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Jeff Hood

Nightstand NANO build

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Ok, I’m not new to aquaria or even salt water reefs but it’s been 15 years since my last tank and it was 600 gallons (84x40x40 acrylic).  I’ve never done a reef this small (16 gallons/ 23 total volume) so it’s a learning curve for sure and I’m quite sure in many ways this will be way more difficult than my big tank but just as rewarding.




I started keeping fish when I was 11.  I’m almost 50 now (don’t  feel that old) and 

ive had lots of different sizes of tanks fresh and salt.  My biggest was my 600 gallon in wall reef.  I started that tank way back in 2000 and it was a giant success right up until the AC unit failed and the tank cooked.   I was heart broken.  Tank sat empty for a couple years until I decided to start it back up as an African tank. That’s been a great success and a story of its own. 

   Fast forward to today and I’m helping a buddy build an 800 gallon reef into his medical office.  84”x48”x48”.  It’s quite the project.  Anyway, it got my juices flowing again for salt but this time I wanted to start small and build something easy to work in, easy to photograph and change if needed.  I can go bigger in a couple years once this one matured out and I re learn the tech.  The second thing I wanted in a new fish tank is complete automation or at least as complete as possible.  I’ve noticed a theme here of trying to cram as much technology into as small of a water volume as possible, think a thimble with a super computer hooked up haha. So here we go. 


The Nightstand NANO:


here  is the basic stuff I decided to start with


  1. Red Sea Max NANO
  2. Home made Chaeto reactor
  3. APEX Neptune  monitoring and Controll 
  4. neptune ATK (ATO)
  5. DOS pump for auto water changes
  6. BRS dosing pumps for 2 part dosing and an extra for some coral food etc...
  7. titanium heater 100 watt
  8. 75 gpd RO setup. This had to be more elaborate than I thought.  Will post build below. 


Future modifications


  1. add a second AI prime light for reduced shadow and some cool custom lighting programs.  
  2. Web cam
  3. ???  More to come I’m sure. 







Added a pic of my 600 gallon African tank.  It’s almost completely maintenance free.   Continuous auto water change and very simple.  DIY Home Depot LED lights.  Excuse the mess.  I’ve opened a LOT of boxes lately.  


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Okay, so where to build and set up this thing.  For it to be as automated as I want (like to travel as I’m an amateur pilot) I needed some room for equipment.  My 600 gallon has a 14’x14’ room for its equipment.  It’s now a pet room and filter room for my Africans... yet another story (boa constrictor) etc... so this tank needs an equipment room as well. 

    My bedroom ended up being a really good place to put it as the area of my nightstand has a nice size closet right behind it. My wife, god love her was willing to give up some of it for my equipment.  Plus she wouldn’t have to look at any of it.  Plus this tank fits perfectly on my nightstand.  No need to buy the Red Sea stand which didn’t look good with my furniture. 

     So I quickly cleaned out a corner of her storage closet and built in some wall pass through boxes.  This allowed me to pass wires and water pipes/ lines in and out of the Controll room.  The room will house my ATO bucket, my clean salt water bucket and my waist water bucket.  I also will have a home made Chaetomorphia reactor I built in there.  The APEX is also mounted on the wall but will soon be a project in of itself as I made the mistake of looking at some pretty OCD setups and now I have to have mine look as good.  I’m sure this little room will get many revisions over the years. 

    Power is run into the room via a GFCI plug.  This is mounted to the wall beside the tank so I can easily see it and it’s status.  As for the APEX monitoring, I’m just using the basic APEX with pH probe and temp probe for now.  Doubt I’ll use anything further as far as probes are concerned. I’ve got it all connected and up and running and everything seems to work as it should.  My ATO is on line and working and I’ll discuss in a separate post my modification I made to it. 


The below pictures are a progression of my head scratching. It’s a mess but operational at the moment while my tank is going through the cycle process.  I’ve changed wall plates to accommodate more stuff that was required to pass through the walls and I’m looking at how I want stuff organized.  It will be easier to plan the final layout once I see how everything works and where lines and wires need to go.  










