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Tank set-up. . . please don't laugh

8387 Views 40 Replies 21 Participants Last post by  Stang69
As I have stated in the past, most of my tank-keeping "skills" and philosophies have been passed down from my parents-- most of the equipment terms I am familiar with are their terms and far different then the term used on this board, I apologize if this post seems, well, uneducated. (just "inherited" the tank and its equipment last Mother's Day).

My current tank set-up (the same set-up my parents used for the last 10 yrs or so) is as follows:

1) underground filtration system- there are four tubes running up from the filter, the tops of the tubes are filled with carbon. I have heavy air flow coming up the tubes (supplied by air stones). (from what I have read I understand this to be a "primative" protein skimmer)

2) I have two high-pressure power heads. I'm not sure what the actual brand is, but they are maked as "powerhead 402's" They seem to provide fairly good water flow.

3) I have filter that hangs off the back of the tank--sucks water up a tube, gets filtered through a sponge layer, then more carbon, then back to the tank.

When I set the 95 gal tank up I put a layer of new crushed coral, seeded from the crushed coral that was in the old tank set up. On top of that I put in 60 lbs of live sand. As this is cuurently a FO tank (I plan to be adding live rock as I can afford it) I have a cave buildt out of several "lave rocks" (red in color, large in size, light in weight" There are also severl large "sandstone" feeling rocks (red and white streaked rock, very dense). Other than that all of the dead corals, plants, etc are purely decorative. (Most came from my parents, some are there to appease my husband and kids)

The current inhabitants of the tank are: 1 cleaner shrimp (my current fav), 4 camel shrimps, 1 Zebra damsel, 1 dominoe damsel, 1 three-stripe damsel, 1 tomatoe clown fish, 1 decent sized crab.

I know that my lighting needs updating. I currently only have a single 48" coral life bulb on the tank.

I have been dutifully testing my water levels. I currently test for ph, nitrite, nitrates, and ammonia. I had used tap water eek: mixed with coralife salt. Specific gravity stays between .022 and .024. I treat the water I add to the tank during water changes with stress coat. I am hoping to buy a RO filter, but as I mentioned before, my pocket book is a factor here. . .

Now that you've made it this far, I will now pose my question ;) .

I am hoping to "tranform" my FO tank to a reef tank. As I have to do this on a budget, I know that it will probably take years to get there. The next step I was planning was to add live rock (one piece a week if needed), but after reading hundreds upon hundreds of threads (not to mention info I've devoured elsewhere) I find that I am completely clueless. Does the set-up described above seem to be fairly solid "starting grounds"? Is there something I should update before I begin to add LR? (the adding LR timeline will take me at LEAST 6 mos before I will feel comfortable adding any corals ect.... I also want to revamp my lighting system (in about a year-- budget wise) my tank should be fairly mature before I get to where the tank can be a "reef" tank.

OK, so maybe I had more than one question, but I would appreciate any comments, suggestoins, or advice you can offer.
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First thing I would do is Ax the underground filter, They are hard enought to maintain in a FW tank let alone salt or reef. Once you get a reef going I'm pretty sure your underbed filter will become a nightmare when you start growing worms, tubeworms, and other sand critters. I would do that first if it were my tank just to avoid the hastle of having to do it later. A sump setup with protine skimmer can be built/bougth pretty cheap now, Might want to look into that. Even if you can bum a old 20 gallon tank that would make a great sump.
GET RID OF THE DAMSELS!!! :D they are mean and hard to freakn catch when you dont want them any more. If you want something cheap and cool looking. Get some green Chromis. $0.02... :D

HI Jenn, im pretty new here too and pretty new to sw, but ive been doing alot of research here and in some great books.
one of the first things im sure ppl may tell you is to try to get rid of the undergravel filter, and use alot of liverock and livesand as your filter, and to buy a decent protein skimmer. Its just my opinion, but i hope it helps anyhow :)

i love my green chromis's they have more characther and theyre less likely to terorise each other and any new fish you get
Oh yea, they are school <>< so get about 4 or so. The rule to LR is 1-1.5lbs per gallon. I would also use LS instead of CC. But thats my opinion. I would go about a 4-6" of LS. And a good skimmer. More $0.02

i agree, ditch the undergravel, it's the best to use for a saltwater tank.

