40g Saltwater Setup

TheGouramiGuy

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Hey guys, for the holidays and black friday I want to pick up a 55 gallon tank to do saltwater fish. My dad has been in the hobby for years but he lives a couple hours away. I love the looks of anenomes, reef, live rock, etc but I’m not sure what setup I need. From what I have seen, I believe that I should setup a sump, grab a protein skimmer, UV sterilizer, reef lights, live sand, and the other basics such as a heater and thermometer. I want to spend as little as possible though, is there anything extra I am doing, or am I missing anything? Thanks!
 

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The key to a successful aquarium is researching. This is especially true in a reef aquarium, where there's a lot more biodiversity than in a freshwater tank. There's also many more parameters to keep track of.

When I first got into the reefing hobby, I spent 2-3 hours a day just reading online about various tanks, methods of keeping certain fish and coral, what could go with what, what ate certain types of coral, etc... I was 14, and obsessed with getting a saltwater tank. I soon found out that researching is no substitute for doing, but you can't do without having a solid foundation of knowledge.

Before you go out and buy anything, research what you want to keep. Here are some questions you'll want to answer:

  • Do you want to keep a reef aquarium? (do you want corals?)
  • Do you understand the requirements for what you want to keep? (for example, anemones need very specific care requirements and are a rather advanced thing to keep. I'd suggest not going for one of these guys right away).
  • Do you understand what saltwater equipment does? A sump, protein skimmer, expensive lights, and a UV sterilizer aren't worth their weight in salt if you don't understand how to use them. Research specifically what each piece of equipment in your tank does, and then choose a specific model that you like from there. A UV sterilizer isn't a necessity for any tank, so I'm not sure why you have that listed.
  • Do you understand what makes rock and sand "live"? Do you know how the Nitrogen Cycle works in a saltwater aquarium? These are things you NEED to read up on.
  • You mention spending - saltwater isn't a cheap hobby. Even budget tanks will still cost a pretty penny. Even maintaining a FOWLR tank isn't cheap, as you still need to buy salt and pay for fish (which are much more expensive in the saltwater side of the hobby). Can you provide what a tank will need right now? If not, perhaps this isn't a good time to be setting up a reef tank.

I know a lot of people will disagree with me when I say this, but I'd recommend skipping a sump for now. That's just an added layer of complexity, when it's really not needed. Helpful, yes, but definitely not needed. I think a standard 55 will be a great starter tank, as long as you stock correctly and keep up with proper tank husbandry.

We'll be here if you have any questions
 

stella1979

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HI Welcome to Fishlore!! We'd love to help you start up a salty tank.

There's some very good information above, so I will just add on to a few points.

Okay, so bigger is always better, but you also mention a budget, and going smaller can save a lot of money on equipment.

Also, a 55 gallon is one of the worst tank sizes imo. They seem rather large but are in fact long and tall, and rather tight in the width department. Because they are tall, they are more expensive to light. Because they are narrow, they can't actually support the best rockscape, nor do they really provide the room for the larger fish you might expect to be able to successfully keep there. You really want that width to create a good scape that will provide multiple territories for fish as well as room for coral placement in such a way that one coral isn't going to shade the corals below it. For all these reasons, I highly suggest a 40B or a 75G instead of the standard 55G.

However, for a budget reef tank, I also would say you can't go wrong with a 20 gallon long. Just know that this tank size will limit stocking to a few nano fish. There's nothing wrong with that if your goal is also photosynthetic creatures like anemones and corals. A nano tank like a 20 gallon does not require a sump, nor a skimmer necessarily. Of course, I am biased because I run a 20 gallon long closed system mixed reef.

With photosynthetic creatures, one thing we don't want to cheap out on is lighting. Personally, I view cheaping out on one light, only to have to buy another down the road because that first one just isn't cutting it, to be a HUGE waste of money. I did that. :banghead: Paid for lighting twice before the first year of reefing was up. Don't be like me.

