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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
I've been lurking, and wishing I could afford to enter the hobby, but the cost to enter seemed way too high. I Know that this is an upper level forum for serious aquarists, but there's probably other guests here in the same boat as me. Also, I really like the challenge.

Last Sunday my opportunity presented. When I went to withdraw from the atm, there was $300 sitting in the deposit drawer. I sat at the atm for an hour, no one came looking. I put a flier on it - time of day and amount would be sufficient for return, a week passed - nothing. What to do? Just hand it to the bank (for sure they would never tell owner and just be $300 richer)? Like a good atheist I gave 11% to my favorite charity; then decided to jump in on a tank. When I got home, there was a 5 gal off to the side of the the dumpster so that sealed the deal.

I intend this build to test the floor on $. No fancy fish, the next challenge will be a hardy coral or two, but that's down the road a ways. An aquarium to look at and feel peaceful. I have a pair of mystery snails that I get a real kick out of watching, so some cleaners for sure.

Here's what I built:
0$ Tank, found at my dumpster. ~5 gal scratched like a lizard or turtle lived there. I cleaned it real good, and rinsed well.
0$ oyster to start the cycle, got too old at husband's work. I named it Jesse Pinkmollusk (cause my tank looks like something out of breaking bad)
0$ clips, rubber bands, bottle funnels, piece of a sponge. Scavenged from my work / trash
$2 airline tube
$3 hydrometer / thermometer
$13.50 heater
$25.50 circulator pump
$10 water test strips (alkalinity, nitrites, nitrates)
$16 pump
$5 water conditioner
$6 copper test: for my tap water, so far so good, as in zero
$6 water (2 big jugs + 2 gallons of distilled) see pic below for how jugs play
$30 base rock - couldn't find <25#. As cheap as it gets, 1/3 came moldy, YGWYPF but I only needed 10 #
$20.50 salt, 50# good stuff, couldn't get a read on the diff between $ and $$$. BRS said this one takes the toxins out of the water (?)
$20 sand, live. I chose sand for my splurge. Makes sense as efficient capture for a broad spectrum of critters. Also, the dry wasn't that cheap by compare.

As you can see by my wincy excuses on the last 3 items, I prolly could've played it harder. Perhaps this thread will offer some ideas for shaving off those last few $. This setup cost $157, as an entry point for a new hobby that aint bad. But if you can't keep anything alive in it, the point is moot. The end game is to watch happy fish swim around.

Thoughts? I posted in the think tank for a reason... what's the worst that can happen?
 

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· Premium Member
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Welcome to TRT! I admire your determination! There are definitely ways to save some money in this hobby but some things shouldn't be skimped on imo. Water is one of them. Copper is the least of your worries in tap water - studies have shown things like pesticides and antidepressants as well as tons of metals. Negligible amounts to a human but could be disastrous in a delicate reef tank. Check at your local LFS, they often sell RODI water. I believe mine sells it for somewhere around .50 a gallon. I get it already mixed with salt for a little more. You should only have to do a 2 gallon change weekly/biweekly with a 5 gallon tank, and a gallon to keep on hand for top offs, so definitely worth the few bucks. Especially since a 5 gallon is really only suited to coral and inverts, not fish, and they're more picky about good water quality. If there is no LFS that sells water near you the store bought distilled is still much better than tap.

No shame in dumpster diving for a used tank. Just make sure to carefully inspect and test it. If it was in fact used for something other than fish then the seals are probably dried out. Be very careful using other items found in the trash though, you don't know what they were used for or what was in the trash with them.

Looks like a lot of rock in there. You only need about 5#, anything over that is personal preference. But remember, the more rock the harder it will be to clean and the more spots that will collect detritus and waste.

A test kit is something you don't want to skimp on either. Test strips are about as accurate as using a magic eight ball to find out the condition of your tank. Definitely something you'll want to get before you start stocking. Check Amazon, I think they're the cheapest.

Didn't see lighting on your list. Definitely needed for coral.

Other than that all I can recommend is be patient and do lots of research. www.liveaquaria.com is a great source of info as well as TRT, of course. Again, welcome and don't be afraid to ask questions!
 

· Shark...fish are friends
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Here is what I can offer... a 5 gallon tank you aren't going to be able to keep many fish (really shouldn't be any fish in a 5 gallon tank if you consider minimum tank sizes, but I think you could probably get away with a single goby and maybe a shrimp or two (I'm thinking yellow watchman goby, tiger pistol shrimp and a peppermint shrimp maybe)). Note if you are using tap water I wouldn't do the shrimp - even small amounts of copper that you can't see on your test kit could add up over time since copper doesn't evaporate from the water and eventually kill the inverts.

I jumped in to the hobby with a 10 gallon tank and that's basically what I started out with - I did have a small clown in the tank, but wouldn't do it again after seeing how active they were when I moved it to a bigger tank... so definately wouldn't do it in a 5 gal.