the air in the tubes isnt really a skimmer. those are simply there to create water flow through the ugf. water is sucked in the ugf through the crushed coral, then up through the tubes. the airstones are there, to create sort of siphone, causing the water to rise up those tubes along with the air bubbles.

nitrate issues aside. two problems will arise from that method. you will eventually have a top layer of scum in your tank, or rather an "oil slick" is a better way to put it. because protein will attached itself to the airbubble,s much like it does in a skimmer, but there is no where for it to go (skimemrs have collection cups) so it will float on your water surface. the other thing is that bubbles dont get as big in sw as they do in fw, and they tend to hold themselves together pretty easy. over time thte top surface of the water , all around the tanks edges, will be loaded with tiny tiny bubbles.

your powerheads, are hagen aquaclear 402's. those are the same ph's i use. they are a good brand, good model, and should last you quite a long time. fyi?: they pump about 270 gph

in my opinion, get rid of those rocks. they are lava rocks, and can contain trace metals, and other minerals that are not meant for a sw tank. they can help spur and feed algae problems too.

you want actuall live rock. and yes it's better to add it at all once. but, if you need to do it in stages, on an established system, then adding one pice a week is the way to do it. because with each rock you add, you'll get a new mini cycle. the mroe rock you add, the bigger the cycle, and the more stress it creates on your fish.

lights dont need to be upgraded until you get ready for corals. fish dont care what the lighting is, as long as there is light. they do not benefit from the more expensive, better lights.

and keep doing what you are doing. asking questions, and researching!! that is key in a successful tnak, whether it be fowlr or reef.
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OK-- axe the underground filter. Once I invest in a decent protein skimmer (insert suggestions here :) ) I need to pull the underground filter. Doing so will seriously mix up the existing crushed coral and LS. Should I add more LS on top of the mix, or should I go with southdown (or similar)?

Thanks again!!

Here's my first suggestion for you. Join the Puget Sound Aquarium Society. We are on break for the summer but will start back up soon enough. There are a lot of very knowledgeable, freindly people in the club that are more than happy to guide you through your first tank.

Next, I would suggest looking at some other reef tanks...maybe locals (there are a lot in the puget sound area) or online. Find a tank that looks similar to what you think you like (your tastes will change over time) and talk with the owner about how it is set up.

You will find out very quickly that there are a whole lot of ways to succesfully keep a reef tank...and even more ways to kill one. By talking to someone who has a tank that looks like what you want you can find out what it takes to get there and what equipment you might need. You also will learn that there are more gizmos than anyone could possibly hope to use in this industry. Having talked with other reefers you can avoid a lot of unnecessary expense on gizmos (personal experience on this one). You can also find out the right equipment to buy the first time, avoiding the "upgrade syndrome" that is so popular .

I wish you luck. Get some good books, relax, read, ask questions, visit tanks, and when it all sinks in, start your FO to Reef conversion. Patience is the key to this obsession...I mean hobby

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just be forwarned about talking to fellow reefers about thier tanks... if you plan on being there one hour, its gonna be five. better be safe and jsut mark off the whole day on your calander :) reefers LOVE to talk about thier tanks :funny:
Jenn - Do not make any changes to your tank until you a 110 % sure what you want to have as your end result.

You say that money is your biggest worry and that it will take a long time for you to complete this upgrade. Taking your time is actually a good thing here.

So take your time and plan what you want your tank to be. What species you want in your tank, be it coral, fish or a combo of both. With good planning you will also save money.

And yes talk to everyone about their systems first. There is more than one way to "run" a tank. Deep Sand Bed and Berlin sytem are just a couyple of ways. All have their good and bad points.