There are some very good stickied threads in the Saltwater Beginner's Forum. Please read...
Starting a Saltwater System - Part 1 - Where to start (Research)
Starting a Saltwater System - Part 2 - Bringing Nature Home (Researching Equipment)
Starting a Saltwater System - Part 3 - Designing, Setting up and Running your system

and...

Nart's Budget Nano Saltwater Guide For Beginners

These should answer many questions you may have, and may also help you decide whether you'd like to go for it with a bigger tank or stick to smaller setups to save some money. My own salty thread lists all equipment and livestock right in the first post.

Stella's Salty 20g
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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Thank you guys for all the support. I have definitely been watching lots of videos and reading articles, and I will continue to do so. Going off your suggestions, I think I will start with a 40 gallon tank. Budgeting a saltwater tank definitely looks like a tough thing to do, so I am going to save up some money and go all in to make my aquarium a happy and stress-less environment.

As far as my understanding on all of the "live" parts of the tank such as the substrate, rocks, water, etc that you can purchase, they are all rich in beneficial bacteria and should not be washed (especially live rocks) if I am correct.

For all of the equipment in the aquarium, I think that I am going to do a Marineland Canister Filter (likely the C220) and stick to water changes every other week rather than using something like a protein skimmer. As PoorBigBlue mentioned above, I definitely won't need a UV sterilizer (I had previously figured I might need one since my dad has one in his tank, but I guess that's up to preference.) If I end up doing any kind of corals, I will definitely make sure that I research the right kind of light, and to stick to everything that is graded for saltwater tanks.

When going with my substrate, rocks, decor, water, etc, I have heard that CaribSea does a great job with their live sand, so I'll look into their different kinds and find what's most suitable for what I'm going with (unless any of you have any recommendations.) With that said, I may go with mixing my own salt water. I looked up a few videos and articles, and from what I see, you purchase something, such as Instant Ocean's sea salt or reef salt, and dump slowly into a bucket dedicated to your aquarium water, then mix it with water (purified by reverse osmosis or other method, sometimes a good purifier with tap water can suffice) manually or with a powerhead until your hydrometer tells you the salinity is in the range of around 1.019 to 1.023 depending on whatever fish/organisms you have. As far as live rock, I will likely pick some up from my LFF as I've heard that live rock does a great job with keeping stable tank parameters.

Anyways, to sum it up, I have been trying to look up the ins and outs, so let me know if you see anything wrong or have anything to add. I am always looking to better my knowledge, especially before I start up my first salt water tank.

Thanks guys!!
 

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For rock, you can either get live rock from somewhere, which is already started and will basically instantly cycle your tank, or you can start with dry rock and cycle your tank in the usual way. Both have pluses and minuses. Live rock has all the beneficial bacteria that you want, but it also has lots of other hitchhikers. Some are good, some are not so good. Dry rock should be pest free, but you will need to develop the beneficial bacteria on it, which can make startup take longer. You also don’t get the added benefit of the extra life the rock brings with it.

Either way, after a while, it will all become “live rock” though.
 

PoorBigBlue

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Looks like you're off to a good start!

If you're going to be doing a reef tank, I'd recommend Instant Ocean Reef Crystals. I've had great luck with it, and it seems to be an all-around good salt - even if there are better salts out there, it's a fantastic place to start when it comes to availiability, price, and performance.

For your salinity, you'll want that quite a bit higher than 1.019. For a FOWLR tank, you'll usually want things between 1.020-1.026, and for a reef tank, you'll usually want them between 1.024-1.026. There's wiggle room, of course, but 1.019 is a bit too low for comfort, IMO.
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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PoorBigBlue said:
Looks like you're off to a good start!

If you're going to be doing a reef tank, I'd recommend Instant Ocean Reef Crystals. I've had great luck with it, and it seems to be an all-around good salt - even if there are better salts out there, it's a fantastic place to start when it comes to availiability, price, and performance.

For your salinity, you'll want that quite a bit higher than 1.019. For a FOWLR tank, you'll usually want things between 1.020-1.026, and for a reef tank, you'll usually want them between 1.024-1.026. There's wiggle room, of course, but 1.019 is a bit too low for comfort, IMO.
Thank you!