Things to consider - is there a Wal-mart or Meijer near you? You can usually pick up a 10 gallon tank for about $12-15 at either of those stores (as long as you buy the tank only and none of the extra stuff that is no good for salt except for the heater anyways), otherwise I'd just tell you to find a PetCO store near you and watch for their $1 a gallon sale then pick up a 40B for $40 plus tax - you can do a TON with a 40B compared to smaller tanks =) it will probably be around Thanksgiving or Christmas time is my guess because they just had one a month or so ago so will be a couple months..
 

· Novel Responder
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I am sitting over here cringing, but can't say exactly why...I am not a gambler by nature, so I cringe at any type of "corner cutting". That being said, I must give props for creativity here.

Agree, too much LR in there. You only need enough to provide room for bacteria to do its job and to house some corals. I'd wait a little bit till you see some color from coralline algae, then sell it back to the LFS as Live Rock instead of the dry rock you bought. Not only saved you some money, but maybe made you some.

Also agree, didn't see lighting on the list anywhere. You get any type of good algae growth without it. By good, I mean corraline.

Also agree, not really any fish I an think of that would go in a 5g nano. You could do certain corals, such as zoas, mushrooms, etc. A cleaner shrimp would be cool.

Also agree to watch for the $1/Gallon sales and get larger tank. Just be sure to have an idea of what lighting and water will cost in a larger tank so you can plan accordingly. A 40B is a great tank (better than a standard 55g, even with the lower volume) to start with. it will still limit what fish you can have, but at least you can have some fish.

Best of luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Thanks for all the tips! I was expecting to get yelled at :)

There's no LFS I can get to, but I can stick with distilled for now. I was thinking of going to tap water down the line, the municipal water supply website has test results that look really good but I was thinking copper might get in from the pipes in my building.

As to tank size, is it the amount of water, or room for fish to swim around? The jugs get me up to 10g. I was thinking pistol shrimp, gobi, and maybe a clown, though rininger has me reconsidering. Good to know I can lose some of the rock, you can't see from the pic, but I bashed some up and put it in the jug behind the tank too. So it's about 15# total, 25# was the cheapest order. There's also room back there for some chaeto.

IDK what I'm going to do about lights. I read that you don't want them during the cycle, so I figured I can deal with it later. I saw some really cheap LED's on Amazon, I think it's probably much less of an issue now than a few years ago. That's the next thing for me to study up on.

Richkor gave me an idea, maybe once the rock is live I can find somebody on Craigslist to trade for a frag or something.
Thanks again all!
 

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Tank size recommendations are for many reasons - the size the fish grows to, the amount they swim, how much they forage for food, aggressiveness, territoriality, etc etc. In your case, it would be a lack of space in general. Clowns are always active - putting one in a 5g would be cruel. Some gobies that pair with pistol shrimp stay pretty close to home so they might do okay (I'd recommend a Randalls or a Yasha - I've never seen mine go far from their caves). But their pistol shrimp partners, like most invertebrates, are more sensitive to parameter swings. Stability is hard to find in such a small tank and there's no room for error - once things get bad they get really bad.
 

· Fishy Fish
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I would reccomend a neon goby, perfect for nano reefs.beleive me, clowns are easily bored. My clown pair in a 40 gallon sometimes get tired of the ever similar surroundings... however if you put then in a 4 gal tank with a sump, they will go cray cray. I tried asking for opinion on clowns in 4 gal, (i was a noob) and got yelled at a little bit. (look at thread "clown for 6 gal") anyway I got a bit off topic, anywayyyy... I reccomend neon goby/clown goby 2-3 small gobies, or 1 medium goby and 1 small. Good luck!
 

· Aquatic Philosopher
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I started the Nano Jam with a concept of staying below $200. Flipping through the Nano Jam (one of the larger threads) might help a lot considering that there were a lot of cheapskates and all were mostly under 10g volumes.

... then again, I was already playing with RO/DI as a non-cost item. And, I was coming in from an established hobbyist so knowing which corners to cut are important.

+1 with the water. I have lived in areas with the "best" water... but that is still 40X+ too polluted for a reef. Reefs have to start from pure. We are dealing with 0.009 part per million range of just phosphate!
 

· Fishy Fish
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and in the long run corals, I would reccomend a Cabbage leather as first coral, tanks have crashed horribly, everything dead, but the cabbage which was doing fine. of course this is the long run, after cycle. It is a good coral still. after this is in, you can add more SLIGHTLY more delicate stuff.
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
hey doc! I read your nano jam with great interest, and learned a lot.

do you guys know where I can read a good breakdown of why I need a rodi? you must get awfully bored with noobs like me being all "yeah, but..." For example, you mentioned phos, and my first reaction is "yeah, but ... I read in reefkeeping made easy that phos is going to be in my tank anyway. So why by a $200 filter to keep it out when my pistol shrimp is probably going to cause a bigger spike digging around the rocks?"

