Tanks: How much can I DIY/kludge?


So you may know by now that I'm a university student.

This necessarily means that I have no money of my own.

This is the list copied from djkaty's thread, from which i have removed the things that one probably could not make themselves, and I want to know how much of it I can piece together myself for cheaper than it can be bought:

- Aquarium - at least 190 liters (50 gallons) - not copper-based treatment as this will kill the octopus
- Mechanical filters, need to remove ammonia, nitrate and nitrate, chemical filter will kill octopus
- Hydrometer (swing arm) to test salinity
- Protein skimmer - must be rated for 3 times the size of the tank
- Carbon
- TWP / RO/DI filter
- Air pump with wooden diffusers to agitate surface layer of water

I've looked at the DIY section on ozreef.org and apparently you can put together a tank, a sump, and a skimmer. (Preferably acrylic, as I don't like breakable things.)

How cheap can I get on these?

puffer guy

you can find a tank cheap on craigslist every once in a while and for the sump its easiest to just buy another smaller tank sometimes you can buy a reef tank or saltwater tank that has everything you need to get started wotha good deal but not often most of the things that you list you can make but it is easier and sometiimes cheaper to just buy them my recomandation would to look around at websites and forms try other saltwater forms, craigslist and ebay if you have other questions just ask


Haliphron Atlanticus
I hate spending money, and I like doing things myself, so I'll chime in here. I recommend two basic rules to live by to keep things cheap:
1) Design them to be inexpensive to buy and inexpensive to maintain over time. In other words, make choices up front that will keep costs down.
2) Buy used equipment.

Examples of rule one include:
1) use a wet/dry trickle filter with bio-balls instead of live rock as your biological filter, and get rocks for free, or cheap at a landscaping supply place (some types of rock are not marine aquarium safe, so do a little home work first). Bio-balls have a bad reputation among reef guys (undeserved I think) and so can often be found used for very little money, and a wet/dry trickle filter box can easily be made out of any number of plastic boxes or tubs.
2) Avoid bimacs so that you can avoid the expense and electricity required for a chiller.
3) Pick a source for water that will be the cheapest price per gallon over time. I get my water for free from Scripps institute in San Diego (super lucky, I know) but an RO/DI filter is probably cheap over time (per gallon).
4) Do your homework and preparation thoroughly before you get animals, so that you don't inadvertently kill any expensive animals and need to replace them.
5) pick a species that is likely to eat food that is cheap (frozen shrimp or scallop meat).
6) Do more homework so that you know what to look for, and what to avoid, when you are shopping for used gear.
7) Make sure you will be able to move and store any used tank you buy safely. If you break it in transport it will negate the savings.

If you live in a heavily populated area, then craigslist will supply a steady stream of used aquariums, with all their gear, being sold mostly by people who just want to get rid of the damn thing, so it's easy to get some amazing deals. If that doesn't work, just get into the habit of regularyly watching all the places where people advertise their used stuff, and try to be the first guy to see the ad. People will often sell their whole set up (lights, skimmer, pumps, etc) for one price, and it's usually 10%-25% of the total new price. This is especially true for large tanks because the seller is more motivated, and fewer people are interested in buying. Don't be afraid to buy a set up that has more components than you need, if you think you can turn around and sell the extra pieces by themselves. I recently bought a 100 gallon system (tank, stand, live rock, HOB filter, power heads) for $125, and sold the live rock on craigslist for $100. Octopus don't like big bright reef tank lights, so you can often sell those too.

Be careful not to get stung buying used. Ideally, it would be nice to see the system set up and working when you buy it, so that you know everything works (and so you know how to put it all back together!). Inspect everything, try to talk them down, and be willing to walk away if the deal isn't good enough. Some people who paid retail for all their aquarium stuff have trouble selling it used for 20% of what they paid, so don't buy from those people. They'll eventually get sick of looking at the giant empty tank in their garage and dump it cheap, but it might take a long time for that to happen.

If you're a student, you probably don't have access to many tools, and buying tools can easily eat up any savings from DIY. Even if that's not a problem, DIY takes time, and is a gamble (not guaranteed to work). In general, I think used is better than DIY for most people, except maybe for wet/dry trickle filters. Oh, you'll need a pre-filter to remove particles from your water before it goes into your wet/dry filter (so junk won't be trapped in the bio-balls). I buy "batting" from the fabric store for almost no money, and use a paper cutter I got for $10 at the thrift store to cut it into squares that fit into the top tray of my wet/dry. Then I just throw the pad away every couple days when it gets dirty, and replace it. Batting is polyester "filter floss".


Blue Ring
If you pace yourself and cruise ebay for the next few months, I will guarantee that you will score some wicked deals on good used equipment. I am very happy with my setup and I'm $300 deep... Some luck was involved, though.

I was planning on building my tank from plywood/fiberglass and epoxy (all stuff I have just sitting in my shop) for very cheap, but I changed my song; Wait and look long enough (and hard enough) and you will find a good tank and stand for less money than you could build one for- out of scrap...