I was a little off with the salinity, I guess the article I found was incorrect on some things, but I think I’ll go with a reef tank. Since I’m just starting out, I’m going to look for some hardier reefs that can get me started on my reef journey.

As far as fish, I was definitely thinking that I wanted to get a couple clownfish (likely ocellaris for their colors or tomato for their easy maintanence to start out.) On top of that, I was thinking a sand sifting gobie to eat any algae in the substrate, and maybe another couple fish depending on size.

Let me know what you think, thanks!
 

stella1979

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HI

Clowns can be great!! And... not so great. They are highly active fish and can be quite territorial. Occys and Percs will be your friendliest, and any of the larger varieties can be a downright jerk. For this reason, I suggest waiting on the clown and stocking any of the more timid species you want to keep first. Always stock from least aggressive to most. This will allow those more timid fish some time to establish their own safe zones and begin eating well before a potential aggressor is added.

Sand sifting gobies can be great too, but it is not a good idea to put them in a new tank. You'll want to offer this fish a mature sandbed, and that will only come with time.

I'm not the best with stocking suggestions since I'm a nano keeper. I'd suggest heading over to Live Aquaria and sorting by tank size. They're actually not too bad on their stocking rules, and this will show you the variety of fish you can keep. Come back here with some more ideas, and I'll be more than glad to help you with a finalized stocking plan.
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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stella1979 said:
HI

Clowns can be great!! And... not so great. They are highly active fish and can be quite territorial. Occys and Percs will be your friendliest, and any of the larger varieties can be a downright jerk. For this reason, I suggest waiting on the clown and stocking any of the more timid species you want to keep first. Always stock from least aggressive to most. This will allow those more timid fish some time to establish their own safe zones and begin eating well before a potential aggressor is added.

Sand sifting gobies can be great too, but it is not a good idea to put them in a new tank. You'll want to offer this fish a mature sandbed, and that will only come with time.

I'm not the best with stocking suggestions since I'm a nano keeper. I'd suggest heading over to Live Aquaria and sorting by tank size. They're actually not too bad on their stocking rules, and this will show you the variety of fish you can keep. Come back here with some more ideas, and I'll be more than glad to help you with a finalized stocking plan.
Yeah, I have heard that clownfish tend to get territorial, especially around anenomes if they have made it their home. I’ll definitely wait to add the goby until my tank is cycled, and growing algae. I know freshwater can be a different story at times, but I definitely experienced the whole aggressive fish issue when dealing with male gouramis. I had to end up keeping one in a separate tank until the others had fully settled in after a couple weeks. Anyways, thanks for the information!
 

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I'd disagree on Occ or Perc being the friendliest fish. Mine was a jerk to it's tank mates and there are some that once established will bite their owners if they get in their space. Definitely better than the spawn of satan though (aka Tomato, Maroon, Cinnamon) clownfish as they are just flat out aggressive. They often end up returned to my LFS from tank owners who are at wits end with them. After going through 2 Diamond Watchman Gobies, I switched to conch snails for sand sifting and am much happier (the Diamond Watchman would create sandstorms in both my tanks) and the Conch snails have been very resilient.

The OP the 55 gallon is what I would consider the tipping point between HOB and Sump Filtration and you will definitely want to keep that in mind as it is much easier to simply buy a pre-drilled tank for a sump then it is to set it up and go with a sump later. The equipment all depends on which method you choose. If you are set on a sump then you will almost certainly want a protein skimmer, return pump, etc. If you go HOB then I would still recommend an HOB skimmer, but you have to be careful and select a good one (ie Reef Octopus Classic 100, Eshoppes PSK-100H). As for fish stock 55 gallons will more than handle the fish stock that you are talking about. I strongly suggest looking at the generally peaceful variety wrasses. They are arguably the most overlooked and underrated fish in the hobby. Beautiful colors, very active, visible and tons of personality. One of the challenges you will find is that many of the peaceful variety fish have a tendency to spend more time than you want in hiding. This is almost never the case with wrasses. Among some of the options for a 55 gallon:

(ignore the Lamarck's Angel, not sure why it came up)
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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Jesterrace said:
I'd disagree on Occ or Perc being the friendliest fish. Mine was a jerk to it's tank mates and there are some that once established will bite their owners if they get in their space. Definitely better than the spawn of satan though (aka Tomato, Maroon, Cinnamon) clownfish as they are just flat out aggressive. They often end up returned to my LFS from tank owners who are at wits end with them. After going through 2 Diamond Watchman Gobies, I switched to conch snails for sand sifting and am much happier (the Diamond Watchman would create sandstorms in both my tanks) and the Conch snails have been very resilient.

