Fluval Flex 32.5 Saltwater (123 Marine) - Back to Reefkeeping

JReef3

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History:
After more than 5 years tankless, I decided to get back into reefkeeping. About 10 years ago when my daughter was on the way, I decided to downsize from a 90gal mixed reef with a 30gal sump/fuge to a 28gal JBJ LED Nano Cube as I knew my free time would be limited. Fast-forward 5 years and the Nano Cube cracked a few days after we moved to a new house. At that point I packed my LR from the Nano in a 5gal bucket, stuck it in the shed, and gave away the remaining fish/corals to a good home. Fast-forward 5 more years and here we are. I decided to stick with the 30ish gallon AOI category like my JBJ Nano was since, now having 2 kids, I appreciate the low-maintenance aspect of it. After quite a bit of searching here and googling around, I decided to go with either the Fluval Flex 32.5 or a BioCube 32 as both are the size I’m looking for, both have decent LED lighting, and both have lids which I find to be a must with my kids to avoid stuff flying into the tank. I ended up going with the Flex for a change of pace since I’ve done a cube before and because I like the longer/wider footprint with the same volume for the slightly more spread out aquascaping possibilities.

The Big Purchase:
Perhaps due to the pandemic, I found only 3 places online that carried the Flex 32.5 Saltwater but in a stroke of luck, I found one on the shelf at my LFS for the same price as the least expensive one online so I picked it up.

The Plan:
- Top Fin aquarium stand with a modified top to accommodate the wider footprint of the Flex
- 24lbs of natural Fiji LR (now dead as it’s been in a bucket for the past 5 years)
- 10lbs of dry rock from the LFS
- 40lbs CaribSea Fiji Pink live sand
- Livestock will consist of a mixed reef and community fish hopefully including a BSJF or a Goby/pistol shrimp pair
- Equipment will start off stock to give Fluval’s design a chance with upgrades likely to follow including a higher output return pump and InTank media baskets. I have an Inkbird heater/fan controller on the way and will cycle the tank with my 2 old Eheim Jager 50W heaters from the Nano with plans to replace them with 2 new 75W or perhaps some Fluvals. For circulation, I will start off the Hydor Koralia Nano I have from my old NanoCube.

Current Situation:
I find myself really excited to be getting back into such a great hobby. I didn’t realize how much I missed it until I considered starting back up. I’m now, as patiently as I can, going full speed gathering everything I need to get this show on the road. I really appreciate everyone on this forum who has already shared so much of their knowledge and experience with me and I look forward to learning and sharing with everyone as all of our reefs progress.

Prior Tanks:
I’ll leave this first post with a few photos of my old 90 and my 28 to show where I’ve been and posts to follow will have photos of the new Flex 32.5 to show where I’m headed. Thanks to everyone who has lasted through my long-winded intro. :)

Here’s the old 90gal I had about 10 years back.
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And here is my JBJ NanoCube, my last tank before I took a break from reefkeeping 5 years ago.
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JReef3

JReef3

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The Stand:
When it came to the stand, my wife had some input there. We have an over 100 year old house with a sort of farmhouse theme so she wanted something to go with it. The Flex 32.5 is a bit longer than many tanks of it’s volume so finding a stand that matched our style and fit the tank was a challenge. After scouring Amazon and Wayfair for TV stands that might work, I ended up finding an aquarium stand at the local big box pet store that, with a little modification, would work perfect. Go figure, after all that time searching online, the answer ended up costing less than a TV stand/cabinet and was a 10 minute drive away. I ended up getting a TopFin 37gal stand and then I cut a 3/4" sheet of plywood a bit larger than the top of the stand to accommodate the tank dimensions. I then painted the plywood with 3 coats of Rustoleum gloss black enamel using a paint brush.
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JReef3

