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· Watchful Goby
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm a student, and I have a student's budget. I am therefore running head-first into breaking what seems to be the cardinal sin of reef tank keeping:

I'm planning on using tap water.

This isn't a problem that needs fixing, its a fact that I have to deal with. The LFS sells RO/DI water at a very reasonable price ($1/gal) but transporting 50lbs+ water weekly from the LFS isn't very easy on my bike. The nearest grocery store that sells RO water is even further than my LFS. An RO/DI filter of my own is on my list of to-buys, but probably 6 months or more down the road.

What can I do to help with the problems I'm likely to encounter? Should I be testing all my water before adding it to the tank (for ammonia, pH, nitrites et al)? Would it be worth it to invest in a cheap TDS meter to make sure tap water quality stays relatively stable? Does anyone have any heartening success stories of using tap water?
 

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In my experience you are going to end up spending more than $1 per gallon trying to battle the tap water...atleast I did when I used tap water here. My tds meter reads over 300ppm on my tap and 0-1 after my RO/DI filter. What size tank do you have?
 

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If you have a 20G, I would spend the $20 to get the RO/DI Salt Mix at your LFS, then you will only be spending a couple dollars a week on RO/DI for top off and then $5 every week or two for the water changes. Well worth it in my opinion. I started my 125 with tap water...it only took me about 2 months before I realized the headache I had caused, then went out and bought me a filter.
 

· little fishy girl
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you should look at specturapure website they have a refurb unit for about 130.00 best deal there ro/di units are the best you can get . using tap will be nothing but a head ache I starte with tap and my tds at that time was less then 50 and I had all kinds of algea and it didn't go away till I got the ro/di
 

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You are setting youself up for disappointment and disaster.
Water is the single largest ingredient in a reef tank and everything depends on its quality AND is stability.

If you can't do it right the first time I would wait until you have access to good water, it will be worth the wait guaranteed.

Tap water may be OK today but what happens tomorrow when a storm blows through and they add additional chemicals to treat the water and the pH changes drastically? Or when they start adding phosphates to control corrosion in the water distribution system? Or when they switch from free chlorine to chloramines? The Utility is not obligated to share any of this with you and you cannot go by an annual water quality report that is already 6-12 months old before you receive it. You have absolutely no control over your tap water.

If its worth doing, its worth doing right the first time!
 

· Watchful Goby
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321 Posts
Discussion Starter · #7 ·
DesertRat, it sounds to me like I should be able to test those parameters with my water test kit. Could I not simply test the water before I add it to my system?

JuniorSanders, logistics is the issue. 5 gallons of water weighs 41lbs. Biking, walking, public transit, it's not a pleasant journey.

I know it's a bad idea to use tap water. I know I'm headed for headaches. I'm braced for impact, I'm ready for whatever aglae or tank crashes will happen. I'm used to complete failure.

Perhaps just for the sake of discussion we can discuss methods of wrangling the tap water foe?
 

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Yeah, I follow you, not sure how much I can help then, because I think the biggest problem is not being able to test for stuff in the tap to know what to treat for.
 

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Hobbyist grade saltwater test kits will not test tap water.

Just like keeping a dog or cat, you as a reef hobbyist need to provide the best possible environment for the things in your care, your goal is to have the corals, invertabrates or fish live out their entire natural lives and thrive. If you provide any less you are doing them an injustice and probably should not be in this hobby. I know those are stern words but we have an obligation just like a dog or cat or whatever. My other pets are sulcata tortoises and i know they can live to be 100 years old so have made arrangements for their care when I am gone. It was not a snap judgment I thought long and hard before getting in to either hobby and I prepared ahead of time. It took me 5 long months to build my current 100G reef tank even before I added the first drop of RO/DI water to make sure I got it right the first time.

If you know its a bad idea why do it? You may want to step back and rethink your commitment to the care a reef needs.
 

