Category Archives: Setting up an aquarium

Some Basic Guidlines for LED Lighting in Aquariums

When looking at getting LED lighting for your aquarium, it can seam overwhelming when considering all the features and options that you will have to choose from. However, it doesn’t have to be all that difficult if you keep it simple.  I have learned that applying a few simple concepts, or rules of thumb, LED lighting become a whole lot easier to understand.  The below is what I have learned. This is not and all inclusive set of instructions, just something simple to get you started if you have no experience with LED lighting.  Most people do not pay attention to the angle of the lenses used or do not understand how different the wattage can be with a LED diode (as compared to a T5 or T8 bulb) and they end up with a fixture that really will not meet their long term needs.

I have included some simple guidelines for both fresh water and marine environments so you may also have a few other points of comparison.

  • For tanks that are 36 to 48 inches long and 12 to 24 inches tall, I would suggest a  fixture that is about 6 to 8 inches wide (or even a little wider) – For a 48 inch long fixture you should have around 30 to 40 1 watt LEDs, either Cree or Apollo manufactured LED diodes.
  • For a 36 inched tank, about 25 to 30 1 LED just as mentioned. This would give you the options for easy to keep and some of the moderately depending plants.
  • Get a fixture with about 20% more LEDs if you think (or are planning) that want more demanding plants in the future or corals for a marine set-up.
  • If you are putting this fixture on a freshwater set-up, then choose LEDs with a color temp of less than 7,000K. -If you are putting this fixture on a marine tank, then choose LEDs with a color temp of higher  than 12,000K, 18,000 to 20,000K is best.
  • For a fresh water set-up you can add a few red or Fugi pink colored LEDs if you want to help the colors in your tank “pop”
  • For a marine set-up you can add a few Fugi pink or actinic LEDs you want to help the colors in your tank “pop”.  You can also have a 50/50 mixture of 12,000 to 18,000K white and 22,000K or higher blue LEDs and still support coral growth (most corals) while helping to limit algae.
  • Add a controller to adjust the intensity of the light if you want.  Many different manufactures make the LED controllers differently with a lot of different options.  You should research this carefully so you know what you can and cannot control.
  • For lenses, I would suggest a mixture of about 50% of the lenses around 40 to 60 degrees, the rest around 60 to 80 degrees.  This will determine how much light intensity will be reaching the bottom of the tank and is just as important, if not more important, than the wattage of the LEDs themselves.  The below simple diagram (not to scale) can help you better understand what I am talking about

I hope you have found this information useful   You can also read through the below link for some additional information on reef aquarium lighting


The below link also contains a lot very information as well



Converting a Freshwater Aquarium into a Saltwater Aquarium

So after keeping a freshwater aquarium, you now have decided to try out a marine aquarium.While there are many similarities between the two, there are also some differences.Marine is not any harder to set-up or maintain when compared to freshwater, but there is a little more to it. The amount of success you will get with your marine aquarium will be in direct proportion to the amount of research you complete beforehand. This article is meant guide you through that assuming you have only just started. There will be a lot of information contained in the below links so don’t feel overwhelmed.I would suggest reading through them, take your time, and take things one step at a time. There is nothing overly difficult here.

Once you have some basic and little more than basic information, you can now plan your set-up. These links can help with that part:

With some information and a plan in mind, you are now ready to start converting your freshwater aquarium into a marine aquarium. First step is to rehome your current fresh water fish. I would suggest seeing if you could return them to your local fish store. That would typically be one of the better options if you do not know someone who is will to take the fish from you. You could maybe even receive some store credit, but that would depend on the store’s policies for this.
Next step would be to empty the tank completely, and remove the décor and substrate, followed by giving the tank and all equipment a very good cleaning with some vinegar water. I would also suggest taking down your filtration and give it a thorough cleaning in tap water.  The beneficial bacteria that lives and thrives in your fresh water filters will not transfer over to a saltwater environment. Due to the different minerals and mineral concentrations between fresh water and salt water, practically all of the fresh water bacteria will be killed off due to osmotic shock if you were to place them in a marine water environment. You will also need to replace the substrate that was used in your fresh water tank with substrate that is meant for a marine environment.  A good marine substrate will leach out minerals like calcium which will help your pH to remain more stable in your marine set-up.
Next would be to add your substrate to the aquarium.  I would not recommend live sand.  I good quality marine substrate is all you need.
After that, fill your aquarium with premixed salt water with a salinity of between 1.025 to 1.026.  The below links may be of help:

Next step is to set-up your filtration and cycle your aquarium.  The below links will help with that:


 You can add your lighting at any point, but I would recommend adding it after your tank is cycled in order to help prevent algaes. In the past, I used the same T5HO light fixture but changed the bulbs to a more appropriate color temp and an actinic bulb. This approach give you more appropriate lighting to a marine set-up and will help avoid nasty algaes. Typical marine lighting will have a color temp of 12,000K to 22,000K. Keep in mind, there are different requirements for reef aquariums as compared to FOWLR. Some of the below links can help pick out marine bulbs or a new light fixture.