JReef3

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The Tank:
As I mentioned, I was scouring the internet for this tank with only a few places having it available. I ended up checking out both of my LFS and one of them actually had one on the shelf for the lowest price I was able to find it online so that was a big win. This tank comes packaged very well/safely and just barely slid into the back of my car with the rear seats folded down. You can see in the first photos of the unboxed tank that it slightly hangs over the sides of the stand and then further down, you can see where the tank is sitting on the larger 3/4" piece of plywood I painted and put on top of the stand.
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Below you can see the tank is just a bit too long for the stand without the plywood.
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The photo below shows the stand with the added plywood top to accommodate the larger tank footprint.
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I also put a small strap between the stand and a wall stud as simple insurance against a CA earthquake or some crazy scenario where my kids somehow tilt the tank over.
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And here's a shot of the tank test-fitted onto the new stand top.
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JReef3

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All-Important Water:
Now that I had the tank and stand, it was time clean up the old RO/DI system that had been sitting in an old Brute container in the yard. It was about a 15 year old Ocean Reef +1, 5 stage system from The Filter Guys. I decided I would need to replace the RO membrane, DI resin, and all of the filters so I tried to go to their website but found that they are no longer in business. Too bad because I remember them being very helpful but no worries, BRS to the rescue! I ordered all the replacement parts I thought might need replacing, took apart the unit down to the metal frame due to some rust forming along the edges, and cleaned it up. After a fresh paint job with Rustoleum appliance epoxy spray paint, I assembled the unit and mounted it to the wall.


This thing was pretty disgusting when I first pulled it out of the Brute can in the yard. I debated just buying a new one but ended up pretty happy with the decision to clean it up and replace the parts that can wear out instead.
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I ended up taking it apart and giving it a new paint job due to the rust forming below.
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I separated all of the canister hubs, replaced the teflon tape, and cleaned up the housings.
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I mounted it to a piece of painted plywood on the wall to give it something sold to mount to.
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After installing the cleaned up unit, I realized how much waste water it was generating and decided to add a water saver kit from BRS. You can see the second RO membrane stacked on top of the first in the photo below. It's worth the extra expense in my opinion since it makes RO/DI way faster and cuts waste water down quite a bit which is important out here in CA with our drought situation.
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JReef3

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Mixing Station:
At my old house I had set up a simple mixing station next to my RO/DI unit and decided to do something similar this time. Since my tank is only 32.5 gallons, and really quite a bit less than that after you account for water displacement from the rock, sand, and equipment, I went with a 20gal Brute. I really wanted a blue Brute container just because I liked the look and thought it went well with the whole ocean theme of the hobby, but from my research, I didn’t feel comfortable that it would be 100% safe so I ended up going with a tried-and-true gray Brute.

You can find my thread with concerns and information on different color Brute containers here: https://www.reef2reef.com/threads/brute-water-storage-container-color-does-it-matter.846737/

Now that I had the RO/DI unit set up and had a Brute container, I wanted to make the best use of the space I had and wanted to make it easier to siphon and/or pump water from the Brute to 5gal buckets for water changes. I made a simple stand to elevate the Brute can with just enough space below to store a bucket or box of salt.
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JReef3

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Painting the Back Glass:
While AIO tanks often have the entire back wall partitioned as a dedicated filtration area, with the Flex 32.5 being wider than many AIO’s, only a wide center section of the back wall is a black partition and there is a clear glass section on either side. I decided to black out the clear glass sections for a clean and uniform look.

I searched around for options and many people either use paint, window tint, or Plastidip. An unusual feature of the Flex is a see-through honeycomb grid made of maybe paint or vinyl of some sort along the top inch and a half of the tank; I think it’s intended to camouflage the waterline. This same honeycomb grid covers the entire back wall of the Flex including the filter area and the clear sides. I was concerned that window tint might not fill in the little holes so I chose to go with Rustoleum black gloss enamel as I already had a can of it from painting the plywood top I added to the stand.

I cleaned and taped off the two side sections of the back glass and opted to leave the section in the middle where you can see into the AIO filter area clear. I did this in case I need to look back there for a lost fish or an equipment issue or if I decide to shine a light back in there for a mini refugium down the road.

