Aquarium Fish

Saltwater Nano Cube Setup - Nano Reef Tank Aquarium

This article will show you how we set up our 28 Gallon JBJ Nanocube.

Intro to a Nano Cube
This article will show how to setup a saltwater nano cube. The reef tank hobby is growing by leaps and bounds as knowledge spreads and information is freely shared amongst hobbyists. This is a wonderful thing for our hobby. Just a few years ago you would be hard pressed to find some of the more experienced hobbyists recommending small saltwater tanks (nano tanks). The water quality can quickly get out of whack with fluctuating temperatures, dissolved organics, salinity increases via fresh water evaporation, etc. While I think that the old advice of "bigger is better" certainly still holds true, you can still be successful with a Nano Cube Setup. It just takes a careful eye, the willingness to monitor water parameters and be ready to correct them as needed.

A big saltwater reef tank can be very expensive to setup and maintain. The equipment and corals can be extremely expensive as well as your monthly electric bill from running those high powered lighting systems on larger tanks. The nano cube setup lets you "get your feet wet" without destroying your bank account or credit cards. I've been saving up for quite some time now for the ultimate reef tank setup and just couldn't take it any longer. I dipped into the reef tank savings account and purchased a JBJ 28 Gallon Nanocube with the 150 watt HQI Metal Halide. I've seen and read about numerous nano cube setups and the idea of setting one up intrigued me. So, I bit the bullet and satiated my desire for immediate gratification but ultimately prolonged the setup of my dream tank.

About the JBJ 28 Gallon Nanocube
The footprint of this nano cube setup is approximately 18 inches wide, 21 inches tall, and 21 inches deep (front to back). The height measurement does not take into account the potential need to raise the included protein skimmer. It is just the measurement from the bottom of the tank to the top of the closed canopy. So, what all does this baby come with? Here you go:

  • A 150 watt HQI metal halide, Kelvin rating is 14,000 K, with ballast
  • 4 Cooling fans (3000 RPM's) in the canopy (our opinion - it needs more powerful fans, these are not big enough for a totally enclosed hood)
  • 4 blue LED night lights - for night time viewing
  • 2 power heads - Accela power heads (266 gph each / 16w each), would be nice if these were more powerful
  • 2 directional flow nozzles on top right and top left back side of tank
  • Ocean Pulse Duo - Alternating Wave-maker for plugging the power heads into
  • Counter current protein skimmer with air pump and wood diffuser. This is old school, but it does work ok.
  • Center overflow on top middle of back wall that flows into the integrated sump area
  • Filter basket with a handle and sliding door that comes filled with ceramic rings, activated carbon and sponge filter

Nano Cube Setup
Ok, this cube sounds really cool. It gets ordered and shows up a week later. Here's the box:

Nano Cube Reef Tank Box

Here are some photos of this nano cube setup out of the box along with all the equipment it comes with:

Nano Cube Reef Tank Side View Equipment that comes with this nano cube

Photos of the lid, metal halide and moon lights:

Top view of the nano lid
Lid raised with view of metal halide HQI
Closeup view of the metal halide HQI 150 watt bulb
Comes with 4 blue moon light LED
Blue Moon Lights

The Setup
After getting it out of the box, rinsing all the equipment and the cube it gets filled with water to test for leaks.

Testing for leaks

I let everything run on this nano cube setup for a couple of hours just to be on the safe side. So far, so good. At this point I'm realizing how cool this tank looks. From the glitter lines produced by the metal halide to the blue effect from the moon lights to the rounded glass corners. This is a very nice looking tank.

While running the leak test and running the protein skimmer that comes with the nano cube setup kit I'm thinking that there are some things could be improved on. So, off comes the directional flow directors from the water return pumps and they get replaced with Hydor Rotating Deflector. These devices attach to the water outlet and get rotated from the force of the water flowing through them. I've used them in other setups and I really like the way the create turbulent water conditions instead of a one way flow. They do tend to diminish the flow rate. Another reason why I wished that this setup came with higher output power heads for the water return lines to the tank. Still, I like these rotators better than the flow directors that came with the tank.

