A Saltwater Rookie's 180 gallon tank build

Update #10 - When someone gives you good advice…

…you take it. I added a pond liner to the bottom of the stand because it’s not a matter of if but when something leaks. The liner is very thick, fish safe rubber that was surprisingly hard to cut. It’s held up with a few roofing nails that have plastic around the heads so they don’t cut into the rubber.

Now if the tank leaks I can convert the stand into a lagoon. =) This DIY project was inspired by our last club meeting.

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Looks good, it will give you peace of mind

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On a related note, when Adam was advising me on my stand build, he suggested I used appliance paint (basically epoxy paint) on the inside of the stand. I put 3 coats on it and then also caulked the seams of the interior. Water beads up beautifully on the epoxy paint and my stand is well protected.

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the pond liner is a good idea

Update #11 - Got sand…

I’ve spent a fair amount of time researching sand. Like most things in this hobby there are multiple ways to be successful - deep sand beds, shallow sand beds, or bare bottom tanks can all host successful reef tanks. I also spent a lot of time considering the type of livestock I could or couldn’t put in the tank based on this decision. I’ve decided that I’m putting sand in primarily for aesthetics and will use bio balls/bricks in the sump if I want to increase my surface for bacteria. While I think the fish and invertebrates that filter the sand are neat they aren’t at the top of my list for livestock. I’m mostly going for fish that like to cruise around the tank.


I decided to go with 140lbs of Arag-Alive! Fiji Pink sand. The seven bags have arrived and sure I’m no longer my UPS drivers favorite stop. That should give me an inch to an inch and a half of sand in the 180. When I clean the sand I won’t have to worry about releasing pockets of anaerobic bacteria. The grain size is on the smaller size so it might blow around but I definitely prefer the look. I’ve used the larger crushed coral for my sand bed in the past and while functional I think it tends to always look dirty. Time will tell if I made the right choice but the nice thing about sand is you can always add more or remove it if you change your mind.

There is a lot of good information out there but I found the BRStv video below to be the most helpful. I’d be curious what others have done (shallow, deep, or no sand bed) and how they liked it.

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Update #12 - Building the mega wall…

Public service announcement: I’m not a structural engineer and encourage you to do your own research regarding weight considerations for larger tanks.

I’m enjoying this build but have I’ve realized just how big of an undertaking this particular project is. Back in January when I purchased my tank I thought that 3 months would be more than enough time to get the tank up and running. Obviously COVID-19 changed everything and I also grossly underestimated the amount of work. I think the silver lining is it has given me a lot of time to research and think about my design.

I know that weight is an important consideration for large fish tanks, particularly if you want them on the second floor. I wasn’t concerned that the tank would go crashing through the floor. If you place a tank against an exterior wall perpendicular to the joists it’s unlikely (unless your house had other issues). I would, however, be concerned over time that the floor would sag under the weight which could cause seals to fail. Imagine that mess!

Fortunately my garage is underneath where I intend to place the tank. Being able to “easily” reinforce the second floor was a big factor in my decision to upgrade. I considered a few options to build “mega wall” (steel beam and column, 2x4s, etc) but was most familiar with framing. I built the wall 30" out from the exterior wall which should allow me to place the tank 4-6" off of the interior wall above. The floor in the garage wasn’t anywhere near level so I have to stick frame each piece in. You’ll also see I’ve got shims everywhere.

The good news is everything is square, plumb, and nice and tight. Gaps or anything that isn’t true could cause issues. If you’re not familiar with construction this is the design for a load bearing wall in your house so it’s probably overkill but gives me piece of mind. I also added two doorways because I’m going to put my salt reservoirs and other gear behind this wall. I also don’t plan to add dry wall or do any other finish work. It’s strictly utilitarian for now.

This was a pretty big milestone for the build. I couldn’t move the tank upstairs until the wall was done and was in a holding pattern until I could get the lumber from Home Depot. It was a little frustrating. Now I can start moving forward again. My rocks have been curing for about a month, most of my gear has arrived in the mail, and I can start putting all the pieces together.