Since the tank has a curved front, I didn’t have an easy way to lay it display face down horizontally to paint the back so I left it standing upright to paint the back. I read about doing several light coats to avoid runs but was having a slightly hard time filling in the honeycomb so I went a little thick and the paint ran a bit in the back; ultimately this had no effect on the look from the front which turned out looking like a clean, smooth, gloss black when viewing through the display.

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While there’s a smooth roller in the photo below, it didn’t work out well on the honeycomb grid I was painting over and I ended up using one of those inexpensive foam brushes with a wedge tip.
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In the photo below, you can see the honeycomb grid that coveres the entire back of the tank.
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JReef3

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Adding an Eggcrate Foundation:
I’ve always put eggcrate on the bottom of my tanks for two reasons. I feel like it gives the rocks something to bite into so they don’t slide around on the smooth glass during aquascaping or afterward. I also feel like it offers a bit of impact protection to the bottom glass in case a rock were to slip out of my hands or fall over while aquascaping. The only downside I’ve found is that it robs a goby, jawfish, or other sand dweller of a quarter inch of sand depth as the sand just fills in between the squares on the bottom. I first bought some smaller snap together sections of eggcrate from Amazon specifically marketed for aquariums, but they came warped and smelled a bit like plastic which concerned me. I ended up picking up a large sheet of it from the lighting section in Home Depot like I’ve used on my prior tanks which was perfectly flat and had no odor at all.

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I like to leave about a quarter to a half inch around the perimeter so sand fills in along the edges hiding the eggcrate.
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Sand & Rock:
I decided to go with live sand since I like the idea of it coming with some beneficial bacteria and I figured that the more sources of bacteria the tank had, the more diverse and successful it would hopefully be. I debated over sand size as I wanted something fine enough to be sifted by a goby but coarse enough for a pistol shrimp or a Bluespot Jawfish to dig and maintain a burrow. I also didn’t want the substrate to be so fine it would blow around and not so coarse it would catch detritus. I ended up going with CaribSea Fiji Pink and ordered 40lbs as I wanted a deep enough sand bed to accommodate a goby/pistol shrimp pair and a Jawfish. The 40lbs worked out to somewhere between 1 - 1.5 inches deep so I may need to create a deeper sand lagoon for a Jawfish. Once I got it in the tank, I found it to be a little more fine than I thought it would be but but I like it. Also, like many people say, you really don’t notice the pink specks in it at all; it just looks like clean sand.

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For rock, when my NanoCube cracked 5 years back, I took the Fiji and Tonga live rock and put it in a 5gal bucket full of saltwater and threw it in the shed where it sat in the dark, without circulation, and at temperatures from about 30-100F. When I opened the bucket 5 years later everything should have been dead but there seemed to be some polyps, something that looks like tunicates, and a bit of some sort of red macro algae. I brushed them off, hosed them off, RO/DI dipped them, and then threw them in heated, circulating saltwater for a week. By the end of the week I checked them out and there were no signs of anything decaying so I called them good. I wanted a bit more rock for the aquascape so I also went to the LFS and picked up a few dry rocks as well. Since I was at the LFS picking up dry rock, I also picked up a half pound of LR rubble for a bit more bacterial diversity and to seed coraline algae.

This is the Fiji and Tonga rock from the 5gal bucket circulating in a tub after being cleaned off.
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Below was right after adding the sand and rock. The CaribSea comes with a packet of Bio-Magnet clarifier to help with the cloudy water so I threw it in to see how well it would work.
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The water clarifier worked pretty well. Within hours the aquascape was visible and by the next morning it was totally clear. (Keeping the lights off until it is cycled to minimize algae.)
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Nice write up! Tank looks great. Good luck with it. Although you definitely have previous reef experience that will make this next one as good if not better then the rest.
Thanks RoGReeferRV, I appreciate it! I sure hope it turns out well. A lot has changed in the fairly short time I’ve been out of the hobby so lots to catch up on.
 
