Beginner Basics

Discussion in 'Beginner Discussions' started by Pugsly, 19 Nov 2009.

  1. Pugsly


    6 Jul 2009
    Likes Received:
    Hey guys,

    Found some very useful info I think a begginer may need! Maybe it can be a sticky

    Tank Placement
    things to think about

    1) Accessibility: Wherever you place your tank, keep in mind that you will need to be able to access the tank easily and regularly. You will also likely have to hang things off the tank, hang lights over the tank (often from the ceiling), have tubes and pipes running off and to the tank, etc. It's wise to make sure that you can in some way (either by hand or with tongs) reach every inch and corner of the inside of the tank. If you have the room, you will not regret placing your tank such that you can walk (or squeeze your way) around all sides of the tank.

    2) Viewability: Aside from wanting to be able to view your tank for pleasure and entertainment, you will need to be able to watch and observe your reef on a daily basis. There is an advantage to being able to see into your tank from as many angles as possible. However, for asthetic or practical reasons, you may have to block view through the back or side panels. That's ok. However, it's wise to leave at least two panels of glass through which you can view the inside of the tank.

    3) Electrical Outlets: You will be surprised how many outlets you will end up needing. Just to start, you will need one or two for your lights, one for the protein skimmer, 2 or 3 for power heads and other pumps and one for the heater. That's 5 to 7 outlets just for the basics. Make sure that these outlets are very quickly and easily accessibly.
    4)Floods: You can pretty much assume that you will at some point (if not at several points), spill several gallons of water on the floor around the tank. The larger the tank, the larger your spills will be. Most floors in reasonably modern homes and apartments can take a little water. Regardless, you might not want to place your tank on your $30k antique Persian rug unless you're ok with it getting a little wet.

    5) Weight: Water is heavy. Some older homes aren't structurally capable of taking the weight of a very large tank. For tanks 50g or less, weight is not usually a concern. However, before planning on a 100+ gallon tank, please consult a surveyor or your landlord as to if your floor is strong enough for such a tank.

    Equipment Placement
    inside the tank, hang-on-tank, and external
    It's a good idea to consider the layout, shape of, and space available in your tank before selecting your equipment. Somewhat contrary to intuition, smaller tanks tend to use more in-tank or hang-on-tank equipment options, while larger tanks tend to use more external equipment options. This is because the external equipment is usually designed to see larger volumes of water and often require an external sump for operation.

    Some general tips:
    1) Place heaters (and/or chiller coils) in areas of high flow so that heated (or cooled) water is dispersed quickly throughout the tank.

    2) Place intakes/feeds away from their corresponding outtakes/overflows. For example, point or place the intake of a canister filter away from the outtake of the same canister filter (this helps make sure that the same filtered water isn't continually going through the same filter).

    3) Place your protein skimmer so that it's easily accessible. You'll want to be able to reach and empty the skimmer cup regularly.

    4) Experiment with powerhead placement. Figuring out where powerheads (and other sources of water flow) should be placed always requires a bit of trial and error. This may take some time and patience. For more information on water flow,

    5) If necessary, it might be good idea to use extension cords to keep outlets and electrical plugs away from the tank so that they don't get wet.
    Accessibility is always preferred. However, space might be limited or aesthetic concerns may motivate you to try and hide certain pieces of equipment. Finding the best compromise between these concerns may take some thought and experimentation. Your local aquarium store and other aquarists might also be able to give you some suggestions and ideas.

    arranging live and base rock

    Note: Live rock is just want it sounds like (more or less). It's rock that is taken from the ocean and kept wet when you buy it. It is full of bacteria and other desirable life for your tank. Base rock is usually any rock safe for a reef tank that is not live rock. It's not necessarily rock that serves as a base for anything, it's simply that "base rock" is a more pleasant name than "dead rock."
    There aren't too many rules when it comes to aquascaping. Contrary to popular myth, there's no rule about how much live rock or base rock you need. How much rock you should have will depend on your personal preference, what kinds and how much coral you want to keep, what kinds and how many fish you want to keep, the size and shape of your tank, etc. However, there are some things you should think about when purchasing and arranging your base or live rock:

    1) Water Flow: placing rock up against the walls of the aquarium tends to limit water flow throughout the tank. Large "walls" and piles of rock also inhibit water flow. However you arrange your rock, try to place it such that water can move around it.
    2) Caves: Caves can help with water flow and also give fish and other mobile inverts places to hide and sleep.

