Ep.4 - How much does a dream saltwater reef tank cost to set up? | BRS360

One of the biggest challenges with equipment intensive hobbies is the seemingly bottomless pit of cash that can be dumped into them. Reefing can be an even bigger challenge because as soon as you acquire all of the right equipment, there really is no end to how much you can spend on corals and various other livestock.

Over the next few years, the BRS360 project is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars. For any of you laughing at that number, the facts are that it is a very honest estimate of what it takes to build a reef tank of this caliber.

This episode talks about why reefers are willing to invest this kind of money in a reef tank and how any of you can achieve the dream too. We break it down and explain exactly how the cost adds up when building a tank and how Ryan plans to manage the budget for this BRS360 inside his home.

Ryan and son at public aquarium

Are reefers crazy?

While it may not be so obvious in real time, a hobby reef tank is essentially an investment in personal joy. Once you experience the joy a reef tank can bring, it is easy to justify the expense.

From an outside perspective, the cost of a reef tank may seem crazy but it isn’t about them, it is about you and what brings you joy and satisfaction. In fact, people make these kinds of investments in joy all of the time, for instance fancy cars, a bigger house, fast boats and even various other long term pets.

The cost of dog ownership

Reef tanks and pet ownership in general is rarely a financial decision, it is a decision of passion for the animal and you just make it work as time goes on. The AKC estimates the life-time cost of dog ownership is upwards of 15K and 2K of that within the first year. Pets in general are not the cheapest things we bring into our lives but they do offer value on a number of levels.

It's the simple passion for creation, knowledge, challenges and successes that most all of us reef hobbyists crave. Some people make it through addiction recovery with a reef tank by their side or maybe just need a little relief from the anxiety of life. Teachers use aquariums in classrooms to teach students biology and chemistry or inspire future generations to respect our natural world.

Simply put, the value a reef tank brings is personal and if we had to describe it in a single word, it would be joy.

Ideal reef tank with mature sps corals

What defines a dream tank?

Reef tanks come in all shapes and sizes and the size of the dream is a direct result of the budget available for achieving it.

It doesn’t have to be a 360 gallon tank with all of the fanciest reef gear and high end corals to be “your dream tank”. You first 20 gallon nano tank is likely your dream right now. With success you upgrade and develop a new dream tank which could be a larger tank, nicer equipment or multiple tanks. Whatever the case may be, the dream evolves over time and your resources flex to accommodate that changing dream.

For those like Ryan who stick with it for 15 years or more, the dream typically looks something like a few hundred gallons with a price tag you don’t even want to say out loud.

While the BRS360 is going to be a huge investment for Ryan, it is valuable to understand that you can build your dream tank on a far smaller budget.

Reef tanks cost money

Why does a reef tank cost so much?

A great way to tally the costs is break it up into infrastructure, equipment and livestock.

In the case of the BRS360, Ryan plans to pull out the stops and do it right from the get go. That means pulling out carpet and replace it with tile to avoid damage from spills. Creating and waterproofing a fish room with a floor drain, moving HVAC and installing the appropriate electrical circuits to power a tank of this size. Related to that, a backup power source to keep the tank running in the event of a power outage.

Ryan standing in front of the future BRS360 location in his basement

This is only the beginning and will likely be a slew of additional surprises in the way of infrastructure or simply giving yourself the best possible foundation for success.

Equipment wise, you have the tank, stand, hood, lighting, sump, pumps, heaters, skimmer, rocks, water flow and a mix of other elements for filtration.

This is going to be a big tank, 360 gallon full of fish and coral. Ryan’s approach will not be “instant tank” and plans to take it slow. More of a collection, gathering the fish and corals that mean something to him over time.

They don’t have to be expensive, just animals you get excited about caring for and watching grow over many years.

Ryan and Aaron building a frag tank

Who is going to pay for all this nonsense!

Some of you might be interested to know that many of the tanks you have watched here on BRStv were funded by BRS. In this case, however, the tank is Ryan’s home and it wouldn’t be fair to expect his business partner to pay for a tank and its related costs that is going into his own home for his personal enjoyment. So the BRS360 is being built out of Ryan’s family wallet.

Something quite common in this hobby is establishing a side hustle to help offset the costs of building and maintaining the tank. Ryan has a plan to do just that.

Growing and fragging corals and trading them so you don’t have to buy them is pretty common. Selling frags to local stores and even online via eBay or hobby forums like Reef2Reef is also an option. The reef hobby can fund itself with a little bit of effort, something you can’t say for all hobbies.

Modified Maxi-jet pump

If you watched last week, in BRS360 episode #3 Ryan shared the history of BRS and it was those side hustles that started everything and funded his tanks early in the hobby. Specifically for Ryan, making and selling coral food, selling DIY powerhead modification kits and eventually sourcing and selling bulk additives supplied the extra money to support his hobby.

You can call it a side hustle but these things are just fun extension of the hobby and ways to interact with the larger reefing community. Sticking with what worked in the past, Ryan plans to fund the BRS360 completely with the Reef Chili coral food that he started making all those years ago. Combined with hopefully some timely donations from various equipment manufacturers and vendors, Ryan will build this 360 gallon dream aquarium and share it with all of you for years to come on BRStv.

Be sure to check out the BRS360 Episode 4.1 which is the accompanying LIVE stream with David Hammontree the founder of Reef2Reef. Ryan and David sit down and discuss the things that David experienced while building his own dream tank, specifically the costs, how he managed those costs and some insight to help all of you plan your own dream tank build.

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