Build an AIO Saltwater Tank on a Budget - Innovative Marine 20 gallon NUVO Fusion Tank Build
The NUVO Fusion series tanks from Innovative Marine are the perfect all-in-one platform to build a compact reef aquarium on a budget. You don't need a ton of gear and you can quickly fill the aquascape with an impressive community of brilliantly colored marine fish and a lush garden of corals to create that iconic reef scene.
To get started, we laid out a complete shopping list of everything you need to get water into the tank and start the cycling process. If this is your first aquarium, check out our 5 Minute Guide to Saltwater Aquariums Video Series to learn more about cycling, stocking your new tank with fish, and what to expect during the first few months.
In addition to the NUVO Fusion Pro 2 Bundle, all you need is an aquarium heater (100 watts), sand, and rock to build an aquascape (rock structure) before filling the tank with water to start the cycle. Saltwater can be purchased from your local fish store to fill the aquarium initially, just be sure to acquire some suitable containers to transport the water. Many aquarium service companies can even deliver saltwater directly to your home.
- 20 NUVO Fusion PRO 2 AIO Aquarium Bundle - Innovative Marine
- HMS Titanium Heater (75 - 100 watt)
- Microbacter Dry Rock Bacteria Starter Kit - Brightwell Aquatics
- MarcoRocks ReefSaver Dry Rock - 20 lbs
Step #1 - Place and Assemble Tank
The 20 Gallon tank measures 24" x 15" and will weigh about 200 lbs when filled with water. The location of your tank is going to be important as you want somewhere that you can enjoy the aquarium on a daily basis. A sturdy desk, countertop, or cabinet would work great for a tank of this size. The tank comes with a pre-installed self-leveling foam mat attached to the bottom of the aquarium to help relieve pressure points on the glass.
- Avoid direct sunlight, windows, and doors
- Be sure the aquarium is level
- Place somewhere that it won't be neglected
- Wipe aquarium clean with freshwater before proceeding
- Be mindful of loud noises that might startle fish
- Place tank in close enough vicinity to a suitable wall socket
If you wish to have the aquarium as a stand-alone piece, the Innovative Marine Fusion APS Stand looks great and is super easy to assemble; everything you need to put it together, including the tools, is right inside the box.
Step #2 - Install Pump, Filtration Media, and Heater
Once the tank is in place, you just have to attach the pump and return nozzles, install the heater and place the filtration media. You also want to set up a safe power center that will be suitable for all of the tank's electrical plugs. Do not plug anything into the power center until after the tank is filled with water.
- Locate your wall socket and secure a surge protector in close enough vicinity to the tank. Be sure you have enough open plugs to handle all of the equipment. (Minimum of four 3 prong sockets ). Mount the surge protector under the tank or on the wall near the tank where it's not likely to get wet. You want to sockets up off the ground to avoid water spillage.
- Review the NUVO Fusion 20 user manual.
- Install the pump using the included plumbing parts and tubing. Attach pump tubing to the NUVO return nozzles through the back filter wall. Mount the pump controller somewhere accessible and safe, where it won't get wet.
- Install the High Tide Risers onto the front side of the surface overflow weirs on the left and right sides of the back filter wall.
- Place filter media basket with rinsed filter media inside.
- Place filter sock into included filter sock tray.
- Place the heating element into the back filtration compartment. Mount the heater controller somewhere accessible and safe, where it won't get wet.
- Organize and route all of the power cables but don't turn on the power just yet.
DOWNLOAD: NUVO Fusion 20 Pro User Manual
Step#3 - Build an Aquascape
You should first stack your rocks together inside the aquarium before adding sand. You can secure rocks together using super glue gel or epoxy if you wish to create something more elaborate, but simply stacking the rocks generally works fine for small structures. You can break the rocks with a hammer to obtain smaller pieces.
Take your time and stack the rocks into different structures until you find something appealing. Remember you are creating a habitat and fish prefer places to hide with overhangs, caves, arches, and crevices. You also want to provide a suitable foundation for any corals. It's a good idea to visualize your aquarium and how you plan to mount corals to help make a decision on your aquascape. Sometimes less is more when it comes to an aquascape, especially when you plan to add soft corals that will grow large.
