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Large Build List

Updated 2023

Here we go! The following build is built around a 90 gallon Red Sea Tank.  But this ain’t no ordinary tank!  It comes with lights, stand, sump, and plumbing.  Red Sea has been making top-of-the-line tanks for years, and this Reefer won’t disappoint.  So if you want something big and beautiful, keep on reading!

Key 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 established a reputation for crafting top-tier aquariums with correspondingly high prices, and this Reefer Deluxe model perfectly embodies that ethos. My initial aquarium was a slightly smaller Red Sea Reefer without all the extra features.

This is an upscale system, boasting an ideal size for accommodating larger fish, and it arrives with an impressive array of inclusions that negate the need for additional purchases. Here’s a comprehensive rundown of what’s provided:

– Online digital temperature monitor with pinpoint 0.1-degree accuracy
– Dependable leak detector complete with an audible alarm
– Slimline multi-input titanium probe water level sensor
– Sturdy magnetic corner mounting bracket
– Precise monitoring of water levels
– Built-in safety safeguards for diverse scenarios:
– Sensor disconnection
– Pump operating in the absence of water
– Detection of leaks
– Pump exceeding standard runtime
– Monitoring of water level and temperature via the ReefBeat app
– Robust, noiseless, and sleek 1.8″ diameter pump tailored for most ATO reservoirs
– Inclusion of ReefBeat connected smart controller

Beyond the sump, the package encompasses two Red Sea LED lights, a glass sump equipped with removable/adjustable baffles, and all the necessary hard plumbing that simply requires screwing into position. It’s a genuinely comprehensive system.

Avoid purchasing this light! Wondering why? Well, the system mentioned above already includes two of them. However, I’d still like to offer you additional insights about these lights. If you’re curious to learn more, simply click below!

A reliable heater is an absolute necessity for your saltwater aquarium. As emphasized earlier, maintaining stability is crucial for the well-being of your aquarium inhabitants, making a dependable heater an essential component.

Given that most saltwater organisms thrive within the temperature range of 77-78 degrees Fahrenheit, a heater is vital unless your living environment naturally aligns with this range. On the flip side, if you reside in a warm climate, you might require a fan to regulate your aquarium’s temperature.

Based on personal experience, reputation, and affordability, we strongly recommend the Eheim Jager TruTemp 200 Watt aquarium heater. This choice is favored by many dedicated saltwater aquarium hobbyists and is budget-friendly.

Keep in mind that all aquarium heaters will eventually wear out, so it’s prudent to have a contingency plan. Consider acquiring a second heater as a backup for unexpected situations. Experienced saltwater aquarium hobbyists understand the importance of having backup equipment on hand!


CaribSea’s Life Rock Shapes offer distinctive and unique formations, all while being produced in an environmentally responsible manner (not extracted from natural reefs). Their surface is adorned with a coralline algae coloration, providing an instant living reef appearance.

Live Rock holds significance for several reasons: it acts as a habitat for beneficial bacteria colonization, creates hiding spots for your aquatic inhabitants, serves as a platform for coral mounting, and enhances the visual appeal of your aquarium beyond an empty enclosure.

Considering the scale of this build, I recommend acquiring 20 lbs of the Life Rock Shapes (on the left), along with an additional 20 lbs of the Life Rock (on the right). This combination will contribute to a well-rounded and engaging environment in your aquarium. You’ll need somewhere around 100-200 pounds in total.

An algae scraper is a straightforward yet indispensable tool for every saltwater aquarium enthusiast. Despite your meticulous tank maintenance, algae growth on the glass is inevitable. This cost-effective scraper offers a swift and hassle-free solution to remove algae without the need for messy hands! Not only does it maintain the visual cleanliness of your aquarium, but as you siphon out the cleared algae, you also aid in the filtration process of your saltwater tank.

In the context of this large saltwater aquarium setup, we strongly advocate for both the traditional hand-held scraper and the innovative Flipper magnetic algae scraper. Drawing from our own experience, we find that having both options on hand proves invaluable for addressing diverse situations effectively!

