Advice On A New 15 Gal Saltwater Build

Discussion in 'Saltwater Aquarium Builds' started by watermelon46, Apr 3, 2018.

  1. watermelon46

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    Hello everyone! I was thinking of starting a new saltwater 15 gallon aquarium and I was looking for advice and comments on my plan. Below is my new sw tank plan:
    ~ 2 teardrop occellaris clownfish
    ~ 1 yellow clown goby
    ~ 1 cleaner shrimp
    What do you guys think? Also, I have never had a saltwater tank before, so I'm also looking for LOTS of advice on water temp and pH levels, and filters, and plants and whatnot (as well as advice on fish).
    Is my plan overboard? Can I add more fish? Also, I don't know anything about saltwater plants and corals so if you have advice on that as well, let me know.
    I am open to any advice and all your comments are welcomed.
  2. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    I think the 15g sounds pretty nice with you're planned stock. You're opening up a can of worms asking for general advice, haha, but here's some things that popped into my head while reading.

    Water temp should be about 78°F. pH will be around 8. How are you planning to provide saltwater? Tap water is generally unsafe for salty tanks, particularly if you want corals. If the tap has a TDS below... hmmm, maybe 100, (50 would be better), then the tap may be safe for a fish only tank. This is assuming that it doesn't contain dangerous contaminants, like heavy metals. Really though, I never recommend tap water, and it would be better if you go with RO/DI. You can by RO/DI or distilled from a grocer, or the fish store, then mix it with marine salt at home. Alternatively, you could buy premixed from and LFS if you have one close by that sells it. I'd say for a 15g, you'll need to make 3g's a week for regular water changes, but don't forget about fw top offs. The tank's water will evaporate, but salt won't, so salinity levels need to be managed every single day. You'll either need to manually top off, or get an automatic top off unit, (ATO). There's no telling how much fresh water you'll need per week, as different factors come into play with different tanks. A guess? Probably need around 2 gallons of RODI per week for top offs.

    Filtration - rocks in your tank will handle biological filtration. BB will colonize the rocks and maintain your cycle. An HOB isn't a bad idea for some mechanical filtration, though sponges and floss need to be cleaned or replaced often or they'll produce nitrates.... not a good thing. If you want corals or sensitive species, (like inverts) you'll want to keep nitrates super low. Like under 10ppm. This brings up another great option for HOB's. :) If you get a basic box style, like an Aquaclear, then it can be easily modified to be a small refugium. A refugium is for growing macro algae like chaeto. As the macro algae grows, it's using nutrients, so this is a form of nutrient reduction. Simply said, it'll help keep nitrates and phosphates low. :)

    If you're unsure about corals, go ahead and start with a fish only tank. This is my biggest piece of advice... you don't need a fancy light for a fish only tank. It is only for your viewing pleasure, so you can even use an old fw light or whatever else you already have or can buy cheap. If you're sure you want corals, start saving for the best reef light that your budget allows. It stinks buying a cheap reef light, (because they're not all that cheap), and then wanting an upgrade less than a year later. This means the light will be paid for twice. I did that. :banghead: Wish I wouldn't have got that first one and saved that money towards a better light from the start. The first light purchase has almost turned into a waste... unless I can mount it over another tank.

    Have you seen @Nart 's excellent guide on starting your first reef tank? It really is great one, and I wouldn't have been half as successful without this guy's help. :)
    Nart's Budget Nano Saltwater Guide For Beginners
  3. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    Thanks so much! I appreciate your advice and that comment was literally the definition of helpful. You helped me so much with the stuff I didn't understand. I will probably copy and paste all of your comments and then read through that thoroughly and take notes and do research when the time comes to do all this stuff (Remember, I am simply planning for the far future in this thread; it's not like I am doing any of this right now. I need early on advice because I am seeking advice).

  4. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    Awesome! I love to help when I can. :) Trust me, there's no rush either. We can talk all you want, and I very much appreciate you taking your time to research and plan.

