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How to Setup a $4000 Saltwater Aquarium
-High Tech Build Guide

Updated 2023

Welcome to the $4000 Saltwater Aquarium High Tech Build guide! Get ready to dive into the world of a stunning, high-tech, and hassle-free saltwater aquarium. This build takes the complexity up a notch, giving you the freedom to customize it to your liking. While similar in size to the previous High Tech build, we’ve made quality upgrades to the aquarium, stand, and sump.

Don’t worry, though – we’ve kept this guide as “plug-and-play” as possible to make the setup process easy and enjoyable. So, let’s get started and create a breathtaking saltwater aquarium that you’ll love!

High Tech Build Stats:

Size: 91 Gallon Display Tank, 115 Gallon Total Water Including Sump

Aquarium Dimensions: 47″L x 22″H x 23.6″W

Care Level: Moderate

Style: Rectangle w/Sump

Placement: Office, kitchen, living room, bedroom


Red Sea has been making high quality (and high price) aquariums for decades now, and this Reefer Deluxe fits that bill to a T. My first system was a Red Sea Reefer, albeit slightly smaller, and without all the accoutrements.

This is a high end system, good size for larger fish, and it comes with a ton of stuff that you won’t have to purchase.  Here’s the entire list of what’s included:

– Online digital temperature monitor with 0.1-degree accuracy
– Reliable leak detector with audible alarm
– Slimline multi-input titanium probe water level sensor
– Strong magnetic corner mounting bracket
– Precise water level monitoring
– Built-in safety shutoffs for various scenarios:
– Sensor disconnection
– Pump running dry
– Leak detection
– Pump exceeding normal runtime
– Water level and temperature tracking through ReefBeat app
– Powerful, quiet, and slim 1.8″ diameter pump for most ATO reservoirs
– Includes ReefBeat connected smart controller

Besides the sump, it also comes with two Red Sea LED lights, a glass sump with removable/adjustable baffle, and all of the hard plumbing that you just need to screw into place.  It’s a legit system.


Don’t buy this light!  Why?  Because the system above already comes with two of them.  I just wanted to provide you with a little more detail bout these lights. Click below if you are interested in learning more!

Protein Skimmer

Protein skimmers are the workhorse for mechanical filtration in the majority of saltwater aquariums that use a sump . This one from simplicity is affordable, but it is a DC pump, which, if your a beginner means nothing, but just know that DC pumps are way easier to tune.

That’s right… you have to tune protein skimmers to get them working properly. But not to worry, I made a video with BRS that you can watch right here that explains it all!

Return Pump

For a long time in this hobby I would recommend getting a return pump that could turn over the entire water volume 10x/hour, meaning for this system, something rated for over 1,000 gph!  But we’ve learned that over-filtration is a real thing in this hobby, and a pump that turns over the water 2-3x/hour is a great amount.  that means a pump that can spew out 250-350 gph will work just fine.  

But, just to be safe, it’s better to have a pump one size up, and that is where this Sicce Syncra SDC comes in.  Sicce is just a great company that makes great pumps with amazing 5 year warranties.  I’ve used this pump, and like it quite a lot. This SDC 3.0 size will work well for this build.

RO/DI Water Filter

With a tank this size, you will absolutely want to make your own RODI water at home… because you will need a lot of it for both water changes and daily evaporation top off.

The RO/DI filter is a nifty water filtration unit that works wonders with your tap water, making it nearly pure. It stands for Reverse Osmosis Deionization. This filtered water is just what you need for mixing your saltwater using a salt mix (more on that later!).

Having an RO/DI filter for your saltwater aquarium comes with loads of benefits and saves you money in the long run. But if you’re starting small or just getting into the hobby, there are simpler options available. You can easily get distilled water or pre-made saltwater from your local fish store. However, if you’re going for a high-tech setup, investing in an RO/DI filter is totally worth it!

Salt Mix

To make the most of your RO/DI filter, it’s crucial to pair it with the right salt mix. There are plenty of options available, and most of them work well for a saltwater aquarium. Some are basic, providing the essential water parameters, while others are more advanced with elevated levels and extra additives.

Since this is a high-tech saltwater aquarium build, and we anticipate you’ll have a diverse range of corals, we’ve selected a salt mix with elevated water parameters specifically designed for a system with various types of corals. With this salt mix, you’ll be giving your aquarium a head start and setting it up for success!

Gravel Vacuum / Siphon

In addition to using filters and filtration media, regular water changes are crucial for proper aquarium maintenance. It’s a simple process of removing a portion of the saltwater from your tank and replacing it with fresh saltwater. During this routine, you can also use a siphon to vacuum and eliminate any detritus, like fish waste and leftover food, from the tank.

For this specific saltwater aquarium, I recommend getting the 10″ large-size siphon.


An absolute must-have for your saltwater aquarium is a reliable heater. As we mentioned earlier, maintaining stability is vital for the well-being of your aquarium inhabitants, making a good heater essential.