I've been reading quite a lot, and most of the case for rodi reads like the back of my fancy shampoo bottle "something something toxins, gluten free." There's definitely a hump in the learning curve, between about.com beginner guide, and um everything that guy with a bernese mountain dog avatar writes. I'm currently flopping around in the gap, so I have just enough info to do my self some harm (never the fish though). I'm so strongly biased because I can swing a $150 tank, not a $350 one.

If I'm ever going to get a rodi, it will be because of good info like doc telling me the phos coming in will hurt the tank. More of that would be nice and I can't seem to find it on my own :(

PS oy vey, I just read my first post again! Need to clean that up, like Hemingway said: write drunk, edit sober ;)
 

· Novel Responder
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The RO/DI is for a lot of things. Yes, phosphates will end up in the tank, as it comes in with food, etc. Eventually, it will saturate the LR and that can lead to algae issues. Over the course of time, you'll want to swap out sand (if you use any) and even swap out some LR here and there. there are other ways to remove phosphate, but most of them cost money. The question is how long it takes for the phosphates to build. If we start with tap water, we are giving that saturation process a head start.

Phosphates, though, are the least of the potential issues. I am on Lake Michigan water where I am, considered to be some of the best quality drinking water around. I look at RO/DI filters after 6 months and go "ewwww...I drink that stuff?". There so many things that come in our tap water that are considered acceptable. Some of them are even added on purpose. There are trace elements of all kinds of things that won't affect people (we hope), but can have a very real effect on sensitive organisms in a reef. Trace metals, for example, can easily kill off our shrimp. Things that we can easily process in our bodies are too much for the fish to process and can lead to liver damage in the fish. My tap water has a TDS of 175. My RO/DI unit is zero. That is good tap water and it is still a lot of solids that are sitting in the water. No point in adding that stuff, whatever it is, to the water.
 

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only pure water evaporates, the elements don't. did you know copper is in our water? it may not be enough to cause any harm now, but since it doesn't evaporate it stays in the tank. keep adding tap and keep adding, copper never gets takin out and eventually it will get to a consentration that will hurt your corals and inverts.

the same with phosphates. the rock will suck it all in and once the rocks and sand get full then it will have nowhere to go and will just stay in the water column available for algae to grow like weeds in the middle of the rainy season.

I use tap water myself, my ro/di should be here tomorrow. I can say if you don't have algae loving creatures, its a nightmare. if you do then the algae is very manageable as the fish & snails will always pick at it. but the thing that gets me is I have 25+ corals and I just think about how at any point in time the copper can get to em.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
So trace metals would be at levels way too low to show on a test, like a tiny tiny bit of magnesium or something could still harm? That makes sense like how lead poisoning works in kids I guess. Do you remember where you read that richkor?

I'm also curious about all the pvc I see on tanks. IDK what temp is required for the bad stuff to release, but when I do plumbing I use pex cause in my state pvc is not to code for potable. It would be a sad irony if we were leaching a bunch of hormone disrupters and cancerous gasses into the water after purifying it. Like that pacific gyre in an aquarium.

Phane, I have a copper test kit, it works on salt and fresh water. I'm sure it's not super accurate, but if it's showing none in the water I add and none in the water in the tank, why worry? I'm assuming that before it reaches a harmful level it will be detectable, maybe that's not right. Please update after you get the new rodi in, it will be cool to hear before and afters.
 

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You should search for posts by AZDesertRat, he's the TRT resident water guru and can explain any water questions better than I ever could. Or even PM him. All I know is there is a very delicate balance going on a reef tank where random metals and contaminants have no place if you want a stable tank and healthy residents. Your rock soaks up everything. Regular, affordable tests won't show small amounts of things like copper, but your rock will be soaking them in. And when it's full and starts purging what it's collected you'll have crazy algae explosions and things may start dying. A few bucks in water a week is a small price to pay, imo.
 

· Aquatic Philosopher
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Cheap: what Chiwing said. AZDesertRat is the RO/DI expert.

The trick to RO/DI is not that you are spending $200 to keep, it is spending $200 to keep things out! (algae and cyano bacteria) And trust me, you would spend $1000 if it was your only option. (really, there is the Spectrapure Refirb units with all new filters, jusst re-acquired housings) which a lot of us (including me) are using.... with shipping it is $150ish)
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 · (Edited)
Hey all,
I tried searching Rat's posts but couldn't find what I was looking for, though that's likely a function of my lack of familiarity with the forum. I pm'd him asking for a source of info, if I hear back I'll post the link here.

Otherwise just watching her cycle. I hear ya on the test strips, but I'm thinking for tracking the cycle it's ok, they have been reliable on increase to nitras (if not valid) and those results are following the ammonia readings as expected. Also rereading reef keeping made easy, makes a lot more sense the second time through.

Got some chaeto, so there's a bit of life anyway ;)
You guys think I'll get some coralline spores on my orders of stock? Don't really need a 20# purple rock in there, and I can be patient. I'm curious what you get if you point ur TDS reader at ur tank water... Any volunteers?
 
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