Smaller system to start or go big off the bat?

hubble

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I don't think I've heard anybody ever say "I wish I had a smaller tank". I've had my fair share of tanks and have spent a lot of money on them. My current tank (70 gallon) is the biggest I could fit in the available space I have. My last tank when I retire will be something like a 120 or 150.
 

newbie2014

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It's not really about keeping fish and corals, It's about keeping water parameters. Everything else will fall into place.
Exactly.

Be true to yourself. How much time do you want to spend regularly on a SW tank husbandry? And how much money you want to spend on a hobby, which might not even pan out for you in the long run? Even WC requires planning, unless you spend (a lot) more and have space for a AWC setup.

IMO, start as small as you can comfortably maintain, and can still keep most of the fish you want. Go with a simple AIO system, no drilling nor plumbing. Once you can make this a successful system, the bigger one will be as easy as pie.
 

Kevan Sharp

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I started with a 65 gallon fish only tank around yr 1998. after getting the routine down for testing and feeding, I migrated to a reef by adding a refugium w/miracle mud, and a lot of live rock. I found the reef maintenance was much easier than fish only tank, but very quickly felt my tank wasn't big enough. I had to sell the entire system because I was moving to Canada and didn't want to deal with the issues of cross border transport.

Fast forward to 2019 - bought a red sea 400max S. Went with this option because I felt the technology had changed so much and had confidence that the all inclusive red sea max had made all the hard decisions on pump sizing, lighting, skimmer etc. One year later, my 110 gallon tank is full and thriving, but key word--- full. Now I feel I wish I had gone with a larger tank from the get go. The systems are so expensive just to get into the hobby.

I have heard that biocubes are more difficult to maintain, but do not know from experience. Smaller volume with bioload and more experience needed for maintaining stability in water parameters.

In the end, it was for me, about price and what I could afford. I certainly have made mistakes and paid for it mostly in losing an SPS. I have not lost an LPS. I don't think it matters what size tank you have, you will make mistakes and learn. I am one year into this and things are stable and I am more in maintenance mode and keeping vigilant on water parameters, esp NO3 - caused from overfeeding. I am learning more about how much to feed and how often. All the experts out there cannot tell you exactly how much and often to feed because it is about your own tank, filtration systems, and bioload. If I had followed Red Sea's recommendations, my tank would have crashed long ago. You have to figure it out yourself based on what you have in your tank.

I dont think it matters what size tank you start with, you will have some valuable learning experience. For me, the initial outlay was the deciding factor. How much could I afford to spend to get into the hobby, knowing that buying the set up is half the price (or less). The real costs are in what you put into the tank. Small frags for $60-$100 add up to bigger bucks, especially when from my experience, the survival of frags is less than 50% if I get from mail order. I have tended to buy larger colonies from lfs and they seem to be more stable and I have less issues.
 

Droberts0724

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Hi All - I'm in the very early planning stages of a system and I have a fundamental question that will determine my path forward.

This will be my first reef tank (up to now I've only kept freshwater community and African cichlid tanks), and I'm trying to decide between starting off with a small system (I'm thinking a 32 gal Biocube) with the understanding that I'll be upgrading in the future, and waiting a while longer to go big (~150 gal) off the bat. I've researched the pros and cons and understand that a smaller tank will be more difficult, but my thinking is that I can get the hang of things while the stakes are much lower, and I could even convert the smaller system to a hospital or QT tank to serve the eventual larger tank. I think getting some hands-on experience with a smaller system (at a much lower price point) would be beneficial vs. going big right away and potentially making some early mistakes that could have otherwise been avoided.
I started with this nano....also have a 125 thats almost 3 weeks cycled now...