  5. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    Cool! Thank you so much for your help. I finally feel that my fish will be comfortable in my set up, unlike in my other threads *sigh* so I'm happy that my fish plan is reasonable. Now the only thing I need help with is water changes, saltwater keeping, cycling, fish diseases, and any other things like that that newbies might have trouble with. Also, I have never had saltwater aquariums before, so if there is anything that you think should be mentioned that would help someone like me, don't hesitate to let me know.
  6. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    First thing that comes to mind when you say water changes and maintaining water is a refractometer. That's what we use to measure salinity, or the salt content in water. Years ago, refractometers were unaffordable for the average Jo, and thus, hydrometers were used instead. Hydrometers are still sold and sometimes recommended at chain fish stores. Don't fall for it! They are notoriously inaccurate, and you can pick up a refractometer for about $20 on Amazon.;)

    Second thing with maintaining water and cycling - filtration. :) I'm assuming you're familiar with the nitrogen cycle from doing freshwater, and cycling in saltwater is just the same. You add an ammonia source, test the waters regularly, and keep dosing and testing (possibly do a water change or two if levels get too high) until the cycle is complete. Filtration is different though. In a saltwater tank, beneficial bacteria will colonize the rock in the tank rather than media in a filter. You may not even need media in a filter if you have enough rock. ;) More on that later, if you want.

    Test kits - API is fine for ammonia and nitrites, but is not great for nitrates, particularly when you're done with the cycle and are keeping nitrates low. You'll want a kit that can read accurately below 10ppm. Look into Salifert, RedSea or Nyos for test kits.

    I don't have a lot of time to make this a long one. :p I will be glad to converse with you about quarantining and disease another time time though. If you'll have corals one day, there will be very, very few medications that you can use in the tank without hurting and quite possibly killing the corals. When you've spent a lot on corals, and taken pleasure in their care and growth, you will not want to risk getting the display tank sick. (Corals are living things too, truly amazing animals in fact... and when they die, it's our fault. :()
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2018
  7. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    Wow you know a WHOLE LOT about that kind of stuff. I can't imagine fish-keepers becoming so smart and resourceful you literally know everything about fish. What do you think I need to know and what do you recommend to do and watch out for? Any and all advice on anything like that is greatly appreciated.
  8. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    As mentioned before, the things I need help on are water maintenence, filtering, minerals, lighting, hardness levels, and rocks / pebbles. Any help on those things?
  9. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    Could I add some electric blue hermit crabs? The other day I was at my lfc buying some shrimp for my 1.5 gal tank, and they caught my eye. Do you think I could add them?
  10. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    Eek! So sorry I've been missing your posts. I'll be home soon and will be able to give a thoughtful response.;)
  11. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    Hey Watermelon :) Have I directed you towards this great thread yet?
    Nart's Budget Nano Saltwater Guide For Beginners

    I'm sorry, I just don't even know where to begin with general questions like, "What do I need to know?" Lol... it's a journey for sure, and a year ago I didn't know half of what I do now about reefing. The guide above will answer lots and lots of questions. Start slow and concentrate on substrate, rocks and water for now. I spent a few months gathering supplies, saving for a good light, and researching as much as I could before water ever hit my tank.

    Water is a big one. You have to decide how you're going to provide saltwater for this tank. You can possibly buy saltwater from your LFS, and this is not a bad option in smaller tanks. Alternatively, you can buy pure water, (RODI or distilled), and mix it with marine salt yourself. The salt will contain everything you need to achieve the correct pH, GH, KH, (which is more often referred to as alkalinity on the salty side), and all the other trace minerals that are found in the ocean. Also, don't forget that a saltwater tank needs freshwater added to it daily, and this water must also be pure. Salinity swings are dangerous for livestock and of all the parameters there are to manage in a saltwater tank, maintaining a stable salinity is the very first step. In nano tanks, salinity swings can happen fast, so smaller tanks are best managed with an automatic top off unit, or ATO.

    I appreciate your kind words, but there is still so much I don't know, and I still have those I rely on to answer my questions as well. Please do read Nart's guide that's linked above. This is by the guy that helped me so much when I got started, and it will be much easier for me to help you if you can come back with more precise questions. I will be more than happy to help you get this nano tank started, as nano tanks are where I have experience. My little reef is only 20 gallons.

