Ep.6 - Big Tanks, what’s the right size & shape for an epic multi-hundred gallon reef tank? | BRS360
After 6 months of contemplating the size and shape of his new tank, Ryan is ready to share the entire form factor he came up with for the BRS360.
One thing to keep in mind when choosing the right size tank is to avoid things you might regret, think through every decision and learn from those who came before you. Thankfully, the reefing community is a great place to reach out and gain knowledge from hobbyists who have the experience. Doing it right the first time is going to be a lot cheaper than upgrading or the cost of regret.
So that’s the challenge we are solving today, no regrets, at least in terms of size and shape. The lessons learned from past tank builds will be invaluable and when combined with knowledge gained from others, the vision for a specific size and shape becomes much more clear.
Learn from your own mistakes
The very first tank Ryan built was a 90-gallon tank and stepping up to a 120 gallon only adds 6” more inches of depth front to back. The same wall space but more room for a better aquascape, coral growth, and a wider variety of suitable fish options. It can be supported with pretty much the same exact equipment and the only additional cost is really just a few hundred dollars for the larger tank.
A few things were realized after building the 120-gallon rimless Clownfish Harem Tank. First, the tank was made of ⅜” glass which is too thin for a rimless tank of this size so it ended up with a pretty serious bow on the front pane of glass. It continued to be a safety concern inside the BRS studios which was largely the reason it was taken down and turned into a waterless terrarium.
Using thicker glass, shorter dimension or even a euro brace are all suitable ways to cure the bow. In hindsight, a six-foot long 180-gallon tank would have been more ideal, even with the additional costs involved. Just because it would give more travel area for the fish community and even better management of community aggression.
A similar lesson was learned with the BRS160. Felix at Reef Savvy is what I would call a more conservative tank maker, bowing panels and nonsense like that is off the table. Part of having standards means honest feedback even if the customer doesn't want to hear it. In this case, he warned us that with this glass thickness and size, we should only go 20” tall if wanted to avoid the bowing without euro bracing.
Ryan listened and the BRS160 is a sharp looking tank, however, the issue with 20” high SPS tanks is the corals reach the top rather fast and outgrow the tank. We also exacerbated that issue by making the aquascape too high on one side.
If the plan is going to be SPS corals, the aquascape should never rise above halfway.
The upper void can be painful for the first 12-24 months as the corals grow and fill in space but it will ultimately grow into a healthier and more natural-looking formation thereafter.
In this case, the thicker glass, euro brace or even a shorter dimension would be worth the additional height for SPS growth. The 20” is working for now but will become more challenging with time as the corals become even thicker.
Learn from the mistakes of others
Amongst the community of seasoned reefers, there are some generally agreed upon rules or facts that once realized, will definitely help you avoid making some regrettable decisions with a new tank build.
Most reefers in the market for a large tank consider the value of having a tank that is taller than 24”. Taller tanks sit more naturally at eye level without the need for an awkwardly tall tank stand. The extra height means your fish can enjoy more natural swimming patterns with the ability to go up and down as well as side to side. The overall roomier interior also gives you more space for dynamic aquascapes and better coral real estate.
Having said that, anything taller than +/- 28” often comes with regrets because most people’s arms are no longer than 30” and it becomes difficult to keep the glass clean. Anything beyond 30” takes much more effort to maintain which means most people will neglect it.
The few extra inches in height also require thicker glass, more euro bracing and even cross bracing so although it is uber impressive to peer into a 30”+ tall reef tank, it’s wise to consider the fact it will be difficult to clean and likely often hard to view through a thick layer of algae.
The same case applies with depth or front to back dimension. Reef tanks that are 30”, 36, and even 48” are a reefer's dream because you can create visually intricate aquascapes with plenty of room for natural coral growth and your fish can swim on a completely different axis. The catch is maintenance difficulty scales with size, the taller and deeper you go the harder it is to reach every corner of the tank.
When it comes to length, most would agree the longer the better to a point in which weight becomes a concern. Every 100 gallons will equal about 1000 pounds of total weight which weighs in over a US ton for just 200 gallons.
With all this in mind, you can see why the standard 120 and 180-gallon tanks are so popular among reefers. They are 24” tall and 24” deep which means they are easy to keep clean and are also within a reasonable weight for most households.
Helpful hint - Framing out a true to size mock-up of your tank idea using PVC fittings is a clever way to test arm length, simulate maintenance needs, evaluate viewing angles and get a general feel for what the tank will look like in your home. For about $30 bucks, this could very well save you from making a mistake you will regret for a long time to come. This is exactly what Ryan has done.
”Great dreams bring great challenge” - Ryan Batchellor
Without the great challenges, dreams would not be dreams at all so dream big, accept the challenge and conquer it!
BRS360 Tank Dimensions
The BRS360 is going to be 67” long x 47” wide x 26.5” tall and slightly over 360 gallons in total volume. Ryan is the first to admit these are somewhat odd or atypical dimensions but there are very specific reasons for all of those numbers.
First and foremost is Ryan has always dreamed of having a look through peninsula type aquarium. This is merely a personal preference but personal desires are important when taking on a project like this. After all the tank is in YOUR home and YOU will be the one staring at the tank a majority of the time.
Peninsula or look-through type aquariums are often used to separate areas of a room and if put together with careful thought, the results are stunning. When looking through you get this artificial sense of depth and with two long sides to work with, you can create two different aquascapes for a different experience on either side.
Peninsulas can be easier to clean in some ways because they can be accessed from both sides and there should not be any rock work against the glass that will get in the way but this also means twice the amount of glass to keep clean.
Many people prefer a black background and don’t want to see through to the room on the other side. Flow and cord management with peninsulas are also a bit more challenging. There are always trade-offs and in this case, Ryan has accepted them to achieve his dream tank.
The front to back depth of 47” is almost 4ft and was chosen only because of the access gained from both sides by going with the peninsula shape. The fish will have access to swim in almost any direction they want and Ryan can create far more interesting and conceptual type aquascapes including ledges, caves, islands, overhangs, arches, valleys, and so much more are possible.
The height of 26.5” was chosen based on the direction of Felix at Reef Savvy which is essentially the tallest tank he will build without additional bracing on top to prevent bowing. This additional bracing blocks light and otherwise causes difficulties with access for reef tanks.
Why 67” long or about five and a half feet? It’s all about lighting. Unless something new materializes in the next few months, the BRS360 is almost certainly going to be lit with a T5/LED hybrid solution. Ryan has said it before, hybrid lighting works best based on his past experiences and also what 99% of his reefing mentors are using.
As of now, the plan is going to be Kessil A360X pendants in conjunction with 5 foot long 80 watt T5 bulbs. This leaves an extra 3” on either end for the endcaps, wiring and hood installation.
Lastly, since we are sharing this tank with the world via BRStv, Ryan simply likes the sound of a 360. It is twice as big as the 160, a true upgrade, and really embraces the nature of bringing it full circle, 360 degrees. From the very first tank in his basement over a decade ago, taking everything we have learned since and applying it to this dream tank build that will ultimately be in his home for the next 10 to 20 years.
For the complimenting BRS360 LIVE discussion we invited Victor Fornari to join us who is one of the founders of World Wide Corals and also the lead organizer of the largest reefing tradeshow circuit, Reefapalooza.
Victor has produced or been part of more large dream style tanks than most of us combined. We can say one thing for sure, every last person tuning in will learn something new or see the vision behind the ideas so be sure to check it out.