10 Gallon Tank & Glass Top
You can get a 10 Gallon tank for $10 during Petco and Petland Discount's dollar per gallon sale(20g=$20, 29g=$29, 40br=$40, 55g=$55). The same cannot be said with the glass top, but a glass top is highly recommended for nano aquariums. Glass tops prevent evaporation which ultimately helps the aquarium from flunctuating salinity levels. You can get a 10 gallon glass versa top online for about $17. We like to remove the black rubber part of the glass top in the middle because it slightly blocks the light from passing through.
NanoAquatic Reef Guide
The smallest tank size we recommend is 10 gallons. The most popular type of fish for nano aquariums, such as gobies, require at least a minimum of 10. Anything below 10 should be kept as a coral and inverts only tank as most fish will experience stunted growth. This occurs not only due to the aquarium size but because of the lack of water quality that nano provides over bigger sized tanks. Below we will guide you with our very own 10 gallon tank. If you choose a different size, we'll adjust and add information accordingly as we go along. We've divided the guide into three sections, 1) Tank Setup, 2) Essentials and
3) Equipments. Those who are considering fish only and fish only with inverts follow the numbers with the blue fish.
OPTIONAL: Remove the bezel
At one point we tried removing the top bezel off the 10 gallon. Though this might be safer and easier for 10 gallons, we do not recommend this for bigger sized tanks. There might be an issue with holding the water so please keep this method to 10 gallon and below. As great as it looks, you will also be battling against evaporation and salinity. For this particular tank we used a box cutter. Whatever method you use, do it at your own risk. Don't cut yourself!
Nano Aquariums do not require sumps but we personally like to add sumps to our setups for the extra biofiltration. By adding a sump we can add more livestock later. Also, sumps are excellent places to hide all your equipments, such as heaters and skimmers(if you decide to keep one). For small aquariums like this 10 gallon we drilled a 3/4" drain and 1/2" for return. Smaller holes makes the draining noise quieter. We got these diamond coated drills for about $20 on Ebay.
Before you start you should make a trip to Home Depot and buy some PVCs, PVC cutter, teflon tape and PVC Glue&Primer. For our setup, we purchased 4x 3/4" pvc pipes, 4x 1/2" pvc pipes, 4x 3/4" 90degree elbows, 3x 1/2" 90degree elbow and 1x 3/4"ball valve. You can get a 1/2" ball valve for the return, but since our return pump has a flow adjuster, we didn't find it necessary to add the valve on the return side. Also picking up an Insert Fitting 1/2" MPT x 1/2" Insert is important if you're planning to use PVC for return. If you aren't going to use PVC for your return and just use tubing, you can exclude the 1/2" PVCs, 1/2" elbows and the 1/2" insert fitting alltogether, just make sure to grab enough 1/2" or 5/8" tubing length that you need. With the PVC for return you would need about a foot or less length of 1/2" or 5/8" tubing. Lastly, you need to purchase acrylic for your baffles. We strongly recommend the .25"(1/2") thick for baffles. Never use the 1/8" as they will have problems holding water. If you're picking up silicone from home depot, make sure it's the one pictured on the left ("Silicone I Clear Waterproof Window/Door/Attic/Basement Permenantly Waterproof 100% Silicone"). Don't forget to pick up the silicone gun and while you're there, might as well pick up a 5 gallon bucket or two if you don't have one. All these should cost you less than $100.
NOTE: If you can't find the Insert Fitting at Home Depot or a hardware store, order them from an online aquatic shop that carries plumbing supplies for aquariums. Also, if you find that the acrylic is too expensive at your local hardware store, try Ebay. Some Home Depot might not carry certain silicones, like the one pictured, so just pick one up at an aquarium store(Marineland Aquarium Sealant). Might want to pick up some tighteners as well(pictured on top right).
3/4" bulkhead should cost about $5.50 and the 1/2" about $5. You can choose between a Double Slip, Standard Threaded or Double Threaded. We normally use the double slip for drain because it's easy to attach the pvc pipe on the back side and you can easily move the strain side to adjust the water level on the front. In order to make the drain you would need a strainer which cost about $1.50. For the return we use slip in the back and threaded on the front because you would need to purchase 1/2" Ball socket x MPT Connector, Ball socket Y Fitting, Ball socket flexible tube and 2x Ball socket flare nozzle. Your finish product should look something like pictured below.
