralfarms

    southerncoralfarms Black Perc

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    hammond, La
    If you want to maintain a sucessful 300gallon aquarium on a budget. Go with the method of the bulletproof reef on I have followed their protocol on a 100 gallon before the hurricane hit here and that method was flawless. They don't believe in having all this high tech equipment to sucessfully keep a beautiful reef. The only major expense that you will have is a protein skimmer and lighting. It uses a form of undergravel filtration known as a plenum. Go to and check it out before you get discouraged. Enjoy your reef....
  7. HANG

    I say hang the expense just do it & have fun because your a long time dead :D
  8. Kirk_M

    Kirk_M Chevron Tang LARC Supporter

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    Mandeville, LA
    Gotta agree with the general sentiment here...It's definitely not a cheap hobby to get into, and often, going on the cheap gets you into far more, often costly, problems in the long run.

    Keep it freshwater for now...if you want something that's a little more colorful as far as fish go, get some nice RAINBOWFISH (quite hardy!) or some Discus (expensive like SW, and sensitive too), and plant that mother. You can get a LOT of color out of a planted FW tank, and if you get some good, slow, broad back and forth flow in the tank, the plants will move the way they do in the wild. African cichlids are colorful too, but, you have to keep a higher pH, and you can't plant it, for the most part.

    All of that can be done with your current set-up, but you may need to add some more DIY lighting (use tubes in the 6500K-8800K [65 is yellowish, gives very good plant growth, 8800 is more blue, but still gives good growth, and makes the tank look less like you've peed in the water :)]), and invest in a CO2 system, which you can later use on a reef tank with a calcium reactor.

    You can make PMDD (poor man's dupla drops) from Hydroponic fertilizer ingredients, rather than spending tons on Seachem, etc, fertilizers.
  9. Reef_Tank_Greg

    Reef_Tank_Greg Skimmate

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    A lot of very good advice in this thread for him. The part I quoted is what I don't think most people expect when they setup a large tank. I know for my 90 gallon it added a good 40 bucks a month to my bill, more in the summers.
  10. yea, everyone is right on when it come to price of this hobby. Even with bulletproof reef, it won't be cheap. If you going to propgate and sell frag, the price might even be higher with the calcium demand for a tank that big and lighting to reach the bottom. You could always set-up a small frag tank on the side and sell out of it. But again we are talking about more money. You could always down size save money on the price of equipment. because large tanks are easier but they cost more because you need larger equipment.

    If money is a problem, I wouldn't jump into it because it could drive you to suicide. Algae problem, dieing corals, no money for additives, sick fish, etc.. It can get really ugly.

    But think of it like this once you get pass the initial prices of lighting, skimmer and rock and may calcium reactor and seio or tunze for water movement, it get alot cheaper. Even though on a tank of your size that could get up their. But start slow don't be in a rush to get it all done at once. I bought my major equipment one piece at a time in six month intervals.

    If you want to know the order.
    1. Substrate (many opinion, non wrong)
    2. Live Rock start with 50lbs and work form there
    3. Skimmer (ASM g4x, best for the price)
    4. Seio's (good, cheap) or tunze (expensive but very good) for water movement.
    If you want fish stay with chromis for first 2 or 3 months

    After about two or three month
    5. Lighting vho or halide
    6. continue to add rock until you get 150 lbs some would say more than 300lbs for a tank that big but you don't NEED that much.

    Actually before I'd buy anything, for a tank you size buy the RO/DI unit, you don't want to run to the LFS for water for a tank that size.
    A large refugium would be good also.
    Their's alot of good reefers on this site and are willing to help so feel free to ask and always, always be on the look out deals on equipment.
  11. Just to give a taste of what you are in for.....

    I setup my 90 gallon reef tank, bought everything new at the time of setup.

    Tank, Stand, and Canopy
    Substrate, and Live Rock 120 lbs of substrate, 100 lbs of Live Rock.
    Lighting 8 - 110 watt VHO bulbs, endcaps, and ballasts
    Powerheads 2 - MJ1200 Upgraded later on to 2 - Seio 1100's
    Return Pump 1000 GPH
    Overflow Box and return lines
    Plumbing for Return Lines and pump
    Test Kits
    RO/DI Unit
    Salt to make initial 90 gallons of water
    Any additives i may have needed

    Everything you see listed here wound up costing me in excess of $3000.00, note this was a 90 gallon reef tank with no Coral and no fish in it at all, just rock and sand. You are setting up a 300 gallon reef tank. I just thought i would share that with you for a heads up on the cost of the hobby to get setup and running. This is the initial cost of getting setup, after you can swallow thislarge leap, everything else is down hill from here. How much money you spend from here is all by choice and preference.
  12. Thats what i was thinking. Hes sitting back reading and thinking to himself, "uhhhhhhhh, freshwater it is!" :lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
  13. Tank102a

