Raketemensch's Budget 55g First Build

raketemensch

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I'm picking up a 55g tank tomorrow, used. I'm starting from zero, the closest thing I ever had to even a freshwater fish tank was a "free goldfish" that I actually got in a Happy Meal(!) when I was 10. It was a coupon, not an actual fish, but still -- the lack of respect for an animal is the same. It went about as well as could be expected.

Anyway, I'm planning to focus almost entirely on coral, any other living creatures will be the CUC and any other beneficial fish. Like the title says, I'm a beginner, so I've got a long way to go and probably a couple of months before I put anything living in the tank.

Which brings me to my first quandary -- the tank comes with some live rock and live sand. The seller will be keeping them damp for me, but I don't have an RO system, so I'm not sure how to handle that -- I am not able to fill the system straight away, and I don't think my local Petco sells salt water. I can get salt, obviously, but I only have a single filter on the water here in the house (one of these), which doesn't seem like enough. Reading through the forums there are a lot of people who are annoyed at the "new school" way of thinking, but it seems like the RO/DI water thing is pretty universal, no?

So I'm going to have damp sand and live rock, and a 55 gallon tank without 55 gallons of RO/DI water. I'm not sure how to take care of the live rock and sand until then, I don't want some crazy bacterial breakout to happen because it took me too long to get enough RO water.

Thoughts?
tank.jpg
 
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raketemensch

raketemensch

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Alright, so, that photo is from the Facebook ad I bought it through. I went and picked it up last night and hauled it all home, and took the day off today to get started cleaning and organizing and inventorying and whatnot.

First, however, I went to Home Depot and picked up a RO/DI filter, and installed it before I got started on the tank. It's going through its purge cycle right now, for 24 hours. I assume that people just pick up bigger storage tanks with these things, but I can't imagine how long it'll take me to get to 55 gallons. I'm trying to imagine bringing 55 gallons of salt water home from the store to get this tank up and running faster, because I've got live rock and live sand packed in wet newspaper that's definitely going to dry out before I can produce that much water. Maybe I should let it dry out, then cure it and start from scratch?

It came with a Cascade 1000 canister filter and 2 HOBs, a Whisper 60 and a Whisper EX70. The seller was a smoker, as was his wife, and OH MY GOD was everything nasty. I am amazed that a filter pad, sealed inside the watertight Cascade, could completely stink like wet ash tray. I had an hour drive home with all the gear, and I made the whole drive with all of the windows open and the heat cranked and my ears frozen because I wanted to try to air everything out.

It worked to some degree. For the rest, I gave all of the filters/hoses/media a 4-hour vinegar soak today, changing out the water/vinegar at the halfway point.

IMG_2178.jpeg


While everything was soaking I dragged the tank outside and hosed it all out, then wiped every bit of it with a soft, vinegar-soaked cloth, and rinsed it all out really well. It was somewhat coated with gunk, but looks great now.

When I was done with that I spent hours with a couple of soft cloths and more vinegar/water scrubbing up every inch of the pipes, filters, media, hoses, etc. Everything but the media seems to have lost the smoky smell, and I should really replace that anyway.

I got all of the nasties out, removed all the salt crisps and generally destroyed my hands for about 7 hours today. And while it's certainly not a state-of-the-art system, I think it can do a decent job of getting me started while I learn more and research more. It also came with a 25-gallon tank that should make a decent sump when I get to that point (if I get to that point), and tons of vitamins/minerals/balancers/etc.

Not bad for $100, right?
 
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raketemensch

raketemensch

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I'm just following the manual :]

It's this guy here, and now that I look it says it does ">0.8gpm," which seems rather high, but I'm new to this, so maybe it wouldn't actually take that long, it would only be 62.5 minutes at that rate, and I *did* pick up enough salt to get started...
 

Jvesche20

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you can get a rodi unit for $100 on the cheap end. Also you can take the rock out. It will become "dry" and you will cure it again when you start your cycle. I dont really care too much for live rock because it cost more for one and it has the potential of hitchhikers or other bad things. So I rather just use rock that I can cure my self. I wouldn't recommend doing this but I just used normal water and added salt when I first started and cycled. Had massive algae problems so thats why I wouldn't recommend doing it.

