Nano Fowlr Vs Reef 20 Gallon Tank

Discussion in 'Saltwater Beginners' started by Books&Fish, Jul 15, 2017.

  1. Books&Fish

    Books&FishWell Known MemberMember

    FOWLR vs Reef. If you've done both, which do you prefer and why and which did you start with?

    I'm still in research mode, and will be for a while. I have a 1-year-old 20H freshwater tank (24L x 12W x 16H) that I broke down a few weeks ago. I want to turn it salty. I'm looking at a pair of ocellaris clownfish, maybe an anemone if it won't outgrow the tank, shrimp and snails, and frags or LPS instead of anemone if that's better suited for the tank. Maybe a recommended small school of small fish? I want to keep the tank understocked by definition.

    I'm on the fence about using the equipment I have and then upgrading later to accommodate the corals. Or just doing the extra work/expense necessary to accommodate the corals upfront. I have a basic Aquaneat LED light, Eheim 2213 canister, Aqueon 100W submersible heater, and I will get a powerhead and refractometer. Also, I should be able to use Prime-d tap water to mix my own, since mine has 0 phosphates, 0 nitrates, 8.2 pH, 9 dKH, 10 dGH. I don't have test kits for the others yet.

    It seems that skimmers are optional, but I am willing to buy equipment to make maintenance easier.

    Here's where I'm on the fence. Do I use what I have and make a FOWLR for now, or should I convert my empty 10 gallon into a chaeto refugium with a skimmer and grab a Current USA Marine LED, basically upgrading and going full reef right off the bat? (Even if I add corals later).

    I have several freshwater tanks, this would be my first saltwater. My goal is to create a nice reef (eventually) with a pair of clownfish for my kids, that's cost-effective and low-ish maintenance. I currently do weekly Python water changes, weekly plant dosing, and every 4 months filter cleanings (all canister and corner, one HOB). I'm willing to do weekly or every-other-week water changes, daily skimmer emptying, weekly chaeto rotating.

    Any help is appreciated.
  2. KinsKicks

    KinsKicksFishlore VIPMember


    I say, if you really want corals/nems in the future, get the equipment now, then you can make better judgments the first time about what coral/nems to put in rather than accidentally adding an assortment of them on whim (say this happen before, there was a sale and my uncle went crazy with purchasing, and regretted it afterwards lol) and running into the problem of finding out your equipment (when you buy it after) is good for one but inefficient for another.

    And I'm always a big fan of skimmers, so I recommend one.

    And when your ready, we can work on that stocking :)

    Hope this helps and best of luck!
  3. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    I just want to chime in and say that your tap water may not be best even with the info you've listed about it. What you really want to look at is the TDS of your water. The reason most people choose RODI water is because it should have a TDS of zero. When you mix in salt, which also includes important minerals like calcium and magnesium, it will raise your TDS. If you don't start at zero your total dissolved solids/mineral content may get too high to keep salty fish and corals happy. Sorry to be a debbie-downer, just wanted to advise that you put a little more research into the best source water for your tank.

    It's super exciting to get another FishLorean on the dark, hehe, that is, salty side of things. :) I'm pretty new to it myself but I'll be happy to follow along and help when I can. Go for it! I recently put my first corals into my 20g long tank. I would say go for the reef stuff asap, you'll likely want to do it eventually anyway. As for nems, rock flower anemones are beautiful and colorful. They also don't move around much like some other nems can. IMO, that's nice in smaller tanks. I don't think they would benefit clowns much though.

  4. OP

    Books&FishWell Known MemberMember

    Oh, I don't have one yet, but I know our tap has notorious high TDS, like 500+. Does that mean it's a no-go?

  5. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    Oh, the last thing I want to do is put you off of this beautiful and rewarding hobby. RODI water can be purchased, it usually goes for $0.75-$1.00 per gallon at LFS's in my area. You will of course have to fill the tank and do a large water change or two during/after cycling, but afterwards you could do with about 5 gallons per week.

    You can also pick up your own RODI system for about $200. That's definitely an investment but worth it IMO. I have hard water that has a high TDS and is full of nitrates. It was a worthy investment for me as I use it in 3 FW tanks as well, (though, RODI by itself is not safe for FW, it has to be remineralized), and we no longer buy drinking water. I was lugging home about 6 gallons of drinking water every week, so it's nice not to do that anymore.

    Anyway, there's a lot to consider but I would love to follow along with your journey into SW... it's already fun and has become a bit of an addiction for me. If you'd like, check out my thread, it may answer some questions. Please don't hesitate to ask anything. There aren't a whole lot of salty members here but we're all eager to help. BTW, I've seen you around and always loved your username... two of my favorite things! :D

    Stella's Nano Sw Tank
  6. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

  7. OP

    Books&FishWell Known MemberMember

    I've been following grant's thread. He doesn't use a refugium/sump or skimmer, from what I remember. And I was wondering if I should go that way up front. Or just use a regular HOB and clean it weekly. I have a canister, and it is a huge pain to have to clean it weekly so I won't be using it. That's mostly my original question, use a cheap and easy HOB with powerhead on live rock, or build a refugium (plus chaeto and skimmer) from my old 10 gallon.

