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Medium Build List

I deliberated extensively over the tank selection, given the $1,500 budget, as there are several commendable choices available.

In the end, I settled on the Innovative Marine 40 Gallon Long Pro Bundle w/APS Stand. This 40-gallon build comprises the essentials: a return pump, rear filtration chamber, and mesh screen top.

However, with a larger system, the price point does climb considerably, making it notably pricier than both the Budget Build and the Small Build options.

Key Stats:

Size: 40 Gallons

Aquarium Dimensions: 36″ W x 20″ H x 13

Stand Dimensions: 34.79″ L x 16″ W x 12.99″ H

Care Level: Easy

Style: AIO Standard

Placement: Office, kitchen, living room, bedroom

I’m truly enamored with this tank bundle. In fact, out of all the tanks I’ve assembled over the past 5 years, this is the only one that’s still proudly set up and on display in my living room!

While this option might not be the most economical, the value is exceptional as it includes not just the high-quality low-iron glass tank with an APS stand, but also all of these fantastic additions:

Certainly! Here’s the list detailed with bullet points:

– 1x 40 Gallon Long Nuvo Fusion PRO 2 Aquarium
– 1x 40 Gallon Long Nuvo Fusion Cabinet Stand (Black)
– 1x MightyJet 538 GPH Return Pump w/ Controller
– 1x Removable 200 Micron Filter Sock
– 1x Desktop CustomCaddy Media Basket w/ PurityPack Filter Media Including:
– 2x Mechanical Fiber Ball
– 2x Premium 0.8 ROX Carbon Pack
– 2x High Capacity Coarse GFO Pack
– 1x Preinstalled Rubber Leveling Mat
– 1x Pre-Assembled SafeScreen Mesh Screen Lid
– 1x MicroMag Glass Cleaner
– 2x Nuvo Return Nozzles
– 2x High Tide Water Risers

There’s a lot of good options for a 40 gallon tank, but I think this AI Hydra 32 will be sufficient for all but SPS dominant tanks, and it looks great too!

Hey there, check out the awesome new Aqua Illumination Hydra 32 HD reef lights! They’ve got more color, more spread, more power, and they’re super refined. The new design is not only more efficient but also looks better in your aquarium. With easy control through the MyAI App, you can adjust everything to your liking. And guess what? They’ve added more LEDs, more PAR, and improved the optic design for better light coverage. Plus, they’ve made it thinner and more water-resistant. You’ll love the multiple mounting options and the dedicated moonlight channel. And the wider spectrum with more channels will make your corals and fish happier than ever! So go ahead and upgrade to the Hydra 32 HD lights for a stunning reef tank experience.

Don’t forget to pickup a mount as well, as the AI line of lights frustratingly don’t come with a mount!  This AI 18″ Flex Arm works great.

Let’s delve into heaters for a moment: they all have a limited lifespan, so it’s wise to keep that in mind. Different types of heaters exist, with the primary categories being glass, ceramic, and titanium. Personally, I’ve stuck with glass heaters as they’re budget-friendly and rapidly heat the water. However, they do come with the drawback of being fragile (I’ve unfortunately shattered two, maybe three, myself!).

Ever since I started in the hobby, I’ve relied on Eheim Jager heaters. They’ve consistently served me well for over five years, never once failing (of course, with proper upkeep). It’s worth noting that these heaters require calibration, so I recommend pairing them with a digital thermometer to achieve precise temperature control.

Speaking of which, for a 40-gallon tank like this, the 100 Watt Jager heater is the right fit!

CaribSea offers a distinctive selection of Life Rock Shapes, boasting intricate forms that are sustainably crafted and not harvested from real reefs. What’s more, their surfaces are adorned with a coralline algae-like hue, instantly providing your tank with the appearance of a thriving reef ecosystem.

Live Rock holds significance for various reasons: it creates a habitat for beneficial bacteria to thrive, serves as hiding spots for your aquatic inhabitants, provides ideal surfaces for coral placement, and effectively prevents your tank from appearing barren.

Considering the scale of this build, the 40 lb box might suffice, but it wouldn’t be surprising if you end up adding an extra 20 pounds for an even more stunning setup!

An algae scraper is a simple and functional tool that every saltwater aquarium owner should have. Even with meticulous care, algae will inevitably accumulate on the glass surfaces. This affordable scraper offers a swift and convenient solution to remove algae without the hassle of wet and messy hands. Additionally, when you siphon out the scraped algae, you’re contributing to the filtration of your saltwater aquarium.

In the context of this advanced saltwater aquarium setup, we highly recommend having both the conventional hand-held Flipper scraper and the Flipper magnetic algae scraper. Through our experience, we’ve found that both options serve valuable purposes in various scenarios!

For every saltwater aquarium owner, an algae scraper is a practical and straightforward tool. Regardless of how well you maintain your aquarium, algae will inevitably accumulate on the glass surfaces. This affordable scraper offers a convenient and efficient solution to eliminate algae without the hassle of wet and messy hands. Furthermore, when you siphon out the removed algae, you’re contributing to the filtration process of your saltwater aquarium.

