20 Gallon Saltwater Nano Reef Tank

Thedudeiam94

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Well it’s official! I will be SLOWLY making my way into the salty side. I have had a 20 gallon long tank setting empty for a few months now that I have kept it at my grandmothers house because we didn’t have any extra room with all the new baby stuff. While we were there visiting so she could see our new baby, I asked my girlfriend if I could bring the tank home finally and to my surprise she actually approved! So without hesitation I ran down the stairs, grabbed the tank and hauled it carefully to car and buckled it into the front seat. I was planning on buying the things I will be needing for this journey one piece at a time so here is where you guys and gals come in! My first thought on filtration would have been an aquaclear 70. However I have recently been told that it’s possible to run a 20 gallon on a Chaeto reactor. If anyone can give any insight on exactly what filtration I should have please feel free to jump in! I’m new to saltwater which means this will be a slow learning experience for me. I want to be as informed as possible! Right now stocking is only going to be 2 snowflake clownfish, a cleaner shrimp and some cleaner snails only, slowly working my way into a nano reef tank. I do not intend on adding other fish later. Also can you all help me learn the new salty terms you use and the abbreviations using () in your responses so I can learn those also! Lol thanks!
 
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Lchi87

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Congratulations on the baby and also on beginning your saltwater journey!!

A 20 long is a great starting size too! Were you interested in coral or just FOWLR ( fish only with live rock )

I think an AC70 should work also could potentially grow chaeto if you modified it a bit to be like an external refugium. Take note that your cycle is held in your live rock though and not so much in your filter media, like freshwater. You’ll also need a powerhead to create some flow thru the tank.

Have you thought of your water source yet? Lfs will sell them but its much easier and cost effective to mix your own .
 
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Thedudeiam94

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Congratulations on the baby and also on beginning your saltwater journey!!

A 20 long is a great starting size too! Were you interested in coral or just FOWLR ( fish only with live rock )

I think an AC70 should work also could potentially grow chaeto if you modified it a bit to be like an external refugium. Take note that your cycle is held in your live rock though and not so much in your filter media, like freshwater. You’ll also need a powerhead to create some flow thru the tank.

Have you thought of your water source yet? Lfs will sell them but its much easier and cost effective to mix your own .
I am very interested in corals mostly soft but that won’t come in until later on in my adventure! Also I will be planning on one or 2 wave makers depending on where I place the hob (which will most likely be on one end of the tank and use the wave maker of the opposite to get good circulation. Is it possible to run a 20 long on a Chaeto reactor? I was recently told by someone that if they had a 20 long they would us a Chaeto reactor for the filtration. I will be making the water myself. Will have a ro/di unit to use only when spring water changes. But will just be using treated tap water until then and hoping that 1694] i don’t end up being overrun with algae before I can get the unit. Will possibly use distilled water to top off. If that’s right?
 

Lchi87

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I am very interested in corals mostly soft but that won’t come in until later on in my adventure! Also I will be planning on one or 2 wave makers depending on where I place the hob (which will most likely be on one end of the tank and use the wave maker of the opposite to get good circulation. Is it possible to run a 20 long on a Chaeto reactor? I was recently told by someone that if they had a 20 long they would us a Chaeto reactor for the filtration. I will be making the water myself. Will have a ro/di unit to use only when spring water changes. But will just be using treated tap water until then and hoping that
emoji1694.png
i don’t end up being overrun with algae before I can get the unit. Will possibly use distilled water to top off. If that’s right?
You can definitely run a chaeto reactor but it isn't quite "filtration" in the traditional sense of the word. People use chaeto in the salty world as nutrient export to keep their nitrates down but it isn't technically a "must" in terms of running a reef tank. Also, running it in a reactor isn't necessary either, some people like myself have grown chaeto in their HOBs but totally up to you. I like to advise beginners to keep their first setup simple since the learning curve is a little steep if you don't have your head totally wrapped around everything. Nitrates can easily be controlled by not overfeeding and regular water changes also!

