Unplanned upgrades

Sorry it’s been a while since my last post.

Sometimes you get a little lucky in life.  So last month, I was surfing my local reef forum and stumbled on a deal for a 60 gallon cube complete reef ready setup.  The seller was including the tank, stand, sump, plumbing as well as a quite oversized reef octopus skimmer for a fantastic deal.

After clearing it with my wife.  (Have to keep the wife happy…)  I was cleared for an upgrade.

This upgrade has kept me busy for the better part of the last month.

It took me two trips over two weekends to move the tank back home as the complete setup would not fit in my SUV in a single trip.  The tank was glass, so it was a bit over 100lbs, which was just a little too heavy for my wife to help lift.  With the help of a great neighbor, I was able to lift the tank and get it set up in my house.

The setup in the house involved a bit of time as well.  Since the tank is 24 x 24, I had to plan for the space.  This actually meant moving our TV out of it’s current space and hanging it above our mantle.  This was something we planned to do eventually, so the new tank was a good excuse to get it done.

Then came the actual setup.  Which actually involve purchasing some new equipment.  As I said earlier, the tank is likely the cheapest part of the entire setup.  When I run down my list in a minute, you will see what I mean.

In this case, I was really blessed as the seller also gave me his old LED lights and mount when I went back the second weekend to pick up the stand.  Thanks again, Lars!

So, it took a few weeks, but here’s the tank set up and ready for water.

New Equipment for the New Tank

So, I did have to make additional purchases to set the new tank up.

The first big decision had to do with the lights.  New LED light that would cover a 2 foot square sufficiently to grow small polyp stony corals (the highest requirement coral) would likely cost anywhere between $300-$500.  So it was really quite a gesture for Lars to include his old lights.  However, his lights were set up so they could only be run with an Apex Controller.

I’ve never used an Apex Controller, but some quick research informed me that it is a modular aquarium controller that is used just about any parameter in your aquarium.  While I could see their uses, these are expensive.  Brand new, they run close to $800.  Luckily, they have lower end versions and I began noticing that there is an active used market, where one can be found for around half price.

I had an internal debate about whether I should get one or just go for some brand new lights, but in the end I found a used Apex Jr. model along with an expansion module for running the lights for $200.  I later ended up getting another expansion module to run an auto top off for another $100, making the total $300.  In retrospect, the cost of the Jr. model is probably going to add up to the same as a used full Apex model.  So, in the future, I would probably recommend holding out for the full model, which is much more flexible and comes with more plugs for various items.  The used market is really active here, so you can definitely find a deal.

Once I went that route, I really started seeing the benefits of having this kind of controller.  I was able to set up a variable light schedule that followed a daylight table which could also simulate cloudy days and storms.  This light schedule is now synchronized to a couple of jebao wavemaker pumps that I bought for the job.  It’s really fantastic.  I also have the controller monitoring the temperature of the tanks to run the heating and cooling.  It also controls my auto top off pump.

So, after getting the apex controller, I had to figure out how to get saltwater into the tank.  I ended getting a portable ro/di filter so I could mix my own water.  This is really the only way once you get into larger tanks.  It’s quite impractical to lug 60 gallons of salt water from the fish store.

I found a great portable 4-stage rodi filter for $60.  Getting premade saltwater from the store would have costed me slightly more, so this along with the salt mix was about a break even cost for me, but it saved me time going to the store and will save me money in the future when I fill up my fresh water reservoirs.

So far I’ve been really happy with the ro buddy 4-stage filter, (Amazon link) which I bought on Amazon and highly recommend it to anyone looking for a small portable option.

I found a good deal on amazon for 40lbs of coral base rock for $40 and free shipping on Amazon.  It’s a little bit more now, but still a great deal at about $1 a pound for rock.  It just takes a pit of patience for the rock to seed, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better deal.  Plus I got a kick out of having Amazon ship a box of rocks to me.

Once the rock arrived, I broke it into better shapes and more manageable chunks, but I am really happy with the rock structure I was able to make out of it.

Rock and sand are always dirty, so often people will recommend rinsing it first.  Since mine is a new aquarium, I just put it in and let the filtration clean up the dirty water.  Here’s the tank now with the rocks and sand being cleaned int he full aquarium.

After the rock, sand and water, I had to get the water moving in the tank.  I really like the Jebao brand wavemakers, which I feel come in at a great price point for their size and wavemaking capability.  I personally like getting two smaller wavemakers to get better circulation, rather than one large one.

In this case, I saw that there was a Apex adapter I could purchase that would run two jebao wavemakers and make them compatible with my Apex.  So, I ended up getting those three items on Amazon

2 x Jebao PP-8 for $43 each (Amazon warehouse deal, about $10 more brand new)

Jebao Apex Adapter for $40 on Amazon

I also got an off brand Aquarium heater on Amazon.  I usually like the Eheim or Jagar brand heaters, but I thought I would try out this off brand model.  I’m not linking the heater as I want to try it out for reliability before making any recommendations.

Finally, I picked up a new auto top off from Avast marine.  I usually recommend the Tunze osmolator, but I chose the Avast marine for this build because it is compatible with my Apex, and I am able to use any pump with it.  It also cost about half the price of the osmolator even though I have to buy the pump separately.

The pump I chose was the TOM aqualifter ($24 from Amazon) which was recommended by several reef forum members.  Finally, my auto top off system was completed with a cheap water reservoir.  I like to use a cheap pet food container since they are opaque so I can see the water level inside.  I picked up this cheap pet food container which will hold about 7 gallons of fresh water for $13 on Amazon.

In this case, I did spend a little more on the Apex equipment, but I am very pleased with the capabilities of the Apex controller.  I think it will pay for itself in the future with the control and safety features that will keep the aquarium running and stable for a long time.

Next time, I will talk a bit about algae turf scrubbers, which I am planning to add for filtration in this system.  I think they are one of the best filtration methods for a reef tank and I highly recommend for biological filtration.

Now that the tank is up and running, I will do a better job of posting regular updates.

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