Personally I wouldnt use the cascade filter. Used them with a turtle and I hated it such a pain. It looks like thers a smaller tank under? I would just build a sump, add an over flow box and have a pump to return. Now this will cost more but I will not build a system without it. As my tanks are 200+ gallons a good filtration is much needed. Thats where a protein skimmer comes in. you can get a hang on back skimmer. I have one of these for my brothers build and works great. If you dont want a sump I would do this.
 
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raketemensch

raketemensch

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Well, crap. I tested the water out of it tonight, and sure enough, it defaults to the stress zone. Not a great start. I suppose I can always lower it before adding it to the tank before investing in a better RO unit, no?

I ordered all of my media for the filter, one layer of coarse mechanical, one layer of bio, and one layer of Chemi-Pure Blue. It arrives Friday, so this weekend I'm hoping to fill the tank.
 
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I had tested the RODI water with some strips that came with my used aquarium. Since they were of unknown quality (and the packaging reeked of cigarette smoke), I picked up a new liquid drop test kit yesterday, and everything's fine, there is no ammonia left in the water. Phew.

So I figured I'd start filling 5-gallon buckets to mix my water in, as I haven't had time to properly sanitize any of my older Brute barrels from fermenting in them for other projects. I thought, "This'll be easy, just pull the hose from the tank that came with the filter and drop it into the bucket and wait for it to fill.

Of course, that tank was pressurized. Whoops! So I'm nice and clean now, and so are lots of other things around the laundry sink. Because of the angle I was at it sprayed straight into my face until I could leap away.

I kind of enjoy these sorts of accidents, maybe I've just learned to either because I'm accident prone or because I tend to launch myself into projects like this and experiment my way through them*. Either way, it's been an interesting morning.

The rest of my filtration media arrives today, so I'm going to try to start my first cycle tomorrow.

Which, ironically, requires adding ammonia to the water...



* somewhere around here there's a video of me pulling the valve out of an old beer keg to build a keggle for brewing, and a spout of old beer suddenly spraying 10 feet up into the trees around me
 
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raketemensch

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So, as it turns, out, there's no ammonia in my well water anyway :p

Yesterday was spent re-arranging in the basement and dealing with the sand and live rock, while making up about 30 gallons of salt water and adding it to the tank. I left the RODI unit filling a 32-gallon Brute overnight.

I did find an easy way to move 10 gallons around:

IMG_2194.jpeg


Around 7:30 this morning (I usually sleep until 10 on Sundays) I woke up with a weird feeling, so I ran down to the basement and, sure enough, the float switch on the drain pump for the laundry sink had failed, and the sink was overflowing. Nothing horrible, God knows I've spilled enough water and other weird crap all over the basement floor before (32 gallons of all-grain fermenting beer one time, when I tried to get away with a cheaper-than-Brute barrel, was probably the worst), and it didn't reach anything that would be damaged.

I remain amazed at the amount of waste water there is from RODI, but I guess everyone goes through that.

I also prepped all of the filters -- there's a Whisper 70 EX with mechanical filters and a Whisper 60 with mechanical and charcoal, and I also set up the trays for the Cascade cartridge filter with mechanical on the bottom, then bio rings, and Chemi-Pure Blue for the top tray -- there's a little extra room in that tray, so I'm thinking of adding some floss, since I have a bunch.

IMG_2195.jpeg


So over the next few hours I'll be mixing up the rest of the water and firing up the filters! Can't wait.
 
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raketemensch

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Everything's up and running, and nice and clear. I've been adding flakes daily to spark the ammonia cycle, and got up pretty high already. The cycle will be interesting, because I'm using live rock that was in this aquarium for years, and which I kept damp until I could fire everything up yesterday.

I wanted to check my nitrite level, so I went to Petco and picked up some test strips, but when I got home discovered that the box was empty -- just the instructions, enough to make noise and rattle and make it seem like the box was.... full of the thing I bought.

So I'll be replacing those tomorrow. In the meantime, the aquarium came with a pile of test kits -- I tossed the ones that were strips and hung onto the liquid test kits, so I had one for nitrates.

I'm already at ~5mg/l of nitrates, which from what I read seems pretty quick.
 