My daughter calls this the Hobbit door.  I’ve hit my head on the top hard enough a couple times that I almost blacked out.  😑


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ATO System


I needed a decent ATO system. I read lots of reviews and all of them had their pluses and minuses. Ultimately I wanted something I could monitor while I’m out of town. Plus the Neptune has several layers of redundancy that I wanted.  So the Neptune ATK it is.  


I ordered it in and found it didn’t fit with the large float.  I stared at it for a few minutes and realized the little float on the bottom of the Red Sea ATO bucket was perfect.  I just unscrewed the big one and replaced the big one with the little one.  Perfect fit.

    I bought some food grade buckets from Tractor supply and came up with a system to keep these buckets filled.  Drilled a hole for pump cord and water line in the optional resealable buckets and it was up and running.  So far I’ve had no issues at all.  Both optical sensors work and the mechanical shutoff works.  So hopefully I don’t flood the bedroom.  But you know how that goes. 😏. My 5 gallon bucket ATO ran for 2 weeks and still had roughly a gallon left in it. To change it, I just fill a new bucket up and exchange it for a full one.  


The pic below shows the final placement of the ATO sensor and plumbing. This is not the final sump layout though. I’ve still got the Chaeto reactor plumbing to show you and my dose pump tubing needs to be installed. No rush on that though as the only life in the tank is a little bacteria.  








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RO and salt mixing station.   



Okay, so I have the room to build my water mixing station /RO setup in my old fish room where my Boa and my African tank is.  I bought a 35 gallon tank from Tractor supply to hold my RO water and got some food grade buckets to hold and mix salt water.  It works pretty good but some issues arose during its first use. 


I have a big wooden table with enough room for this 35 gallon holding tank and I made about 55 gallons of water with my new RO unit ( sold my old one in a fire sale when the old tank crashed). By the way, if you ever get out of the hobby in disgust, do NOT give away all your equipment. Keep it, store it.  Take it from an old guy that you will come back to the hobby in the future. ?‍♂️


So, after my first 55 gallons I realized and remembered I have a lot...LOT of dissolved Co2 in my tap water.  My DI resin was exhausted after only 55 gallons. So what did I do?   Well I turned my holding tank into a de gassing chamber to get rid of the Co2. I then separated my DI filter from the RO unit. RO water fills my storage container and I rigged up a nice air pump.  It aeriates the water and when I need clean DI water I let gravity push water through my DI chamber into what ever bucket I’m trying to fill. Takes about 30 minutes for gravity to fill a 5 gallon bucket.  I might add a second storage tank some day but for now this seems to be functional.  It’s yet to be determined if this solved my DI exhaustion issue.  


Second, my water pressure was kinda low so I added a boost pump and auto shutoff setup to my RO tank.  I forgot to shut it off once already and flooded my garage floor.  Grrrr.   Fixed now.  I’m now seeing about 80-90 psi at the RO unit up from 42 psi.  


Ive since mounted the air pump to the wall above the water tank to avoid any back siphon issues and ordered up some splitters and valves so I can get plain RO water for rinsing stuff and cleaning test kit vials out.  No need for DI water for some stuff.  Eventually I will re run wires and water/air  lines to make this room look neat as well. 




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Wow, that’s an impressive setup! Nice to have the hobbit room to use like that to keep everything out of sight. Looking forward to following along. 

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Chaetomorphia reactor 


I looked at a few threads on building an algae reactor.  Found several here on the NANO forums and decided to give it a try.  Seemed simple enough. Being consistent with the theme of overkill, I looked around for a decent size solution.  

   I found a large whole house water filter with a clear housing.  I wanted some high flow quick disconnects and decent size tubing so I’d have a nice low pressure closed loop to my sump.  

