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20 gallon high setup with a budget


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hello I have been keeping freshwater fish:(african cichlids, goldfish, tropicals) for 15 years and now I woke up this morning and thougth I would like to keep salt water fish. I have a 20 gallon high tank (roughly 24 inches across) and I would like to use it to keep several marine fish, mostly corals, live rock, etc. Please have in mind that I am under a strict budget.


1. Would a hang on the back power filter, such as AquaClear 200, Penguin Bio Wheel, Whisper 20-40, etc. be okay for usage in a salt water tank?

a - any special filter media required?

b- in addition I plan to purchase live rock and not live sand, instead I want to use crushed coral.

If it is possible I would like to change the water once every two weeks.


2. What sort of lighting would be best for some commonly sold corals, and if that might get too much in money, then what is the minimum kind of lighting to keep live rock alive.

Thorn%202L24%20box.jpg This sort of light?


3. Would it probably be cheaper to mix my own salt or purchase premixed water from the petstore?


4. Are hydrometers quick and easy to use?

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a lot of it depends on what you want to keep, if you are on a severe budget i would go with a fowlr tank(imo). you could always upgrade it later

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when i say budget, i mean i have about 100-150 bucks to spend on mainly filteration, lighting, live rock. So I was wondering if I could use filters I already have. Coral can come at a later time, and I'll just get a few damsels for now to continue cycle.

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1. you could use the FW hob but i'd remove the biowheel. nice application for fish-only but wrong application for reef.


no special media is required but i'd recommend having some carbon and Poly-Filters on-hand for "oops" issues.


avoid the crushed coral imo, it can be used but creates much more problems than it's worth.


once every two weeks would be about the limit of my recommendation but ymwv. some people go longer (much longer) (and much much longer) and some people do it weekly.


2. don't skimp on the lights. if you're not going to go all the way (or most of the way) just keep fish imho. if you skimp, you'll end up regretting it and spending twice or thrice for what you eventually want. (try hellolights.com for affordable lighting, go metal halides and don't worry about "is it enough?")


3. mix your own. cheaper, usually. and if you ever have to make an emergency change, you're not running to the lfs.


4. yes, but get a refractometer ($40 < headaches).


good luck and welcome to the salty side!

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1. what substrate would you reccomend then?

and how much reallly, would live sand benefit the filteration process?


2. If i only filtered with live rock, would I then have to change the water weekly?

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That light isn't going to work very well for coral.


If you want to keep coral, and since you are on a budget, I would get this light.



That light will allow you to keep Zoanthids, Mushrooms, Palythoa (Spelling?), Star Polyps, and some of the Lower Light needing Leather Corals.


For Filtration, I wouldn't use any of the ones you listed. But, you could always convert the Aqua Clear 200 into a Refugium.


A Refugium is a place to grow Macroalgaes that naturally take out the waste products that are in the water. Do a search on how to mod the AC200 into a Fuge.


It's not all that expensive to buy the water premixed. It usually sells for $1 a gallon, so since it is commonly suggested to change out 10% (2 gallons in your case) of water per week, it will only cost you $2 a week for water changes.


Take note that the water will evaporate, making the salt content higher, there for you have to add fresh water to keep it at the optimal level (1.023ppm-1.026ppm). You can use a Swing Arm Hydrometer to test the amount of salt that's in the water. (If you want to really be accurate, I would get a Refractometer instead, but it's not that important, I use a Swing Arm Hydrometer)


Anything else you would like to know?


BTW, I would have to suggest using Caribsea Figi Pink Live Sand, it's not realy pink, and I don't know why they call it that.

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i'd suggest sand, not oolithic (aka powder) but something in the 2~5mm range i think is what the next grade/size up is. i prefer 'fiji pink' form caribsea, pers pref.


live sand is bs most of the time imho. unless you can get it from a mature/established tank it's basically "live water". sometimes you might get a good batch but you could also get a smelly bag. dating on these things is very crucial. (imagine ziploc'ing something for oh, five weeks-from manufacturer-distributor-lfs. :barf: )


spend the money on good fresh LR and soft cycle it as if it was a fish. you may just end up with a freshly chipped-off piece of rock off the reef that went straight into your tank.


regular waterchanges usually is the best way to go. starting out, i'd recommend weekly changes. you'll learn your specific tank's needs after a while and you can then 'experiment' on less and less. (i went almost two years once. ewww. :blush: )

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i have an odyssea 65watt pc that i got off of eBay for $46 shipped. its cheaper, but im now hearing stories about bad ballasts or something that light on fire/smoke. so far mine has been fine(2months). just remember that you get what you pay for.

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do live rock need any special kind of lighting?


as for filteration, what are some of the options for a 20h and wouldnt a regular hob filter work anyways?

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im just not sure what type of lighting, wattage, brand, etc
you might want to look around in the members' tank forum for ideas and commentaries.


we could post up a couple of choices but that would be imo a skewed view of what is truly available out there nowadays.






<cough> 150W Double-Ended metal halide, 20000K bulb (XM), with actinic supplementaton (PC or VHO). :P


that's the minimum i would suggest for a 20H. :lol:

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as for lighting I think I will go with the one Travis suggested.


but anyways,

So is filteration really needed or is live rocks and clean up crew good enough? Why isnt it okay to use a normal hang on back filter with sponge, carbon, in saltwater. Will a refugium clean the water better?