The very first thing I would buy is a RO/DI water kit. No matter which way you go, you will always need clean pure water.
as a budget reefer this is the route i would probably take if i was in your situation...

find a local reefer with a fairly large tank and sump. there should be some folks up in your area, you can find them through the pudget sound club on this board. go to and purchase 50 lbs. of their dry baserock. it will come shipped to your door for $65.00 which is about as cheap as you will ever find reef safe rock. get your new friend to place the VERY WELL RINSED rock in their very large sump, if they can not take it all, try to get at least 25 lbs in there. a 25 lb rock from hirocks will be approximately a 1 foot by 1 foot cube based on the stuff dale and i got. let the rock sit in their sump as long as they will let you keep it there, prefarably a good month or so.

while your rock is going from dead dry rock to healthy live rock start saving again.

go to home depot and get some sand. southdown is preferable, and occasionally they have it, but you can almost always find aragonite based play sand which is basically the same thing, but not brand name (southdown has a really good trackrecord of good clean sand and consistant particulate size which are among the reasons it is preferred). take this sand, and rinse the living daylights out of it. i mean like 10+ times. you want to be able to put it in a bucket and stir it around while water is running over it without any particulate matter coming off of it. i would shoot to get at least 40 more lbs of sand in there to help diffuse the crushed coral and give you a nice substrate that most reef things will appreciate. the last thing to get at home depot is some pvc pipe. you should ask them if they have trimmings so you can get a variety of diameters. if not get a single piece of 3 inch pipe and either have them cut it, or make sure you have something to cut it at home. you want varying sizes from maybe 2 to 6 inches in length.

here is the fun part. remove everything from your tank, pull out the under gravel filter, add the new sand, and let the sand settle for as long as you can. i would get a piece of tupperware(s) and fill it half full, then place your fish in it/them and float it in the tank while the water clears so you do not lose temperature (alternately have a quarantine tank set up by moving day which is a good idea anyway and keep the fish in there). place the pieces of pvc on the sand, some sticking out of the sand, some laying on it to provide cover for the fish. be sure to point some toward the wall so that the fish can hide and think you can not see them. i would let the water clear for a good 2 or three days and let everything settle down a bit. i would leave your powerheads and hang on back powerfilter off for at least a half hour while stuff begins to settle, or it will suck in all the sand and grit and will possibly freeze up. you can let your fish back out as soon as everyhting is in place, but i would again give it a good 30 minutes so that things start to settle. it is my gut feeling that fish do not like swimming in sand soup.

(elapse time as long as your friend will let you, preferably about 1 month total sump time)

now go over to your new best friends house and retrieve your now live rock from them and bring it home. freak out your fish by once again collecting them, and once they are out of the tank remove the pvc and stack your rock in your tank however you see fit. you will instantly notice you want more, but that is something to deal with later. make sure that when you place your rocks, the ones that are flattest go on the bottom, ideally you want them worked all the way down to the glass (in a new setup you might put in rock first, then add the sand around it to be sure it is stable). build up from there. turn back on hang on filter and powerheads and let it run for a good 30 minutes, once again floating the fish in the tupperware to keep them from chilling. then you can release your fish into their new rock wonderland.

ok so now you have a tank with a good sand bed, 50 lbs of live rock, and no more undergravel filter. your next priorities on a tank that size should be to work on a sump to hold your heaters and skimmer. you can buy these as a kit, or make your own stuff out of wallmart and home depot items (with a couple things from the fish store) for fairly cheap if you are handy. once sump and skimmer come on line, remove the powerfilter from the back, as at this point it is no longer doing anything for you.

as money comes and goes you will most likely want to visit shops and buy smaller pieces of live rock to get some color in your tank. keep in mind that one of the tradeoffs for having 50 lbs of cheap rock is that it will all be tan, so if you want some purple or other colors going on it you will need to get some rock to seed it. this will also add interest to the tank.

when you have saved another 65.00 after sump and skimmer aquisition, i would buy another 50 lbs of rock from and this time, rinse it really good and just put it in your own tank. your existing rock will seed it just fine.