     I used push to connect fittings I ordered from US plastics and bought their high flow connectors.  I probably would try something smaller and cheaper If I built this again but I’m liking how it seals without loosing a drop when I disconnect even with the pump still going.   I will be tidying up the plumbing of this to get it to sit nicely along the wall soon enough.  However I want to get my mounting box figured out first for all my Apex and wires etc.. so leaving the pipes long for now so I can move this giant reactor around when needed. 


Ok, below you see the progression of the build.  The light chamber is built out of a Stainless steel cheap trash can from Walmart.  I glued the spiral of hydroponic lights I got off Amazon to the inside and just set this reactor inside.  It’s easy to lift it out and carry it to my pet room for cleaning and maintenance.  

    As for the down tube, I used a piece of PVC but it had to be split to wedge it into the hole.  I took my band saw and cut lots of slits in the end so it would compress into it.  It’s a very tight fit.  Then I drilled the bottom of the down pipe for even flow of the water up through the Chaeto.  

    This has been flowing now for several days with no leaks.  Lights are off for my cycle but I plan to add Chaetomorphia once my cycle is complete. 









For zize comparisons, those buckets are standard 5 gallon buckets and the water lines are 1/2” going to the reactor.  




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16 minutes ago, banasophia said:

Wow, that’s an impressive setup! Nice to have the hobbit room to use like that to keep everything out of sight. Looking forward to following along. 

Thanks.  I’m a LONG way from being successful with a NANO but it’s been a fun build so far.  I’ll post the occasional pic of my buddies 800 gallon build and my 600 African but this tank should look presentable soon enough.  I’m gonna take everything really slow so likely nothing but setup and technical post for the foreseeable future.  🙂. I expect several bumps in the road as I have no NANO experience.  From what I know, it’s very unforgiving of laziness and I have my moments.  To be honest, the most fun part so far has been the setup of the automation and monitoring.  Wish I had this back in the day with my old reef.  It would have saved my tank.  

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TANK aquascaping. 


So I didn’t spend a ton of time doing this.  It looks decent enough. My only real goals were to have room all the way around the rock and have several flat places up top and around the edges to glue frags in the future.  

    I himmed and hawed (is that a real word?) for a while about a bare bottom tank and sand.  I decided for now to add the sand as I like the way it looks. But could always go bare bottom in the future if the sand becomes a pain in the ARS.   


I decided to to give some fake rock a try.  Dry or dead “live” rock if you will.  I’ve never done this.   My 600 I filled with all fresh live rock and let it cure my tank.  It worked awesome, was expensive but in the end I decided to try this and also would help Controll the amount of hitchhikers I put into this little tank. 


Here are a few pictures of what I’m starting with.  I really thought about trying to get some mortar and build a nice column that seemed to defy the force of gravity but in the end laziness won and this is it for now. The great thing about a NANO is it’s just too easy to do over and move stuff around compared to a 600 gallon reef that I had to use a scuba mask and snorkel to work on especially place I g corals near the bottom half of the tank.  I don’t envy my buddy as he built his 48” deep. He’s gonna feel my pain soon enough.  But once done, there is nothing more spectacular than a tall tank. 


Here is mine.  Nothing but water and bacteria for now. 

First couple of pics is just the dead rock sitting on the bag of sand while I was gathering the basics.  The latter is the semi final placement and water fill.  


I will say, it’s incredibly hard to photograph using my phone or tablet as the blue lights really mess with the camera.  I’ll have to try an SLR in the future. 








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So my rock is in, water is in, pumps flowing and passed my leak check.  I decided to try the fishless cycle this time since I didn’t go the true live rock route.  I am following the Dr Tim’s method and see how it goes.  I’ve added the ammonia and bottle of bacteria and am just waiting on nature to take its course.  I’ve logged all my tests in the APEX which is kinda cool.  My ammonia has been dosed twice.  Ammonia is falling nicely, nitrite is climbing pretty high and nitrates seem to be forming but likely the nitrate test is just reading my high nitrites.  

     Now just leave we’ll enough alone and let the bacteria grow and multiply.  In the mean time I will be working on tidying up my equipment setup.  