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Nice wall you’ve got there :slight_smile:

Don’t think you’ll need to worry about any sag now for sure. Nice to have an extra fish room now too :laughing:

Nice work, now excited to see the finished set up

Update #13 - The gear is here…!

The gear is finally here! It feels like Christmas and my downstairs looks like I just robbed an LFS! There are numerous brands that will get the job done but in my case I decided to go with Ecotech for lights and flow, Neptune for my controller and dosing, and Finnex for my heaters. It’s quite an upgrade from my previous gear and the tank will have:

  • 4 Vortech MP40s (plus one extra wet side for easy maintenance)
  • 4 Radion XR15s G5s
  • 4 Radion mounting kits
  • 1 Vecta M2 pump
  • 1 Octo Classic 150-S skimmer
  • 1 Neptune Apex EL
  • 1 Neptune DOS
  • 1 Finnex 500 watt heaters

Initially I’m going to try to create an ultra low maintenance (ULM) tank. I’m planning to use the Neptune as much as possible and the DOS for automatic water changes. The plan is to have a series of Brute trash cans directly below the tank in the garage with saltwater and RODI for top off. Assuming the tanks total water volume is 200 gallons I’ll program the Neptune to replace a few gallons daily (more as the corals and fish grow). Once I have this installed I’ll do a full update.

For flow I originally was planning to put two MP40s on opposite ends of the tank and two MP10s along the back. The glass on an 180 gallon tank is too think for MP10s so I decided to get four MP40s. This should give me plenty of options for flow. I’ll start with two MP40s on opposite ends of the tank and two MP40s on the back. I’d be interested if anyone has had success running four jets along the back. If you could make this work the MP40s would be practically invisible against the black background. I’m also looking forward to trying out off of the pre-programmed flow patterns.

The Vectra M2 pump should be more than enough to power the sump and I’m really excited with the fine grained control of a DC return pump. I think the Octo skimmer should be fine but may need to upgrade to something like a NYOS once I have large adult fish in the tank. I got two 500 watt Finnex heaters. Each individual heater isn’t quite strong enough to “cook” the tank but is strong enough to keep it stable if one were to die. I’ll also have them plugged into the Neptune as a safely measure in case they were to malfunction.

It’s starting to feel like things are coming together! Next step… the controller box!


Holy cow! Is your credit card smoking after that order :slight_smile:

I think the whole MP10/thick glass thing is a bunch of bull. My tank is 50g rimless and I can’t use an MP10 because it is 10mm glass. So now I have an MP40 running at 20%…seems stupid. I’d have gotten two MP10s. Not sure about running all 4 on the back wall. You could do one high and one low on each side and run them like gyres, but you could also just buy two gyre pumps :slight_smile: With how wide the flow is on these, I think they’re really more suited to a big push across the tank that just front to back. I run mine on the back wall, but my tank is a square. Soooooo… ha!

The Rona affects all of us in different ways.

I’m also running an mp40 on a 45 jbj AIO. At 20% as well. I have an mp10 but am hesitant to try it because I finally got the flow right haha. Did not even think about the glass size. Mp10 is on my 40 breeder.

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Ecotech is based here in PA. Always nice to see some commerce for the state :slight_smile:

Update #14 - Time to build a box!

In my internet travels across various reef forums and tank tours I realized that hobbiest greatly benefit from having a “controller box”. Simple in its design, the mighty controller box keeps all of your gear protected from moisture, saltwater splashes, and keep cords nice and tidy. My family had a hard enough time understand why there was going to be a fish tank under my fish tank (sump). I’m afraid the controller box has them completely baffled. Remember I’m a Saltwater Rookie so this is a lot for them to take it. They are pretty sure I’m loosing it but appear to be a well adjusted human being in all other aspects of life.