Since most saltwater organisms thrive in temperatures between 77-78 degrees Fahrenheit, a heater is crucial unless your home naturally stays within that range. Conversely, if you live in a hot climate, a fan might be needed to cool down your aquarium.

From personal experience and considering reputation and cost, we highly recommend the Eheim Jager TruTemp 200 Watt aquarium heater. It’s a favorite among many saltwater aquarium hobbyists and doesn’t break the bank.

Remember that all aquarium heaters will eventually wear out, so it’s wise to have a backup plan. Consider getting a second heater as a spare for emergencies. Experienced saltwater aquarium hobbyists know the value of having backup gear!


To be honest, my favorite thermometer is actually this one below.  Yep, it’s a waterproof meat thermometer.  It’s so affordable, waterproof, easy to clean, easy to store, and it’s been quite accurate to boot.

Temperature Controller

Maintaining a stable temperature in your saltwater aquarium is vital, as we’ve emphasized before. But don’t worry, you can avoid potential disasters with a simple and affordable solution that costs just $35! This nifty device keeps a close eye on your aquarium temperature, ensuring it stays within a precise 0.1° F range. It also prevents your heater from getting stuck in the “on” position, which could lead to overheating your saltwater.

The best part? This controller can handle cooling too! I live in the desert, so during summers, I use a fan to keep my aquarium cool. I plug the fan into the “cooling” outlet and the heater into the “heating” outlet, maintaining a steady 78° F all year round. The built-in alarm is a fantastic feature, promptly alerting me if there’s any issue with the heater or fan.

Considering all these impressive features, it’s remarkable that this device is so affordable. It’s a perfect addition to your budget-friendly aquarium build, ensuring your aquatic friends enjoy a safe and comfortable environment with stable temperatures.

External ATO (Auto Top Off)

Fancy auto top off units? Nah, you can totally refill your tank daily with RODI water, but trust me, that gets old real quick. Plus, what if you want to take a break and go on a vacation? You’ll need someone to handle it for you.

Enter the ATO, or auto top off system! It can be as simple as flipping a 1-liter coke can upside down in your rear filtration chamber, or you can go all out with digital sensors and sleek acrylic reservoirs.

You’ve got options here! Below is the top of the line Tunze Osmolator. But let’s be real, you could also go with a 5-gallon bucket and save a whole bunch of cash – over $100 to be precise! The choice is yours, my friend.


A refractometer is a must-have for every saltwater aquarium hobbyist. It beats hydrometers any day with its superior accuracy, making it a smart investment even if you’re on a budget.

Keeping salinity levels stable and constant is vital for the well-being of corals and invertebrates like shrimp and crab. Unlike fish, these critters are super sensitive to sudden changes in water parameters, especially salinity.

Just a heads up, your refractometer needs calibration for precise readings. But don’t sweat it, you don’t have to buy a whole bottle of calibration fluid. Your Local Fish Store (LFS) is usually cool with lending you a few drops of theirs. It’s a cost-effective and practical solution to ensure your saltwater buddies thrive in the best environment. Trust your reliable refractometer and keep those aquatic inhabitants happy!

Water Test Kit

A basic test kit is a must-have for any saltwater aquarium hobbyist, especially when starting your aquarium journey. It’s handy for testing the nitrogen cycle completion.

Though it may not be the top-of-the-line kit, it’s affordable and gives you a decent ballpark reading, perfect for most hobbyists. It’s a valuable tool to keep an eye on your aquarium’s health and catch any potential issues before they turn into algae or bacteria blooms.

Being proactive with testing can keep your saltwater aquarium healthy and thriving. So, grab that test kit and stay ahead of the game!

front view of api saltwater test kit in original packaging

Calcium / Alkalinity Test Kit

If you’re into corals, testing for calcium and alkalinity is a must. I’ve tried various test kits, and my top picks are the Salifert Calcium kit and the unbeatable Hanna Alkalinity checker.

The Salifert Calcium kit is straightforward and budget-friendly, yet it consistently provides reliable results. As for the Hanna Alkalinity checker, it’s simply unmatched in quality and accuracy. Trust me, you won’t regret having these test kits in your arsenal.

Water Additives

If you’re into corals, testing for calcium and alkalinity is a must. I’ve tried various test kits, and my top picks are the Salifert Calcium kit and the unbeatable Hanna Alkalinity checker.

The Salifert Calcium kit is straightforward and budget-friendly, yet it consistently provides reliable results. As for the Hanna Alkalinity checker, it’s simply unmatched in quality and accuracy. Trust me, you won’t regret having these test kits in your arsenal.

Dosing Pump

Once you’ve automated water top-offs and feeding, some hobbyists choose to take it a step further and automate dosing using a dosing pump. However, this requires careful planning as you’ll need to calculate the daily element usage by your corals and set up the dosing accordingly. Regular water testing becomes essential to adjust the dosing amounts as your system grows.