    Tank102a Postasaurus Rex

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    Exported to Michigan
    Hey Carl that must be a pretty fancy setup you got there. Any pics?
  14. Dude, thats the tank Katrina killed. All i have left is the tank and all the gear. I miss that tank so much. The only pics i have of that tank are on Mike from the ReefKeepers computer, and for one reason or another he will not talk to me so i guess ill never get to see that tank ever again, only have my memories of the beauty. :cry:
  15. Hey guys, anybody know what happened to Alan ? :confused: :roll: Maybe all the information we shared was a little too much of an overload for him. :twisted: :lol:
  16. Tank102a

    Tank102a Postasaurus Rex

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    Exported to Michigan
    Sorry Carl :cry: :cry: :cry: :cry:
    There will be other tanks.

    but for now do you think that 2x 250 and 2x 400 MH will be enough for my 31 in deep tank? (mixed tank)
  17. Well, i still have the tank and im debating on setting it up though. I been eyeing up this 175 gallon Oceanic Bow Front, im probably gonna but it. As far as your tank i think that will be plenty of light for that tank. Are you planning on using any VHO, like Actintics especially. You know for the dusk/dawn effect. Do you know what kelvin bulbs you are gonna be runnnin ?
  18. Thanks for all the info!

    I'm still guys gave me a lot to digest...I'm going to take my time (I've learned a lot without even leaving my house or spending a dime (this forum thing is pretty guys are very helpful!).
    I've started looking for used lighting in the (online resale site) and Ebay. I know you recommend at least 4 to 5 watts per gallon for a reef (apx 1,200 to 1,500 watts of lighting). My tank is a standard 2' x 8' x 30" (deep). The only lights I've seen with a lot of wattage are the MH. I need to figure out a combination of the MH with some of the blue lights...(I already have a chiller, so heat is not a issue).
    I want to convert my 40 gallon wet/dry sump to a refugium...still researching the details...
    I have a couple of boxes (50 lbs+/-) of rock in storage (used to be live rock) I was thinking I could combine it with new live rock (I've seen ads for $2/lb in the recycler) and hope it would spread to the old rock (using powerheads). I was also thinking I could buy some cheap sand and some grunge (or other live stuff) and hope it would spread to the cheap sand...? I've even read about making rock out of cement?
    I'm still trying to figure out all the different corals...I like colorful stuff, I like the wavy stuff, I like crabs and shrimp and I stiil like all the cool marine fish. I'm hoping I can put together some combination of all of them...?
    I'm wondering if two medium sized skimmers are equal to one large skimmer...or 2 medium sized sterylizers equal one large sterlizer? or if sterylizers are still used?
    So, I plan on continuing my research (doesn't cost anything!) and learn as much as possible.
    I do believe reef keeping is easier than ever, I've noticed my local saltwater aquarium shop has a bunch of nano tanks with real nice reef set-ups which wasn't there a year or two ago!
    Thanks for all your help!
  19. Re: Thanks for all the info!

    Well just so you know, the amount of light depends on what you are planning on keeping as far as coral. Sounds to me you are definitely an LPS and soft coral kind of guy. LPS coral (Large Polyp Stonies) come in a wide array of colors and sizes and have alot of different species that are wavy, so that sound right up your alley. Mixing Base rock with Live rock is a very good idea and a very good way to reduce the cost of the aquascape, just make sure the rock is clean and not musky smelling. You did mention the rock had been sitting up for a little while. You may want to either cure the rock or clean it very well before just throwing it into the tank. Doing that can lead to some unwanted algae problems in the future. Eventually all your Base rock will become Live rock after time. A good suggestion for the sand would be if you really want Live Sand to begin with would be to use as much Dry Sand as possibe and supplement Live Sand purchased from a Local fish store. In time also the Live Sand will turn the Dry Sand into live sand. Using 2 different skimmers is not necessary, i would suggest using a skimmer rated for your size tank or bigger. A suggestion would be like an ASM G5. People are still using sterilizers to polish the water and keep it nice and clear, but the choice is yours whether or not to run one. Its not really needed, but does add a final touch to the clarity of the water in your tank. To answer your question , the advances in technology and the gear to run saltwater tanks has made the hobby much easier on the owners and has cut the maintenance in half in most cases. As for the NANO tanks, i would stick to the larger tanks for now, atleast till you get a handle on keeping a successful reef tank. The reason being is smaller tanks require much more attention to detail and more frequent water changes to keep up with the water quality. When something goes wrong in a small aquarium, problems can escilate very quickly. In large tanks, it takes more time for things to go bad due to a larger volume of water and sometimes problems can easily be overlooked. Basically the bigger the tank, the more room you have for error. Thats why it is suggested that you start bigger and get a good handle on what you are doing. I hope you find the information provided helpful, and i will be here to help you along your way. ;)

    BTW, i figured we gave you a little too much to take it all in at one time. I know we left you with alot of reading, but no one complains about valuable information for free, and none of us reefaholics mind sharing with our fellow reefkeepers. :lol:

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