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S2G

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Big off the bat would be more cost effective. Ive known people with 5g to 300+. 120 seems to be a really happy medium between cost, ease of maintenance, & room for fish.
 

hotdrop

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Ideal size might be 90-120 but honestly 20-25 is the ideal starter size. At the small sizes you can still move your parameters around with water changes, you can manage pests easier, when your tank crashes you will loose less coral and small equipment is easier to resell. I bought a waterbox 45.2 and I cold have gone even smaller to be honest. A year i had my first crash and I’m glad I didn’t have too much money invested in livestock
 

Jeremy Luke

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I am currently on my 3rd tank. My first tank I had up for about two years before selling it off to move back in 2004. It was a 20 gallon LPS tank. I used a hang on back filter and power compact lighting. That tank cost me almost nothing. I learned a lot and I could gauge my continued interest and dedication to the hobby. You could easily set up a nano tank today for less than a grand which if you stay and grow in the hobby is a drop in the bucket. If you come to find out that you don't enjoy the hobby no big loss. Assume that any aquarium equipment you buy is bought at a complete loss and you won't be disappointed by the very little amount of your initial investment you may recover should you walk away. You could easily drop $10K on a 120 gallon system and livestock very quickly. If you decide you really enjoy your starter setup then after a year or so go big, go really big, big as you think can stomach. Just my humble opinion.
 

JoeJoesonoma

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My first tank when i got started was a 55 gallon. Its was nice for the first year. But as i wanted to upgrade to more fish and coral. I knew that i had to make a change. I currently have a 120 gallon and i did notice that i wasnt chasing numbers as i was with the other tank. I will never go back.

20200203_132238_HDR.jpg 20200123_233534.jpg
 

Jax15

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Here's my advice -- don't do both. Either start with a 20g Innovative Marine, or a 32g bio, but don't decide that you'll split the difference between a starter tank and the tank you'll want (say 100g+). The costs on a 55 or 75g will be huge compared to a 20g, but a lot of the equipment won't be sized right for your future upgrade. You'll burn a lot more money that way.

I would either cut your teeth on a 20g IM for a year or so (like I did, no regrets btw) or jump right into the larger tank and be prepared for some mega costs, and scary emergencies (ahem, lessons) as you learn. Like others said, consider your time and budget.

I learned a TON on that 20g, and was super happy running it. Now I've got my big tank and couldn't be happier. (Well... another foot or two length wouldn't be the worst thing... ;)
 
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Billy617

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Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the responses. I can see both sides of the argument, and from here it really seems like it's a personal decision for everyone based on a number of factors. I sort of expected that, but it's still nice to hear why people made the decisions they did.

I'm an engineer (please don't hold it against me :)) and a bit of a gearhead, so I'm really enjoying the planning process and love the idea of putting together a large system with automation features. We just bought a home with a family room and an empty section of wall that's screaming for a tank. I've toyed with the idea of running the sump out of my workshop in the basement along with an ATO and AWC system. I haven't worked out all of the details but I've thought it through enough that I'm fairly certain it's feasible. My GF also has a wholesale account with a pet supply distributor, so I'm able to save a decent amount of money on equipment costs.

That being said, that is obviously a HUGE investment into something with which I have no practical experience aside from freshwater and cichlid tanks (and 20 years of dreaming about it). So, I think, right now anyway (I've been going back and forth for days) that I'm going to go with something relatively smaller, sort of a "proof-of-commitment" before I start making alterations to the house. I figure I can still set up a RODI and ATO+AWC station for the smaller system using larger components that could support a larger system.

If after a year I'm still committed to go huge, I can start doing so, and if in the off-chance I drop out of reef husbandry, well, at least I don't have to patch any holes in my floor.
 

SyracuseMatt

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Thanks everyone, I really appreciate the responses. I can see both sides of the argument, and from here it really seems like it's a personal decision for everyone based on a number of factors. I sort of expected that, but it's still nice to hear why people made the decisions they did.

I'm an engineer (please don't hold it against me :)) and a bit of a gearhead, so I'm really enjoying the planning process and love the idea of putting together a large system with automation features. We just bought a home with a family room and an empty section of wall that's screaming for a tank. I've toyed with the idea of running the sump out of my workshop in the basement along with an ATO and AWC system. I haven't worked out all of the details but I've thought it through enough that I'm fairly certain it's feasible. My GF also has a wholesale account with a pet supply distributor, so I'm able to save a decent amount of money on equipment costs.