 Once your cycle has completed, you need to test your water for about a week or two to make sure everything is in line.  The below will help you identify what you need to test for and the ideal parameters to maintain.

 Once you have confirmed the parameters are stable, you can start to slowly add your fish.  The below information can help with deciding what fish to start with and the importance of using a quarantine tank.

 Now that your set-up is up and running with at least your first few tank inhabitants, you will now need to focus on ongoing routine maintenance.  The below link will help with that.


I hope this will be able to help you through the move from freshwater into saltwater

Do I need a UV Sterilizer ???


There are a lot of opposing opinions out there about the use of ultraviolet sterilizers (UV sterilizers) which can make it hard to decide if you would need to add one to your set-up.  Hopefully this article can help you think through if you want to use a UV sterilizer or not and make an informed decision either way. 

The first step in deciding would be to better understand what a UV sterilizer is and how it works 

UV sterilizers are a very simply designed type of a filter.  They contain a ultraviolet bulb protected by a water tight quartz sleeve. Water inters the sterilizer and passes over the sleeve becoming exposed to the UV light.  The strength of the UV bulb can range anywhere from 9 watts to 100 watts in size.  Always stick to a good brand name and follow the manufactures recommend bulb sized based on the total water volume in your set-up.  Their also two main different designs, a external style filter that requires water to by pumped through it, and a internal (or completely self contained) style were you just place the filter in your aquarium and plug it in.

UV sterilizers will never: replace biological or mechanical filtration, allow you stop completing water changes, or remove excessive nutrients (nitrates and phosphate). 

The second step would be to better understand the purpose of a UV sterilizer

You must first decide what you want to achieve with your UV sterilizer as there are two main purposes for setting up a UV sterilizer each of which better suited to different goals and each require a slightly different approach for use.  Other than having a properly sized UV bulb, not fully understanding these approaches is the most common cause of not realizing the potential benefits of a UV sterilizer. This first approach is to help control free floating algae and algae spores.  This will best be achieved by a higher flow rate through the sterilizer.  As these organisms are smaller, they need less exposure time to the UV light when passing through the sterilizer to become effected by it.  The second approach is to control free floating parasites.  As parasites are larger in size as compared to bacteria, they will require longer exposure to the UV light which can be achieved by reducing the flow rate through the UV sterilizer.  By purchasing a good brand name UV sterilizer and following the manufactured recommendations for flow rates, you will be maximizing the effectiveness of the UV sterilizer in either approach.

The third step would be understand the pros and cons of using a UV sterilizer

Based on my experiences using a UV sterilizer on one of my set-ups as well as what I have read, there can be many pros and cons with using a UV on your marine aquarium.  The below are just a few of these pros and cons:

-Reduce / control free floating algae and algae spores
-Reduce / control free floating parasites
-Help to reduce the impact of parasite outbreaks, like ick, providing you a better opportunity to treat it.
-Help to keep the water crystal clear and/or eliminate bacteria blooms in the water.

-They will not remove all parasite as they have to be free floating in order to be effected by the UV
-They will not help with the removal of existing algae in the tank and on the rocks.
-UV sterilizers have been reported to affect some chemical compounds affecting some types of aquarium supplements being dosed.
-They can reduce the diversity of free floating microorganisms which some corals and filter feeders need
-UV filters need to be accurately set-up or they will be useless
-Extra on-going maintenance of cleaning the bulb cover and expense of replacing bulbs every 6 to 12 months
-In most situations, the same benefits of using a UV can also be achieved by other methods
-There will be limited impact on ick as they are only free floating for a smaller portion of their life span.

Whether or not you use a UV can be more of a personal preference which is also based on the exact needs of your set-up as no two marine aquariums will ever be alike. 