In the context of this advanced saltwater aquarium setup, we strongly recommend having both the standard hand-held Flipper scraper and the Flipper magnetic algae scraper. Based on our experience, both options have proven to be highly valuable in various situations!

In addition to employing filters and filtration media, another crucial aspect of proper aquarium maintenance involves performing regular water changes. This process is straightforward: it entails removing a portion of the existing saltwater from your tank and replacing it with fresh saltwater. While executing this procedure, you can utilize a siphon to effectively “vacuum” the tank, extracting detritus like fish waste and uneaten food.

To acquire saltwater for these changes, you have a couple of options. You can conveniently purchase ready-made saltwater from your local fish store, or you might come across distilled water at either the fish store or your nearby grocery store. Distilled water proves valuable for replenishing your aquarium due to its ability to maintain the salinity levels as water naturally evaporates. For those intrigued by the idea of creating their own saltwater, we’ll delve into that topic later on in this guide.

For this specific saltwater aquarium setup, I suggest opting for the 9″ medium size siphon. The smaller variant drains water too slowly, while the larger one tends to empty the tank too rapidly, making the medium size the optimal choice for maintaining an effective water change pace.

Thermometers play a pivotal role in a saltwater aquarium by aiding you in maintaining the desired temperature set by your heater. It’s not uncommon for heaters to lack perfect calibration upon arrival, and a thermometer becomes a handy tool to recalibrate and achieve precise temperature control.

Throughout our years of experience, we’ve utilized approximately 10 of these thermometers, and despite their economical cost, they have consistently proven their effectiveness. Even in setups focused on budget constraints, these thermometers are indispensable components. In our rigorous testing, we employed three of these thermometers simultaneously within the same tank, and the readings displayed variances of no more than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

This product is offered in a convenient 2-pack, a configuration we’ve found beneficial due to the wisdom of having a spare thermometer readily available. If you’re engaged in the process of mixing your own saltwater, an extra thermometer ensures that consistent temperatures are maintained throughout this crucial stage.

two small waterproof digital aquarium thermometers on white background

Possessing a fundamental test kit is a fundamental requirement for every saltwater aquarium enthusiast. This kit proves particularly valuable during the initial phases of your aquarium’s establishment, enabling you to assess the completion of the nitrogen cycle.

Although this test kit might not claim the top spot among the market’s offerings, its affordability remains a significant advantage, providing a general assessment that meets the needs of most hobbyists. Functioning as an invaluable asset, this kit facilitates the consistent monitoring of your aquarium’s well-being, allowing you to preemptively identify and address any potential concerns before they escalate into issues like algae or bacteria blooms. Taking a proactive approach to testing equips you with the means to uphold a thriving and robust saltwater aquarium ecosystem.

front view of api saltwater test kit in original packaging

Calcium / Alkalinity Test Kit

To successfully maintain corals, regular testing for calcium and alkalinity becomes imperative. Having explored numerous test kits in the market, I’ve narrowed down my preferences to two top choices. The Salifert Calcium test kit stands out for its simplicity and affordability, yet it consistently delivers accurate results. On the other hand, the Hanna Alkalinity checker holds a unique edge—it simply outperforms the competition.

red colorimeter alkalinity test kit with digital display

Owning a net is an essential requirement for any saltwater aquarium enthusiast, and the great news is that they are incredibly budget-friendly! It’s one of those tools that you’ll quickly realize is indispensable.

The net proves incredibly useful for catching and relocating fish, and its utility extends even further. You can utilize it while defrosting frozen food to eliminate any unwanted fillers or phosphates. The net’s versatility renders it a valuable and practical addition to your toolkit, ready to tackle various tasks within your aquarium.

A refractometer stands as a crucial tool for any saltwater aquarium enthusiast. Its accuracy surpasses that of a hydrometer, justifying its value even for those with budget constraints.

Maintaining consistent and stable salinity levels holds immense importance for the well-being of corals and invertebrates, such as shrimp and crabs. These creatures possess high sensitivity to abrupt fluctuations in water parameters, particularly salinity.

Remember that proper calibration is necessary for the refractometer to provide precise readings. However, there’s no need to invest in an entire bottle of calibration fluid. Your Local Fish Store (LFS) is often willing to provide a few drops, offering a cost-effective and practical solution. Ensure an optimal environment for your saltwater inhabitants by relying on a dependable refractometer.

Fancy auto top off units might not be necessary. You can opt for the daily routine of refilling your tank with RODI water. However, this process can become tiresome quickly, and if you plan to be away from home for an extended period, you’ll require a solution.

This is where the ATO, or auto top off system, comes into play. It can range from the simplicity of an inverted 1-liter can of coke in your rear filtration chamber to the sophistication of digital sensors and acrylic reservoirs.