That being said, that is obviously a HUGE investment into something with which I have no practical experience aside from freshwater and cichlid tanks (and 20 years of dreaming about it). So, I think, right now anyway (I've been going back and forth for days) that I'm going to go with something relatively smaller, sort of a "proof-of-commitment" before I start making alterations to the house. I figure I can still set up a RODI and ATO+AWC station for the smaller system using larger components that could support a larger system.

If after a year I'm still committed to go huge, I can start doing so, and if in the off-chance I drop out of reef husbandry, well, at least I don't have to patch any holes in my floor.
Sounds like a perfect plan. Good luck. Just keep in mind that smaller tanks can be more difficult than larger ones so, if you're having trouble, don't necessarily jump to the conclusion that a bigger tank means bigger problems. Stability is a huge key to success and more water volume means more stability.

Matt
 

JimG1966

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I am currently on my 3rd tank. My first tank I had up for about two years before selling it off to move back in 2004. It was a 20 gallon LPS tank. I used a hang on back filter and power compact lighting. That tank cost me almost nothing. I learned a lot and I could gauge my continued interest and dedication to the hobby. You could easily set up a nano tank today for less than a grand which if you stay and grow in the hobby is a drop in the bucket. If you come to find out that you don't enjoy the hobby no big loss. Assume that any aquarium equipment you buy is bought at a complete loss and you won't be disappointed by the very little amount of your initial investment you may recover should you walk away. You could easily drop $10K on a 120 gallon system and livestock very quickly. If you decide you really enjoy your starter setup then after a year or so go big, go really big, big as you think can stomach. Just my humble opinion.
I have less than $1,000 in our 55 gal and just around $2,000 in our 125 gal. I do not see every having $10,000 in it and both tanks are up and running fine. I bought a used 210 with stand pre drilled with double bulkheads for $400 and do not see having much over $2,500 in it once its up and running... yet i can see having over $1,000 in fish in both of them... set up is not where i am finding the most spent..its in the maintance of salt and additives to keep all in line. I see where people have $4,000 wrapped up in a 40 gallon and have to wonder what they have that cost so much money. I do all my water testing by hand and self dose so i am guessing alot of it is in how much time you want to take to spend with your tank to save some money.... If i had $10,000 to wrap up in a tank it would be a freaking awsome tank
 

Jeremy Luke

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@JimG966 The amount you spend can vary wildly for sure. I know my 127 gallon tank has an embarrassing amount of money (to me at least) in it and I don't even have it draped in the latest LEDs and magnetic drive pumps.

You can spend whatever you want on anything and my point was I wouldn't spend too much right out of the gate. I'd want to start out spending an amount that I felt comfortable flushing down the drain. Hobbies sometimes look great from the outside but once on the inside we find out they aren't a good fit.
 

JimG1966

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@JimG966 The amount you spend can vary wildly for sure. I know my 127 gallon tank has an embarrassing amount of money (to me at least) in it and I don't even have it draped in the latest LEDs and magnetic drive pumps.

You can spend whatever you want on anything and my point was I wouldn't spend too much right out of the gate. I'd want to start out spending an amount that I felt comfortable flushing down the drain. Hobbies sometimes look great from the outside but once on the inside we find out they aren't a good fit.
Agree.. to much used aquipment for sale on line to not to... like i have told many.. they may find out its just not for them. It can be alot of work and time consuming that some people find out they just dont have the time.. thats what caused me to sell out 20 yrs ago... retired now and sometimes it still takes more than i got. Most of my tank time is after dark
 

hikermike

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The answer is actually simple: Do you want to spend all of your weekends working on your saltwater tank or just 2 hours Fri nite. I'm one of those whom many above say don't exist. I went from a 75 gal to a 20 gallon reef. Happy about it. Suggestion, if you go with a biocube reef only fine, they're great for corals. If you want more fish, then they like to swim back and forth, not up and down...hence a rectangular tank is better. I You might look at the Fluval Flex 32 or the innovative 20 all-in-ones as a start. But then I realized I'm a tinkerer and would not be happy without adding this or cutting out that...couldn't just leave it aone and just look at it. So my base is an Aqueon 20 long. It's support system is all surrounding it!
 

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