We Built a Reef Aquarium For Only $275. Here's How We Did It!
Keeping a Reef tank is downright expensive no matter which way you look at it. We have received a few requests from our viewers to do a video on how to build a reef tank on a budget so we decided to put together a small tank and show you guys a few tricks to help save you money when building a tank.
The first tip for saving money is get yourself an all-in-one aquarium. An all in one tank means that the filtration is built right into the aquarium itself. This means you don’t have to waste time and money purchasing and installing filtration equipment. Some all in one tanks even come with lighting! Here in the US, it is easy to even come across something second hand but just be sure you are confident the aquarium is in good shape and holds water before purchasing something used.
We chose the Innovative Marine NUVO Fusion 10 gallon aquarium which goes for $99 dollars on our website which is actually a great buy considering it includes everything you need to get water moving inside the tank and the rimless design looks so much better than your classic black plastic framed aquariums. The small tank is perfectly sized to be placed on a desk, dresser, or tabletop so you probably won’t need to purchase a separate stand or piece of furniture just for the tank.
For the filtration compartments, the included filter sock can be rinsed and reused so mechanical filtration is taken care of but we do need to add a heater and probably some chemical filter media to help keep things clean.
Because the tank is so small and we are shooting for a budget build, we are not going to install a media reactor or protein skimmer. Sufficient nutrient export can be achieved via small frequent water exchanges in a tank of this size.
ViaAqua makes a really great affordable quartz glass heater that gets an average 4.5 star review on our website. For a budget level heater, the Via Aqua heaters are great because they have an adjustable temperature setting, are fully submersible and include a couple of suction cups to secure the heater to the tank. The 50-watt model is perfect for this tank and is priced at $13.49.
For chemical filter media Chemi-Pure makes these little nano packets which are absolutely perfect for this tank. The $12 package include x5 NANO packets and each packet is good for 5 gallons. This means our 10 gallon tank will need two packets and they can last anywhere from 30-90 days depending on the level of waste or contaminates in your tank.
The great thing about Chemi-Pure is that it is a blend of carbon and ion-exchange resins which means this single filter media will help with water clarity, filter out heavy metals and toxins, as well as remove dissolved organic waste. We actually use these little nano packets in all of our small office aquariums.
This all in one type media saves you money because you will not need to utilize multiple types of chemical filter media to help keep your tank clean and clear. The are pre-packaged and super easy to use. All you need to do is drop them into the filter sock or into any one of the filter chambers in the back so water can freely flow through and around the media packets.
With the filtration complete we have only spent about $25 more dollars for an exact grand total of $124.98 at this point. Next, up is lighting which is probably the trickiest part of this build because the options vary drastically in terms of price.
Since our goal is to build a reef tank that can support corals without breaking the bank, I know we need something with substantial output and will probably lack any sort of fancy control options. Among the options we carry the Wavepoint blade fixtures are the most economical, even better yet both models fit this tank!
The 6” blade priced at $50 includes the mount that fits nicely on the back of the tank and illuminates the entire tank using only 12 watts. We filled the tank with saltwater and we are getting PAR values of around 70 on the bottom of the tank and 170 at the top using our handy Seneye Reef Par meter.
The larger 9” model is priced at 60$, includes the tank mount and runs on 18 watts of power. In this case, you want to mount the light to the false filter wall so it sets nicely over the front display portion. Being a bit larger physically and a bit more powerful, I think this is the best option for keeping a full mixed reef tank. We are achieving PAR values around 90 at the bottom of the tank and 210 at the top.
For only $60, I was surprisingly impressed with this blade light fixture and our customers seem to be loving as well with the 4.5 star rating it receives online. They have two color options as well, one with both Blue and White LED diodes for reef tanks and then a dual daylight model for planted tanks and refugiums. Because the fixture lacks any sort of timer, we paired it up with a simple analog wall timer which cost about 12$ and will help create the natural day and night light schedule inside your tank.
For internal water flow, the Koralia nano is the best choice for the money. You could get something a little cheaper like a classic style powerhead but it would probably cause you a world of headaches with suction cup mounts and non-directional output. So we stuck with what works in this case and for only $33 it is your best bet. Just be sure to keep the impeller clean and it will last quite some time under heavy use.
For sand, you don’t need much for this tank. When you look at the actual tank dimensions we only need to fill an area of roughly 1 square foot. Which means you only need about 5-10 lbs of sand to get a 1-2” sand bed. We went with the 5lb bag of CaribSea Ocean Direct Live Sand which will set you back about $18. Crushed coral and dry aragonite based sands are also very affordable options and you can get a 10 lb bag for about $20 in most cases. We chose the live sand option to help seed the tank with beneficial bacteria through cycling the tank.
You definitely have some options for rock and everybody really has an opinion in terms of what type of rock and aquascape is best. For this little tank, you could probably get away with just a few pieces of rock right in the middle, maybe even a single piece of rock. I chose the AquaMaxx Eco Rock which runs $26.49 for the 10 lb package which is just enough to fill the center area and still leave room on all sides for water to flow around the aquascape.
After adding sand and rock, our grand total is $275.29 for the entire build less the water and livestock. Pretty impressive and budget friendly for a very functional little reef tank. The last piece to your puzzle is getting some water.
If you have some friends in the hobby, it would not be a bad idea to get some established water from an existing reef tank. Just ask if you can have the dirty water from a friend’s tank during the next water change. Keep in mind this also means you can introduce some unwanted algae or other microorganisms to your tank. Purchasing water from your local fish store means your water should be fairly clean and at the cost of around 1$ per gallon, it is also a very affordable option.
I know the tank is quite small which comes with its own set of challenges but if you do not overstock the aquarium with fish and follow a solid water change schedule once per week, you should have no problem sustaining a couple of fish and a variety of healthy corals. We have an excellent article on our blog all about choosing fish for small aquariums and we provided a link in our video description. Here you will also find direct links to all of the products featured in this video.