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$427 Saltwater Aquarium Build List

Updated August 2020

By Maxim B.

This is a cool build, because you actually get two 10-gallon tanks for the price of one.  The Innovative Marine Nuvo Encore is 20 gallons in total, but broken up into two 10-gallon, fully independent low-iron glass tanks.

That means for $427, you can do two completely separate tanks, both saltwater, both freshwater, or one of each.  

I’ve actually built this tank myself, but I did a fancier version which cost $1,127.  If you want to check out that list, click HERE ($1,127 Build List).

This build is a bit more expensive than other 20 gallon tanks, because you need to have two of everything: 2 return pumps, two heaters, two custom caddies, two filter socks… but if you are up for the challenge, this might be the right build for you.

Table of Contents

Key Stats:

Size: 20 Gallons (76 Liters)

Approx. Price: $427

Dimensions: 23.6″L x 15″W x 13″H (60 x 38 x 33 centimeters)

Style: Rectangle with two 10-gallon cubes

Stand Included? No

Sump? No

Low Iron Glass? Yes


As the newest model in the Innovative Marine NUVO Concept Series, the Encore 20 PRO seeks to push new boundaries in tank design– re-imagining and elevating the hobbyist`s experience.

With two separate tanks in one aquarium, the Encore 20 PRO gives you flexibility in creating the setup of your dreams! Quarantine, hospital, frag, breeding, and species divisions are just a few ways you can utilize the Encore`s unique dual independent filters– and they are suitable for both fresh and saltwater systems!

With an ultra-modern display, optical quality glass, and premium included features; the Encore 20 PRO is designed to drive your imagination to do more, play more, and create more.

And with this Pro Bundle from Marine Depot, you get way more than just the tank!

  • 2 x Mesh Screen Pro Lid
  • 1 x MicroMag Magnetic Glass Cleaner
  • 1 x Pre-installed Rubber Leveling Mat
  • 2 x Removable 200 Micron Filter Socks
  • 2 x Desktop CustomCaddy Media Basket
  • 2 x Purity Pack Media
    • 2 x Mechanical Fiber Balls
    • 2 x Premium 0.8 ROX Carbon Packs
    • 2 x High Capacity Coarse GFO Packs
  • 2 x Desktop 6.5W/12V 98 GPH DC Return Pumps
  • Flexible Hose, Return Elbow, and Directional Flow Nozzle
Innovative Marine Nuvo Fusion Encore


Coralife Aqualight High Output T5 Fixture. They provide significantly more light than conventional fluorescent systems. High Output T5 lighting is an excellent choice for saltwater, reef, or freshwater tropical aquariums.

  • Low Profile Allows Aquarium to be Focal Point
  • Adjustable Mounting Legs
  • Includes 10,000K Daylight and Actinic Blue Lamps
  • Single Power Cord, Built In On/Off Switch
  • Acrylic Splash Guard
  • Available in 24”, 30”, 36” and 48” Length
Coralife Aqualight T5 Fixture


Here’s the thing about heaters: they all fail eventually, so keep that in mind.  There are several different types of heaters, primarily glass, ceramic, and titanium.  I’ve always used glass as they are inexpensive and heat the water quickly, but they are also easy to break (I’ve shattered at least two, maybe three!) 

These Eheim Jager heaters have been my go-to since the beginning.  I’ve never had one fail on me in over seven years (with proper maintenance of course).  This heater does need to be calibrated, so be sure to pair it with a digital thermometer to narrow in on the temperature.

By the way, this 20 gallon tank requires 2x 50 Watt Jagers!

Optional Items


From the manufacturer

The NUVO APS Stand sets new standard in aquarium furniture.

Aluminum has been a tried and true element for custom commercial stands, because of its versatility, strength, and the fact that it is very light weight. Innovative Marine just brought that technology to the aquarium industry to create a truly singular aesthetic aquarium stand that is modular in construction, easy to set up, and is resistant to corrosion and swelling in both fresh and marine environments.

Finally, an aquarium stand that may actually outlast your aquarium!

IM APS Stand

Salt Mix

There are so many different types of salt mix on the market, and I’ve tried a ton of them!  They all work fine, but they vary depending on your livestock plan.  