I was debating whether to build the box from scratch or buy something and modify it. Thanks to a post on Reef2Reef which I can no longer find I found another hobbiest used the an Ikea (Besta) frame. It was the perfect dimensions for what I wanted to build 23" x 15" x 25 ". You can also buy a smoked glass door which allows you see the indicator lights on gear but keeps everything mostly hidden when closed.

ikea glassvik door

The frame comes with a back board that clearly wasn’t going to be strong enough to mount equipment so I cut a piece of 1/2 plywood to insert inside the box. I used simple L brackets to mount it approximately 12" deep inside the box. This gave plenty of room in the front for gear and space in the back for cable management.

From there I was able to use the nice templates from Neptune to lay out where I would mount the Apex base unit and energy bar. Above it would be the mounts for the four MP40s and the Vectra M2 driver controllers. There was also some remaining space for controllers for “yet-to-be-purchased-but-I’m-sure-I’ll-need-it” gear down the road. From there I drilled 1 1/2" holes into the plywood and added some desk grommets I purchased on Amazon. I drilled quite a few extra holes both for air flow and to make it easy to add additional gear.

desk grommets

Once the holes were drilled I gave everything a quick sanding and coat of paint. I’m happy with how it turned out for my first attempt at a controller box. I’m currently breaking it in on my existing 65 gallon tank which I why I’m only running a single MP40 at the moment. I’m also testing out the Radion G5s and might give a update on both in another post.

Once I wired in all of the additional gear for the 180 gallon tank I know I’ll be happy to have a way to keep everything organized. Additional Bonus - the controllers look really cool behind the smoked glass. It was impossible to get a good picture without a glare so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Finally I cut a large hole in the back of the existing Ikea frame to make sure there was enough air flow for the equipment. All in all I’m pretty happy. Once I have a few more cables I plan to use Velcro to keep them neat.

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That looks fantastic! My controller box has saved me more than once. Smart addition!

Update 15: Making room for the 180 gallon tank…

It’s the end of an era. Today I tore down my 65 gallon tank. It was my first saltwater tank in ~10 years and was up for almost a year and half. I learned a lot of lessons along the way about water quality, lighting, bacteria and the fact that you could be successful with very basic, hang on the back equipment. It was a great way to get into the hobby. Bonus: my kids got me this awesome shirt for Father’s Day.

The new tank is going to go along the same wall so the existing 65 gallon tank had to be broken down. I was actually dreading it because the tank was doing well. I have 29 gallon tank, stand, and sump that I custom built and will use to temporarily house everything. I did use copper in the tank in the past but it has been thoroughly cleaned and tested zero for Cu today. I’m about to test the “Cu stays in your tank forever” saying. The smaller tank will require less water volume for water changes and can fit in my room so I can focus more time on setting up the larger tank.

Despite being a little cramped everything fit and all the corals are already opening up. The additional rock and sand were added to the sump. Everything else including the equipment is same so the changes were as minimal as possible . I’m pleased with this smaller tank and should be able to enjoy it while I take my time to setup the larger system. For awhile it felt like this build would never end…now it feels like it is finally picking up steam.

Happy Fathers Day!


Onward and upward!

Copper will leach into porous materials, but the tank itself should be totally fine. You could throw one of those copper absorbing pads (the name escapes me right now) just for some piece of mind.

controller box look amazing , nice work

Update 16: Plumb perfect…

50+ shims later I think we’ve got it plumbed in just right. I’ve cut all of the shims to length and they are now hidden under the stand. I was able to walk on the top of the stand and it doesn’t shift or shake. From what I’ve read stability is the key to making keeping even pressure on the silicone seals.

The movers are scheduled this week to move the tank from the downstairs to the upstairs. Given that the tank is 330lbs empty I decided to play it safe and have professionals move it. I current have the stand 5" off of the wall. Fingers crossed in a week the tank will be in its final location.

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Update 17: Moving the tank into place…

With some help from Pat’s Mighty Movers we got the 330lb tank up to the 2nd floor and onto the stand. It was a huge relief that they got the tank up the steps without any damage and that everything fit on the custom stand that I built! Honestly I don’t think I could have done it without them. I’ve used Pat’s Mighty Movers a few times and been very happy with them.

Now the fun begins…time to plumb everything in and do a wet test!!

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