Bigger is Better…Including Downstairs

In the saltwater tank world, bigger is better. Everyone has heard that a bigger tank is easier to keep stable, so therefore you have more success with your tank. Your fish live longer, don’t get sick as often and your corals do better.

I cannot stress this fact enough. Starting a saltwater tank as a tank dabbler, or reef enthusiast, get at least a 40 gallon tank. A 5  gallon tank might look like a great first tank, but you’ll have nightmare after nightmare dealing with the tank and you’ll quit the hobby. If you can’t afford a 40 gallon tank yet, save your money until you can. If you really want the tank, you’ll get the money together faster than you think.

AND…I assert that there is a piece of “bigger is better” that people are missing.

A bigger sump is better as well.

I see tank after tank with sumps that look like a shoe box containing a large city. The protein skimmer is on top of the phosphate reactor, which is crammed next to the return pump. With all the equipment crammed into the sump, there is little room to “go plus one”, it is hard to get skimmers cups off and on and removing your phosphate reactor to change your GFO and carbon is a chore. In other words, its a pain in the ass, so you most likely won’t do it and your tank will show it with algae outbreaks, sick fish and high nitrates and phosphates.

Instead of getting a small sump, choose the largest sump that fits under your stand. For example, my stand measures 42″ on the inside and my sump is 38″ long. I have room to work AND room to expand when I get bigger tank.

To recap:

40 gallon tank or better + biggest sump you can fit under your stand = foundation for success in the saltwater tank world.

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Comments for this article (15)

  • Ryder says:

    I have a 60 gallon and I’m new I am a tank dabbler

  • Ryder says:

    But I don’t have the $300 for a sump

  • Ryder says:

    Any websites with a cheap sump

  • Ryder says:

    Any websites with a good priced sump

  • garrison says:

    go on craigslist and look for a used tank and buy sheets of plexiglass and a silicone tube and put one together yourself

  • scott says:

    hey i have a 50gal and a small 2ft sump with a wetdry filter and a d-d mc500 skimmer.. my question is, is this a good enough skimmer and do i need the wetdry? im a reef enthusiast. Thanks 🙂

  • Brian Davis says:

    Hey Ryder,

    You may not have the money now but you could begin a fund for yourself to upgrade your equipment. Working with Acrylic is very easy and forgiving. Minus the price of material the rest is practically next to nothing. If you or a friend have a table saw you can design your own. Weldon 3 or 4 works great and you can generally obtain from a plastic fab shop or glass store for that matter pretty easily. Costs; you’re looking at; Weldon 3 or 4 $15, get yourself some Weldon 16 $15 (this stuff is thick and will fix a leak if you find one) applicator $5, couple plastic speed squares $6, Bobby pins $2, Diablo saw blade $25 (you’d have to search for this price but they’re out there; excellent blade!). Now, Accrylic isn’t cheap but if you plot your design parts correctly you can utilize most the material for your parts. You wouldn’t need a full sheet, which will throw you back a ways $ wise. You’d likely use about 3/4 sheet to build a 35 gallon sump as an example. 1/4″ thick material your looking at around $90, 3/8″ is around $150 for 3/4 sheet. Lastly, you’d need a Router to flush bit off the excess material after you glue it all up. In all, your looking at about $150 and some change to build your own. If your not comfy doing it, maybe you have a friend who can do it. Designing and building a sump is really a lot of fun in it’s creativeness. I know there’s a lot of info out there about different sump designs. Wait till you see Marks and you’ll have a good idea what you want.

    Another idea, save your money and buy a badass pump, then put a sump wherever in whatever you want (as long as it’s food grade safe, I.e., a brute, and pump the water back to your display tank. Now your looking at about same $ for a pump and $40 for a sump. You have options you can consider (: My sump is a 100 gallon Freeland stock tank and is in my basement. I pump water back up to my display tank. Cost for me to do this was around $200 (:

    Save some money up, spring is coming and will make a project a little easier to tackle (: someone above mentioned shopping around looking online etc, this would work too, while your saving up you may come across a really good deal. If it needs any repair, even better cause you’d get it cheap! Then buy some Weldon 16 and fix it for chump change! Just another example. To each his own.

    Good luck man! I hope you get one eventually, they’re sure handy to have and make maintenance easier.



  • Gabriel Owens says:

    When I was building a thirty gallon sump with a friend of mine, we went to the local plastic shop and went through the scrap pile of acrylic they had at the shop, we got all the acrylic we needed for about $12.00, it wasn’t all the same color, but was however the same thickness and we saved a lot of money, just an idea.

  • Arteom says:

    With all the tank about sumps, the most simplest and most economical choice is to buy the largest size aquarium that will fit under your stand & add baffles to it. Done.

    Plus a 20 or 29 Gallon is only around $34.99 – $42.99 & glass will be around $4/ Baffle for 1/4″ stuff.

  • Mike says:

    Find out when Petco is having there dollar per gallon sale on there tanks.
    I picked up a 40gal breeder for $40 and had my local glass place cut me some 1/4 glass for baffles ($50) and aquarium silicon at HD ($10) Look up
    DIY sump on U-tube …. now have a killer DIY sump/return/refugium

  • Mike says:

    I have a 150 gal reef tank & have it plumbed into the basement. It’s time to upgrade my sump. I’d like it to contain a refugium section. Size is no limit as I have a huge table to hold it. Any idea on a good size sump to install? I have all gear in sump except 2 BRS reactors, chiller, & 50 gal ATO. I’m looking for a good size but not overkill, trying to save up for LED lighting!!

  • 90DIVER says:

    hey mike I just spoke to a rep at petco and he said that they usually have
    those sales at the end of the year. me personally I dont think I can wait.
    I know im going to kick myself when I see the sale but hopefully by that time my tank will be up and running.

  • john esposito says:

    Hi Mark,need help to design 40gal. breeder sump,I don’t know how high nor how many baffles to use i would like to have a small refrugium. I have a Vertex 150 skimmer and a Eheim 1262 return pump.

    Thanks for your help John

  • Dan says:

    Don’t overstock your tank. One small fish per 10 gallons of water or so is a good start.

  • Ralph Schueler says:

    Hi, I have a 220 tank and use a 100 gal Rubbermaid plastic water feeder for animals as my sump. I put some live sand in it and some Live Rock and that is it. Wow it works like a charm. ammonia 0 Nitrite 0 Nitrate 10 …. It ROCKS!!!!! Cost around $250.

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