Unpopular opinion: smaller tanks are better for beginners

amarck

Community Member
View Badges
Joined
Oct 15, 2023
Messages
38
Reaction score
45
Location
Texas
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
Small tank
pros: less manual labor and cheaper
cons: Less stable and less fish

Bigger tank
pros: More stable and More fish
cons: More manual labor and more expensive
You need more frequent wc on a smaller tank. This thread feels very contrarian without cause.
 

krollins

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Feb 7, 2024
Messages
397
Reaction score
279
Location
Sacramento
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
in addition, small tanks have more issues which makes learning better and happen faster. With my Fluval I made MANY mistakes, but now with my 30 gal I’m having little to none because I have already encountered everything I could have in a small tank. My professor who has had tanks for 30+ years didn’t know about copepods until I mentioned them when asking for his help with my mandarin! Probably because with his 300 gallon tank it’s hard to find just 1 pod amongst all that. Learning faster with a small tanks means that upgrading and going big leads to aspirations and hope that drive the hobby at least in my opinion
Good point, however as a counter claim, all these issues are more manageable in a big tank. For example, say you get aptisa in a small tank, and you get a peppermint shrimp. Sure your aptisa is gone but you caused a nitrate and phosphate spike due to the less stability. Also as a beginner, all of these problems getting more out of control can cause someone to quit the hobby. And when I see cynao in a fish tank its usually a 30 gallon or less tank so smaller tanks have problems bigger tanks don't.
 

krollins

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Feb 7, 2024
Messages
397
Reaction score
279
Location
Sacramento
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
Firstly, a bigger tank is just much harder to set up and requires more space in your house, and this becomes even worse if your tank comes with a sump and a stand (the latter of which is absolutely necessary with bigger tanks)
You don't need a sump in a bigger tank, my 75 gallon is good with a canister filter.
 

Create New

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Oct 23, 2020
Messages
113
Reaction score
128
Location
Adelaide
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
It depends on what you mean by 'small' and 'big,' but I generally agree.

I made a post not long ago about how much of a pain it can be to manage a larger tank. Honestly, I think there's a 'sweet spot' when it comes to reef aquariums. Smaller tanks tend to be less stable, while bigger tanks offer more stability.

I believe once you reach a size range of around 40 to 120 gallons, stability becomes less of an issue. How much more stable is a 200-gallon tank compared to a 120-gallon one? Or a 40-gallon compared to a 120-gallon? It's not as simple as saying a tank is twice the size, so it's twice as stable.

There's a curve to it, in my opinion, where stability rapidly evens out.
 

Kfactor

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Sep 7, 2019
Messages
1,241
Reaction score
1,179
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
i always look at what it cost to maintain it
 

krollins

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Feb 7, 2024
Messages
397
Reaction score
279
Location
Sacramento
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
Okay, everything on this thread is starting to make me think about this
 

Attachments

  • download (1).jpeg
    download (1).jpeg
    6.9 KB · Views: 18

steveschuerger

I love Gonis and Euphyllia. Maybe too much
View Badges
Joined
Dec 11, 2021
Messages
16,744
Reaction score
39,937
Location
Newton
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
I’ve had 5 tanks as reefs.
16 gallon. Easy to set up, not super expensive initially.
22 Gallon cube. Started last year for mostly sps . Gave up as it was constantly getting unstable. Also I found trying keep 2 reefs up (60/22) was a bit much at the time.
30 gallon . Pretty easy to set and was relatively easy to keep stable.
60 gallon. Starting to get a bit expensive here to start, Buuutt… pretty easy overall to keep stable.
And now the 90 I have up and running . The easiest to keep up with now that it’s settled in over almost 6 months. The disclaimer with this tank is that it was running as a freshwater and all I really needed to do was buy new sand, a little extra rock aand move all the stuff in the 60 over.
 

brandon429

why did you put a reef in that
View Badges
Joined
Dec 9, 2014
Messages
29,979
Reaction score
23,855
Location
tejas
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
How relevant is this thread to the matter discussed here