· Premium Member
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ive seen people ask this question before, and truthfully, there is really no good answer. there is just no real way to make tap water usable without problems or compromises. there are other things in tap water besides the nitrates and phosphates that are bad for our inhabitants. there could be metals such as copper, or other things that you may not even be able to test for. ive looked at a few tap water reports from different places that looked like the periodic table!

and what is the point of testing for stuff if you cant do anything about it?

imo, the ro/di is the absolute most important piece of equipment you can buy. i bought mine before i even bought the tank. water quality is everything in this hobby and it definately is worth the wait if you have to save up a few more bucks.

i know its not what you wanna hear, as you probably are anxious to get going, but it will definately be worth the wait to do it right from the beginning. even if you get your ro/di at some point down the line, short of doing a 100% water change, there will always be traces of things in the tap water in your tank.

think of it as like trying to grow sps corals under regular lamp bulbs. its just not the right way to do things and is destined to create problems.
 

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While I'm not advising it I do have a buddy that is reefing and just using tap water. Once I finish moving in to my new place I'm supposed to take a picture of his setup and tank.

He uses prime and uses a GFO reactor and has been going for a year now with no algae outbreaks. He does prep the water for about a week before though. I know a year isn't a great gauge but that's all I have for now.

On the flip side I have a 75 gallon running flawless for about 2 years and then my RO/DI went out and I was basically adding tap water to my tank without knowing it and had a huge outbreak of algae finally under control. I have no GFO reactor or anything like it. Only reason its under control is because I tore down my tank and cleaned what I could for my move.

Did this without losing any fish. Lost one colony of Zoas ( about 8), Maybe a Ricordeia but its still fighting to live, and haven't seen my pistol shrimp though this doesn't surprise me.

So while I agree with everyone here that RO/DI would be best. If you only have access to tap water you may be ok if you set it up before had.
 

· Premium Member
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imo, there are other things in tap water besides phosphates and nitrates that will cause problems. algae would be the least of my concerns using tap water. it possibly can be done depending on a number of factors, like where you live and your water source, but personally, id never risk it. and even getting a water quality report from your water company may be misleading. there are a number of factors determining the mineral content of tap water. time of year, recent rainfall/drought, additives the water company may be putting in(like fluoride). just too many variables for my taste.
 

· Watchful Goby
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321 Posts
Discussion Starter · #13 ·
injustice
If we accept your argument, then should we not all be buying the absolute best equipment possible to ensure optimal livelihood of our creatures, ignoring all costs? In fact, if allowing the creatures to live out their natural lives is our goal, should we not buy our LFS' livestock, venture to their natural habitats in the ocean and let them live free?

No, that would be ridiculous. We all must strike some sort of balance between what we spend on our hobby, and the quality of life we give our creatures. Some may draw the line at an $800 lighting fixture which would allow their critters to flourish brilliantly, and opt for the $600 one which will allow it to survive. I draw my line, for now, before RO/DI.

Phew. Hope this doesn't sound angry, I'm just doing my best to defend myself.
 

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Go back to my second sentence:
"Water is the single largest ingredient in a reef tank and everything depends on its quality AND its stability."

Water quality is something we can control easily and inexpensively and with little time or effort expended. Why not supply the very best when you can do so for about a nickel a gallon on average?

And yes, we should purchase the best possible equipment we can afford for our critters. Dio you see anyone intentionally going out and spending good hard earned money on a crappy protein skimmer, dumping old rock and sand out of the back yard in their reef or placing a couple of 60 watt incanderscent bulbs over the tank? No.

There are many options for most equipment, literally hundreds of protein skimmers that all work well, or compact fluorescent, VHO, MH, T-5 or LED lights all of which work well. Or glass versus acrylic tanks but there is only one good, proven, reliable source of water, RO/DI. The tap my be good right now but you have no control over it and it can change instantly, why take that chance? Prime, GFO and other things may help or in the case of Prime, just mask or bind the problem but it is still there. It didn't magically disappear and it will rear its ugly head and bite you hard one day. Too many things in tap water are cumulative and no amount of water changes will ever make it go away once it is in the rock and substrate. You are fighting a losing battle fought by thousands before you, why do it all over? There is no defense.
 