In terms of water, I highly encourage you to pickup a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter so you can decide whether or not the quality of your water is adequate. Your water before mixing in salt should read 0 TDS. Distilled water isn't the worst but I'd definitely advise against tap. Hoping that pest algae won't take hold isn't the only issue that presents itself when using less than ideal water as there is a whole bunch of other contaminants that can be found in tap that will cause trouble for your potential reef. Remember that live rock is porous, so whatever is in your water will get sucked up by your rock too so its best to start with good water.

I didn't invest in an RODI unit right away and bought my RO and saltwater premixed from the LFS and I sincerely regret not doing it sooner. It was a huge waste of money and lugging jugs back and forth got old very, very quickly. The other risk you run is not knowing the quality of the water itself. Your LFS might not be as good with maintaining their RODI unit which results in less than pure water.

It will be up to you to decide whether these risks are worth taking but at least IME, its much easier prevent problems, then have to backtrack and fix it later.

Your placement of the powerhead/wave maker sound good to me; you may want to read thru @stella1979 's thread as she has the same tank as you with a thriving reef She talks about her equipment and setup in great detail as well so it should be a great resource for you as you start out. The stickies in the salty beginners forum are a great read too!
 
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Thedudeiam94

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You can definitely run a chaeto reactor but it isn't quite "filtration" in the traditional sense of the word. People use chaeto in the salty world as nutrient export to keep their nitrates down but it isn't technically a "must" in terms of running a reef tank. Also, running it in a reactor isn't necessary either, some people like myself have grown chaeto in their HOBs but totally up to you. I like to advise beginners to keep their first setup simple since the learning curve is a little steep if you don't have your head totally wrapped around everything. Nitrates can easily be controlled by not overfeeding and regular water changes also!

In terms of water, I highly encourage you to pickup a TDS (total dissolved solids) meter so you can decide whether or not the quality of your water is adequate. Your water before mixing in salt should read 0 TDS. Distilled water isn't the worst but I'd definitely advise against tap. Hoping that pest algae won't take hold isn't the only issue that presents itself when using less than ideal water as there is a whole bunch of other contaminants that can be found in tap that will cause trouble for your potential reef. Remember that live rock is porous, so whatever is in your water will get sucked up by your rock too so its best to start with good water.

I didn't invest in an RODI unit right away and bought my RO and saltwater premixed from the LFS and I sincerely regret not doing it sooner. It was a huge waste of money and lugging jugs back and forth got old very, very quickly. The other risk you run is not knowing the quality of the water itself. Your LFS might not be as good with maintaining their RODI unit which results in less than pure water.

It will be up to you to decide whether these risks are worth taking but at least IME, its much easier prevent problems, then have to backtrack and fix it later.

Your placement of the powerhead/wave maker sound good to me; you may want to read thru @stella1979 's thread as she has the same tank as you with a thriving reef She talks about her equipment and setup in great detail as well so it should be a great resource for you as you start out. The stickies in the salty beginners forum are a great read too!
Could you send me a link to her thread? Also I plan to get an rodi unit ASAP. And will be getting a tds meter also. I have a list of things I will be purchasing over the next couple months. I intend on running an aqua clear 70 along with the Chaeto and a wave maker.
 

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YAY!!! I'm so glad you're making a dream come true and bonus... at the most WONDERFUL time life brings too! BIG, HUGE, ENORMOUS CONGRATULATIONS to the new Daddy and Mommy and heartfelt best wishes to your baby boy. My first is nearly 13 but I remember those incredible early days with him... especially since his little sister turns 7 this day.

Okay, so, on to business.

We like having the AC70 on the little reef because, unlike a reactor for chaeto (or whatever) alone, the HOB provides a place for all stages of filtration, (mechanical, biological, and chemical). With a fairly simple mod, our AC70 has a slim place for a filter pad, half the remainder of the box dedicated to media (containing Matrix and Chemipure Elite), and the upper half of that same box holds a fairly good-sized nest of chaeto. Whatever goes in the box... well, that's the very point, whatever can go in the box. The Matrix biomedia is just there, just in case, but I do know that the bulk of the tank's cycle is within the tank... know if for a fact after a week-long power outage damaged/killed cycles in other tanks but not in the reef. This is because we had to decide which of 4 tanks needed the one power source we could provide the most and that was definitely the reef. One powerhead kept water moving in the reef and this provided flow and oxygenation for that tank's inhabitants and cycle. Anyway, point is, the reef tank's biomedia is not necessary, but it sure is good to have around to quickly cycle a qt and/or help to keep that tank safe in the event of removing the rocks for whatever reason... a rescape, a move, whatever.