If we listened to BeanAnimal we wouldn't have those tanks above

Actually participating in a given subject makes a real difference when giving feedback on it.
 

brandon429

why did you put a reef in that
View Badges
Joined
Dec 9, 2014
Messages
29,979
Reaction score
23,855
Location
tejas
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
Anyone want to set up a fishbowl reef so we can test claims made here in the thread about stability, ease, longevity

You have the ability to keep it alive until 2042 at minimum, we know that much from what's on file

Once you control salinity, the smaller the reef the easier it is to grow sps and lps corals in it

All evaluations so far on small reefs here come from open topped full evaporation mode reefing, like what large tanks do

But once you slow evaporation (or stop it altogether/ no evaporation reefing) stability peaks even in a half gallon reef. I figured we weren't going to uncover that fact unless we saw some really old small reef tanks from a work thread.
 
Last edited:

silent1mezzo

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Jun 28, 2021
Messages
236
Reaction score
252
Location
Burlington, ON
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
I feel like I'm in the minority here but I started with a 10 gallon ultra low tech (single on/off bulb, HOB filter, no skimmer, no dosing, etc) and it was the easiest, most thriving tank I've owned.

Small tanks also look mature way faster because they need fewer coral and less growth to fill out
 
Last edited:

fish farmer

2500 Club Member
View Badges
Joined
Nov 13, 2017
Messages
3,774
Reaction score
5,509
Location
Brandon, VT
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
Not sure how you can draw that conclusion without experience with the smaller system. Most of your reasoning is based on disdain for just about every aspect of the hobby from setup, to maintenance to the space the aquarium take up.

So maybe this is not the hobby for you, but if you enjoy the finished product you can hire out the maintenance and just enjoy the aquarium or maybe a 5 gallon system is what will make you happy.

And yes, your disdain for maintenance likely caused you problems. However you are underestimating the maintenance on a small 5 or 10 gallon system. You can let your 50 gallon system go for weeks on end without touching it. Your 10 gallon system will need DAILY attention. When (not if) things go just a little wrong, you will crash the entire thing. Tiny changes in anything have large effect. The advice for modest size systems (30 to 90 gallons) is based mostly on stability and plenty of room for error.
A 50 gallon tank isn't going to evaporate in those weeks?

My 29 gallon needed daily attention. That daily attention comes from an ATO and kalk additions which in turn creates the stability.

It is just a volume of water with many ways to manage the stability either through manual or automatic. Also appropriate stocking densities play a role in how stable a system is.

If people truly think a bigger tank is more stable.... invite me over, I'll initiate a kalk ATO failure and dump a gallon or two of saturated kalk into your system.
 

thecodingart

Active Member
View Badges
Joined
Sep 15, 2023
Messages
173
Reaction score
144
Location
Orlando
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
As a recent beginner, my bigger tank was not only more educational during my setup by also far more satisfying. I was able to play around and learn far more than the limited space in my nano provided and that knowledge translated to my nano very well.

I’m really in the mindset that bigger is better here.
 

Cell

10K Club member
View Badges
Joined
Apr 20, 2019
Messages
14,640
Reaction score
22,372
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
I think what makes this argument somewhat difficult is that smaller tanks are easier almost across the board except for one thing, stability, but that also might be the single most important trait of any successful reef.

The sheer maintenance of a large tank vs a small tank has me siding with small tanks as easier for beginners though. Water changes on nano tanks are a breeze, just one or two bucket operations. Water changes on large tanks might require multiple reservoirs, pumps and garbage cans. Then there's the process of acquiring and stocking fish in large tanks which can be incredibly expensive, difficult, and time consuming. Look at the endless stream of QT issues posted here on R2R. Fully stocking a large tank from scratch could take years.
 

BeanAnimal

2500 Club Member
View Badges
Joined
Jul 16, 2009
Messages
3,578
Reaction score
5,449
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
A 50 gallon tank isn't going to evaporate in those weeks?
That is what an ATO is for.