Most of us start out by buying saltwater at our LFS (local fish store), because purchasing distilled water from the grocery store is expensive, or buying the necessary RO/DI filter costs even more.

But you can save a bit of money and hassle in the long run by mixing your saltwater at home.

For this $427 build I recommend this salt, as it is good for FOWLR (Fish Only With Live Rock) systems, or tanks with a light stocking of corals.

two red sea salt mix buckets side to side new in packaging

Temperature Controller

Again not a necessity, but for around $35 you can control your tanks temperature to within 0.1° F.  I live in the desert, so in the summer I run a fan to keep my aquarium cool.  I plug my fan into the “cooling” outlet and my heater into the, you guessed it, “heating” outlet, and my tank stays a constant 78° F all year round.  Plus, this controller has a built in alarm which alerts me if my heater or fan ever fail.  Not bad for under $35!

black and grey temperature controller with probe sitting on white surface

Test Kit

A basic test kit is a must.  It is most important when you are starting your tank so you can test for when the nitrogen cycle is completed.  While not always the easiest to read, this test kit is affordable and will give a ballpark which will be good enough.  

front view of api saltwater test kit in original packaging

Calcium / Alkalinity Test Kit

If you are only planning on keeping fish in your saltwater aquarium, then you don’t need to worry about calcium and alkalinity.  But SPS (small polyp stony) and LPS (large polyp stony) corals, as well as invertebrates such as snails and crabs, need calcium and alkalinity to build their skeletons. 

Reef Tank test kit new in packaging on white background


Sand is not essential by any means, and there is a trend in the hobby toward a bare bottom tank.  That being said, sand does lend not only a nice aesthetic, but it aids in biological filtration, and provides a refuge and food source for certain creatures.

There are many types to choose from, but you only need a 10 lb bag for this build, and stick with CaribSea.  My favorites are the Arag-Alive Special Grade, Arag-Alive Fiji Pink, and the Arag-Alive Hawaiian Black.

Surge Protector

I currently own four or five of these!  They are my inexpensive answer to an expensive controller.  I mount these either under my stand, or somewhere out of the way and then label each cord.  That way, whenever I need to do maintenance, I can just flip the individual switch to turn off the appropriate piece of gear.  I love these things and will keep recommending them well into the future!

Tripp Lite 7 Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip

Cleaning Brushes

This may seem like a silly thing to add to a build list, but I have found that these two brushes do the brunt work of my cleaning.  They have a stiff bristle and have held up for me for many years now. They work much, much, much better than a toothbrush!


I like this AquaMaxx dry live rock.  It is environmentally sourced and you can buy as little as 10 lbs (perfect for this tank).  But it is not my favorite.  I prefer the CaribSea Life Rock (10 lbs), mainly because it has a natural coralline color. But it is quite a bit more money.

Rock is important for a few reasons:  it provides a place for beneficial bacteria to colonize; it provides hiding places for your livestock; it gives you places to mount coral; and it is better than looking at an empty tank!

You don’t need a ton for this small tank, and I think 20 lbs would be sufficient, but if you buy more it will just give you more options!


Gravel Vacuum / Siphon

For this build, I would probably go with the 9″ mini or medium size.  If you get the mini, be careful because it will be more likely to siphon out your sandbed and it will get clogged by more course types of sand. And and if you go with the large, it will drain the tank too quickly!

A gravel vacuum is a must in this hobby for water changes.  It is the easiest way to start a siphon and drain your water, while at the same time vacuuming your sand bed free of detritus.

Gravel Vacuum

Thermometer / TDS Meter

There are cheaper thermometers out there, but I haven’t found a less expensive digital thermometer and TDS meter combo. 

Pocket Sized TDS Meter w/ digital thermometer in aquarium-specific packaging.

The world’s smallest and lightest TDS meter also comes with a built-in digital thermometer. It is a true pocket size meter, comfortably fitting into a shirt pocket without adding bulk. The TDS-4TM-A comes in an aquarium-specific retail-ready packaging.


It does need to be calibrated, but rather than buy an entire bottle of calibration fluid, just go to your LFS (Local Fish Store) and ask to use a few drops of theirs!

I’ve also heard that you can use RO/DI water to calibrate to zero, but I’m not sure if that is as effective as using a 35ppm saline solution!


Marine Depot Aquarium Supplies