so at this juncture, over a course of maybe 6 months, you have gone from a hang on back and undergravel filter with lava rock and dead coral decorations to a nice 90 gallon tank with a good sized sand bed, 100 lbs of live rock, a sump, a skimmer, and a nicely cycled and stabilized tank. at this point you will decide what to do for lights (which will be the biggest expense of all), you will aquire them, install them, and then mosey on down to some frag swaps to get some stuff to get your reef going coral wise.

this is pretty much the exact formula i followed, with the exception of paying 6.99 a pound for 25 lbs of live rock before i found, and my little reef is as pretty as i could ever hope for it to be on my own meager budget.

good luck! and please feel free to pm or email if you ever have any questions.

and as mr. ono said, read read read and talk talk talk. until you know what kind of tank you want, you want to be really careful making any changes, as you might have to change them back later. take your time.

read the new marine aquarium and natural reef aquariums, both by TFH publishing and both at your local barnes and noble over a coffe at the book store for more information. i found both of these books invaluable, especially the new marine aquarium by mike poletta (or something close to that). it will answer questions you didnt know you had.

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You may need to save some extra bucks to get a good RO unit.
$100-150 ;). The RO filter is a very important piece for your system.
Oh, just in case, RO= Reverse Osmosis :D
FWIW I'm planning on doing a full revamp of my 55gal tank. Pulling UGF, dumping CC, blah, blah, blah...I'm doing that on June 22. That's right I had to schedule it with my wife so she could get out of the house for the weekend while I made my mess. :funny:
I'm planning on posting before and after pics of the whole ordeal. I also am planning on getting a decent RO system...Speaking of which...

Whats a good stage system to get? I've seen 2,3,4 and some ridiculous monster 6 or 8 stage system.
Krux, and every other person putting in their $.02 :)

THANK YOU for all of your advice. I am currently researching the whole RO/DI flter thing. (still reeling over the huge selection! stages! huh? how hany stages is safe for this process? Is a two stage filter sufficient or should I go for a four+ stage filter? Still stumbling through that area or info.... must find light at end of tunnel..... :) )

Unfortunately I am new to the Puget Sound are (transplant from Portland, OR) so I will have to go "shopping" for a new best friend. Perhaps I will join the Puget Sound Aquarium Society when they are active again this winter. . .

For now it's read, read, read. . . question, question, question :)

As I see it I need to aquire the RO/DI filter and wait for rocks to mature before removing underground filter (thanks for the pointers for this whole process Krux). In the mean time, where can I go to look at sump set ups (I am pretty handy, but if I can't SEE it done the first time, I need LOTS of pics :))
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just don't do what bubba (dunno his real name) did here. He was converting his UGF to sump, so removed his UGF and ordered sump setup on ebay. He ran on NO filter for over a week. Needless to say he eneded up with a whole new set of animals after that. Asking questions is a great way to learn. I understand electronics and filter theory and engenering etc. but when it comes to interactions of animals. I have to ask.
All right, we all seem to be in agreement next aquisition is the RO/DI filter. Before I buy one I'd like a second opinion (or more) as to which one to get. How many stages should I get? does it really matter? I have to take the advice of any retailer with a grain of salt, since they are looking at their bottom line. . .
Or do that I do, have a really good friend/cousin with extreamly fancy RO unit and become a bucket dragger.

You can see my setup, It's growing now I started with a Eclippe system with basic UV lighting, fish did great and got some mushrooms to grow. Filter was topmounted hanging type, with carbon/biowheel. Had it that way for almost 3 years till just recently when I could afford to go full reef.

start of new setup
Mammaduck, I would buy a 4 or 5 stage RO/DI unit if you can afford it, the more stages or filters the water passes through the purer the water will be, IMO the Spectrapure units are one of the best if not the best, great customer service and top of the line componets are used in there systems. There are also 2 and 3 stage units that are cheaper but the water quality wont be as good and you are trying to make the purest water possible for your system. Good luck with your new tank.:beer: :beer:
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