For those of you Amazon.com fanatics out there who purchase everything online, this is a build for you. Every item on this page can be purchased on Amazon, at least in the USA.
This build will closely resemble the budget build, except I’ll be upgrading a few items and adding a few more niceties!
Size: 13.5 Gallon (51 Liters)
Approx. Price: $360
Dimensions: 22 x 11.5 x 15 inch (56 x 29 x 38 centimeter)
Stand Included? No, but does sit up a bit on a pedestal
Low Iron Glass? No
The Fluval SEA 13.5 gallon is a desktop peninsula style tank that includes LED lights, return pump, and a rear filtration insert. The lights have a day/night mode, and are capable of providing enough light for soft and LPS (large polyp stony) corals.
If you end up purchasing this tank, be sure to do a leak test fresh water. While most people have had a great experience with this tank, I have heard reports of leaks. Oftentimes things can happen during shipping, so be sure to check it right away so you can get an exchange or replacement if needed.
The peninsula style is nice in such a small tank because it drastically increases the viewable area, and the 13.5 gallon size is big enough to house a variety of small fish, invertebrates, and corals.
It is also small enough to be placed on a sturdy desk or countertop, and does not require a separate stand. This would be my personal go-to office tank
The Fluval Sea is an AIO (all-in-one) system that comes with a light! So that makes it easy! 14,000 K, touch sensor with day and night options, and fully integrated into the canopy so no mounting required.
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!)
An added bonus is that this heater currently comes with a digital thermometer, so that’s nice!
There are several wattage options for the Orlushy heater, but go with the smallest one, 100W.
The problem with buying rock via Amazon is you can’t buy it in small amounts! I can’t imagine needing 20 lbs, but oh well, you’ll have some extra to play with. There are other brands of rock that I prefer, but they are only sold in 40 lb packages on Amazon, and that is just too much!
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!
I own a couple different types of scrapers, but this Pro-Scraper II is my go to hand-held algae scraper (did I just use the word “scraper” four times in that sentence?)
I’ve owned this Flipper for several years, and the fact that you can switch between the stainless steel blade and the soft felt side without getting your hands wet is just too convenient to pass up! I’m pretty sure you want the regular size flipper, and not the nano!
For this build, I would probably go with the 9″ medium size. If you get the mini it will suck up sand way to easily, 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.
I probably have owned about 10 of these in the past several years, and they work well for how inexpensive they are. I’ve tested three of these at a time in the same tank, and they were off by no more than 1.5 degrees F. Not too bad considering!
If the heater you purchased already came with one of these, then you can skip buying this 2-pack. But I’ve found it is never a bad idea to have an extra thermometer (or two) on hand!
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.
Another nice thing about this build, is that it comes with a return pump! If it doesn’t give you as much flow as you want, you can always upgrade it down the line to something with a higher flow rate.
Extremely inexpensive, every aquarium hobbyist needs a net! Not only is it good for catching and transferring fish, you can also use it when thawing frozen food to help get rid of any fillers or phosphates!
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!
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 budget 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.
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!
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.
It is cheaper to buy sand from online aquarium stores or your LFS. They usually sell 10 lb bags which is perfect for this build. Amazon seems to only sell 20 lb bags, and they are spendy!
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.
I think I own four or five of these by now. 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!
Of course you don’t need to make your own RO/DI water. You can either use distilled water (expensive), buy pre-made saltwater from your LFS (local fish store), or buy RO/DI water from your lfs. But for under $200, you could skip all that and make your own water at home.
An RO/DI filter was one of my first purchases because I refused to lug 5-gallon jugs back and forth from my LFS, and I didn’t want to buy gallon after gallon of distilled water.
I’ve owned my RO/DI filter for well over five years, and it is one of the best investments I’ve ever made.
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!
You only need this if you decide to purchase the RO/DI filter. Your goal when making saltwater is to have 0 TDS in your water.
Just for reference, when I lived in Seattle the tap water had around 40 ppm TDS. I now live in Southern California and my TDS is 140 ppm.
My favorite utility pump is the Cobalt MJ1200, but for some reason Amazon is selling it for a high price at the time of writing this. This pump is virtually the same though!
I use my utility pumps to mix saltwater, pump RO/DI water into the reservoir, provide flow in my quarantine tank, and to clean my sump. They are just so handy to have around that I own several and use them weekly.