The second thing that was replaced was the stock protien skimmer that comes with this nanocube. I think it would work ok for this tank, but I had an aquac remora protein skimmer not being used and that will work much better on this setup. Here are some photos of the stock protein skimmer in action:

Protein Skimmer that this cube comes with
Another view of the protein skimmer

Then a few days later I was doing some online shopping for other stuff that I was needing for my other tanks and I kept coming back to this Tunze Nano Protein Skimmer. Now, I'm very happy with the Aquac Remora skimmer, but I've always wondered if there was something even better out there. So, I bit the bullet and got the Tunze Nano protein skimmer. The Tunze is now running on the tank and doing a pretty good job with the benefit of not producing micro-bubbles. Getting ahead of myself, but here are some pics of the Tunze skimmer:

Tunze 9002 Protein Skimmer
Tunze 9002 Protein Skimmer Collection Cup

After draining some of the tank water I slowly added in about 25 pounds of live rock. I knew that I wanted a sloping or layered look to the rock work. I even messed around with making some designs with egg crate fastened into different shapes. It just looked too fake though so I pulled out the egg crate and then just stacked the rock into a slope from back to front with a decent sized flat area in the middle for placing coral frags. Haha! Yeah baby! Who says that I don't know how to make a live rock aquascape look like an Imperial Star Destroyer space ship (Star Wars reference). I can live with it though.

The aragonite sand came next. Slowly, very slowly I used a big ladel to place the sand around the live rock. I ended up going with 20 pounds of sand, probably could have went with less. It's not going to be a nitrate reducing sand bed because it's too shallow. It's just for looks and it will be frequently stirred when sand vacuuming and doing tank maintenance.

Here's what we have now:

Cloudy Nanocube
The cloudiness clears

After letting the tank settle for a week or so and monitoring water test results on a few different ocassions things were looking good, except for the minor hair algae outbreak. Another lesson in patience. When filling the cube with water I used some filtered tap water, not Reverse Osmosis water like I normally use. Doh! Check out the lovely hair algae below.

Minor Hair Algae Outbreak

Aquarium Chiller Needed or at least a fan!
One thing I noticed when running this baby was that the tank temperatures kept rising into the mid to upper 80's °F by mid-day. That is just a bit too high for me. I know reefs are in the low 80's but what I didn't like was the temperature swing from around the mid 70's °F to the mid 80's °F. That is just too much of a swing for my sanity. Well, after running a fan over the back of the tank when the main lights came on for several days the temps did seem to stay in the low 80's °F.

I could have left things alone and been fine with a fan, but I had also gotten a gift certificate to the DrsFostersmith website for Christmas that was burning a hole in my pocket. Next thing I know I have a Mini Arctica Chiller on order. I had not planned on getting a chiller when originally planning this setup. The chiller was a snap to set up and it's been running well. It kicks on whenever the tank gets above 79 °F, lowers the temp to around 77.5 °F and then kicks off. I like having a 1 to 2 degree temp swing versus the 5 - 10 degree swing when running without the chiller.

Not using the filter basket
I knew from the start that I wouldn't be using the filter basket with ceramic rings, sponge filter and activated carbon. If I ever need to run activated carbon I'll use a filter bag and place it in the bottom of the middle compartment overflow intake under the skimmer. It's a very nice little filter basket that slides in and out of the sump area with the attached handle on top. But having live rock and a skimmer kind of negates the need for these filter components. The less stuff I have to remember to change or clean, the better.

On with the show!
After letting the tank settle for a couple of weeks a few small frags from the other tanks made their way into the cube. I added 2 frags of montipora capricornus, some pulsing xenia and some shrooms (green mushrooms -actinodiscus sp.). I'm just testing things out at this point to see how these frags do for a bit and then I'll slowly add more coral frags to the tank. Nanocube parameters are:

  • Specific Gravity: 1.025
  • pH: 8.3 night to 8.4 day
  • Alkalinity: 2.5
  • Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, Phosphate, Silicate all 0 (salifert tests)
  • Magnesium: 1400
  • Temp: 77.5 - 79 °F
  • Calcium: 440
  • dKH: ~ 8
  • Iodine: ~ 0.03 mq/L

Initial Impressions, Things I Like and Things I Don't Like
Overall, this 28 gallon JBJ Nanocube is very nice and I'm glad I bought it. It sits on my desk so it gets lots of viewing time. The rounded corners are very cool and it only breaks up or distorts the angled views slightly. The overflow and attached sump area is nice too. There are 5 separated compartments. Two are for the return lines from the power heads, two more could be used for a heater or similarly sized piece of equipment. The biggest compartment is in the middle under the overflow. This is where the skimmer sits for my setup. The stock skimmer can fit into one of the other compartments if you decide to use the filter basket. Not sure what you'd do with a something like a tunze 9002 skimmer if you were to use the filter basket too... It would most likely require some serious modifications to the back compartment. You don't need to replace the stock skimmer. It should do an ok job but you may have to mess with it (raise and lower it) frequently to get it to skim at peak performance. Also, as mentioned previously, you can run your setup with the filter basket in the middle and then an aquac remora hanging on the back of the sump. Just place the power head for the remora into one of the 2 smaller sized compartments. You will need to remove the pre-filter to the power head to get it to fit.