The chaeto sits right at the top of the AC70, which is lidless because a plant light hangs over the HOB to light the chaeto at night time. Lastly on reactors... well, what do I know but I have seen more than one Fishlore buddy buy or make a DIY chaeto reactor and sometime later decide that it either wasn't doing the job or wasn't easy enough to maintain... in other words, I've seen a few regret chaeto reactors and then it either goes in storage in favor of another nutrient reduction method, or, modified to hold nutrient reduction media... meaning, they took out the chaeto and used GFO instead, (GFO is granular ferric oxide, looks kinda like carbon, and absorbs PO4/phosphates so lowers PO4 in the water column.) So again, my HOB contains unneeded but handy biomedia, Chemipure Elite (a granular nutrient reduction + water clarifier + purifier product which contains GFO, among other things), and the HOB itself is also a refugium because it contains growing chaeto. Because the HOB can handle all these things, it was and is our choice on the 20g long. It's kinda big and we don't love the intake tube but, for us, the positives outweigh the negatives.

Okay, so, that got longer than I planned. Gotta jet because there's a triple layer 10-inch bday cake to be put together and I was only supposed to check in quickly here while my mixing bowl chilled in the freezer so I can whip up some cream. I'm glad I finally posted and am now subscribed to the new build thread though... because I'm excited! Next time, let's talk RODI units and reef lights... eek, I know... lights are pricey but my view is, one of the biggest mistakes a reefer can make is buying a not cheap but underpowered light. This leaves them with high chances of making one of our own biggest mistakes, and that was, buying lighting a second time only one year in.:banghead:
 
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Thedudeiam94

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Okay so I’ve purchased the aquaclear 70 today. It will be used as the housing unit for the Chaeto as stated above. Why waste money when the hob will get the job done? Right? I also purchased 20 lbs of am/md live rock from a good friend of mine Tyler Johnson @ addictivereefkeeping.com which is where I also purchased my cup of Chaeto from. After chatting with Tyler and explaining that this will be my first run with saltwater and how excited I was to be able to have this experience he just so happened to have an extra clip on light for Chaeto with red and blue led! I have also purchased the ehiem jager 200w adjustable heater “shatter resistant” hopefully (more than enough for a 20 gallon I know) because they were actually cheaper than the 150w by fluval that I was going to purchase which was metal. I also bought a 50 gallon bag of the instant ocean sea salt. I will get my refractometer and wave maker off of amazon the wave maker will be the current USA 6004 660 GPH which comes with a pre filter to wrap around it. I will later invest into a RODI unit along with a lighting system along with a tank lid. For sand I would like to know if the Arag-alive Bahamas oolite is good or should I go with the regular Arag-alive crushed coral live sand? I prefer the finer grain sand but I would like to hear someone else’s thoughts about substrate..

I will more than likely buy the gallons of distilled water from Walmart until I can afford a decent RODI unit. So that will probably be the last thing I purchase. Even though we all know it’s never the “last” purchase. But you all know what I mean! Lol after I get the refractometer,sand,wave-maker, and saltwater test kit (which will be my next shopping experience) I will be getting a lid for sure (want as little evaporation as possible until I can get the RODI) Then a good light. Maybe the current USA orbit to go along with the wave maker? They would both be programmable? Not sure haven’t quite decided but that will be a conversation to discuss a little later.
 