If I mix my own salt, can I use water from the tap, add dechlorinater and then add salt?


What exactly are low light corals - does that mean they require less hours of lighting, less watage?


If i buy a small coral, how long does it take for it to grow? And do they need to be fed some microscopic animal or something?


What is that common green, fast growing, sea plant that starts with the letter H, I recently saw something about it on PBS, and how it was taking over the oceans of the world, I want to grow it in my aquarium.

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What is that common green, fast growing, sea plant that starts with the letter H, I recently saw something about it on PBS, and how it was taking over the oceans of the world, I want to grow it in my aquarium.


I know what program you are talking about, and it's called Calurpa Prolifera.


You could get away with just live rock, live sand and a HOB, but don't use the sponge and other stuff, just use the Carbon bag.


Low light corals are corals that don't need high intinsity lighting because they come from the lower levels of the reef where there is less light penatration from the sun.


The groth rates of each type of coral varies, but the lower light corals are usually fast growers and multiply and spread quickly if the water quality is kept up.


If you are going to mix your own salt water, you are going to need to use Distiled water or water that has been run through a Revers Osmosis and Deionization filter, which the RO/DI filter would be way out of your budget, it would probly cost around what you have for start up. So you can either buy Distiled water, and mix it, or you can buy the RO/DI water from your local reef shop and mix your own salt.


When I first got into reefing, I bought my own water, but now that I have my own RO/DI unit, I make my own salt water and top off water.

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What i dont understand is, if i remove the sponge from my HOB filter, then where are the benefictial bacteria going to live?

in the live rock

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there's no way you can do this for $150. live rock alone costs $6 a pound, and you need at least 20 pounds. sand costs about $20-30 for a 20 lb bag, and salt, if you mix your own, starts at $15 for 50 gallons worth of mix. add in the lights, refractrometer, anything else you need and livestock, your talking $300 minimum. do yourself a favor: save, research, and go all out. you get what you pay for, and upgrading is just gonna cost you more money than buying the good stuff to start out with.

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Wells said PUFG, It's always a good Idea to research all of your options before buying. I would take the money you have now, put it in your night stand, or some place safe, and start reading and start saving.

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live rock: $4 lb shipped from www.etropicals.com

my lfs has 15lbs spec. grade reef sand : $16

hydrometer: $15




in the end proper research and patience will save you a lot of money and give you a better setup anyway

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I am doing the same thing you are yogurtpooh. going from freshwater to saltwater with as little cost as possible. Here’s what I am doing. I’m running my old biowheel currently to keep initial cost down. Rinsing it out every other day till cycle is done then i will remove the wheel.


15lbs of dry sand: $17

50gallons of salt: $25

distilled water: 36cents/gallon

24" generic fluorescent lamp from Wal-Mart: $8


I have 2 18" fluorescent from past hoods and put all 3 tubes in a homemade hood for a total of 105 watts. I will be replacing the 2 18" tubes with marine glo tubes for $12/tube.


I am using 2 clowns to cycle the tank with a few lbs of live rock to keep initial cost down.


I will be adding the Current USA "Fission" Nanoskimmer ($33) and a DIY refugium using the AC110(500) ($37) in a few weeks.

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Why are y'all using fish to cycle the tank? Really old school. throw a kroger brand piece of shrimp in their and let it go. Using fis hfor a cycle is really a bad idea IMO. As far as a budget tank goes, forget it. I tried it, you will get it set up...but then you will add...and add....and before u know it you spent $600 on a tank ur not totaly happy with. Go with a aquapod or something all-in-one, Initial start up price will be higher but in the end you will be happier. Best of luck!

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i would use more sand, i have 20lbs in my 20H and have about an inch in depth, i wouldnt go any lower but i like the look of a thicker bed. your not going to need a skimmer or a refuge if you keep a light bio load. i have 2 clowns, and 7 corals, do weekly water changes and everything is fine. i have had NO algae outbreaks of any kind. I took things very slow also. 6 weeks before anything added. just sand and rock. my intial setup was $160 to all you who think this can't be done on a budget.

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just not to sound ignorant or anything i am a firm believer in fuges and skimmers, i just think sometimes people use them as cover up to not doing regular matainence. also i had the tank, hood, heater, filter that not included in the 160$.

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also i had the tank, hood, heater, filter that not included in the 160$.
not included in the $160 or included in the $160?


coral, livestock, test kits, water, salt, LR, plus the hardware above is waaay over $200.


this hobby is not for the "faint of heart" or "light of wallet". those would be the FW or Fish-Only forums around the corner.


be prepared to spend some money. that doesn't necessarily mean buying all the name brands and popular doohickeys of the moment though.


can this hobby be done on a budget? sure. you kinda need to know what-how much-where to buy though. the advice here is just to help avoid spending 3x on the same area of concern (e.g. protein skimmer, lighting, LR, etc.).


don't forget upkeep too. initial investment's one thing, upkeep can become a financial strain. not to mention feeding the reef-habit. "gimme frags, gimme frags." :lol:

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