Common Beginner Mistakes with Marine Aquariums

After being asked about, and reading about, many situations were hobbyist experience problems with their first marine aquariums, (as well as thinking back to my first marine aquarium) you could attribute almost all of these difficulties to the below list of the most common mistakes people can make with their first marine aquarium.
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Common Approaches to Filtration in Marine Aquariums

You have a few different options when it comes to providing proper filtration for your marine aquarium.  The below are the common approaches to filtration in marine aquariums that I have used as well as some pros and cons.

There are three categories of filtration that you need to look at, biological, chemical, and mechanical filtration.  Each has a slightly different purpose in your aquarium.

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Some Algae Scrubber Basics

Sometimes there just is no substitute for Mother Nature.  You could make an argument that this is one of those times.   While the use of algae scrubbers as a form of filtration certainly is not a new concept in the hobby, it remains a very effective and easy approach to reducing nitrates and phosphates from your marine aquarium.   I thought I would share my approach to building and using an algae scrubber and what I have learned about some algae scrubber basics

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The Basics of Marine Aquarium Water Parameters

When many people are considering setting up there first marine aquarium, they can develop a perception that water chemistry (parameters) in a salt water environment is a complex topic. In my experience, this is just not the truth. While you can take this topic to a level of highly in-depth analysis and complexity, in practically every situation you will run into you can have very great success by applying a good understanding of the basics. I would like to share with you how I have learned the basics of marine aquarium water parameters. By taking this approach, the water chemistry (parameters) are not all that complicated at all.

Ammonia and Nitrites:

Ammonia and nitrites are byproducts of the nitrogen cycle at work in your aquarium. Once your aquarium is cycled, these parameters should undetectable by your test kits. Having ammonia and/or nitrite in your tank can be harmful to almost all forms of marine life. This is very similar to any fresh water aquarium. For a little more detail about the nitrogen cycle and/or cycling a marine tank, please check out the below links

Nitrates and Phosphates:

Based on what I have read, the nitrate and phosphate levels found in the ocean can vary a lot, but can be found in levels as low as 0.003ppm in most of the coral reef were we find the corals and fish that are commonly kept in the hobby. Maintaining those levels for nitrates and phosphates in an aquarium can certainly be a challenge at times, but not very difficult to do with a correctly planned and maintained set-up. I have always preferred to maintain my phosphate levels at an undetectable level by my test kit and my nitrates at the same. In the past, the nitrate level in my tank spiked at 2ppm while the tank was maturing and I was still making adjustments in my routines. Based on my experiences, the below are among the more common causes to higher levels of nitrates and phosphates:

A) Insufficient growth of nitrate eating bacteria. One of the biggest differences in the nitrogen cycle in a marine set-up when compared to a fresh water set-up is that a marine set-up with live rock will grow bacteria that will consume your nitrates and convert it into nitrogen gas. The best and most efficient way to grow enough of these bacteria is to have a good amount of live rock in your aquarium to provide a natural environment for the bacteria to grow. With enough live rock in your set-up, your nitrates should not get very high at all provide all other elements of your set-up are very well maintained. This is one of the many reasons why I always recommend the use of rock in an aquarium. The below link explains a few more benefits to having live rock in your aquarium.

B) Live rock adding nitrate and/or phosphates into your water. Live rock can be like a sponge and when exposed to higher levels of nitrates and/or phosphates in the water, absorbing these elements into the rock through the pours of the rock. This is very similar to osmosis. When the rock is later in tank water with lower levels of nitrates and/or phosphates than before, the rock starts to release nitrates and phosphates back into the water to restore balance between the nitrates and/or phosphate in the rock and in the water. The best way to avoid this is to cure your live rock before using it in a aquarium. The below link will explain how to cure you rock before adding it to you set-up.

C) Over feeding adding nitrates and phosphates into the water. This can be one of the easiest problems to create for yourself, as well as one of the easiest ones to fix. Most fish foods along with the resulting fish waste, will contain both nitrates and phosphates which will affect your water parameters.

D) In efficient routine maintenance, mostly not enough water changes. You need to take a little different approach to weekly water chances on a marine tank as compared to a fresh water aquarium. Typically, most people have great success with 10% weekly water changes, however, some hobbyist have had great success with 25% biweekly water changes while other do around 5% in a effort to reduce the nitrate and/or phosphate levels in the set-up. Each set-up has different requirements so you need to find what works for your aquarium.