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! 

Just make sure to get the regular Flipper.  The nano is too small and the max is too big!

Besides employing filters and filtration media, performing routine water changes is essential to maintain your aquarium properly. This straightforward practice involves extracting a portion of the existing saltwater from your tank and replenishing it with fresh saltwater. While carrying out this task, a siphon can be employed to effectively vacuum and remove detritus such as fish waste and remnants of food from the tank.

For this particular saltwater aquarium setup, I suggest opting for the 10″ large-sized siphon for optimal results.

Honestly, the thermometer I prefer is the one featured below. Surprisingly, it’s a waterproof meat thermometer. It’s not only budget-friendly but also waterproof, easy to clean, simple to store, and surprisingly accurate.

An essential tool for every saltwater aquarium enthusiast is a basic test kit. This becomes particularly valuable at the outset of your aquarium journey, aiding in testing for the completion of the nitrogen cycle.

While it might not be the most advanced kit on the market, its affordability provides a reasonable ballpark reading that suits the needs of most hobbyists. This tool plays a vital role in monitoring your aquarium’s well-being and detecting potential problems before they escalate into algae or bacteria blooms.

Taking a proactive approach to testing can contribute to the vitality and success of your saltwater aquarium. Therefore, having this test kit on hand is a prudent choice for any aquarium owner.

Return Pump

In the past, I used to recommend opting for a return pump that could achieve a water turnover rate of 10 times per hour, translating to a capacity exceeding 1,000 gallons per hour (gph) for a system like this. However, we’ve come to realize that excessive filtration can be counterproductive in this hobby. Instead, a pump that circulates the water 2-3 times per hour is a more effective approach, equating to a flow rate of around 250-350 gph.

To err on the side of caution, it’s advisable to go one size up with your pump selection, and this is where the Sicce Syncra SDC pump comes into play. Sicce is a reputable company renowned for producing high-quality pumps backed by impressive 5-year warranties. Having personally used this pump, I can vouch for its performance and reliability. The SDC 3.0 size is an ideal match for this setup.

Remarkably affordable, a net is an absolute essential for every aquarium hobbyist! Its versatility shines through not only for catching and moving fish but also during the process of thawing frozen food, aiding in the removal of fillers or phosphates. Don’t overlook the value of this simple yet indispensable tool!

An indispensable tool for every saltwater aquarium enthusiast is a refractometer. Its accuracy far surpasses that of hydrometers, making it a savvy investment even for those on a budget.

Maintaining stable and consistent salinity levels is crucial for the well-being of corals and invertebrates like shrimp and crab. These sensitive creatures are particularly vulnerable to abrupt changes in water parameters, especially salinity.

Quick note: your refractometer needs occasional calibration to provide accurate readings. No worries, you don’t need to purchase an entire bottle of calibration fluid. Your Local Fish Store (LFS) is often happy to lend you a few drops of theirs. This pragmatic and cost-effective solution ensures an optimal environment for your saltwater companions. Rely on your trustworthy refractometer to create a happy home for your aquatic residents!

High-tech auto top off units might catch your eye, but trust me, manually refilling your tank with RODI water day after day loses its charm quickly. And what about those times when you crave a vacation? Who will handle your tank then?

That’s where the ATO (auto top off) system steps in! It can be as simple as flipping a 1-liter coke can upside down in your rear filtration chamber or as elaborate as using digital sensors and sleek acrylic reservoirs.

Choices abound! Featured below is the top-of-the-line Tunze Osmolator. However, let’s be real, you could also opt for a humble 5-gallon bucket and save a cool $100 or more! The decision is all yours, my friend.

ATO container for saltwater aquarium

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!

Optional Items

To maximize the benefits of your RO/DI filter, it’s essential to match it with the appropriate salt mix. The market offers a variety of options, most of which perform well for a saltwater aquarium. Some are straightforward, providing fundamental water parameters, while others offer advanced formulations with elevated levels and additional enhancements.