    What makes this so hard is not knowing the actual maintenance that is necessary to keep the stock I'm looking at. It's so dependent on my water source and my build.

    I won't be doing anything for the next few months besides research. We're moving in 2 weeks and then school starts for all 4 of us a few more after that. So I'm looking at options for this tank or if I should just sell it. (It's currently listed on the buy/sell/trade page, but at the moment I'm keeping it and don't know how to delete a post).

    I will definitely keep updating this thread. I'm always looking for a challenge. I just want to know the proper thing to do upfront rather than learn the hard way since the salty side is so much more involved and expensive. (Freshwater fish and plants are easy and cheap to replace, unfortunately. And there are no saltwater places around here, so I would have to order most equipment and stock.)
  8. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    I don't use a fuge, skimmer or sump for my 20g either. Though a refugium is not a bad idea and I'm likely going to turn my AQ70 into a small one, just like Grant did with his HOB. There is a lot to learn but you can make this as high or low maintenance as you want. It doesn't have to take a ton of time each week once you get everything stabilized. There are tons of ways to make things easier. A couple things that come to mind are a simple timer for lights and a DIY automatic top off, (ATO), both of which offer peace of mind at a cheap cost.

    I'm so glad to see that you'll take your time with research as that is the most important aspect of SW imo. We're here to help and @grantm91 and I are all about low maintenance and low cost. Why don't you let us know what you're thinking regarding stock?
  9. OP

    Books&FishWell Known MemberMember

    I haven't done stock research yet, mainly equipment to see if this is something I want to undertake. So far I have a pair of ocellaris clownfish. That's required for the kids. I don't really have my heart set on anything since I'm not familiar with the options, but a few ideas:

    • I think a starfish would be neat even if one just appeared from the live rock, as long as it was low maintenance and fairly active.
    • I would like an anemone or a few small soft corals that flow with the water movement. Preferably ones that don't require hand feeding.
    • A couple snails are fine.
    • A bright-colored shrimp.
    • A group of 2-3 small compatible bright fish would be cool but not required.
    Would all of this stock fit in a 20 high?
    Can you recommend what fills these spots?
    Can you recommend what equipment would make this endeavor as low maintenance as possible?
    • I do have a timer for lights.
    • I'll have to research an ATO, I've read the acronym before today but didn't know what it stood for.
    • I think I'll do a HOB refugium. It seems simpler to make than crafting a under-tank sump with skimmer, chaeto, light, return pump, overflow kit, etc.
  10. stella1979

    stella1979ModeratorModerator Member

    You're not too far behind me in this endeavour. I also need a clownfish for the kids, just haven't got there yet. I started with a firefish.:) I don't know much about starfish... I was thinking you might want to look at a goby and shrimp pair. Yasha gobies are beautiful and they may pair with a pistol shrimp.

    One thing to keep in mind is the amount of rock and flow you will need. The rock will provide the bulk of your filtration and flow is necessary for the BB to survive in the rock. You'll want 20-30 pounds of rock, (1-1.5 pounds per gallon). You'll need to provide lots of flow and surface agitation with pumps, powerheads, and/or wavemakers. You want your flow to overturn the tank at least 20 times per hour, so for a 20g you'll need the total GPH in your tank to be at least 400.

    You should also put some research into your lighting. A 20 high might have a low light area near the bottom so you may want to specifically look into low light corals and anemones.

    Another thing - test kits. You're going to need quite a few and honestly, I'm not a big fan of API here. Salifert seems like a good brand so far. You'll want to test for pH, Ammonia, Nitrite, Nitrate, Alkalinity, Magnesium, Calcium... maybe Phosphorus. Keeping these parameters in check is vital for a thriving reef tank.

    Good luck! Hope this helps. ;)
  11. OP

    Books&FishWell Known MemberMember

    So I've decided I'm going to try for the FOWLER and leave a reef for later.

    For stock I am sticking with the children-mandated clownfish, specifically a pair of false percula ocellaris.
    I would like one springer damsel also. Would these fish do well in a 20 high tank together?
    I haven't decided on shrimp or snails since they aren't the focus of the tank. Any suggestions for shrimp/snail stock?

    Decisions I've made are as follows. I welcome all comments and suggestions.
    • I'm going to do an Aquaclear HOB refugium (size for 20 high?) with chaeto and a clip-on light (brand?).
    • I will not start with a HOB skimmer, but intend to get one if needed in the months following start-up. My tank has a wooden canopy, so I can hide things back there. I'll paint the back of the tank black to help with hiding.
    • We will get a RO/DI unit installed under the kitchen sink (long-lasting brand with easy-to-find filters? On the fence about Apec/Buckeye/BRS)
    • Ade advanced Refractometer
    • 20lb. Live rock (will probably have to order. We are getting a Petco in a few months, but that's it for saltwater in the area).
    • 15-20 lb. non-live sand. I prefer a thinner bed to a thicker one. Is there any reason I should really get live sand? I don't think I'll be able to get any without ordering also.
    • Salifert calcium and magnesium test kits (I have the API master freshwater kit, phosphate, Gh and Kh kits already).
    • Bulk supply of white filter floss
    • 400gph+ powerhead (brand suggestions?)
    • Salt mix (Instant Ocean or FritzPro RPM?)
    • Aqueon 100w heater (already have)
    • TDS meter (already on order)
    • glass lid (already have)
    • basic LED light that is good enough for plants, Aquaneat brand (already have, and will upgrade before going full-reef)
    Any suggestions at all? I am following, but not finished with, stella's and grant's threads.