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Donald, I'm in the middle of this pack, but the problem is that no water source is constant and all sources contain different things. Your municipality probably routinely posts water quality reports far more thorough than you'll be able to test for (are far less frequently than you would like. They won't account for what's in the pipes between you, but they'll give you an idea of what you are dealing with as a starting point, then you want to target filtration accordingly.
My personal feeling is that starting with 0 TDS is a disservice along the lines of treating everything with antibiotics, using hand sanitizer, not letting your kids get exposed to dirt, or refusing to breast-feed. There is a lot to be said for interacting with the real world, but... if your water is bunk all the time or terribly inconsistent RO/DI gives you maximum control of the starting variables (if you are on top of testing it and changing the filters). Most of us have enough stuff in the air we breath, that five minutes after the water is in the tank, most of our filtration work is already undone.
So, battling the beast of your own municipal water. Know what's in it. City water is potentially full of all kinds of residual medications, chemicals, bacteria, metals, phosphates and nitrogen compounds. The requirements are not zero tolerance for removal, and in some places, the water change adds in more phosphates and nitrates than it takes out. Get yourself a cheap freshwater test kit, pull your water during off peak times when the overall system won't be as turbid and don't run it full on. Let it set overnight, with or without aeration (aeration will help release gases trapped in the water) and test it 12 - 24 hours after your draw. The closer the pH is to 7.0 at room temperature, the greater the likelihood that many of your potential problems are minimal. If you know you have high levels of bacterial inclusions, boil it or chlorinate it yourself, then aerate it and add a dechlorinator (these were used for many, many years before RO/DI was born). If you know there are metals in the water, you want some sort of filtration that will remove it. Brita or Pur can be effective for some things, ZeroWater can be effective for many things, but filters can catch only so much of each level before they are full (same when you install a RO/DI filtration unit). Chemical can be a bit harder. Remember heating water dissolves more solids and expels gases, while cooling it dissolves more gas and promotes precipitates of solids.
You can always set yourself up a stove-top distiller (don't use copper anything, and preferably not aluminum), or a small freshwater tank circulating through carbon until you are ready to mix it.

All that being said, a 10% water change on a 20g tank is only 2 gallons, so the initial set up is the hard part, and once the rock is underwater, the cycling will start, so you don't even need the 20g all at once. Once you have a rhythm down, bringing in a gallon or two of distilled, RODI or NSW from the LFS once or twice a week will be easy. You may even be able to get it delivered to your door or find you have a neighbor in the same hobby with a system already set up.

There is no way to bypass it being a bit complicated, but knowing what you are starting with and where you personally draw the target line will determine what's best for you. With a small tank in the city, I'd be starting it with my tap water and then topping off and doing water changes with something off the shelf.
 

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So I assume that you have no options of getting an adult driver to take you to the LFS or local grocer so that you can purchase RO/DI water.
Although you did ask for advice, it seems that you have already made up you mind to go this route. I also would advice you not to, but only you can make that decision based on your conscience and situation. Please, at least let any water you are planing to use sit for a few days to allow the chlorides and some of the other chemicals to dissipate. Also, add a good water conditioner like Prime to help condition the water.
I wish you good luck, but you will most likely have major issues down the line and be ready for some livestock deaths. You should stick to only the most hardiest of fish and absolutly no corals.
 

· Administrator
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Think about the money you have invested in your 20g tank. Even is you do it on a budget you are going to have a substantial investment that could be compromised by using tap water, Is there not a grocery store that you could get distilled water close to home?
 

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Join your local reef club, assuming you have one nearby. I see tons of used RODI on the WTS threads of my local club and one reefer was even nice enough to give a person that was struggling to pay for a RODI a used one for free. You will get a ton of sympathy from local reefers and most people in this hobby are extremely nice and understanding (and know the costs associated with it) so you'll be super surprised on what you can get help with. Good luck.
 

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I would at least try your tap water. There are way too many threads on this site and others where the hobbyist is taking precaution and using RO/DI water, yet there still having some of the same problems that tend to accompany bad tap water. FWIW, I've been using tap water for almost 14 years now without any problems. Go figure... Sometimes it's not the water that sets one tank apart from the other, it's the husbandry. It's definitely worth a shot IMO. GL.
 

· Shark...fish are friends
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Live and learn, its all you really can do.

I started my FW tank with tap, joined here and switched to RO (and my reef tank started with RO), then last week upgraded to RODI. You'll end up there eventually, just learn as much as you can along the way.

Its no different than me starting off reefing with a 10 gallon tank and everyone telling me not to start with anything less than a 30 gal... its what I can afford to do right now... I might make some mistakes, but I'll learn from them.
 
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