    Oh yeah... you can certainly have some blue hermits,:) just be sure the species you select is reef safe. You might not get coral right away, but it can be rather difficult to catch inverts once they are in the tank. Crabs that are not reef safe will eat coral, oh no! Safe hermit crabs will eat algae so they can be a good part of the clean up crew, (CUC), which you will absolutely need in a marine tank. They can be added to the tank as soon as the cycle is done.;)
  12. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    WOW. Thanks! I'll be sure to check out Nart's saltwater guide and do tons of my own research. There is so much I still don't know about keeping aquatic animals and fish - but I'm sure I'll find some of it by simply browsing over all he information I can reach, and the rest I'll just need to learn from expierience!
    *Sigh*; I have only taken care of a 1.5 gallon fw tank and I might be thinking too far ahead of myself to shoot for a 15g saltwater, yet I have limited time and can't run to the LFS that often; the only thing that I've bought since I got back from a huge trip I took is 4 tiny shrimp! But then again, I have been researching for months now and I think I'll be able to start up this tank soon.
    There are, However, so many fish-keeping terms that my mind lags to remind myself the definition of including live rock, parameters, substrate, and pH, dH, and GH. Such a fish newbie.
    A few questions on Nart's sw guide: which rock type would be the very best for a sw tank my size? What is a powerhead? Also, I get so confused with all the talk about several water parameter factors such as Phosphates, Nitrates, Magnesium, and Calcium. What is the right amount/measurement or whatever for a saltwater tank? And, what kinds of testers for those things are recommended? Do I need to monitor those things?
    Coral: How much care level is required and how much does it cost? If it were easy and not too expensive, I would be quite interested, but I'm afraid it seems quite advanced and probably not best for beginners. You tell me, though :).
    And I know I'm thinking of adding fish and inverts one by one until my tank is overstuffed, but I love the look of the tail spot blenny. According to AqAdvisor, my tank is not too full, but I've been told that it doesn't calculate level of activity - only size. So, I thought advice from someone here would be helpful.
    Anyway, thanks for all the advice! You and Nart are my Saltwater role models and my target of knowledge is the amount you know (I will probably never get to that point unless I work towards it for a lifetime) :D.
  13. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    Oh my goodness... The alert system here isn't perfect, though I've found other ways to manage myself around here. Sometimes something slips by me though. I'm terribly sorry that I've left you hanging for so long. I don't have time right now to address everything but promise that I'll be back after dinner and getting little ones off to bed.
  14. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    That's totally fine... no need to rush! It's not like my fish are dying right now and I need your help desperately: I'm simply looking for advice. Really, contact me whenever you can; and there is no need to feel at all rushed. Take your time and come back to me when you are ready :).
    You've been so nice to me; go ahead and eat and be with your kids!;)
  15. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    Thanks for the kind words. :)

    So, you may find that many disagree, but I do not see any problem with starting the hobby on the saltwater side. You may be quite new, but some basic info is the same, and the hard stuff will start making sense with experience. Believe me, I felt totally overwhelmed a little over a year ago when I first started wrapping my head around running a reef tank, but as you start putting your research into practice, the knowledge will stick.;)

    You are familiar with the nitrogen cycle, yes? Just the basics will do. Ammonia is produced by fish, the breakdown of their waste, as well as leftover foods or pretty much any kind of dead organics. You need beneficial bacteria (BB) to colonize in your system so they will convert ammonia to nitrites and then nitrates. Here's where thing's start to get a little different between fresh and salt... In freshwater tanks we rely on filter media like sponges or bio-balls. Bio-balls is a general term, as is ceramic media for small pieces of some porous material. Here are a few examples.

    Any of these will host the type of BB (two different strains of aerobic bacteria) needed to break down ammonia and nitrites, which are both toxic at any level, and therefore dangerous to your livestock. Nitrates can build a little but we do water changes to ensure that nitrates don't build to toxic levels. Lots of freshwater tanks are quite safe with nitrates no higher than 30ppm, but there are more sensitive fish like Discus, who need nitrates to be kept much lower... just like saltwater reef tanks. :) For this reason, tanks that need very little to no nitrates often use media that has anaerobic properties. This means that a 3rd strain of BB can live deep inside... a strain that can survive with zero oxygen, or anaerobic. This strain of bacteria is capable of reducing nitrates.