    In the future, I will upgrade to a 10 gallon sump/refugium with overflow box, a new skimmer to accommodate the sump if needed, fancy coral-growing LEDs, and beginner corals.
  12. anarchyValued MemberMember

    For test kits don't use the freshwater one. Isn't accurate for saltwater. I'd say get the salifert test kits as they're way more accurate than api.

    Salt I'd go cheap and do the instant ocean. I've used reef crystals since I've started no problems

    For a bright shrimp I'd say blood red fire shrimp

    I'd skip the damsel as they tend to get territorial.

    I'd do a shrimp/goby pair along with the clowns and maybe a tailspot blenny
  13. OP

    Books&FishWell Known MemberMember

    I checked out the shrimp/goby and tailspot blenny, but they don't seem very active. The springer damsel was supposed to be the smallest of the damsels and very peaceful.

    Is a scarlet skunk cleaner shrimp an okay addition?

    Is there a big difference between IO sea salt and IO reef crystal?
  14. Culprit

    CulpritFishlore VIPMember

    Definitely OK. Skunk cleaners are bright, pretty, and help your tank a lot.

    Yes. IO sea salt is for FOWLR. It doesn't have all of the extra minerals that corals need to thrive. Get the IO Reef Crystals.
  15. OP

    Books&FishWell Known MemberMember

    Is it better to just start with reef crystals than to switch later? I'm going FOWLR for now.
  16. Culprit

    CulpritFishlore VIPMember

    It depends on how long you're going FOWLR. If you go FOWLR for months, and then decide to switch to a reef, yes. But if you're planning on corals eventually as soon as your tank matures enough I would start with the IO reef crystals. Honestly though, the price difference is a few dollars. So if you know you will want corals in the future then just start with the IO reef crystals.
  17. Nanologist

    NanologistWell Known MemberMember

    It's easy to switch and it's exactly what I'm currently doing. I started with IO and still using some because I started the tank as a FOWLR, but am planning to get coral in the next few months. I say save a few bucks for now until you plan to get coral then switch later.

    To switch salt just mix 3/4 IO to 1/4 Reef Crystals for a 25-30% weekly water change. Then the next week you can do half and half of each salt. Finally the 3rd week do 1/4 IO and 3/4 Reef Crystals and then switch to full RC the fourth week. I'm currently on week 2 at half and half of each salt and all is well.

    I would also recommend starting with dry(dead) rock like Pukani or South Seas Base rock. In fact, I started with all dry rock and cycled the tank fishless with pure ammonia for 3 weeks and then I purchased just 2lbs of live rock to help finish the cycle off. Now I have 12lbs of live rock but only paid for two.

    Personally I think it's the way to go since you'll still get the benefit of speeding the cycle up with live rock, while also getting coralline algae and other good stuff, but you'll minimize how many unwanted pests that hitch in. Even though I picked the two cleanest, pest free looking pieces of live rock I still got aiptasia. It was worth it overall though since the live rock also contained beneficial snails, worms, copepods and amphipods. I just nuked the Aiptasia with boiling water and haven't seen it return yet!
  18. OP

    Books&FishWell Known MemberMember

    I found some Pukani that (I think) is reasonably priced online. And I think I'll try the mostly-dead-with-a-little-live rock idea.

    I searched for a reef store in our region, and I found one (besides Petco). I watched their videos of what they offer and read their stellar reviews. I'm more excited about corals than the fish now. ;) And because I really like corals and will absolutely do them as soon as feasible, I'll start with the reef crystals. If I was worried about a few bucks in savings, I wouldn't start a reef tank at all. ;)

    I have ammonia left over from previous tank cycling. I was going to ask that next, since no one mentions using it.

    Recommendations for size of an Aquaclear for the 20 high tank? I was thinking 50 or 70. I need space for some chaeto but don't want to overpower my fish. I was planning on a clip-on LED light for the chaeto, but unsure what type is sufficient.
  19. Nanologist

    NanologistWell Known MemberMember

    Yeah, a fishless cycle for a reef/FOWLR is basically the same as cycling a freshwater tank. That's great you still have leftover ammonia.

    I would go with the larger AQ70. You'll want the largest media basket possible for the chaeto.

    @grantm91 got a nice little clip on light for his diy hob fuge that seems to work great.
  20. Culprit

    CulpritFishlore VIPMember

    Haha its not like freshwater. Reef tanks need a LOT of flow. For my 20 I'm doing my AC 50 just because I have it already. If I didn't have it I'd probably get the AC 70 for the extra size + extra flow.

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