Budget Nano Reef Cube Tank Setup

45cm cube with unique overhead sump setup
45cm cube with unique overhead sump setup

This page is actually written for people from the freshwater side who are siding on the fence whether to go into the saltwater side. A lot of us freshwater hobbyists were reluctant to venture into the saltwater side because failure can be expensive.

So before you venture on your own to the saltwater side, this page can serve as your reference.

The big day has arrived and I was all set to set up my first ever marine tank. It would be a FOWLR setup, and then when I’ve done enough research on corals would I then convert it to a full reef tank. Well, at least that is the plan for now.

Equipment List

Remember, what I am trying to achieve here is to spend as little money as possible for a reef tank. It seems like most of the items I used for planted tank cannot be used here. Arrrg.

TankANS OPTICLEAR Tank 45C (45cm X 45cm X 45cm)
FiltrationSingle chamber acrylic overhead sump tank.
Protein SkimmerBubble Magus QQ1 HOB Skimmer
Surface SkimmerEheim Skim350
LightsChihiros A-Series for marine reef tank
CoolingBoyu FS-120A Cooling fan
Wave PumpSun Sun Wave Maker JVP110
Wave MakerJebao SW-2 Wave Maker
Up flow pump900L/hr power head
ATO SystemAuto watering timer for gardening
Marine SaltRed Sea Salt 4kg

Of the above list, the only item that I could bring over from my planted tank setup was the tank itself. Other than that everything else I had to purchase new. ?

Of the above list, the most expensive item I had to spend was the REVOREEF 3DM Reef-rock. It cost an average of $15/kg. ?

Equipment Budgeting / Cost

ItemCostPurchase LinkShipping
Single chamber acrylic overhead sump tank. US20NANA
Bubble Magus QQ1 HOB Skimmer 110/220VUS74AliExpressFree
Eheim Skim350US26AliExpressFree
Chihiros A-Series for marine reef tankUS55AliExpressFree
Boyu FS-120A Cooling fan 220VUS16AliExpressFree
Sun Sun Wave Maker JVP110 220V
Sun Sun Wave Maker JVP110 110V
Jebao SW-2 Wave Maker 110~240VUS38AliExpressFree
Generic PowerheadUS7NANA
Auto watering timer for gardeningUS17NANA
Red Sea Salt 4kgUS10NANA

So the total cost for a basic budget nano marine tank setup is about US385!!! And that’s using back my 45cm cube tank. If would have been much higher if you are going to buy a brand new marine tank.

See also  Over head Sump Tank


We are not talking about the cost of fishes and corals!

Step 1 – Disinfecting and setting up

Assuming you have gotten yourself a new tank, otherwise I hope you had a great time cleaning the old tank setup. I spend an entire day removing substrate from the previous setup and bleaching the tank.

It is perfectly safe to bleach the tank! Do not use detergent. There are plenty of people giving out formula on bleach to water ratio. For me, I emptied 2 litres of bleach and fill up this 100 litre tank. You can tell if there’s bleach in the water by smelling on the residue on your hand.

To remove the bleach later on, simply use your usual chlorine neutraliser like the Seachem Prime/Safe. I use Safe as it is only a fraction of the cost of Prime, but it is in powder form.

Steps to neutralise the bleach

  1. Empty the water from the tank just like you are performing a water change.
  2. Fill the tank up with water again to the brim!
  3. Pour in 10x the strength of the chlorine neutraliser.
  4. Place a powerhead or water pump in to aid water circulation.
  5. Smell the water for any sign of chlorine.
  6. Keep adding the chlorine neutraliser until the smell of chlorine is gone.
  7. Let the water sit a couple of hours.
  8. Repeat the process one more time.

If this is your first aquarium I strongly advice you to buy a strong cabinet or stand because it will not be possible to replace them later on should you find your cabinet rotting or warping. Also you will need to get one of those sponge matt to equalise the pressure between the tank and your cabinet/table surface.

See also  Marine Tank Cycling Log

Next I relocated the power sockets to a higher location. Previously it was lying on the floor! ? This is important!

And I bought a roll of velcro cable strap to help with cable management. For 5 METERs of velcro strap for just USD5! A meter cost about USD3 though.