E) Inadequate methods to consume/remove the nitrates and phosphates. By this I am referring to methods other than waterchanges. These methods include things like: having a properly sized protein skimmer on your set-up, using chemical filter media which can remove nitrates and phosphates from the water, and using a algae scrubber to name a few of them. I have always had great results using a good quality skimmer rated for more than the actual size of my set-up, growing macro algae in a sump, and using a algae scrubber. Carbon dosing is also a option but this should be left with hobbyist that have a little more experience in order to be able to manage the risks of carbon dosing. The below links can help ad a little more detail.


I am still amazed at how many people in the hobby today under estimate the importance of maintaining their salinity at or near 1.026, which is the average specific gravity of the ocean at the temperature and depth were we find most of the corals and fish that we keep in the hobby. The lower your salinity is from 1.026, the more you will risk having challenges maintaining other aspects of water parameters. I always prefer my salinity to be between 1.025 and 1.026. This is about 35.5 PPT (parts per thousand) for those of you who prefer using that scale/method to measure salinity. It would also be important to note that it would be well worth the expense to get yourself a good quality refactormeter to test your salinity and get accurate readings. I have found the hydrometers with the little plastic swing arms inside can (at times) be off as much as 0.003. You should avoid using one.

Alkalinity (dKH), Calcium (Cal), and Magnesium (Mag)

The alkalinity (dKH) refers to the measurement of carbonate hardness, while the calcium (Cal) and magnesium (Mag) are referring the concentration (in parts per million) of these elements in the water. This is one topic that has been found to be key to having a long term healthy reef tank and one aspect of water parameters that many hobbyist spend the majority of their efforts on. Based on the work of Randy Holmes-Farley, the below list shows what he has found to be a good balance which will help to keep the rest of your water parameters stable. I have found that I have really good success when I maintain my dKH and Cal balanced within Randy’s scale. You can find a lot more detailed information about Randy Holmes-Farley’ work at Reef Keeping Magazine (on-line magazine). I found it the easiest to keep my calcium level of 420 to 430 by keeping my alkalinity at about 9.0 to 9.6 dKH. I have also found the dKH and Cal levels will be a lot easier to maintain if you keep your Mag levels between 1280 ppm (the level of natural sea water) and 1350 ppm.

370 ppm to 1.4 dKH
380 ppm to 2.8 dKH
390 ppm to 4.2 dKH
400 ppm to 5.6 dKH
410 ppm to 7 dKH (natural seawater)
420 ppm to 8.4 dKH
430 ppm to 9.8 dKH
440 ppm to 11.2 dKH
450 ppm to 12.6 dKH
460 ppm to 14 dKH.

It is generally accepted (rule of thumb) that dKH levels between 6.5 to 7.0 and 12 with your Cal levels between 350 and 450 are considered safe. When either of those two levels ends up outside of those mentioned safe ranges, there will be some risk. Depending how far out of that range they actually are, it will mostly likely have a strong effect on your other parameters and can lead to a more serious situation. It is also interesting to note that at anytime your dKH and Mag levels drop to the lower limits within the normal/safe ranges, nuisance algaes can start to take hold.


Once you have your: salinity, dKH, Cal, and Mag somewhat balanced and stable, your pH will typically stabilize between 8.0 and 8.4 which also very close to the natural range of pH you will find in different areas of the ocean. As long as yours is within the 8.0 to 8.4 range and it is stable, you will run into very few difficulties, if any at all. The below link also has some more information on pH in a marine aquarium and has some other helpful information should you run into difficulties keeping your pH stable. Another factor that can affect your pH is the quality of the water you use to mix your salt with, and the quality of your salt. I found that using reverse osmosis water with 0 TDS(total dissolved solids) and a good quality salt will really help you keep your pH stable, almost as much as the above mentioned factors.


Many hobbyist seem to have a personal preference based on the requirements of either fish or corals they keep. The key is to have a stable temperature anywhere between 77F and 81F. I prefer to keep my temp between 78F and 79F.

The below chart summarizes how I approach the water parameters in my marine aquariums. It’s a very very similar approach that most people have for their fresh water aquariums with the addition of dKH, Cal and Mag levels. As you can see, there are only 4 additional elements to test for when compared to a typical freshwater se-up.

There are a lot of other aspects of marine water parameters that you can add to the above list. In my experience with the corals and fish in my set-ups, if I do a good job of maintaining those above listed parameters and remain disciplined with my weekly 10% water changes using a high quality salt with RO water, I do not have to worry about testing and maintaining anything more than this above list.