Im really loving the APEX so far.  




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Here is a pic of the CHAETO reactor plumbing and my doseing tubing holder. I’ve yet to run that tubing. I’ll likely wait until I finish my APEX display board. 


Been working all day trying to figure out how I want my wall to lay out. Here is my most recent rendition.  I’ve changed how my power bars wil, be configured because of the plugs I’ve chosen. 










I used this picture pulled from the APEX user site as my inspiration for my power bar layout.  




Ive ordered all the grommets to make this little project come together. Just need to get the plywood to make the display wall. 


More to come. 


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Welcome to the community @Jeff Hood! 👋


I love seeing behind the scenes of your build, impressive work! Hiding everything in the closet behind the tank is very slick, lots of clever solutions here! Keep up the good work 👍


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Ok, tank is taking a while to cycle with the dead rock fishless method but I’m being patient.  May add some more bacteria in the next week if the nitrites don’t budge. 

     In the mean time I am scratching my OCD itch and mounting my APEX in a pleasing way.  Been a fun project.  Here are some progress pictures on that.  




Trial fit.  I ended up cutting another board a little taller by 3 inches. The ceiling LED lights will be moved to in front of the board. For behind the board a buddy is donating a colored LED strip so plan to mount it back there for an accent orange glow.

   I have the fittings to mount my Chaeto Reactor neatly against the wall.   My top off and water change buckets should look neater as well.   




This is is the panel for the back wall. To the right in the above picture. This is where I will mount my dosing reservoir.  















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Making my custom cords.  Didn’t order quite enough of the 4:1 shrink wrap so at a stopping point but got a lot done today.  






All of the main power cords done.  Just needs a couple of the hidden ends re covered in shrink wrap.  Used the 1.25” 4:1 shrink ratio wraps from wire care.  




Bracing cut.  This will keep the thin plywood flat, and a solid surface to mount the brackets to, and will give me something to mount cable and hose organizing hardware behind the scenes.  



Im going to round the corners and edges with my router and paint the board charcoal gray.   It’s getting closer but a lot of work to go. 



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Sexy! Great use of the hobbit room. 

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Thanks MrsK, Sancho.   It’s a fun project so far.   I’m ready to start getting some life in there besides bacteria.  


Tomorrow im painting my display,gluing in my grommets.   I hope to have everything mounted by early next week.  

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Looking good, and looks like you may have used Caribsea Liferock which is infused with live bacteria spores to colonize faster... I used it in both my tanks and I’m very happy with it. 

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9 hours ago, banasophia said:

Looking good, and looks like you may have used Caribsea Liferock which is infused with live bacteria spores to colonize faster... I used it in both my tanks and I’m very happy with it. 

That’s good to know you were happy with it.  I’ve never done the dead rock thing so was kinda experimenting with it.  It sure looks real so tank looks established right away.  I’ll definitely report my experience with it.  

     Thanks Logical Reefs.  This is my first experience with a NANO build and with the computer automation.   If you guys see me doing something stupid let me know.   Not that anybody would hold back on the internet 😂

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African tank all clean and ready for company. 


Got paint on my APEX display.  Few more coats then I’ll move onto the back side with a coat of white. 




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3 hours ago, Jeff Hood said:

That’s good to know you were happy with it.  I’ve never done the dead rock thing so was kinda experimenting with it.  It sure looks real so tank looks established right away.  I’ll definitely report my experience with it.  

     Thanks Logical Reefs.  This is my first experience with a NANO build and with the computer automation.   If you guys see me doing something stupid let me know.   Not that anybody would hold back on the internet 😂

Also just FYI, you can mention someone’s name by using the @ symbol. For instance @Jeff Hood  that way if you wanted to ask them a question related to what they posted they can be notified if they aren’t following your post.

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Getting closer to being operational.  Tank is flying solo tonight on just wall power.  😛.  


Ive got a few more things to get in to pull it all together but it’s looking close.  










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