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Magicpenny75

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ooooooooo...20 longs are so fun.
I haven't seen a single thing mentioned in previous posts that I could disagree with...
My only reservation about your plan so far is the AC70 plus a 660 GPH powerhead is going to make some kind of wicked current in your tank. Unlike our FW filters, most wavemaker pumps actually move close to the amount of water they advertise. So you're looking at something like 60X turnover. 10-20 will do for most tanks.
Oolite will work but it will probably blow around a lot with all that flow.
I recommend the RO Buddie. It's inexpensive, will make enough water for that size tank, and you can add DI (Deionization) resin later if you get into more demanding stuff like SPS (small polyp stony, aka hard coral).
I know the RODI water doesn't seem that important...but when you get your first algae bloom or god-forbid cyano...don't learn that one the hard way like I did!
OK so I'll get off that soap box.
Here's one thing someone told me that I had to remind myself through the set up and tear down of several tanks of all sizes over seven years of reefing: Your tank will go through algae stages when you set it up. It's going to happen, it's normal, and it will pass. Stage one: brown (diatoms) Stage two: Green (possibly hair algae, which can be avoided mostly with RODI instead of ???water) Stage three: red and purple...coralline...this is the good stuff.
Also congrats on the babyyyyy and also clowns are awesome and good job on the conservative stocking plans. Can't wait to see updates.
Oh...don't buy cheap lights.
 
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Thedudeiam94

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ooooooooo...20 longs are so fun.
I haven't seen a single thing mentioned in previous posts that I could disagree with...
My only reservation about your plan so far is the AC70 plus a 660 GPH powerhead is going to make some kind of wicked current in your tank. Unlike our FW filters, most wavemaker pumps actually move close to the amount of water they advertise. So you're looking at something like 60X turnover. 10-20 will do for most tanks.
Oolite will work but it will probably blow around a lot with all that flow.
I recommend the RO Buddie. It's inexpensive, will make enough water for that size tank, and you can add DI (Deionization) resin later if you get into more demanding stuff like SPS (small polyp stony, aka hard coral).
I know the RODI water doesn't seem that important...but when you get your first algae bloom or god-forbid cyano...don't learn that one the hard way like I did!
OK so I'll get off that soap box.
Here's one thing someone told me that I had to remind myself through the set up and tear down of several tanks of all sizes over seven years of reefing: Your tank will go through algae stages when you set it up. It's going to happen, it's normal, and it will pass. Stage one: brown (diatoms) Stage two: Green (possibly hair algae, which can be avoided mostly with RODI instead of ???water) Stage three: red and purple...coralline...this is the good stuff.
Also congrats on the babyyyyy and also clowns are awesome and good job on the conservative stocking plans. Can't wait to see updates.
Oh...don't buy cheap lights.
How about this for the wave maker? https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0036S4YZ0/ref=ox_sc_act_image_1?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Can’t forget the saltwater master test kit! That will be added into my next purchase also!
 

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How about this for the wave maker? https://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/B0036S4YZ0/ref=ox_sc_act_image_1?smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER&psc=1

Can’t forget the saltwater master test kit! That will be added into my next purchase also!
Yeah that's the size I used in my 20 long. Also later on when you inevitably upgrade to a huge reef tank...that little guy there will fit through the opeing of a water jug and you can use it to mix water like I did :) Koralia pumps are bombproof.
 
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Thedudeiam94

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I will have everything I need besides the light and the master test kit (because I plan on purchasing the rodi unit later. Do I need a light to set the tank up and start cycling? Also will I need ammonia since the tank won’t have any fish for a little while? Or will it still cycle with the live rock, live sand and the Chaeto in the filter?
 

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I always cycled mine with live rock. People have differing opinions. Seems silly to me to cure the LR and them put it in the tank and add ammonia. I just cured it in the tank and called it cycled. You still hafta test but once you get nitrates your good since the live rock is essentially your cycled media.
Edit: no you dont need a light to cycle the tank. But also don't be afraid to add a softy when you add your fish. It's good for them and softies are pretty forgiving as far as coral goes.
 

