Keeping it Simple Building A New Tank

Keeping it Simple Building A New Tank


While it still looks good, keeping this tank at its best has been difficult do to poor planning on not keeping things simple, especially during the last two years.

KISS, the acronym, not the band, has often been touted as a key part of being successful long-term in this hobby. This runs hand in hand with the concept that the easier something is to do, the more likely we are to do it. And with there seemingly being something to do constantly with our tanks, it makes even more sense to keep things simple. As I am preparing to tear down my old tank and set up a new tank, I couldn’t help but notice how many things I did on my old tank that were anything but simple, and as a result how many times I was slow or negligent in doing them. So as the transition to my new tank progresses, I am taking my time and trying to design things to be as simple as possible so that maintaining the tank long-term will be relatively easy. While some of things I am hoping to do, may not seem simple at first, in the long run I am hoping that they will make it much easier for me to maintain this tank over time much more efficiently and easily than is the case with my older tank, even though the older tank is significantly smaller. Truth be told, when I ran my nano tank separate from the older tank’s system, I spent significantly more time on it on an hour per gallon basis than I did on any of my larger tanks, so if I do things right I hopefully will be able to spend even less time maintaining the new tank and more time enjoying it.


Setting up a new tank, once its in, is one of the fun aspects of the hobby, but only when done right with good planning and keeping complicated things to a minimum.

The first thing I am doing with the new tank, that I did not do with the old tank is taking my time and planning things out thoroughly before I do them. With the old tank this was not possible as it was necessary to move things out of the 1200-gallon tank I had in my old house in haste for reasons I will not go into, and as a result, the 300-gallon tank was set up without much planning or forethought. As a result, things were done out of necessity rather than with an understanding of what it would take to maintain them long-term. Case in point, the sump and skimmer were too big for the space allotted in the stand under the tank. This has resulted in several issues. The first of which is that it is impossible to clean or work on the skimmer in any way that is fast or easy. Due to poor planning, the top of the skimmer is just a few inches beneath the bottom of the tank and the sump runs up only a few inches below this. Because of this, it is difficult to remove the head of the skimmer not just to remove the skimmate but also when it is necessary to clean the skimmer. Needless to say, because of this the skimmer is not cleaned as regularly or as thoroughly as it should be, so its efficiency is reduced due to my not being able to do this. This poorly planned and cramped sump has also resulted in it being difficult to work on any of the plumbing, reactors or pumps that reside there as well. So over time, all of these pieces of equipment are not maintained to the level I would like.


An external overflow will help to keep things simple for a number of reason.

This lack of simplicity is also manifest in some of the plumbing that has been utilized on this tank as well. A lack of unions and shut-offs in a couple of cases has resulted in pipes needing to be sawed off after the tank was set up. This is one of my big no-nos, and it occurred due to my not keeping things simple when this tank was set up. This complexity in design also resulted in the need to use multiple pumps for return water and to feed the reactors and other equipment, proper planning and design would have allowed for a single pump to be used, which would have made several things much simpler. Because of this, not only is a significant amount of wasted electricity being used, but these pumps also generate a fair amount of unnecessary heat, which has resulted in the need for fans and other cooling devices to be employed. Again, not making things simple has over time added to the cost of maintaining the tank as well as wasted time and effort to keep it cool. Hopefully with the amount of time I have taken to plan things out it will be possible to set up the new tank so that none of these things will be an issue.


When internal overflows are employed some of the pests we eliminate from our tanks thrive an breed in the overflows.

In terms of plumbing and reactors and the sump for the new tank, they will differ significantly from what was used and how it was set up on the old tank. The sump itself will be a 180-gallon tank that has some custom baffles in it. To reduce the need for pumps, the return water from the main tank will flow out of the external overflow and into and across a frag tank that will sit above this sump. This sump will not be under the 500, but instead it will sit where the current 300-gallon tank rests. If over time, I decide that a frag tank is no longer necessary, it should be relatively easy to remove it and the flow will then be directed into the first chamber of the sump, from which it will flow from the frag tank. There will be pictures of this in a future article once that aspect of the new tank is set up. To further make things simple, only a single pump will be employed to return water back to the main tank from the sump. From this return, several smaller returns will be employed to feed reactors. These will include GFO and carbon reactors, but these will not be employed full time, so it will be possible to shut them on and off as needed. Also to make things simpler, unlike all of my tanks which have employed a refugium in the sump full of Miracle Mud, the Miracle Mud in this tank will be housed in two flow through reactors. While this will allow for the employment of the mud as I have done for the last twenty years, it will make changing it out as simple as dumping out a reactor and refilling it with mud. It will be interesting to see what this change does for the long-term health of the the tank.