    Speaking of nitrate reduction, you will see people talking about skimmers and refugiums. You don't need to worry about either of these right now. All you should know is anaerobic bacteria, skimmers, and refugiums all are for the reduction of nitrates... and possibly phosphates, both of which should be kept low with corals in a tank.

    Converting ammonia to nitrites, and nitrites to nitrates is your cycle. When a part of the system is lowering nitrates and phosphates, the general term is nutrient reduction.

    Phew... are you still with me? So, the difference in saltwater is that we have porous rocks in the tank, and beneficial bacteria will colonize it. That BB will hold our cycle, but it will not perform nutrient reduction, which is why we use media like Seachem Matrix, and/or have refugiums and/or skimmers. When BB colonizes rock, we call it live rock. Mature live rock will also contain many other forms of life, such as tiny bug looking things called pods, coralline algae, and feather duster worms to name a few. Live rock may also contain pesty critters that you might not want in your tank.

    Also on this subject... ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, phosphates, calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium, pretty much anything that you test for and even the things you don't. These are your parameters. There are many sources online that will tell you where you want your parameters for calcium, alkalinity, and magnesium, but you may not need to worry about that yet. You will need test kits for ammonia, nitrite, nitrates, and pH from the moment water hits your tank. You'll use the first three to cycle your tank and make sure it stays cycled, and it's always a good idea to keep an eye on pH to make sure it is remaining at a stable level. API is a common brand of test kits, but I prefer Salifert.

    I would suggest that you start with a FOWLR (fish only with live rock) tank. Corals are sensitive creatures, but fish and live rock are less so. Without corals, you will not need to worry about testing for calcium, alkalinity (which is the same as KH), or magnesium. You also will not need to worry about maintaining nitrates at a very low level. Start with a FOWLR and learn to maintain the tank at an easier level before stepping up to the more involved stuff. This is a great way to learn as you go. :)

    So, to answer your other questions about the guide...

    Rock type - I would get BRS (Bulk Reef Supply) reef saver rock. This is a highly porous type of dry rock, but it will become live rock over time in your tank. It is easy to work with, guaranteed pest free because it's dry, and you don't need to cure it. More on curing rocks later if you want... I'd suggest you get the reef saver rock so you won't have to worry about it.;)

    Corals and their cost and difficulty levels - As mentioned, corals are more sensitive to parameters, and you will have to buy and perform twice as many tests. Corals themselves are kinda spendy, so they definitely add to the cost. The biggest single cost may very well be a reef light. This is the other reason I recommend that you start with a FOWLR. One of my biggest pieces of advice is to save your pennies until you can get the best light that your budget allows. The last thing you want to do is buy reef lighting twice... I did that. It stinks to buy one light that isn't all that cheap, find that it will not do for your needs, so have to invest in another one in the near future. I replaced my reef light within the first year and wish I had never spent the money on that first light.

    However, corals are quite rewarding. :) Once you get the cost of a reef light out of the way, you can purchase corals at your own price point and in your own time. I certainly didn't get all of my corals in short order, so the cost has been much easier after all the initial purchases.

    Sorry, but I would not put four fish in a 15g, but you could replace the clown goby with the tail spot. In general, you do not want a goby and a blenny unless you have a very large tank where they can have their own territories. Some gobies are bottom dwellers, but the clown goby is a rock/coral dweller. They will not get along but will need to occupy the same space in your tank. I do think you need to stick to 3 fish anyhow, because 4 may put too much of a bioload on your tank. Bioload meaning the amount of ammonia and waste they'll produce, and food they'll need... all of which will mean maintaining your parameters for ammonia/nitrite/nitrate/phosphates will be more difficult.