Magicpenny75

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Also what is the best test kit for saltwater? I’ve seen in threads before that api isn’t the best choice.
API isn't the best, but it is fine if you're keeping FOWLR or just a few softies. The more touchy stuff you would be best to invest in Salifert https://www.amazon.com/Salifert-Master-Reef-Testing-Combo/dp/B00RW64LMI/ref=sr_1_3_sspa?gclid=CjwKCAjw2qHsBRAGEiwAMbPoDLno_VW-Pak65YMjUOnHJ0Ydho3oLcerCcOmy064FF2BQCCaLMRhBBoC7xYQAvD_BwE&hvadid=176928010938&hvdev=c&hvlocphy=9009734&hvnetw=g&hvpos=1t2&hvqmt=e&hvrand=9784334111412050882&hvtargid=kwd-794968353&hydadcr=8873_9763365&keywords=salifert+test+kit&qid=1569236962&s=gateway&sr=8-3-spons&psc=1&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUE5SlhXSTJGSE5FMk4mZW5jcnlwdGVkSWQ9QTA1NTg3NTcxNVZQSlhWVjlWOThHJmVuY3J5cHRlZEFkSWQ9QTAzNjE0ODRBWjlYM0RYUDNVODEmd2lkZ2V0TmFtZT1zcF9hdGYmYWN0aW9uPWNsaWNrUmVkaXJlY3QmZG9Ob3RMb2dDbGljaz10cnVl

Tank looks nice. I love the proportions of a 20 long and it is a great nano reef size. If you can hang a light and forgo the lids, some people will say you get better gas exchange that way. I never had that option, but I also never had a problem with lids.
Oh also...Not sure if you were planning on buying "live sand"...but don't. Get a good piece of live rock and a bunch of dry rock and sand and let the live rock cure in place and your sand will be "live" by the time your tank is cycled.
I can't wait for you to see your first amphipod or asterina star crawl out of your rock. I spent as much time in front of the tank with a magnifier while it was cycling as I did looking at the fish after it was finished.
 
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Thedudeiam94

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I’ve already ordered a 20 lb bag of the Bahamas oolite Arag-alive sand. It was only $16 so I felt that was my best option for live and the texture that I was wanting. My lfs only had the Arag-alive but it was the broken up coral looking one and I didn’t like how “kitty litter’ish) it looked. Lol just my opinion though. I also think the only option was a 40 lb bag and I didn’t need an extra 20 lbs and the other sand they had was black alive but that was also 40lbs.
 

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I’ve already ordered a 20 lb bag of the Bahamas oolite Arag-alive sand. It was only $16 so I felt that was my best option for live and the texture that I was wanting. My lfs only had the Arag-alive but it was the broken up coral looking one and I didn’t like how “kitty litter’ish) it looked. Lol just my opinion though. I also think the only option was a 40 lb bag and I didn’t need an extra 20 lbs and the other sand they had was black alive but that was also 40lbs.
Well live sad certainly won't hurt :) and I feel you on the kitty-litter look of crushed coral. I like the aragonite sand much better as well. It's also nicer on nano-things like coral banded shrimp and yellow clown gobies. Which you will totally want btw.
 
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Thedudeiam94

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Right! That’s kind of the reason I liked the Bahamas oolite so much because of how fine it was and a lot whiter then the crushed coral. Lol I actually seen a goby the yesterday at a lfs that was called an engineer goby but it needs 50 gallons. I like those because they looked like ribbons while swimming. But there was a tiny yellow one under a rock I was having a stare down with also. Lol I like the color of the firefish goby the most though. So if I do go with one it will probably be that one.
 

Magicpenny75

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Right! That’s kind of the reason I liked the Bahamas oolite so much because of how fine it was and a lot whiter then the crushed coral. 250] Lol I actually seen a goby the yesterday at a lfs that was called an engineer goby but it needs 50 gallons. I like those because they looked like ribbons while swimming. But there was a tiny yellow one under a rock I was having a stare down with also. Lol 23] I like the color of the firefish goby the most though. So if I do go with one it will probably be that one.
I had a purple firefish that was probably my favorite of all the fish I had. Plus they are really friendly and hang out in front. My kids liked the way he hung in the water with the fins flicking.
Engineer gobies are cool when they are little but they are well named...They will re-engineer your hardscape to their liking. i.e. dig under all your rockwork and make it fall over!
 
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