    3) Live Rock is Better: If there is one "rule" in aquascaping, it's that live rock is better than base rock. Live rock adds to your biological filter. It comes with bacteria and reef critters that add to the ecosystem of your tank. Though live rock is not an absolute must, it's a very good idea. If you have a mix of live rock and base rock, over time, the base rock will eventually become live rock.

    3) Too Much Rock: You can have too much rock. Remember that the more rock there is in your tank, the less room and the less water there is in your tank. It's always best to start with less rock (probably no more than 1/6 the volume of your tank) and add more later if you want/need it.
    Note: You can measure the approximate volume of a piece (or pieces) of rock by measuring how much water it displaces when submerged. Submerge the rock in water and measure the vertical distance the water rises. Multiply the distance the water rises by the area of the footprint of the tank or container to get the total volume of water displaced by the rock.


    Salinity is a measure of how much salt (NaCl - sodium chloride) is in the water. The salinity of natural sea water varies by ocean, sea and reef, but is usually near 1.027 specific gravity or ~36 ppt. The two most common instruments to measure salinity are the refractometer and the hydrometer. Reef tank salinity should be maintained between 1.025 and 1.027 s.g. or 34 and 36 ppt. Refractometers are well worth the modest investment. They are easier to read and maintain. Although hydrometers can be accurate if diligently maintained, most aquarists do not have this kind of patience. They quickly lose accuracy when poorly kept and end up having to be frequently calibrated to a refractometer.

    The concept of "pH" is complex and varies depending on the context in which it is discussed. Most simply put, it's a measure of the acidity (or bascicity) of a solution. Solutions with a pH <7 are called "acidic" while those with a pH >7 are called "basic." The pH of natural sea water varies throughout different marine environments (different oceans and seas), but is almost always basic to some degree or another. Reef tank pH should be maintained between 8.1 and 8.6. pH in a reef tank will fluctuate throughout the day (rising during the day and falling at night). pH test kits come in many different brands and types. All will likely work just fine. "pH pens" (digital pH monitors) are quite helpful, especially to new aquarists. Low pH is most often caused by poor aeration, high indoor CO2 levels, and/or low alkalinity levels. Poor aeration can be remedied with more water flow and turbulence at the surface of the water. Protein skimmers and overflows might also help with aeration. If your indoor CO2 levels are high, dosing of limewater (kalkwasser solution) can help.

    Reef tanks need calcium (not just for stony corals but for many soft corals and other reef critters too). Natural sea water has a calcium concentration of 410 to 420 ppm. However, this is a generalization. Calcium levels differ by sea and area of the world and your tanks needs will depend on what type of corals you are keeping. If you are keeping fast growing stony corals (such as Acropora, Montipora, etc.) you should strive to keep your calcium levels at 410 to 420 ppm. However, if you are keeping slow growing stony corals (such as Fungiidae, Faviid, etc.) or soft corals, calcium levels as low as 350 ppm are usually acceptable. Reef tank calcium should be maintained to at least 350 ppm (and at 410 to 420 ppm for tanks with faster growing stony corals). Calcium levels can be too high. High calcium levels bring down alkalinity. It's difficult to have a calcium concentration of 450 ppm or higher while also maintaining sufficiently high alkalinity. Imagine that calcium and alkalinity are on opposite ends of a teeter-totter. When one goes up, the other goes down (and vice versa). You can raise your calcium with CaCl, Ca(OH)2 (aka kalkwasser), or with a calcium reactor. Please see below for information on alkalinity.

    Buffers and Alkalinity:
    Buffers help protect your aquarium water against sudden changes in pH. The ability of the buffer to prevent sudden changes in pH is called a "buffer capacity." As the term is usually used in the hobby, alkalinity can be thought of as one measure of the buffer capacity of our aquarium water.Chemical compounds called "bicarbonate" (i.e. baking soda) and "carbonate" are the major contributors to alkalinity. They're not the only contributors, but in our tanks, they're by far the most important. They're also what is usually tested for in alkalinity test kits sold in the aquarium hobby. For more information the other contributors to alkalinity and buffer capacity. Reef tank alkalinity should be maintained between 2.5 and 4 meq/L (or 7 and 11 dKH). It's important to note that while alkalinity can *help* your tank resist changes in pH, buffers can be "broken" if pH rises or falls too much too quickly. Therefore it remains important to monitor pH so that it does not fall too fair out of acceptable range. The most common way to raise alkalinity is with baking soda or a commercially sold reef aquarium buffer product.