The OP the 55 gallon is what I would consider the tipping point between HOB and Sump Filtration and you will definitely want to keep that in mind as it is much easier to simply buy a pre-drilled tank for a sump then it is to set it up and go with a sump later. The equipment all depends on which method you choose. If you are set on a sump then you will almost certainly want a protein skimmer, return pump, etc. If you go HOB then I would still recommend an HOB skimmer, but you have to be careful and select a good one (ie Reef Octopus Classic 100, Eshoppes PSK-100H). As for fish stock 55 gallons will more than handle the fish stock that you are talking about. I strongly suggest looking at the generally peaceful variety wrasses. They are arguably the most overlooked and underrated fish in the hobby. Beautiful colors, very active, visible and tons of personality. One of the challenges you will find is that many of the peaceful variety fish have a tendency to spend more time than you want in hiding. This is almost never the case with wrasses. Among some of the options for a 55 gallon:

Flasher Wrasse (ignore the Lamarck's Angel, not sure why it came up)
Thanks for the clarity on everything, I’ll definitely look into those fish and a good HOB skimmer. Do you have any suggestions as far as products go for holding a good saltwater pH and alkilinity for reefs? I’ve been looking at some of the products and haven’t been able to find what works best. I do know that some chemicals such as pH up will bring the pH back down over a fairly fast amount of time, and may be harmful with a lot of use of the chemical. What do you think?
 

stella1979

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To be clear, I wasn't saying Occs and Percs are the friendliest fish, only the friendliest of the clownfish species.

Edit: Marine salt and water changes should handle all your parameters, so you definitely don't want to go using things like pH Up or Down. Corals uptake calcium and alkalinity for their growth, and this in turn also affects magnesium. At some point, if and when a reef tank grows to become full of thriving coral, the uptake will exceed what your salt and water changes can provide. At this point, the reefer should begin dosing for major elements like calk, alk, and mag... but this is a subject that shouldn't come up right away. Dosing is a big step and there's lots of good info out there about how and when to do it. For me, it took nearly a year to need it, plus lots of research, and LOTS of testing before I started dosing my reef tank.
 

Jesterrace

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TheGouramiGuy said:
Thanks for the clarity on everything, I’ll definitely look into those fish and a good HOB skimmer. Do you have any suggestions as far as products go for holding a good saltwater pH and alkilinity for reefs? I’ve been looking at some of the products and haven’t been able to find what works best. I do know that some chemicals such as pH up will bring the pH back down over a fairly fast amount of time, and may be harmful with a lot of use of the chemical. What do you think?
Honestly IMHO pH is best maintained by 25-30% water changes each week and not overfeeding the tank. For Alkalinity something like the Red Sea Reef Foundation will work. As for the Skimmer if you go HOB the Eshoppes PSK-100H or Reef Octopus Classic 100 would work.

Stella, I figured that was the case. It was just when I first read it that it came across as painting a rosy picture of them.
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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Thanks again for all the help guys! I will stick to leaving the water as it is without any pH adjustment.

As far as skimmers go, are any of you familiar with the "Instant Ocean Sea Clone Aquarium Protein Skimmer"? I am looking for a skimmer around the $50 - $70 price range, and from the reviews, it seems like it may be sufficient, but I can't really tell. If this won't suffice, do any of you have any suggestions for better ones around the same price range?

Thanks!
 

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TheGouramiGuy said:
Thanks again for all the help guys! I will stick to leaving the water as it is without any pH adjustment.