OPTIONAL: Paint the background
For painting our background or even inside the tank(for whatever purpose), we use Krylon Fusion flat black. This particular brand of paint is known to be reef safe. The instructions are simple and even though the paint advertises "dries in 15 minutes of less" we suggest leaving the tank dry for 24 hours before adding any water. You can probably get one can for $12+shipping or six case for $30.
NOTE: If you're going to paint your background, please do so before drilling your tank. Saves you the trouble.
We personally favor the wooden stand over the metal stand but it's all personal preference. The wooden stand we've chosen is the Aqueon Pine Stand(black) which we purchased locally for $100. By removing one side of the top portion(with a rubber hammer) we were able to fit a 5 gallon sump inside the stand. When choosing a furniture stand, make sure it's wood and not composite or compressed wood since those tend to experience surface buffs. If we had to choose a metal stand, Petco's Brooklyn Metal stands are nice but fitting a sump below might be troublesome. The best metal stand we found to fit sumps are sold by drfosterandsmith's "Titan Eze Double Metal Stand." These stands can fit two of the same sized tank top and bottom.
Aqueon Pine Stand Metal Stand Titan Eze Double Metal Stand Manhattan Metal Stand
Obviously the DIY Sump version will be cheaper than the rest. Few acrylic pieces and a 5 gallon tank is just about all you need. Make sure to have the right cutting tools readily available as we used a jig saw to cut ours. Supposedly you can use the plastic sheet cutting tool, but we found no luck with it.
As pictured on the left, we painted our baffles black with the reef safe paint. Make sure to silicone on the side where the water will overflow. We suggest keeping the baffles 1" apart, but ours was kept to 3/4" due to the small size of the sump. All this cost us less than $50. If you don't want to hassle with building your own, you can buy a hang-on back refugium, custom made acrylic sump or a brand name sump. The only brand name sump we know of that can fit underneath a 10 gallon stand like Titan Eze would be NextReef NRS-20 which goes for about $180.
NOTE: You also need a sump light if you're planning to keep marine plants in there such as chaetomorpha, mermaid fans, shaving brush, etc. Any type of light will do, you can even pick up a standard compact flourescent clip-on light fixture at Home Depot for about $7-$15. Set the timer to turn on the sump light once your main tank light is off, don't leave it on for too long.
DIY Sump $50 CPR AquaFuge 2 Hang-on Refugium Small $140 Custom made acrylic sump $180 Oceanic sump
CPR AquaFuge Light 1318 $68.00
OPTIONAL: Bottom drain and return
Some people might prefer drilling the bottom of the tank. One advantage of this method is that you get to hide the ugly pipes in the back. You can paint your drain and return black which will blend pretty well with your background(if you color your background black as well). We've tried this method before, but didn't like it so much because of the fact that it took up extra space in what little we had to work with in the first place.
NOTE: Notice in the picture above we have a live rock wall on the tank? You can try something that by following the method on this link (here).
1 - Tank Setup
Now you are going to need a return pump. To calculate what GPH pump you would need for your setup you can use the return pump calculator at ReefCentral forums (here).
For the rest of us that's confused and scratching our heads because we hate math or don't want to hassle with headaches, our choices should make it easier for you to decide. For our setup that has a 3/4" drain with only one ball valve and a return that's 1/2" with no ball valves and only 4x 90 degree angle eblows to push through, we chose the
Eheim Compact+ 2000 pump 265-528GPH(Controllable) which costs about $90. For those who want to save a little money you can go with the Cobalt Aquatics MJ1200 for about $38. Lastly, those who chose tubing for their return should have sufficient return with a Marineland MJ900 Maxi-Jet Submersible Utility Pump which is rated at 247GPH for $32.
People who are working on tank sizes between 20 to 40 gallons should definitely just go with the Eheim Compact+ 2000 or something similar in GPH. If you drilled a 1" drain and 3/4" return, obviously you setup will require higher GPH. Those that chose these sizes to drill and have tanks above 55 gallons should look into Danner Mag-Drive 7, Eheim 1260 or the Hydor Centrifugal L40. Although 700GPH was too much for our taste since we used EcoTech Vortech for those setups to have enough flow on our main, some people might like the extra return flow. Just make sure your pump isn't returning more water than your drain. If you are still confused, try purchasing a used pump locally to test out what you need so you can easily buy and sell the one that fits your needs.