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So, I finally got some fresh test strips today. I almost wish I hadn't started with the live rock, and done my first shot with a fully empty tank, as some of the numbers are confusing me. It'd be easier to go through the full cycle of ammonia goes up -> nitrites go up -> nitrites go up, etc.

My nitrites are at 0, and my ammonia is dropping, currently back down to 1. My Nitrites are are .20, which seems close to ideal, from what I've read. My ph is at ~8.5, which is high, and my hardness is through the roof. Like, at the absolute extreme end of the test strips, at ~1000, which would lead to the high ph and also issues if I had anything living in there yet...

I am using well water, which is apparently really hard. Not as in difficult, as in "holy mother of god there are a lot of minerals in this water."

My alk is also very high, possibly for the same reason, so I'll have to do some research on that as well.
 

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If you get an ro/di you may want to run the ro unit then run a bubbler in the water for a day or two then run it through the DI. I read this on a post here on r2r. I think he said it was to degass the co2 out of the water so the di resin works better and lasts longer. Whatever reason his tank was insane with coral and colors were awesome. He was on a well also.
 

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So, I finally got some fresh test strips today. I almost wish I hadn't started with the live rock, and done my first shot with a fully empty tank, as some of the numbers are confusing me. It'd be easier to go through the full cycle of ammonia goes up -> nitrites go up -> nitrites go up, etc.

My nitrites are at 0, and my ammonia is dropping, currently back down to 1. My Nitrites are are .20, which seems close to ideal, from what I've read. My ph is at ~8.5, which is high, and my hardness is through the roof. Like, at the absolute extreme end of the test strips, at ~1000, which would lead to the high ph and also issues if I had anything living in there yet...

I am using well water, which is apparently really hard. Not as in difficult, as in "holy mother of god there are a lot of minerals in this water."

My alk is also very high, possibly for the same reason, so I'll have to do some research on that as well.

Looks like you've got a good start to what will be a very fun project. You're fine with the rock and sand, and likely enough bacteria survived to get the tank cycled quickly.

Some absolutely must-haves are:

1. Refractometer and calibration fluid. If you don't have one, you can pick them up new for $40-$50.

2. Source for 0 TDS RODI water. Either a filter designed for a reef system (minimum 1 sediment filter, 1 carbon block, 1 RO membrane, and a mixed cation-anion resin bed). The home depot filter will get you started, but the cartridges look proprietary, and will not filter your water proper. You're taking a very large gamble with the big box store filter, and the stakes will increase exponentially as you add livestock. Bulk Reef Supply, SpectraPure, and Buckeye all sell very good units. Look for a 5 stage filter, specifically designed for reefs.

3. I assume you have a heater. If not, get one. Test the water temp with a food thermometer to make sure it's in the 78-80 F range. It's not the most accurate verification, but it will get you in the ballpark.

4. While not absolutely necessary at this point, get a powerhead in there for water movement. It will help with biological and mechanical filtration. Generally the more water movement you have, the healthier your pets will be.

Ask questions, and read as much as you can. The new member's area is full of excellent knowledge. Take your time, and buy the right equipment the first time. Do not spend more money on your filter - you will find you don't need it, and will likely Chuck it at some point. Remember, little animal's lives are depending on you. We are here to help.

Don't sweat your water hardness level. It's less important for fish, and as you get into invertebrates and coral, you will want to test for alkalinity, calcium, and magnesium with a specialized test kit. Your test strips are of little value here. Also, no problem with pH of 8.5 - there is no need to worry or adjust.

What brand test kits are you using?
 
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Thanks for weighing in, this is a perfect example of why r2r is so awesome.

I’ve been eyeing a couple of BRS filters, they’ve got some that are very reasonably priced. I wish I’d done that research first, but lesson learned, right?

The kits are API and a brand I can’t think of right now, it starts with an S. The API are the cheapos, but the liquid kits are decent.

I’ve used refractometers quite a bit for fermentation and distilling, and one for salt is at the top of my list. You know you have too many hobbies when you own two refractometers, but you need a third...

I didn’t list the temp, but I have a heater and am right in the sweet spot.

Oh, and a maxi-jet 1200 arrived today, which should keep the current moving pretty well, at least to start.