Eurobracing not only strengthens the tank but it adds other positive aspects as well.

As stated above, none of the equipment used for filtration as well as the sump itself will be housed in the stand underneath the tank. As a result, the powdered coated aluminum stand did not need to be high enough to allow for equipment. It is in fact only 25” high. This lower height was chosen for several reasons. First, it will allow for me to work in the tank without having to climb on a ladder. I will in fact be able to reach most of the tank when I am standing on the floor. Second, by having the top of the tank be lower due to having a lower stand it will be possible to easily view the top of the tank and the corals, which to me is often the best view of a tank. And third stand is still high enough that I can easily get underneath when I have to, and it is now easy to do so as there is no equipment being housed in it. By having the sump be away from and separate from the tank will allow for easy access for not only maintenance but also will make it easy to make changes in equipment as new equipment for the hobby comes out, which it inevitably will.


Without any bracing at the top of the tank, salt creep is a constant problem even if is is just from the fish splashing.

One last thing I am employing on this tank, that I believe will make things much simpler is that an external overflow is going to be utilized. Unlike all of my past tanks where the overflow(s) were either in the back corners or in the middle of the tank and filled from the top to at least halfway to the bottom of the tank, this overflow is external and is located on one of the short sides of the tank. As a result, none of the real estate within the tank is utilized for an overflow or related equipment. So not only does this give the tank more space, which of course is important in a 500-gallon tank that is seven feet long and four feet wide, but it also reduces the dead areas within these overflows which I have found is where over time a lot of the creatures we don’t want in our tanks tend to live and propagate. Also because the overflows will be out and easy to see, unlike the corner overflows now employed, it will be much easier to remove any waste or detritus that currently settles in the bottoms of these overflows. This should add to the simplicity of keeping detritus from accumulating in the tank.


Poor planning made just cleaning the skimmer a process more complicated than it should be.

Another simple aspect of the new aquarium that the old aquarium lacked is that the new aquarium is Eurobraced around the top and bottom. While this increases the durability and the strength of the tank, it also has one added benefit that its simplicity makes things easier. The bracing around the top significantly reduces the amount of salt creep around the tank. I did not realize how much of a problem this is, but every time I worked on the old tank, or the fish splashed aggressively, there a significant amount of saltwater that made its way to the front glass. This has led to me having to clean the outside of the glass far more often than is the case with a Eurobraced tank. It may sound simple, but in a week I spent 15-20 minutes cleaning this salt creep from the glass. So in reality I wasted about an hour a month doing this when I could have been doing something more productive.



Using powerful pumps on opposite ends of the tank will hopefully produce a gyre that will now only provide strong flow but also keep any detritus in circulation to be removed by the external overflow.

I am also attempting to make the flow within the tank be far more simple than is the case in the current tank. To achieve this three Tunze Stream 3 pumps will be employed on the bottom below the overflow, and 3 Vortec MP 60s will be employed on the opposite side of the tank near the surface. The goal of such a deployment is for these pumps to generate a gyre over time that will not only keep any detritus, wasted food and anything else in suspension, but it will also allow it to be pushed out the overflow and out of the tank. At least in theory this is what I am designing to occur, it will be interesting to see if this is the case in practice. In addition, four Tunze powerheads will be placed the upper corners of the tank and will pulse randomly to create some random flow throughout the tank. I plan on having the Streams and Tunze powerheads shut off at night and the flow from the Vortecs to be greatly reduced as well, so that the tank will have significantly less flow at night. Because I will be employing over 95X the tank’s volume for flow in this tank during the day, it would be difficult to employ substrate and not having it constantly move into piles, so the tank will be run bare bottom. While I have run tanks that have employed substrate in the past, it has been my experience that bare bottom tanks usualy are easier and simpler to maintain over time. On several occasions, I have found it necessary to remove all of the substrate that was initially used once it had fouled. This was a not a fun endeavor and took up a significant amount of time, so I do not relish having to do it again.


