How much is a calcium reactor vs two part dosing. Is it worth putting on a reef tank? Reef FAQ
Deciding whether or not to use a calcium reactor will boil down to the complexity of using it, the cost and whether or not it is worth it for you.
We already gave you an A-Z rundown of how to easily set-up and operate a calcium reactor in our REEF FAQs video Calcium reactor setup - The easy way for your reef aquarium. In a nutshell, thanks to modern technology and the right equipment almost any reefer can easily set-up and operate a calcium reactor.
So that just leaves two more questions on the table.
When will the additional cost of using a calcium reactor pay off compared to using two-part solution and is a reactor the right solution for you and your tank?
Is it worth it?
Different reefers value different things, everyone has a different demand in their tank, budget, knowledge set, available space and general idea of what makes this an enjoyable hobby.
Instead of giving you a summary of all of our opinions here at BRS and pretending that the most expensive option is always best, we are giving you the facts and advantages of using a reactor and will then let you determine whether or not a calcium reactor will be your best option for maintaining calcium and alkalinity levels in your reef tank.
Based on our experience, here are the 5 major advantages of using a calcium reactor.
1. With large aquariums or situations in which you have an extremely high demand for calcium and alkalinity, calcium reactors are a much more economical solution.
2. Calcium Reactors don’t contribute to elevated salinity like salt based two-part solutions. On super high demand tanks or tanks with minimal water changes, salinity increase from using two-part solution can be an issue and a calcium reactor will not have this effect.
3. Along with calcium and carbonates, calcium reactors also add strontium and other desirable elements at the same ratio corals uptake them.
4. There is certainly a cool factor and reciprocal green element to the fact that you are melting old dead coral skeleton to regenerate new coral.
5. Your a gear junkie and calcium reactors are awesome! Keeping reef tanks is a hobby and for many of us, part of what makes a hobby fun is the gear.
There certainly may be other reasons you might value or devalue using a calcium reactor over what we listed above. The automation aspect and eliminating the need for daily dosing, what about mixing up your two-part solutions? Is this a process you enjoy?
The point is, consider everything before making your decision and it isn’t just about the numbers.
How much does a budget calcium reactor cost?
With all that in mind, we realize cost is always going to be part of the equation and how much weight it has is really up to the individual.
On the lower end with the bare minimum calcium reactor set-up, you are going to be into this for at-least $500. This lower cost approach assumes you are willing to do some manual adjusting of bubble count and the flow rates as well as deal with the related learning curves.
This is the point where the general long term costs of two-part dosing vs. using a calcium reactor debate begins.
Is it more expensive to buy two-part solution or the Carbon Dioxide and calcium reactor media?
This really depends on what two-part solution you are using, all of them have different costs which we thoroughly documented in our recent BRStv Investigates Video 2-part dosing your reef tank. What does it actually cost each month?
When you add up the monthly cost of BRS Pharma two-part along with a pair of $80 dosing pumps, it would take about 8 years to hit the $500 we estimated for a very basic calcium reactor set-up. Simply not a realistic return.
Even at double the tank size and double the consumption, the pay off is probably still at about 3+ years when you factor in the additional costs of CO2, calcium reactor media and replacement parts.
If you are using the more expensive and comprehensive two-part solutions at the rate of around $30+ per month, things start to make more sense. The return could come in as little as 18 months on that same 100 gallon tank with a 1 dKH per day consumption rate.
Double the tank size and consumption rate and you could see a calcium reactor pay for itself in as little as 6 months.
The only hitch here is that if cost is your biggest concern, it is very unlikely you are using the most expensive two-part solution. Those folks using the higher end two-part solutions are likely those looking for the best solution possible without as much regard to the costs.
How much does an automated calcium reactor cost?
In that spirit, let’s take into account the additional equipment that can automate and make running a calcium reactor easy so anyone can do it with no meaningful learning curve.
The benefits of a ph controller, stable concentration of the effluent and a continuous duty peristaltic feed pump makes a calcium reactor about as easy as dosing two-part. Simply turn the knob and dose a bit faster from the reactor to accommodate rising demand and vise versa.
So the net of this higher end and easy calcium reactor set-up can be in excess of $1400. The reason so many calcium reactor owners choose this route is because it is way easier and far more reliable compared to the budget approach for around $500.
If you are willing to make that kind of investment, there is a good chance you are using one of the more expensive two-parts. With a 100 gallon tank and 1 dKH per day consumption you are probably looking at a return on investment around 4-5 years based on initial costs but probably closer 6 years when gear replacement is factored in.
If you have or will have a higher consumption tank or something significantly larger than 100 gallons, you might see that pay off drop to 2-3 years but there are obviously a lot of moving pieces including the type of two-part you are using.
Is a calcium reactor worth the investment?
For the average reefer with a normal sized tank and affordable 2-part solution like BRS Bulk Pharma, there isn't a meaningful return on investment.
On the contrary, a calcium reactor can absolutely be a solid financial investment if you are in one of three common situations.
1. You have a very large or high consumption tank
2. You are using high-end expensive two-part solution
3. Willing to accept the fairly long return horizons.
Furthermore, if your a gear junkie and have the budget to support it, a calcium reactor is well worth the costs. We all work hard so we have a few bucks to spend on the things we enjoy.
If your ready to make the leap into a calcium reactor, check out our playlist full of of our best Calcium Reactor set-up and tuning videos.