Dosing pumps offer more than just automation; they provide stability by delivering smaller, consistent daily doses, reducing the risk of overdosing. Plus, you can spot any water parameter issues early on before they escalate.

Keep an eye on your dosing pump’s performance to catch any failures or overdosing incidents quickly. The provided simple and small dosing pump can be upgraded to larger and more advanced models based on your specific needs and water additive choices. So, consider automating your dosing to ensure a well-maintained and healthy saltwater aquarium.


Once you get to the 40 gallon size tank, you will likely need a wavemaker if you want to keep coral.  This AI Nero is a great DC pump, controllable, and quiet.  Probably a bit oversized for this 40 gallon build, but if you turn it down it will work great.  Plus the low profile means it will blend into the background so you aren’t staring at a pump!

Reef Rock

Rock is a vital component of any saltwater aquarium, serving multiple purposes:

1. It provides a thriving habitat for beneficial bacteria, supporting the overall health of the aquarium.
2. The rock creates cozy hiding spots, giving your aquatic inhabitants a sense of security.
3. It also acts as a canvas for attaching coral, adding to the tank’s beauty and diversity.

Among the various rock options available, this one strikes a balance between affordability and visual appeal, making it an excellent choice for a budget-friendly saltwater aquarium build. Embrace the significance of rock in your setup to ensure the success and delight of your underwater world.


Sand might not be a must-have, and some hobbyists are opting for bare bottom tanks these days. But, adding sand can really transform your aquarium into an authentic slice of the ocean. It not only enhances the aesthetic but also plays a vital role in biological filtration. Plus, it becomes a cozy hideaway and a source of food for certain creatures.

When it comes to sand, we recommend sticking with the CaribSea brand for the best options. A 20lb bag will be perfect for this build. Happy decorating!

wet live sand for saltwater aquariums
Fiji pink sand in 20 lb bag with close up of grain size

Bacterial Additives

In our saltwater aquariums, there’s a bustling community of residents, even though they may not be visible to the naked eye. Microscopic organisms thrive in the sand, rocks, and water, playing a crucial role in the health and beauty of your tank. One prominent example is biological filtration, which is vital for maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

Though there are numerous other uses and benefits of bacteria supplementation, our focus here is on buying bacteria to aid in cycling your saltwater aquarium and maintaining its balance in the future. Check out this quick video that explains it further! Using these products will speed up the process of making your aquarium healthy and ready while ensuring its long-term success.

Algae Scraper

An algae scraper is a simple yet essential tool for any saltwater aquarium owner. No matter how well you maintain your tank, algae will inevitably grow on the glass. This affordable scraper is the perfect solution for quickly and easily removing algae without getting your hands wet and messy! Not only does it keep your aquarium looking clean, but when you siphon out the scraped algae, you also contribute to the filtration of your saltwater tank.

In this high-tech saltwater aquarium build, we highly recommend having both the common hand-held scraper and the Flipper magnetic algae scraper. From our experience, both options come in handy for different situations and prove to be incredibly useful!

Fish Net

A net is an absolute must-have for every saltwater aquarium hobbyist, and the best part is that they are incredibly affordable! It’s one of those tools that you’ll find indispensable.

Not only is it handy for catching and transferring fish, but you can also use it while thawing frozen food to remove any fillers or phosphates. The net’s versatility makes it a valuable and practical tool to have on hand for various tasks in your aquarium. So, be sure to grab one for your saltwater setup!

Optional Items

Power Strips

A crucial piece of gear you might already have or need to consider getting for your saltwater aquarium is a power strip. While it may be tempting to cut corners, safety should never be compromised when dealing with electrical equipment.

Investing in a reliable surge protector/power strip is highly recommended. This option not only provides protection but also allows you to turn off individual pieces of gear without having to unplug them. This feature comes in handy during saltwater changes, where it’s best to turn off the heater to avoid damage caused by exposure to air while still powered on. By opting for a quality power strip, you can safeguard your equipment, ensure the well-being of your aquatic animals, and create a secure and efficient setup for your saltwater aquarium. Safety first!

7 outlet controllable surge protector and power strip

Coral Dips and Foods

Did you know that corals are actually animals with photosynthetic organisms living within them, giving them their vibrant colors? To keep them healthy and displaying their best hues, they need proper nourishment. However, there’s also a risk of them carrying parasites or unwanted hitchhikers that could harm your saltwater aquarium and its inhabitants.

To ensure the well-being of your corals, it’s a good idea to use a coral dip. This helps remove any potential pests before adding the coral to your aquarium. Additionally, consider providing some coral food for occasional feeding. Surprisingly, there are “non-photosynthetic” corals that don’t require light to survive but instead thrive on a good amount of feeding!

Fish Foods

Of course, one of the obvious necessities for your saltwater aquarium is fish food. There’s a wide variety of options available, so it’s essential to choose the right food based on the types of fish you have. I’ve made a lot of videos on fish food, but this is my best.  Click HERE to learn a ton more about fish and coral food!

And the link below is one of my top three favorite fish foods!