The choice is yours, and I’ve outlined a couple of higher-end options below. Kamoer, a well-known pump company, offers one choice, and a rectangular acrylic reservoir adds an elegant touch. On the other hand, you could also go with a practical 5-gallon bucket, saving you a significant amount, well over $100!

ATO container for saltwater aquarium

Maintaining a stable temperature in your saltwater aquarium is paramount, as we previously emphasized. Even the most dependable heating equipment can experience failures, potentially leading to a catastrophic aquarium crash. However, you can avert such disasters using a simple and cost-effective solution priced at just $35. This device actively monitors your aquarium temperature, ensuring it stays within a precise 0.1° F range and preventing your heater from becoming stuck in the “on” position, which could overheat your saltwater.

The remarkable aspect is that this controller can also manage cooling tasks! In my case, residing in the desert, I employ a fan during summers to maintain my aquarium’s coolness. I plug the fan into the “cooling” outlet and the heater into the “heating” outlet, maintaining a consistent 78° F all year round. This impressive device even incorporates a built-in alarm, promptly alerting me to any heater or fan malfunctions. Astonishingly, all these features come at an affordable price, making it a perfect addition to your budget-friendly aquarium setup. With this controller, you can be confident that your aquarium’s temperature will remain stable, providing a secure and comfortable habitat for your aquatic companions.

black and grey temperature controller with probe sitting on white surface

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 I would go with 20 lbs for this build.  My favorites are the Arag-Alive Special Grade, Arag-Alive Fiji Pink, and the Arag-Alive Hawaiian Black.

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

An essential piece of equipment that you might already possess or need to consider acquiring is a power strip designed to accommodate all the devices in your saltwater aquarium. Although it might be tempting to cut costs in this area, it’s crucial not to compromise on safety. Electrical accidents or fires pose significant risks that should be taken seriously.

I highly recommend investing in a dependable surge protector/power strip. This specific option not only offers protective features but also provides the convenience of individually turning off equipment without the need to unplug them. This functionality proves especially valuable during saltwater changes, where it’s advisable to deactivate the heater to prevent damage caused by exposure to air while still powered on. Opting for a high-quality power strip allows you to ensure the safety of your equipment, guarantee the well-being of your aquatic inhabitants, and establish a secure and efficient configuration for your saltwater aquarium.

Tripp Lite 7 Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip

Optional Items

To truly harness the full advantages of your RO/DI filter, it’s crucial to match it with the appropriate salt mix. There exists a variety of salt mixes in the market, and most of them prove effective for a saltwater aquarium. While some offer basic formulations that meet essential water parameters, others provide more advanced compositions with heightened levels and supplementary additives.

Considering that this is a high-tech saltwater aquarium build, and in anticipation of your eventual incorporation of a diverse array of corals, we’ve selected a salt mix that features elevated water parameters tailored specifically for a system housing various coral types. By opting for this particular salt mix, you’ll be giving your aquarium a solid foundation and positioning it for prosperous growth and vitality!

Coral Pro Saltwater Aquarium Salt

The RO/DI filter serves as a convenient water filtration unit, effectively transforming tap water into nearly pure water through the process known as Reverse Osmosis Deionization. This purified water is an ideal foundation for creating your saltwater by utilizing a salt mix (which we’ll discuss later!).

Incorporating an RO/DI filter into your saltwater aquarium setup yields numerous advantages and proves to be a cost-efficient choice in the long term. However, if you’re initiating a small or beginner-oriented system, there are simpler alternatives at your disposal. You can readily access distilled water or pre-made saltwater from your local fish store. Nevertheless, if you’re embarking on a high-tech aquarium journey, investing in an RO/DI filter is a decision that holds significant value.

Rest assured, if you’re seeking a solution that aligns with your budget, there are compact and affordable options accessible, tailored perfectly to your setup. Take the step forward and secure the appropriate filtration system to maintain the optimal condition of your saltwater aquarium!

While it might appear trivial to include these two brushes in a build list, I’ve discovered their remarkable efficiency in tackling the bulk of my cleaning tasks. These brushes possess stiff bristles and have proven their durability over the years. Their performance far surpasses that of a toothbrush, making them an indispensable tool in my maintenance routine.

Should you have purchased the recommended RO/DI filter for this setup, a separate TDS meter is unnecessary. This is because the RO/DI filter already includes an inline TDS meter!

However, acquiring one can be intriguing as it allows you to test the TDS levels of various substances.

When producing saltwater, the aim is to achieve 0 TDS in the RO/DI water before introducing salt.

As a point of reference, when I resided in Seattle, tap water exhibited approximately 40 ppm TDS. Now residing in Southern California, my TDS measures around 140 ppm.

TDS Meter Water Quality Tester

Here’s an affordably priced pump that has received high ratings on Amazon.

I rely on utility pumps for a range of tasks, including mixing saltwater, transferring RO/DI water to the reservoir, creating circulation in my quarantine tank, and ensuring the cleanliness of my sump. Their adaptability makes them an essential tool in my collection, and I frequently find myself utilizing them.