As far as skimmers go, are any of you familiar with the "Instant Ocean Sea Clone Aquarium Protein Skimmer"? I am looking for a skimmer around the $50 - $70 price range, and from the reviews, it seems like it may be sufficient, but I can't really tell. If this won't suffice, do any of you have any suggestions for better ones around the same price range?

Thanks!
Trust me, the cheap skimmers aren't worth it. With HOB Skimmers you either go with the best or simply skip it. This is the cheapest I found for you:
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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Jesterrace said:
Trust me, the cheap skimmers aren't worth it. With HOB Skimmers you either go with the best or simply skip it. This is the cheapest I found for you:
Alright, looks like I'll be saving some more money, I definitely want what's best for the tank. Thank you!
 

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It’s seems like with salt water, it’s either pay for decent quality equipment from the start, or end up battling your tank/equipment until you either eventually win, give up, or buy better equipment. I’m not saying you can’t do it on a budget, you just have to be smarter about how you do it.

For instance, a canister filter can be difficult to manage, be a detritus trap, and cause nutrient problems. Some people have luck with them, so you should really research those before jumping in, as you might be making things much tougher on yourself.
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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McRib said:
It’s seems like with salt water, it’s either pay for decent quality equipment from the start, or end up battling your tank/equipment until you either eventually win, give up, or buy better equipment. I’m not saying you can’t do it on a budget, you just have to be smarter about how you do it.

For instance, a canister filter can be difficult to manage, be a detritus trap, and cause nutrient problems. Some people have luck with them, so you should really research those before jumping in, as you might be making things much tougher on yourself.
Yeah, that's true. My dad has a 55 gallon tank with a 10 gallon sump, so I was considering just grabbing a 10 gallon tank from one of the $1/g sales, and heading to his place so we can make one for my setup.

I feel like this would be a lot easier to manage, plus I would be able to put in a better protein skimmer and make a refugium with marine pure block and clean chaeto. I'm pretty sure doing all of that would reduce how much/how often I have to change the water, saving me both reef crystals and time. Plus, I'm pretty sure it should also be very beneficial for the aquarium.

Let me know what you think about my plan!
 

Jesterrace

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Yikes. Didn't see that about the canister filter, I would definitely recommend that a newbie NOT add that to the equation. An Aquaclear/Fluval 110 HOB Filter would be your best bet for a tank of that size, if you go sumpless.
 

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TheGouramiGuy said:
Yeah, that's true. My dad has a 55 gallon tank with a 10 gallon sump, so I was considering just grabbing a 10 gallon tank from one of the $1/g sales, and heading to his place so we can make one for my setup.

I feel like this would be a lot easier to manage, plus I would be able to put in a better protein skimmer and make a refugium with marine pure block and clean chaeto. I'm pretty sure doing all of that would reduce how much/how often I have to change the water, saving me both reef crystals and time. Plus, I'm pretty sure it should also be very beneficial for the aquarium.

Let me know what you think about my plan!
Just me but a sump of 20 gallons or more is really recommended as is a pre-drilled tank if you go with a sump. To me a 10 gallon sump doesn't provide enough extra flow to be worth the effort, nor does it offer enough room for decent equipment (ie good skimmer and return pump, which are generally larger in size), furthermore it's super cramped for equipment when you need to work on it/clean it. I have a 29 gallon sump on my 90 gallon and definitely wish I had a 40 breeder for a sump on it. As mentioned above, the other issue is that if the tank isn't drilled you will be likely be looking at an overflow box which can be a pain as their siphons can become clogged and are more prone to overflow issues. With a predrilled tank the sump is as simple as the plumbing, a filter sock (if you chose to use one) a return pump and the skimmer. Honestly if it were me, I would actually bump it up to a pre-drilled 75 gallon tank as it will give you more usable space for your fish and open up your stocking options considerably. 55 gallon tanks are good for length but are too skinny on the width for many fish.
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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Jesterrace said:
Just me but a sump of 20 gallons or more is really recommended as is a pre-drilled tank if you go with a sump. To me a 10 gallon sump doesn't provide enough extra flow to be worth the effort, nor does it offer enough room for decent equipment (ie good skimmer and return pump, which are generally larger in size), furthermore it's super cramped for equipment when you need to work on it/clean it. I have a 29 gallon sump on my 90 gallon and definitely wish I had a 40 breeder for a sump on it. As mentioned above, the other issue is that if the tank isn't drilled you will be likely be looking at an overflow box which can be a pain as their siphons can become clogged and are more prone to overflow issues. With a predrilled tank the sump is as simple as the plumbing, a filter sock (if you chose to use one) a return pump and the skimmer. Honestly if it were me, I would actually bump it up to a pre-drilled 75 gallon tank as it will give you more usable space for your fish and open up your stocking options considerably. 55 gallon tanks are good for length but are too skinny on the width for many fish.
My bad about the forum topic, I had decided on going down to a 40 gallon to make it easier to light the tank, and for the rock placement, etc. I believe sumps are supposed to be 10% of the volume at minimum, so I think when I measure everything out, I'll make sure to get the sump last, and to adjust what size sump based on how much room everything else takes up.
 