I’ve been reading for hours per day, these forums are full of interesting rabbit holes to fall into. Some stuff I won’t be doing for 6 months to a year or more, but it’s still cool to learn. Lots of consensus, lots of debate, but tons of good information everywhere.

My next steps are to set up a QT tank and to wait for some diatoms, or at least ammonia/nitrites to drop to 0, and order a CUC from reefcleaners (a smaller combo, since they seem to overload) once I get there. I’m looking forward to some hearty animals and more time dialing in my chemistry, really.
 
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raketemensch

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If you get an ro/di you may want to run the ro unit then run a bubbler in the water for a day or two then run it through the DI. I read this on a post here on r2r. I think he said it was to degass the co2 out of the water so the di resin works better and lasts longer. Whatever reason his tank was insane with coral and colors were awesome. He was on a well also.
That's an interesting idea. I hadn't really thought of feeding the RODI unit from a pump, but that's totally doable. I've got a whisper bubbler here, too, and room for one more barrel where I'm mixing the water, I'll have to give that some real thought, thanks!
 

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Welcome aboard! I'd definitely recommend against using the canister filters. I had one on my first tank and it was naaaasty lol. Drilling the tank for an overflow for a sump would be ideal, or a HOB skimmer if you can't or don't want to drill the tank.

For test kits I've found the Salifert brand ones to be really good except for Ammonia, for that I use API.

If you're paranoid like me I'd go with two heaters. A temp sensor safety check isn't a bad idea as well.

If you like the idea of a HOB skimmer check this one out. I'm using that one on my coral QT tank and it works like a champ for a very reasonable price point. The setup instructions were pretty crappy for a n00b like me, but I found a youtube video pretty easily that got me sorted.

I won't tell you how many times I've overflowed the brute can in the basement running the RO unit over night lol.. Oh and if your tank is on the main floor finding some way to pump water up would be awesome. My back hates me when I lug 5 gallon jugs of SW up the stairs.
 
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Welcome aboard! I'd definitely recommend against using the canister filters. I had one on my first tank and it was naaaasty lol. Drilling the tank for an overflow for a sump would be ideal, or a HOB skimmer if you can't or don't want to drill the tank.

For test kits I've found the Salifert brand ones to be really good except for Ammonia, for that I use API.

If you're paranoid like me I'd go with two heaters. A temp sensor safety check isn't a bad idea as well.

If you like the idea of a HOB skimmer check this one out. I'm using that one on my coral QT tank and it works like a champ for a very reasonable price point. The setup instructions were pretty crappy for a n00b like me, but I found a youtube video pretty easily that got me sorted.

I won't tell you how many times I've overflowed the brute can in the basement running the RO unit over night lol.. Oh and if your tank is on the main floor finding some way to pump water up would be awesome. My back hates me when I lug 5 gallon jugs of SW up the stairs.
Well, I can't drill, as this thing is tempered glass. This is pretty much a learning tank for me, eventually I'll build a sump (I have 25 and 10 gallon empty tanks right now, plus a very old hamster in a 40g breeder), and move to something bigger. I'm reading up a lot on building my own acrylic tank, which I think will be my next one. I'd like something shallow and long, this 55g is just the wrong shape for coral IMHO.

Salifert seems to be popular, most of these kits are Sera, which seem to be working OK at the moment.

Are you just using that skimmer for a filter, nothing else? That'd be pretty sweet, really.
 

WiscoFishNut

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Well, I can't drill, as this thing is tempered glass. This is pretty much a learning tank for me, eventually I'll build a sump (I have 25 and 10 gallon empty tanks right now, plus a very old hamster in a 40g breeder), and move to something bigger. I'm reading up a lot on building my own acrylic tank, which I think will be my next one. I'd like something shallow and long, this 55g is just the wrong shape for coral IMHO.

Salifert seems to be popular, most of these kits are Sera, which seem to be working OK at the moment.

Are you just using that skimmer for a filter, nothing else? That'd be pretty sweet, really.
Using it just for a filter really. It has brought nitrates down to really low levels, 1 instead of 25-50. It really does make a huge difference.

One thing to add on the API ammonia test, it will show .25 when there's really nothing there. I used it as a sanity check against the salifert test for the same thing. The Seachem badges work really well for ammonia detection. I use those for my QT setups and cycling the DT. Cheap and effective with no effort lol
 

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