    Also, a very important thing with stocking - You must stock your least aggressive fish first and give it time to get comfortable before introducing anything more aggressive than it is. In your case, you'll want the goby or blenny first. Give him about a month to be sure he's comfortable, healthy and eating, then introduce the clowns.

    It's a lot, I know. :) Start slowly with rock, substrate, (which is your sand) and how you'll provide water, cycle the tank and move on to inverts and fish from there.
  16. Lorekeeper

    LorekeeperWell Known MemberMember

    You're lucky stella saw this thread - she's a lot of help!

    She's pretty much hit anything and everything I can think of, except for the electric blue hermits. They're generally considered a bit more aggressive than their scarlet counterparts, so you may want to be careful with that. Any crab is opportunistic, so any may get into some trouble, so beware.

    +1 to starting a FOWLR tank as well. Corals are amazing, and very rewarding when you see them thrive and grow. But since you're pretty new, I'd go ahead and get your CUC (clean-up-crew) and fish, and then start stocking your corals (if you choose to keep them) after a few months, after your tank is really established. If you're desperate to get corals into the tank right after the cycle (and you MUST cycle for corals), I'd suggest starting with soft coral, such as zoas or mushrooms, and adding more delicate frags as time goes on.

    As for test kits, API is widely used on FishLore, but I've found Salifert and RedSea to be more popular elsewhere. As Stella said, she's had good luck with Salifert, and I've had good luck with RedSea. An API kit isn't a bad way to start (for a FOWLR tank, it'll be accurate enough to get you started) but I'd recommend upgrading your kit pretty soon. The price to usefulness ratio is just to good to pass up, most of the time.

    One thing to consider is the cost of saltwater. I keep pretty budget tanks (and so does Stella, and Culprit for that matter), but you can't get by without salt. Plan for weekly waterchanges. With a pair of clowns and a goby in a 15, you'll definitely need to perform a steady water change schedule. On my 5 gallon, I do 50-75% per week, but I'm pretty heavily stocked fish-wise. On a 15, I'd start with 25% per week, and see where that gets your nitrates. Ideally, they'll be under 20 PPM, or even better, 10 PPM. You may have to bump it up, especially when you're fully stocked. That's about 3 gallons per week, or 12 gallons per month. Depending on how much your LFS sells water for, that can build up. It's not terrible, just reminding you to keep it in the budget.

    You mention that you're unsure about equipment, and a lot of blogs and posts you read about saltwater make it sound extremely complicated, when it doesn't have to be. A big component of any saltwater tank (FOWLR or reef) is flow. We don't talk about flow too much in FW tanks, mainly because it's not needed in such a specific way. There's always water moving in the ocean, in any reef in the world. In our tanks, you'll want to have as much flow as you can without blowing your fish around. In a 15 gallon, I'd shoot for an AquaClear HOB Filter (the aquaclear 70 is highly recommended), although any HOB will do. I'm using a cheap Top Fin on my 5 gallon, and it gets the job done. You won't be running any filter pads in your HOB, but you can run things like Activated Carbon, or build a HOB fuge out of it. Neither is really required, but it's something to look into once you have your tank wet. You'll probably also want to add a small powerhead to your tank, preferably an adjustable one. You'll probably not need one much over 200 GPH. Go for multiple sources of weaker flow, rather than one source of very strong flow. Between the HOB and the single powerhead, you're pretty much set for the flow aspect of a nano, although you may wish to add another powerhead later.

    For a heater, I'd shoot for a 100W adjustable model, depending on the temperature of your house. A 50W heater will probably increase the temperature of a 15 gallon by 5-7 degrees max, while a 100W will get approximately twice that. Definitely aim to overdo wattage here, rather than under do it. The Aqueon Pro series is pretty highly rated, and it's a good place to start. They're shatter-proof plastic, and will keep your tank warm without frying it. I'll be using one when I upgrade to a 10.

    For lighting a FOWLR tank, you can use any light you want. I'd personally recommend a 6500K bulb or higher (6500K is simply the color of the light, with 6500K being daylight and 10000K+ being blue, like you'd see in a reef) to show off your fish and avoid excess algae growth. For now, even a shop light would work with a cheap fluorescent tube.
  17. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    Very good breakdown of equipment and a great addition to the info on cost by Lorekeeper. :) I also agree that RedSea makes better test kits for reefing. My particular preference is.