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That looks great. I have the same tank and really like the stand idea.
Thanks Lsuhunter. Yeah, I had a heck of a time trying to find a stand that would fit this tank well. I was just reading some other thread about these tanks that you were in having a discussion about something or other. Can’t remember which one as I’ve been reading so much on here but I appreciate the info. :)
Nice tank. Love the stand. Nice arches in the rockwork.
Thanks! I was pretty happy with the way the rocks turned out but worry they may end up blocking a lot of light. I’m keeping the lights off during cycling the tank but I may have to move the the light bar forward or adjust a few of the upper rocks if it’s an issue.
 
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Cycling the Tank:
I’ve always cycled tanks with live fish but since coming back to the hobby and after quite a bit of searching, I’ve found that fishless cycling with bottled bacteria and ammonium chloride has become pretty popular. Since it’s supposed to be quicker and wouldn’t be stressful for a fish, I decided to give it a try. I went with Dr. Tim’s One and Only live nitrifying bacteria.

I found Dr. Tim Hovanec’s presentation from MACNA 2019 on fishless cycling on YouTube which included several tips for cycling a tank quickly. Here’s the link:



Apparently, without having to worry about a fish in the tank to get the cycle going, you can lower the salinity to around 18 (1.0135) and increase the temperature to around 85F which is an ideal environment for the nitrifying bacteria to colonize. Rather than depending on the fish to generate ammonia, you just dose ammonium chloride so the ammonia is instantly present in the tank for the bacteria to start converting.

I picked up a bottle of the bacteria (being sure to check the expiration date), a bottle of the ammonium chloride, and the API Saltwater test kit so I could track the cycle’s progression.

The instructions list what to do on days 1-8 at which point you can theoretically add fish if your test results are in order. It’s a pretty easy process of mostly adding the bacteria, adding the ammonium chloride, testing every day, and adding more ammonium chloride on certain days as needed depending on test results. I’m currently on day 4 and test results are showing the cycle progressing so that’s good new so far.

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Per Dr. Tim’s fishless cycling recommendation, I increased the temperature to 85 for the cycle.
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Again, per Dr. Tim’s recommendation, I’ve decreased the salinity for the cycle. I’ll slowly bring these parameters back to normal over a day or two once the cycle is complete before adding livestock.
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Quick Update:

The Cycle -
Just wrapping up day 7 of the cycle so thought I’d post an update. It’s been years since I’ve cycled a tank and I’m new to fishless cycling so I’m not positive, but it looks like things are well on their way. I’m using API test kits which are not ideal but should suffice for tracking the general progress of the cycle. It’s hard to determine exact values based on colors and lighting, but being able to see levels increase and decrease is what’s most important. Ammonia was added directly to the thank at or perhaps a bit above 2.0 ppm on day one and it’s down to about 0.25. Nitrite has now risen and I’m seeing some nitrates as well so it looks like thing are progressing.

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Aquascape-
With a fishless cycle, there’s not a whole lot going on in the tank yet so I’ve been staring at the aquascape I did a week ago and decided that it needed some work. I thought it looked pretty good but I hadn’t given enough consideration to future corals. I’ve ended up keeping the basic structure but changed it up a bit so more light will make it down to lower rocks and sand and so there’s more surface for corals once the tank is ready for for them. I tried not to disturb the sand too much and kept the rocks submerged as the tank is still cycling and these poor bacteria are going through enough as it is;Hurting. I’m sure I’ll keep staring at it over the next week and decide it’s still not quite right but I suppose it’s better to get it dialed in now than when I’ve got fish and frags to worry about squishing with a stray rock.

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What is your light schedule/ setting?
Can you snap a screenshot?
I actually don't have a schedule or any specific settings quite yet as I'm only on day 8 of cycling the tank. I just manually turned on the lights for the photo and played with the color levels for a few seconds to get it to look decent and then shut them back off. It'll be fun to play around with the settings once my tank is read to be lit regularly.
 

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I actually don't have a schedule or any specific settings quite yet as I'm only on day 8 of cycling the tank. I just manually turned on the lights for the photo and played with the color levels for a few seconds to get it to look decent and then shut them back off. It'll be fun to play around with the settings once my tank is read to be lit regularly.
Following, currently putting together my rocks
 
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