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Or you could go the route I did and get an 80 gallon sump for a 96 gallon display tank.
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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McRib said:
Or you could go the route I did and get an 80 gallon sump for a 96 gallon display tank.
When your sump is bigger than my future aquarium haha
 

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TheGouramiGuy said:
My bad about the forum topic, I had decided on going down to a 40 gallon to make it easier to light the tank, and for the rock placement, etc. I believe sumps are supposed to be 10% of the volume at minimum, so I think when I measure everything out, I'll make sure to get the sump last, and to adjust what size sump based on how much room everything else takes up.
As mentioned though, sumps are best suited for pre-drilled tanks, so it's not something to simply add later. It's best to either go sump from the get go or HOB. If you want a refugium there are many folks who mod their Fluval HOBs into fuge's so that could be a route to go. Personally with a 40 gallon I would go sumpless and maybe just get something like an HOB skimmer (ie the Eshoppes PSK-75H, I only recommended the 100H because I thought you were talking about a 55 gallon). Or you could simply go without a skimmer and go light on the feeding and more regular with the water changes. The 40 breeder does give you quite a bit of flexibility with what you can do.
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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My bad, by getting the sump last, I meant physically getting all of the pumps and skimmers and whatnot first, then laying them out and measuring them to decide on what size sump I would need, then to get the tank for the sump and set it all up to start cycling.

Also, I went over the sump idea with my dad (who has a 55 gallon freshwater with a sump and inline UV sterilizers, heaters, the whole gig.) He drilled his tank himself and siliconed his overflow into place, and he said that he would be happy to do it with my tank. Turns out, he used to do lots of saltwater tanks years and years ago. He had a bunch of different reverse osmosis setups, the whole deal really. He knows all about topics such as properly dosing reefs, so I can always refer to him for some local help if need be. He also said that he would be happy to grab some acrylic and help silicone all of my sump's different sections. The reason I plan on sticking with using a sump, is so that I can do in-line UV sterilization and an inline heater along with the normal sump filtration media, refugium, and protein skimmer all in one giant ultimate filter setup.

This is definitely going to be on the pricey side, but I feel that it will definitely help with minimizing maintenance, and making my tank's water great. With this setup, I also may consider doing a 45g or 50 gallon instead, depending on how I like the tank's measurements. I saw a few pics and the 45g looked pretty tall, which might be a concern as far as finding better lights to penetrate deeper into the water, but I'm not 100% sure on that topic. The 50 gallon also looked a little thin, which would affect how I can place the rocks. Let me know if any of you have experience with 45g/50g tanks, and tell me how they worked out for you as far as lighting, rock placement, room for the fish to swim, etc.

Thanks!
 

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I’m sure you already knew this, but make sure you get a tank that isn’t made with tempered glass (at least the panel that you’ll be drilling), otherwise you’ll just end up with a lot of little pieces of glass.
 
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TheGouramiGuy

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Definitely, I'll be double checking everything through research and my dad before ordering it. Thanks for the tip!
 

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