Considering the nature of this saltwater aquarium build and the expectation of a diverse coral population, we’ve chosen a salt mix with elevated water parameters tailored for a system hosting various coral types. By opting for this salt mix, you’re providing your aquarium with an advantageous foundation, positioning it for optimal growth and prosperity.

Maintaining a consistent temperature in your saltwater aquarium is of utmost importance, as we’ve stressed earlier. Luckily, you can avert potential mishaps by adopting a simple and cost-effective solution priced at just $35! This clever device acts as a vigilant guardian, constantly monitoring your aquarium’s temperature with an impressive accuracy of 0.1° F. It also prevents your heater from becoming stuck in the “on” mode, preventing any risk of overheating your precious saltwater ecosystem.

But here’s the icing on the cake – this controller isn’t limited to heating; it’s also equipped to handle cooling duties! Living in a desert climate, I utilize a fan during scorching summers to keep my aquarium’s temperature in check. I plug the fan into the “cooling” outlet and the heater into the “heating” outlet, maintaining a steady 78° F all year round. The icing on the cake? It comes with a built-in alarm system that instantly alerts me to any potential issues with the heater or fan.

Considering the impressive array of features this device offers, it’s astounding that it’s so reasonably priced. It’s a fantastic addition to your budget-friendly aquarium setup, providing your aquatic companions with a secure and comfortable environment characterized by stable temperatures.

If you have a penchant for corals, assessing calcium and alkalinity levels is essential. I’ve experimented with several test kits, and my top recommendations include the Salifert Calcium kit and the unparalleled Hanna Alkalinity checker.

The Salifert Calcium kit is user-friendly and budget-conscious, yet consistently delivers dependable outcomes. On the other hand, the Hanna Alkalinity checker stands as a benchmark for quality and precision. Believe me, incorporating these test kits into your toolkit will be a decision you won’t regret.

While sand isn’t an absolute necessity, some enthusiasts are now favoring bare bottom tanks. However, introducing sand can genuinely metamorphose your aquarium into an authentic oceanic tableau. It not only elevates the visual appeal but also plays a pivotal role in biological filtration. Moreover, it serves as a snug retreat and a nourishment source for specific creatures.

When selecting sand, we suggest opting for the CaribSea brand for top-notch choices. Acquiring a few 20lb bags will be ideal for this setup. Enjoy the creative process of decorating your aquarium!

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

I possess around four or five of these units myself! They serve as my cost-effective solution to a pricier controller. I typically install these beneath my stand or in a discreet location, meticulously labeling each cord. This method allows me to conveniently switch off the specific equipment I need during maintenance. These devices have become a personal favorite, and I’ll continue advocating for their use in the future!

Given the size of this tank, it’s strongly recommended to produce your own RODI water at home. This will prove essential due to the significant amount required for both water changes and daily evaporation top-offs.

The RO/DI filter is a remarkable water filtration system that effectively treats tap water, rendering it nearly pure. RO/DI stands for Reverse Osmosis Deionization. This treated water is precisely what you need for creating your saltwater using a salt mix (we’ll delve into that later!).

Incorporating an RO/DI filter into your saltwater aquarium setup offers numerous advantages and can lead to long-term cost savings. However, if you’re just starting out or have a smaller setup, there are simpler alternatives to consider. Distilled water or pre-made saltwater from your local fish store are convenient options. Yet, for a sophisticated setup, investing in an RO/DI filter is an excellent choice that can bring about substantial benefits!

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!

If you’ve opted for the RO/DI filter I suggested for this setup, having a separate TDS meter might not be necessary. This is due to the fact that the RO/DI filter already includes an inline TDS meter!

However, getting a TDS meter can still be an enjoyable endeavor, as it allows you to test the total dissolved solids (TDS) of various substances, which can be quite intriguing!

When it comes to creating saltwater, your target is to achieve 0 TDS in the RO/DI water before introducing salt.

As a point of reference, I used to reside in Seattle, where the tap water typically measured around 40 ppm TDS. Since moving to Southern California, my TDS reading has risen to 140 ppm.