Dosing Supplements

So… Should you dose supplements to bring your parameters within the preferred range ? I have been asked many times by people new to the hobby if they should be dosing supplements. Whither or not you dose will all depend on your test results for your dKH, Cal and Mag. In my experience, lower levels of dKH, Cal, and Mag are a result of having a set-up with: higher demanding corals with classified skeletons, lots of coralline algae growth, or a combination of both.

Some low demanding systems with few (if any) corals and a disciplined weekly water changes schedule of ~10% or more, may not require any supplements to be dosed at all. This is due to the water changes replacing the used elements and maintaining your parameters which better quality salt mixes can provide you with. Aquariums with a moderate or heavy stocking of corals will typically consume a lot more of these elements out of the water than waterchanges can replace.

For those of us who keep reef tanks, these parameters are even more important to keep a close eye on as corals and coralline algae will consume more and more of these elements out of the water as they grow potentially causing changes in the water parameters. The first to be typically effected is the dKH, followed by the Cal and the last is Mag. Once/if the levels get outside of the safe range or become un-balanced with each other (even with your weekly water changes), you will need to start dosing supplements to replace the dKH and Cal which are being consumed by your corals and coralline algae. When dosing supplements you have to remember to take it slow. I would recommend getting a good quality supplement for each element (dKH, Cal, and Mag). Start by dosing at 1/8th of the recommended dosing amount while following all other of the manufacturer’s instructions printed on the bottle. After a day or two, test your parameters again and adjust your dosing amount from there. Just make sure if you are dosing all three elements on the same day, that you do not added all three at the same time. Dose only one element allowing enough time for it to become completely mixed in the water before adding the next one.

A calcium reactor can also be utilized to help maintain these three parameters. More information on calcium reactors can be found on the below link. I would not suggest people who are newer to the hobby getting and setting up a calcium reactor until you have completed a lot of research on the safe use of one.

I prefer to either manually add the supplements to the water or to use an automatic dosing pump to add the supplements to the water. I prefer the below dosing pump.

What are good parameters for a FOWLR set-up ?

I have a different opinion of this than most other people do. You can find all kinds of information out there where people will state a different set of water parameters for fish only aquariums as fish are typically more tolerant to swings in certain parameters as compared to most corals. While this certainly is true, I am of the opinion that there is only one standard to aim for in a marine aquarium for many different reasons, some of them are described below.

A) Most of the fish we keep in fish only set-ups as well as reef aquariums come from or near the coral reefs in the ocean. While they can tolerate water parameters outside of the corals reefs, they will be a lot better off and have better long term health when kept in similar and stable parameters just as the coral reefs they are naturally found in. Fish always to better the closer we can maintain our water parameters that which we find in their natural environment (the ocean).

B) Maintaining parameters outside of the above mentioned parameters can lead to other potential problems such as a wide range of different nuisance algaes

C) Your goal should be to aim for the optimal, not the minimal. I can best make this point by using an analogy. In our modern day society, our prison systems have shown us that a human being can live out most of their natural lives in a 8’ X 8’ room, provided all other basic needs are met. Yet, when you go to find a new place for yourself to live, you don’t pick a 8’ X 8’ room. You pick a place that you can comfortably live in for many different reasons, living conditions being just one of many potential factors that you balance when making that decision. You need to take this same approach when maintaining your water parameters.

And just as a point of reference, the below chart shows the three common ways to measure alkalinity and how the values of each measurement cross reference to each other. I thought I would post this chart here as well just in case we have any readers who are used to measuring alkalinity differently than the way I am most comfortable with.

If you have any questions about anything else in this article, feel free to go to our forum and post your question using the below link. If you are not already a member, it will only take seconds to sign up.


Curing Rock for Marine Aquariums

“Curing” is a common term used to describe a process followed to prepare marine rock for use in an aquarium. This is one topic I spent a lot of time researching before setting up my first marine aquarium. I did not appreciate the benefits of curing marine rock until going through the process first hand on a few different occasions and seeing the results.   The below is a few of the things that I learned.
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Buying a Used Aquarium

Many people, such as me, prefer to try and buy a used aquarium in an effort to save some money. Not unlike many other people, I had to learn the hard way to be able to know which tanks to pass on and which ones were a good option to buy. Hopefully I can share a few things about what I have learned so others many not have to learn the hard way like I did.

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Marine Aquarium Maintenance

I have seen this question asked many times by people who are considering setting up a marine tank.  I thought I would put together a short article to give you an idea of the typical marine aquarium maintenance that I have completed and learned about along the way.

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