    With calcium <300ppm and alkalinity 0 to 6 meq/L (0 to 17 dKH) :
    This imbalance is usually caused by over-dosing buffers. To correct this problem, add calcium chloride slowly. It's very important to test the water before and after every dosing. Do NOT use kalk to correct this problem.

    With calcium 300-400ppm and alkalinity 1 to 2 meq/L (3 to 6 dKH):
    In this situation both your calcium and alkalinity are on the lower side. Dosing kalk solution and/or some brand of 2-part calcium/buffer solution should solve the problem.

    With calcium >450ppm and alkalinity >4 meq/L (>11 dKH):
    When both calcium and alkalinity are too high, all you have to do is refrain from adding any calcium or buffer supplements and wait for the problem to correct itself.

    With calcium >450ppm and alkalinity <2.5meq/L (<7 dKH):
    When calcium levels are too high and alkalinity too low, dose baking soda (if pH is normal) and/or washing soda (if pH is low) to correct the problem.

    Note: For 50 gallons of water: 1 teaspoon baking soda will raise alkalinity ~0.4 meq/L (~1.25 dKH). 1 teaspoon of washing soda will raise alkalinity ~0.6 meq/L (~1.75 dKH).
    Most corals sold in the aquarium industry are from the Caribbean or Indo-Pacifc. These are warm, tropical reefs. Therefore, unless you know that your reef inhabitants are from colder waters, most reef aquariums should be kept at 78F to 84F.

    As you will come to experience, pH, calcium and alkalinity interact with each other.As mentioned previously, high alkalinity results in lower calcium levels and vice versa.Because of this, calcium and alkalinity must be measured at the same time and adjusted with respect to each other. Too much or too little of one is often a sign that the other is too low or too high respectively. Low pH can, though is not always, a sign of low alkalinity. It can also be a sign that the water is not being airated adequately. When your tank's water chemistry is not right in some respect, you may have to do some problem solving to figure out 1) what's causing the problem and 2) how to correct it.

    When adjusting water chemistry:

    1) Go gradual: Don't try to correct an alkalinity level of 1 meq/L or a calcium level of 380 ppm overnight.Alkalinity should not be raised or lowered any faster than ~1meq/L per day and calcium adjusted no more quickly than +/-40 ppm per day. This is especially important since, remember, these two parameters interact with each other. Raising your alkalinity too fast could cause your calcium too plummet too quickly (and vice versa). Whenever you're adjusting alkalinity or calcium, be sure to monitor the other as well.

    2) Test diligently: Always test the water before and after you act so that you know what you need to do next (if anything).

    3) Observe: Pay attention to any patterns in your water chemistry.For example before fretting over high or low pH, take the time to measure your pH several times over the course of a day or two (test it in the morning, afternoon and night-- before the light comes on, while it's on and after it's off). It is normal for pH to swing in a range as wide as 8.0 to 8.6 over the course of a day (peeking at "noon" and falling at night).
  2. AdS Guest

    to hide all adverts.
  3. jacquesb

    jacquesb Retired Moderator

    29 May 2007
    Likes Received:
    Cape Town
    Fantastic info Pugsley - many thanks for sharing. I will make this a sticky for you.
  4. OP


    6 Jul 2009
    Likes Received:
    thanks jacquesb! Will see if I can get some more info later.

    I am sure it will help the y guys / girls allot
Recent Posts

Similar Threads - Beginner Basics Forum Date
The most beautiful fish and corals for beginners Marine Fish Discussions 8 Feb 2017
Beginner Tank Size Recommendations Beginner Discussions 19 Apr 2016
Beginner 15 gallon Nano tank New Members 19 Jul 2014
Beginner Beginner Discussions 14 Apr 2014
Marius's 2m beginner tank Large Tanks 12 Jan 2014
Struggling with beginner corals General Discussions and Advice 27 Dec 2013
Genaral information needed complete beginner Beginner Discussions 8 Dec 2013