If people truly think a bigger tank is more stable.... invite me over, I'll initiate a kalk ATO failure and dump a gallon or two of saturated kalk into your system.
I think you are being a bit obtuse to make a point. :)

It is easier to foul a bathtub peeing in it than it is the local YMCA pool. Likewise, larger bodies of water are much slower reacting to temperature changes, death of animals, oxygen depletion due to a misbehaving piece of equipment, skimmer malfunction, algal blooms, the cleaning lady spraying glade all over the house, etc.

We can "what if" all day long about what can happen with broken automation or poor planning but reality is what typically happens.

All things being relative, the larger volume of water is going to be more stable and therefore more forgiving to small mistake and environmental changes. Is it more work physical work, more expensive and does it take up more space with larger equipment... sure you can make that argument.
 
Last edited:

Sophie"s mom

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Oct 25, 2023
Messages
1,590
Reaction score
2,517
Location
Va.
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
TL;DR: yes, a smaller tank requires more oversight and closer monitoring than a bigger tank does. But that does not mean that it requires more effort than a larger tank does. In fact, it's the opposite.

I am by no means an expert on reef tanks, but as of now, it has been about a year since I set up my ~50 gallon tank, and although it has experienced several issues, I have been able to keep your average beginner/intermediate fish and coral with moderate success. I remember doing research back when I was a beginner and basically every guide said 'the bigger the better' to start out with, but after one year, I've come to the conclusion that the vast majority of the problems I have had with reef keeping has been due to the larger size of the tank and the hassle associated with that, and my tank wasn't even that big. My reasoning for this basically comes down to one thing: effort (and cost but that's obvious).

Firstly, a bigger tank is just much harder to set up and requires more space in your house, and this becomes even worse if your tank comes with a sump and a stand (the latter of which is absolutely necessary with bigger tanks). For a big tank or even just a tank of the size I had, you will need copious amounts of time and the help of multiple people for just the set up alone. As a complete beginner, I had zero clue on how to set up a sump, and my tank came with barely any instructions. This was the largest hurdle to setting up my tank, and I struggled with figuring out how to make everything work while minimizing noise and leakage until I finally got it to run smoothly. On top of that, I also had to build the stand, which was less vexing than the sump, but was still annoying and took the better part of a day even with the help of multiple other people. You also need other people to even help you move all this heavy equipment around the house. Furthermore, there is the aspect of filling the tank with saltwater. For bigger tanks, you will almost certainly need to set up your own RODI system and reservoir for mixing and storing clean saltwater, which is an entire process in and of itself. I opted to not do this and to just buy saltwater, which again is still fairly labor-intensive as now you're lugging 50 gallons of saltwater to the tank in order to fill it up, but it was still less effort than making my own saltwater.

Now compare this to a 5 or 10 gallon that you can just pick up yourself and set on a piece of furniture. Buy a couple boxes of saltwater and that's it; you're done. No hassle and no one else needed but you.

And that's not even getting into maintenance... With a big tank, a water change becomes a big undertaking, requiring the use of one or more big buckets, a siphon, and more saltwater that you have to transport to your tank again either from your reservoir that you made or from the store. You will need to dedicate a decent chunk of time to this, and you will probably get yourself and the entire surrounding area of the tank wet with dirty water. The hassle associated with doing a water change just made me not want to do it at all, and this probably led to a lot of the problems I experienced since I was doing way fewer water changes than I should have been. Other aspects of maintenance are just as bad. Need to clean the rocks or sand or glass? You will have much more to clean in a bigger tank. Need to replace the evaporated water? Even in a tank with an ATO like mine has, I was still manually replacing like a gallon of distilled freshwater every day because of how little water the ATO reservoir held, which became incredibly annoying over time.

Compare this to the maintenance on a smaller tank: just put an empty gallon carton in there and fill it up and throw out the water, then replace with another gallon of saltwater and your 10-20% water change is done instantly.