Step 2 – Fill up and leak observation

My next step was to fill it up with water, put in overdose of Seachem Safe (Prime is the same except Safe is in powder form and much cheaper if you have multiple aquariums).

I left the water to sit for 24 hours and turn on all pumps and wave maker to test for leaks which may have developed during the cleaning process. It is also a good practice to ensure whatever chlorine you used to disinfect the tank can be neutralised.

Immediately, I identified a severe problem with my overhead sump. The downflow pipe is creating A LOT of bubbles. This is due to either the upward pump is under rated or the down flow is excessive.

For now, I would prefer to stick with the up flow rate and reduce the down flow rate. To do that, I simply place a L pipe into the sunk hole and wah lah! No more bubble!

Updates: Ditch the media rings! They will impede your liverocks by creating a competition for beneficial bacterias with your liverocks. You can read more here about liverocks and media rings for marine tank. 

Step 3 – Salt Mixing

For me, since this was an empty tank, I could fill it with water first then add the salt mix. You CANNOT do that after setup. Always pre-mix your water first before adding to your tank.

I found out that in a marine tank you need a specific gravity (SG)of between 1.020 ~ 1.025. It was reported in multiple forums that most LFS uses 1.020, but ideally you should have SG as close to natural sea water which is 1.025

When I started out my research I was confused between Specific Gravity (SG) with Salinity. I thought Salinity means SG. But they are not the same thing. And it is very apparent that alot of people interchange the two frequently in online forums.

Salinity is the measurement of salt content compared the the weight of water. It is a weight:weight ratio expressed in parts per thousand (ppt)

Specific Gravity on the other hand does not measure weight:weight ratio. It measures weight:volume ratio, or density.

You can google it up.

To put into perspective:

My tank water has a temperature of 27.5 degrees. It's specific gravity is about 1.024. As such, by using a reference table to look up, my tank water has a salinity of 36.3 ppt.

I started pouring a 4kg bag of salt mix slowly initially into the tank water. At the same time I had my wave pump working. This will aid the dissolving of the salt.

See also  24/7 CO2 Injection + Air Stone

After 15 minutes of slow pouring the salt and measuring I discovered that the SG hardly moved. WTF? I poured half the bag into the tank out of frustration. And then the SG starts to move.

In fact, I almost emptied the entire 4kg in order to get 1.025!!! That’s how much salt is needed! And gosh I never knew water could dissolve THAT much salt!

From here onwards, water change is gonna cost a bit more money! And did I mentioned that saltwater is messy and sticky? Gosh.

Step 4 – Rocks and Substrate

I have decided to use REVOREEF® 3DM REEF-ROCK and reef sand for my very first setup.

After reading and reading, it seems Live Rocks are just pieces of rocks which have BBs living in it already. It’s like asking a friend for bio-media from their established tank to help expedite your cycling process.

And we all know that bio-media from established tank will bring with them diseases, snails, and what have you.

And the quality of the live rocks also depends on the LFS internal procedure of processing these live rocks which was taken from the sea. Some LFS will go through a meticulous procedures to “cure” and quarantine these live rocks. Others merely do a sea-to-tank transfer without any form of “cleaning”.

So I went with artificial rocks. Clean and clinical.

And man, these rocks are EXPENSIVE!!! In freshwater, bio-media is cheap, in the sense you probably need to spend less than $10 for a bunch of ceramic rings and you can have a tank running. In marine, these live rocks are going at a rate of $20/kg. And these REVOREEF rocks cost me more than $120 for 8kg!

In marine tank, live rocks is your bio-media. It is important that you have sufficient live rocks in your tank, and ensure you move as much water around the live rocks so ammonia and nitrite can be fed to these live rocks for processing.

1kg per 10 liters

live rocks:water ratio

And that’s it! The tank is setup and ready for cycling!

I started with 3 dry rocks but later added more.

More Updates

I have since stopped using the overhead sump, for now, due my poor plumbing skills.

Long story short. The piping was not secured and salt water was shot into the air on the the floor, lights, fans, and worse onto the power sockets causing an electrical fire ?

Check out my new setup here!