DWhatley;168784 said:
If you want to use a wet/dry filtration system (not my choice but Joe-Ceph, along with many others use this style of filtration) Jimmy posted a give-away for shipping costs on his Tank Talk thread :grin:
I have always used wet dry trickle filters on tanks larger than 45 gallons. I have never had any issues and my freshwater tanks stay so much healthier with them. I think in a salt tank when LR can be used its less of an imperative to have such a large bio filter but my experiences here are lacking. I am still debating what kind of filter to use in my octo tank I was actually thinking of a combo of wet/dry and a canister filter.


The reason wet/dry filters get a bad rep is because they are not usually maintained correctly. Then people wonder why they have nitrate factories. I recently bought dry rock from reefrocks.net and honestly will never ever buy anything else for any of my future setups. Money is my biggest challenge when doing any tank and people here have given you good advice. Craigslist and ebay have been my best friend in my current build. Take your time and do it right the first time. If something in this hobby happens fast its almost always not a good thing.

The tank I would buy used

The filter I would highly suggest using a simple sump. Used tank with glass baffles siliconed in can be pretty cheap.

As far as mechanical filter goes a filter sock is your best friend. It can hold your carbon and I make mine for less then a dollar each. Get some polyester material from a craft store and needle and thread. With a little work you will have a filter sock that can be thrown in the washer(without soap) and will last you months if not years.

Diy skimmers have been done but in all honesty a used skimmer may be a better choice. This would also depend on what tools you have access to. With skimmer prices becoming more reasonable each day I would watch CL and ebay.

RODI can be really expensive so I am trying purewaterclub.com for a 100 gallon per day unit. It will be here monday or tuesday and I will keep everyone posted on how good it is.

I have built my share of sumps, upflow algae scrubbers, and overflows so if you have any questions feel free to pm me or post.


Haliphron Atlanticus
If you're willing to pay for it, and like the way it looks in your tank, I think live rock is the way to go. I use a wet/dry trickle filter for my bimac tank because I'm frugal, and I didn't want tropical looking live rock looking out of place in my local's only bimac tank. If you use wet/dry triclke filter, you need to:
1) use a mechanical filter in front of it so that it doesn't trap particles of junk that will build up, and decompose (dumping a lot of nitrate into your tank when they do). And change the mechanical filter often (every two or three days) also to avoid that same build up.
2) Live rock will breakdown ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate, but a wet/dry trickle filter will only break down ammonia and nitrite, so you need to find some other way to reduce nitrates. A deep sand bed can help do that, as well frequent water changes (not a great solution) or even a nitrate filter/reactor (especially useful on heavily fed coldwater tanks)


Staff member
Sadly, LR does not help with nitrates and since my tanks are all 5+ years I keep looking for a continuous assist. I usually change my bottom substrate (sand) about every two years and am experimenting with a small DSB in one tank that had a small built in sump that is not used. It is too early to know if the concept is working but I will report on it in a year or so :roll:


Haliphron Atlanticus
DWhatley;194253 said:
Sadly, LR does not help with nitrates
Really? I've read in many places that LR is superior to other forms of biological filtration (bio-balls) primarily because it can support both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria, and can therefore convert ammonia to nitrite (aerobic), nitrite to nitrate (aerobic), and (a significant percentage of) nitrate to nitrogen gas (anaerobic). I think it's one of the universally accepted "facts" in the hobby (maybe like the one that said that reef tanks smaller than 20 gallons were too unstable and couldn't be done). Where can I read the straight dope?


I agree with Joe Ceph about live rock filteration. A guy named WES on this post said it best http://www.carolinafishtalk.com/for...20-will-more-live-rock-decrease-nitrates.html
That is the reason I will never buy anything but reefrocks again. The rock is extremely pourus as in tiny tiny holes as well as some large holes to allow water flow through and get aerobic as well. Hands down the best rock I have ever owned and I have had aquarums for about 20 years. Most of the Rock out there today is garbage but thats a good thing (for the reefs anyway).

And before anyone tries to DIY some Rock (agrocrete, oystercrete etc) save your money and DONT. From personal experience I can tell you that buying dry or base rock will be far cheaper in the end and doesnt take 4-6 months to cure.


Staff member
There is a decent post on the pourosity of rock and its effect on nitrates here:
edit: LOL Radioactive, I did not realize this is the same link until I went back to read your entry but mine is to the post by RedFishSC. FYI if you click on the post number in any VBulletin site the resulting URL will take you directly to the post.

There is a very good discussion on the various nitrate producers and reducers here:

Both pretty much agree that LR has SOME nitrate reduction capabilities but not enough to handle high bioloads (like heavily stocked fish tanks, eels or ... octopuses). The second article mentions several things I have not tried and may experiment with the foam rock in another tank (if I still have some :roll: that was purchased long ago).

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