Saltwater Aquarium Setup

1. Select a location for the aquarium. A Saltwater Fish Tank Setup should be located away from direct sunlight and loud noises. The floor should also support the weight of the aquarium. Water weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon. If the aquarium is upstairs, consider what is below.

Saltwater Aquarium Setup

2. Level the aquarium stand.

3. If the saltwater aquarium is made from acrylic, place a foam board on top of the stand to help prevent pressure points that can lead to leaks.

4. Clean the saltwater fish tank with warm water to remove any dirt and dust. If the aquarium was used, clean with vinegar and warm water to remove any calcium deposits. Rinse until the vinegar odor is no longer present. Do not use soap or bleach.

5. Place the aquarium on the stand and level.

6. Fill the aquarium with tap water to check for any leaks.

7. If the aquarium uses an overflow, plumb the pipes to the Sump below. Use plenty of union valves to make the plumbing modular in case you move or need to make any changes.

8. Level the sump.

9. Fill the sump with tap water to check for any leaks.

10. Plumb the return line from the Return Pump in the sump back up to the aquarium. Install a ball valve to control the pump’s flow. Remember to use PVC primer and glue to reduce leaks.

11. Let the PVC glue cure and then test for any leaks by filling the drain with tap water.

12. Fill the return pump compartment with tap water and test for any leaks by turning on the return pump. Water should begin to move from the aquarium down to the sump and from the sump back up the aquarium.

13. After you have confirmed that there are no leaks, drain the tap water from the aquarium and sump.

14. Fill the aquarium and sump with Reverse Osmosis water. (You made need to Setup a Reverse Osmosis Unit prior to Setting Up the Saltwater Aquarium).

15. Turn on the return pump and water should begin to move from the aquarium down to the sump and from the sump back up the aquarium.

16. Make sure the return pipe nozzle is above the water line and then turn off the return pump. Determine if the sump has enough capacity to handle the overflow in the event of a power outage. If there is too much water, reduce the water level in the sump and repeat. Determine a maximum safe water level and mark it on the sump. Turn on the return pump.

17. Place your heater in the aquarium for 15 minutes to allow it to acclimate to the temperature. This will prevent the heater from cracking. Heat the water to approximately 78 degrees.

18. Add salt mix to the aquarium, approximately 2 cups per 5 gallons of water. This should create a specific gravity of approximately 1.020. Continue to mix the salt until it is completely dissolved. Wait a few hours and verify the reading with your Hydrometer or Refractometer. The typical reef aquarium maintains a specific gravity around 1.025 and the average fish only aquarium around 1.020. If the salinity is too high remove some water and replace with pure Reverse Osmosis water. If the salinity is too low add more salt. Continue retesting and making adjustments until the desired salinity is reached. Please note, you won’t normally mix salt directly in the aquarium as this can be harmful to fish, corals and invertebrates. Instead it can be mixed in a separate container.

19. Thoroughly rinse dry substrate, like Aragonite with tap or Reverse Osmosis water to remove any debris. Live substrates should not be rinsed as this will harm the living creatures and bacteria.

20. Add substrate to the desired aquarium depth. Most shallow sand beds are 1-2” deep and most deep sand beds are 4” or more deep. Your aquarium will become cloudy for several hours, this is normal.

21. While waiting for the saltwater aquarium to clear, install the aquarium’s filtration, such as a Protein Skimmer, wet/dry filter or sponge filter. This will help the aquarium clear faster.

22. Install any other equipment like Lights, fans, chillers, UV sterilizers, reactors and controllers. You’re almost done Setting Up a Saltwater Aquarium.

23. Once the water has cleared, turn off the return pump. If the water has not cleared within 24 hours still turn off the return pump and allow the substrate to settle.

24. Begin aquascaping your aquarium with decorations or live rock. If you are using live rock leave at least 3” between the rock and front and back walls. This will make cleaning and maintenance easier. To aquascape your rock, start by placing larger, heavier, more sturdy pieces on the sand. Then add medium size pieces to create arches, caves, bridges and other interesting structures. Then use small pieces to fill in any gaps or to make your rock more secure. It is important that the rock does not shift, as this can create a rock slide, which could crack your aquarium’s glass. The average aquarium requires approximately .75 to 1.25 lbs of live rock per gallon of aquarium water.

25. Restart the return pump.

26. Place Powerheads in the aquarium and adjust until there are little or no dead spots in the aquarium. This may take some practice and adjustment as time goes on. To maximize flow place the powerheads near the surface of the water.

27. At this point your Saltwater Fish Tank Setup should be fully functional and you can run the light for eight to twelve hours per day. It is best to place your light on a timer to keep a consistent photoperiod.

28. After a few days test your water for Ammonia, Nitrite and Nitrate. You should also start to see a brown diatom bloom at this time. This is normal and should go away on its own within a week. If the diatoms persist, brush them off the rocks and glass with your hand or algae pad.

29. Once ammonia and nitrite have reached 0 and nitrate is below 20ppm. Wait three days and retest. If ammonia and nitrite are still below 0 and nitrate is still below 20ppm, it may be time to add your first fish.

30. Recheck your aquarium’s pH, temperature and salinity to make sure they are within an acceptable range. An appropriate pH is between 8.0 and 8.4. Make adjustments as necessary.