    API for ammonia and nitrites, because it works and it's cheaper.

    Salifert for pH, and I prefer this brand for testing nitrates in freshwater tanks. API is frustrating and hard to read, making it less accurate.

    RedSea for saltwater nitrates when you want an accurate low reading for a reef tank. Also RedSea for phosphates, calcium, alkalinity and magnesium.

    If you will start with a FOWLR, I would recommend getting API for ammonia and nitrites and Salifert for pH and nitrates. This is the most cost effective way I've found to get the accuracy I want.
  18. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    I know I keep saying this, but wow. Thank you so much Stella and Lorekeeper, so much information! I've had so many questions and you've answered them in so much detail that I'll probably take notes on the general stuff you've told me. I'm currently researching based on Nart's guide, your advice, and the info online, and so far I have a few questions. Is a powerhead needed and if so how do you set it up and use it? What is RO/DI? Also, how much salt should be added to the tank weekly (or daily, or every month, I suppose)? How can the inhabitants of live rock affect my fish and what are the dangers in keeping live rock?
  19. Lorekeeper

    LorekeeperWell Known MemberMember

    A powerhead, in general, will be needed in most tanks. Most HOB filters won't provide enough flow for a reef, and they'll only provide one source of flow. By adding a powerhead, you can fine tune flow in your tank, and simulate a natural reef a bit more. As for set-up and use, it differs from model to model. But, most are just as simple as setting up a HOB filter. Place in tank, aim it where you want, and plug it in. Clean it every few weeks or a month, with a deep cleaning every 4-6 months.

    RO/DI is water that gets run through an RO/DI filter to make it safe for reef tanks. Most tap water has contaminants in it that aren't good for a reef tank, and water conditioners won't remove it. RO units are a bit more cheap, and they'll usually do enough for the average person's tank.

    You don't really add salt directly to the tank. That can burn your fish and corals! You'd mix your salt into a bucket of water, and use that water as water change water. Daily, you might have to add some freshwater to keep your salinity from getting too high, since water evaporates, but salt is left behind. There are some great mixing guides online, if you still don't quite grasp it. Once you do it once, it makes more sense.

    You can get some nasty things from live rock at times. Aptasia, majanos, and occasionally a bad worm or something like that. But, you also need all the beneficial worms and micro-organisms that come with live rock for your tank. The benefits of live rock will usually outweigh the dangers, IMO.

    Your only other option is to buy base rock, or dry live rock, and use that. You'll still need to cycle it, though, and you won't get any of the good stuff that comes with live rock. Most of the time, I'll use a mix of live rock and dry rock.
  20. OP

    watermelon46Valued MemberMember

    Thanks again for your advice, Lorekeeper! I think the following will be he setup of my tank:
    I will have a 15 gallon aquarium with a hang-on-back Aqueon quietflow filter (question: 10 or 20?) and a Aqueon 25 watt - 50 watt heater. It will be FOWLR with gravel as substrate and a temperature of about 75 - 76 º C and pH of between 8.1 - 8.4 with a salinity level of 1.020 - 1.025 and 1 cleaner shrimp, 1 yellow clown goby and 2 clownfish (probably Ocellaris, Picasso, or Snowflake because my LFS doesn't have teardrop). Coral-wise, I'm not exactly sure, but I like the look of taro tree coral, yellow thick finger leather coral, blueberry sea fan, and green fluorescent mushroom coral. How many of these can/should I have? Also, what is a recommended mix of mushroom corals, sea fans, soft corals, and hard corals/ how should I combine them and how do they do with other kinds of corals? I'll add 2 gallons of RODI water per week to the water and I'll have a size 425 circulation pump powerhead (any brand recommendations?) Any idea how much all of this will cost? Also, how long should I let it sit before adding the live rock, corals, and fish? Will the shrimp clean out the critters in the live rock or does it only eat food and clean the fish? I'm basically prepared - all I need is a little more knowledge about corals and cycling the tank.

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