Getting the new tank into place was relatively easy, removing the old tank may prove to be a bit more complicated.

One of the other aspects of simplicity that I hope to employ and have learned from past tanks is managing the electrical equipment used in the tank. The current system of tanks currently have 39 different pieces of equipment plugged in around the room on 3 15 amp circuits. To say it is an electrician’s nightmare is an understatement. So for the new tank 3 additional 20 amp circuits have been added. This will hopefully result in fewer times a circuit breaker has popped because I added one more piece of equipment or ran the sweeper in the room. I also hope to make the electrical aspect of the tank simpler in two other ways. Due to how I am designing things and what I am planning on using as equipment I hope to cut the number of pieces of equipment down from 39 to 24-28. Obviously, reducing the number of plugged in pieces of equipment by 25% is significant, but that is the plan. When I explain all of the equipment being used in a future article I will explain this further. Managing this equipment will also be simpler as I am going to use an old school label maker to label each piece of equipment and also where it is plugged in. This will hopefully reduce the time wasted that currently occurs when I play hide and seek when something needs to be unplugged.


Simplicity itself. Any flat surface around a tank immediately becomes a shelf for storing everything we use. This will not be the case with the new tank.

Lastly, one of the things I also hope to do in this tank in terms of simplifying this tank is in the choice and number of fish. To put it bluntly, having fish in a reef tank complicates things. They get sick, they harass each other and worst of all, they occasionally become greedy consumers of our corals. And this last aspect often occurs after they have been good citizens in a tank for a while. Now as much as I hate to admit it, I love fish too and now collect them like I do corals. I once set up a tank with nothing but corals, and I thought it was spectacular. However, everyone who came by to see it said the same thing; “it looks great, but where are the fish?” So needless to say we need fish in our tanks to get the full effect. So in order to reduce the stress of having fish, I am first going to have a full time quarantine tank set up, just for new arrivals, one for fish and one for corals. Second, I am keeping most of my current fish and am going to to simply transfer the fish that are currently in the 300 to the 500. Lastly I am going to try and keep any new additions of fish to a minimum. While I currently have 35 fish in the 300, I only plan on going to 40-45 fish in the new tank. While still a significant number, I don’t think they will stress the new tank in the way that their current number does in the 300. There will be some tweaks that I plan on employing for keeping these fish in the new tank that I will discuss in future articles.


The low stand allow for access underneath the tank, but is low enough that it will be easy to work on the tank from the top.

Keeping things simple is not as easy as it seems, as for some reason this hobby and the nature of us hobbyists tends to move toward being complicated. But keeping things simple and easy to do should be the goal of each of us, as from what I have learned it often leads towards greater long-term success. But in order to keep things simple, usually requires proper planning which takes time. In my experience, the time spent planning things properly and keeping things simple pays off many times down the road, so keep this in mind when you plan and set up your next tank.
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Mike Paletta
Michael Paletta’s actual career is working in genomics in breast and colon cancer for Genomic Health. He has been an avid reef keeper since 1984. He has kept personal reef aquaria ranging in size from 20 gallons to 1200 gallons and has helped set and build other reef aquaria up to 4,000 gallons in size. He currently maintains several reef aquaria including a 300 gallon sps dominated tank and a 75 lps tank. He has also consulted for The National Aquarium in Baltimore as well the Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium.

Michael has published over 100 articles on various aspects of reef keeping in SeaScope, Aquarium Fish Magazine, FAMA, Practical Fishkeeping, and Coral Magazine. He has also published two books: The New Marine Aquarium and Ultimate Reefs. Michael has been invited to speak at various venues around the world and across the country and has given over 200 such talks.

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Mike Paletta
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