And the cost aspect of all of this speaks for itself. Everything you will need for a bigger tank will be bigger, and therefore more expensive than the items required for a smaller tank. Given how much equipment you need to merely start a reef tank, this adds up. Even if you completely fail on your small tank and have to start over, replacing all the livestock and water even multiple times in a small tank is still probably less expensive than just simply maintaining a healthy bigger tank.

In conclusion, I will agree that logically, smaller tanks will require more maintenance and more closer monitoring of parameters, but I would say that doing this extra maintenance on a small tank is less work than just doing your standard or even below-standard maintenance on a big tank. Most beginners are not willing to put in immense amounts of money, time, and manual labor into maintaining a big tank. Instead, they should start on a small tank and really get good at understanding parameters and water chemistry before upgrading to a bigger tank. And if you mess up on your small tank, it will be no big deal; your wallet will take less of a hit, and the number of fish you harm or kill will also be fewer than you would have had you messed up on a big tank.

As I said in the title, I'm sure this is a rather unpopular view, and it's just my opinion in the end. But I am curious if there are other likeminded people out there who believe smaller tanks are actually better choices for beginners. Or, if you still believe bigger is better for beginners, feel free to share your counterpoints. I know that personally, if I ever start another reef tank or even a freshwater tank, I'm going 10 gallons or smaller.
It is indeed an unpopular view, BUT, very well put, and spot on! I have always advocated for bigger is better, but you are correct! Everything about reefing is actually dry relative. We all have our own experiences, triumphs, and failures. That is how we learn. And things like this are a part of what makes this forum AWESOME! Thank you for your input here!
 

Sophie"s mom

Valuable Member
View Badges
Joined
Oct 25, 2023
Messages
1,590
Reaction score
2,517
Location
Va.
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
It is indeed an unpopular view, BUT, very well put, and spot on! I have always advocated for bigger is better, but you are correct! Everything about reefing is actually very relative. We all have our own experiences, triumphs, and failures. That is how we learn. And things like this are a part of what makes this forum AWESOME! Thank you for your input here!
 

luis angel

Tailspots and Tacos
View Badges
Joined
Dec 3, 2023
Messages
1,419
Reaction score
11,748
Location
Miami
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
Following this one, I am a newbie at this hobby but a friend gift me a biocube 32 with a jebao dozer, ato, the lights with is schedule and I check the parameters weekly, it should be noted that the tank was given to me already stable and so far I have not had much problem with the consistency, but interested on the topic and what others have to say
 

CO2TLEY

Saltaholic
View Badges
Joined
May 24, 2022
Messages
1,290
Reaction score
11,584
Location
Virginia
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
care to elaborate?
Depending on individual set ups, water changes are my #1 complaint with the bigger tanks. I think the bigger tank was a great teaching tool for me, so when i went smaller it could’ve made it an easier transition? I’ve also gone with almost everything automated except for water changes. 25% a week for me is only one bucket :)
 
Last edited:

BeanAnimal

2500 Club Member
View Badges
Joined
Jul 16, 2009
Messages
3,578
Reaction score
5,449
Rating - 0%
0   0   0
If we listened to BeanAnimal we wouldn't have those tanks above
Nobody said that small, tiny or pico reefs can't be amazingly successful. If you want to define them as "easier" and ramble on about your "work thread" proving that, then so be it. You are free define easier any way you wish.

Actually participating in a given subject makes a real difference when giving feedback on it.
Brandon, the last thing in the world that I seek or want is your seal of approval on anything that I have to say. In fact, in most cases I would hope that your advice and mine are as far apart as possible.

If you want to assume that I have no experience with small aquariums because I have not participated in one of your "work threads" that too is your prerogative.
 

How much do you care about having a display FREE of wires, pumps and equipment?

  • Want it squeaky clean! Wires be danged!

    Votes: 104 44.3%
  • A few things are ok with me!

    Votes: 109 46.4%
  • No care at all! Bring it on!

    Votes: 22 9.4%
Back
Top