I'll most likely wind up upgrading the two water pumps to something a bit more powerful if I can find some power heads small enough to fit in those compartments. The wave maker that comes with this setup is a nice touch too, but since I'm running the rotating water flow devices on the water return outputs it's not being used.

I also like the two arms that prop up the canopy so you can get into the tank and clean or place frags, etc. You can get a 90° rotation on the hood. I have to remove the skimmer collection cup to raise the hood though. Not a big deal though since it also has a feeding lid in the front of the canopy that you can use to feed the fish. If you need to target feed inverts or corals you'll need to raise the main hood most likely. It should also be mentioned that you can completely remove the hood if needed.

A replacement for the 150 watt metal halide HQI bulb runs about $40 USD. It will need to be replaced every 9 months to a year. Just something to keep in mind. You also need to keep the protective metal halide covering clean on the canopy so that the most light possible reaches the corals. The 4 blue LED moon lights should last for several years before needing replacement.

The Final Price Tag
I made several changes to my cube that you don't really need to make. You can run with what the stock kit comes with along with the addition of a fan that blows air over the back of the tank. So, a regular setup would run something like the following. Please keep in mind that these are approximations and prices change.

Equipment Price
JBJ 28 Gallon Nanocube w/ 150 HQI $500
Clip-On Fan $15
20 pounds live rock $120
20 pounds aragonite sand $15
Digital Thermometer $10
Algae scraper for glass $10
Total before additions/changes: $670
JBJ Mini Arctica Chiller $340
Tunze Nano Skimmer $150
2 Hydor Flo Deflectors $20
New total with additions/changes: $1180

This price tag is all before adding a single fish or coral to the tank. I thought it would be helpful for those planning a similar setup. If you are starting completely from scratch you will also need test kits and various other equipment. Check out the Saltwater Versus Freshwater Aquarium for more prices and comparisons between the setups.

What the Future Holds
I'd like to really take my time and slowly grow out this reef tank. I'd like to have various mushroom species along the bottom of the live rock and grow some LPS and SPS toward the top of the tank. The only softies I plan on having are the xenia for now. They may get pulled out though.

A hang on the back of the sump or plumbed inline refugium is also being planned. Although I'm also looking into having one large refugium to feed both this tank and a 55 gallon reef tank. Don't know yet, but it will be fun that is for sure.

This is a really nice tank that comes with a very nice metal halide that may allow you to grow some of the hardier LPS and SPS if placed appropriately. All the other pieces of equipment it comes with are nice too and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this nanocube to a friend. Check the DFS website because they sometimes run promotions where they include a free stand with this nanocube setup kit. I didn't get the stand free. It sits on my desk anyway.

More Nano Cube Photos

Front view of nanocube
Ripple Effect - Hard to Capture with camera
Nano cube right side view
Left side view of nano
Live Rock
Montipora Capricornus
Pulsing Xenia, with some Aiptasia and Monti Cap
Mushroom Coral

Comments and Tips
From: Guest
I came across your article today and WOW... loved it. First of all, I did what you did and put the turn heads on the water returns so that let me take out the two power heads I had running in the tank! I am NEW (can you tell) to saltwater and the nano world but your article allowed me to do a few things that I have been trying to figure out since I setup my tank. Thanks again!

From: Aaron
I like your tips for this tank. I'm thinking of doing the same thing you did when I get this nano tank. Got any new pictures to share of your tank. What kind of soft corals and fish do you suggest.
Thanks Aaron. This is a good tank and well over a year later I'm still quite happy with it. The only negative I can think of is while the curved corners make the views nice, it can be somewhat of a chore to scrape the coralline algae when it gets in the rounded front corners. Other than that though, it's a breeze to maintain. Get one of the mag floats so you can clean the glass every other day or so to prevent any coralline from growing in the corners. I'll try to get some new pictures up soon.

From: Feng
Thanks for the detailed article. I have just purchased a JBJ 28 G Nano. I'm in the market for a skimmer, though. Did you have to make any modifications to the Tunze Nano Protein Skimmer? Looking at the dimensions of the filter column, I through the Tunze was a little too wide?
The Tunze Nano 9002 fit into the middle compartment in the sump area. I did have to trim a small piece off the back of the lid in the middle where the overflow is located so that the collection cup would sit correctly. Check out the Hydor Slim Skim Nano too. I've heard a few good things about it but can't vouch myself for it...not sure how good it is yet. Need to get my hands on one to review it.

Author : Mike FishLore

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