Watch Video: Today’s Aquascaping Techniques: 10 Questions That Guarantee a Healthy, Beautiful Aquarium Aquascape
Step #4 - Add Sand
Once you have finalized the aquascape structure, it's time to add the sand to the display. The Aragalive Sand contains live bacteria and will be wet upon opening the bag. You should be prepared with saltwater before adding sand because you will want to immediately fill the aquarium with water after adding sand into the tank.
Simply pour the sand around the rocks and even things out with your hands.
Watch Video: Top 10 Tips For Adding Sand to an Aquarium
Step #5 - Fill with Water, Turn on the Pump & Heater
You can typically buy saltwater from a local fish store or maybe a local friend who already has a saltwater tank. This is the best option for cycling your first aquarium and you can purchase an RO/DI tap water filter and appropriate salt mix to make your own saltwater after your tank has started cycling.
- Pour water slowly into the aquarium and you can use the rocks to diffuse the heavy flow of water.
- Fill the aquarium until the water level is at least 4" above the water pump in the back center filtration chamber.
- It will be cloudy, just let it settle for 30 minutes before turning on the pumps.
- Turn on the pump, adjust flow if needed using the pump controller
- Plug in the heater and set the temperature to 78° F.
Step #6 - Add Bacteria
Follow the instructions included with the Brightwell Aquatics Dry Rock Bacteria Starter Kit to start cycling and establish the biological filter. You will need to start testing your water within the first few days so pick up an ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite test kit.
While the tank is cycling, be sure to take some time to research proper stocking techniques and think about the first few additions you will be making in the way of fish. The aquarium hobby is progressive and you will constantly be exploring new equipment and techniques, if you embrace and nurture that growth you will have the best experience. For example, you're going to get some algae in the tank, and don't let it discourage you, algae happens. Instead, take the opportunity to not only clean the tank but also learn why algae grows and implement the various methods hobbyists use to keep algae under control.
Test Kits for Monitoring Water Quality
We generally don't recommend turning on your lights until you're ready to add your first corals, at a very minimum 1-2 months after adding your first fish. The light will contribute to nuisance algae and other pests that are common during the maturation of a new aquarium so it's best to just keep the lights off until the tank has been stocked and stabilized. Your fish technically don't need the light, only your corals, so don't be in any rush to use the light until corals are in the tank.
The AquaMaxx Prism II LED light is the perfect light to support soft corals and LPS corals in the NUVO Fusion 20. Just use the included mounting legs and watch the Prism II Setup Guide which walks you through the fixture installation and programming.
Watch Video: AquaMaxx Prism II LED Light Setup Guide
As for the internal flow, it's not 100% necessary to install a powerhead right away but will be a great addition to help increase internal flow after you start feeding the aquarium regularly. The powerhead can be installed at an anytime, just be sure to position the powerhead so it's not creating a sand storm or blowing your corals off the rocks.
Lighting & Internal Flow
Your aquarium does evaporate water and requires regular replenishment using fresh RO/DI water. RO/DI water is also used to mix saltwater to be used during water exchanges. While this RO/DI water can be purchased at a local fish store, it really is far more economical to purchase a home RO/DI system to filter your own tap water. Not only does having an RO/DI system save you money in the long run, but it's also way easier and more convenient to have fresh filtered water on demand.
RO/DI filters are super easy to install and we have some great systems available, specifically tailored for saltwater aquarium hobbyists. A basic 4 stage system will handle a majority of tap water sources throughout the United States to produce the appropriate RO/DI water for your aquarium.
In order to mix saltwater, all you need is the RO/DI water, salt mix, a small pump, and a device called a "refractometer" that is used to measure the salinity level. Any inert plastic container will work for mixing and Brute brand trashcans (available at home improvement stores) are very popular for the purpose of mixing and transporting water to and from your tank.
RO/DI System & Essential Saltwater Mixing Supplies