GOFOR'S 52" x 36" x 26" CDA Peninsula & SoCal Tank Room Build

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#1
BACKGROUND

Hey Guys,

It has been a while since I’ve actually had a tank… I broke it down just before my second kid was born- which was over 5 years ago- and now I have THREE kids ages 6 and under.

When I sold everything off, I swore that when things settled down and I got back in, I would try to do a peninsula style tank. Well, the time has finally come!

So, as you saw in the title, the dimensions are 52”L x 36”W x 26”T. I really wanted to give myself a ton of depth so that all viewable sides of the tank gave me the much-coveted “side view” and, ultimately, this was the maximum peninsula footprint I could fit in my house.

Now you might be asking what I mean by “Southern California Tank Room”… well, I’ll just say that I don’t have a big enough house to dedicate an entire room to remotely house my sump/equipment, so I figured I might as well put it outside the house (where there is a little more room). I’ll be going into a ton more depth on this later.

My plan with this build thread is to not only share as many pictures as I can, but also go into a decent amount of detail with each component of the build and, more importantly, why I decided to go that route, since I personally find it more useful and interesting when build threads give their rationale on decisions (on equipment and approaches). Also, full transparency, the plan for this build started back in January 2020 and the tank arrived July 18, 2020, so I’ve been able to document as I progressed and now share with you a current-day accumulation of that progress rather than showing you progress in real-time, since I’m impatient and would hate to update the thread sporadically at the beginning.

So, without further ado, let’s get this started!
 
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#2
GOALS OF THE BUILD

Since there are infinite ways to build a successful reef tank, when first planning this out, I decided to figure out what my main goals were with this build so I wouldn’t easily get distracted from my original vision by the latest piece of equipment or bright shiny object. Having said that, with every equipment purchase, I really tried to determine whether the addition of this equipment would further these goals. Here are the core goals I came up with:

As Low-Maintenance As Possible: One of the things I have not accounted for in my past tanks is the amount of time it can take to keep these mini ecosystems running successfully in our homes- cleaning pumps, reactors, and other equipment, along with weekly water changes and other regular maintenance items- and oftentimes leads to not being able to sustain the amount of work required to keep these systems running successfully for years. Since I have three kids ages 6 and under, two dogs, and a wife to keep happy (or simply not drive insane), this doesn’t leave much time in the day for me to dedicate to the tank. So, I figured I have two solutions for this… either make more time in the day or automate and create as many redundancies for the tank as much as possible. Needless to say, I chose the latter and will try to explain how I have decided to go about it.

Tunability: Another thing that I have learned from personal experience is that the shotgun approach does not typically work well in this hobby. In other words, if you throw everything you have (e.g., all of the light, flow, filtration, etc.) at your tank, you will likely overwhelm your tank/its inhabitants with either too much (light/flow) or too little (nutrients because of filtration) or an imbalance (phosphates vs. nitrates) of something. Also, our tanks are always evolving, so the parameters (whether lighting, flow, nutrients, etc.) are always a moving target as corals grow, fish are added and/or grow, etc. So, after lessons learned, I specifically chose equipment that can be adjusted to increase/decrease their efficiency/effectiveness so that I can tune each piece to accommodate my specific aquarium’s ever-evolving needs.

Balanced Aesthetics: We all obviously want our tanks to look good. Some of us focus purely on the inhabitants (e.g., corals and their coloration) and will do ANYTHING to accomplish this even if it means other aesthetics are sacrificed (e.g., going without sand to allow for increased flow, a ton of wires coming out that power all of the powerheads, etc.). While others may place their focus on a tank that looks “clean” (i.e., no cords, sugar-sized sand, minimal equipment inside the tank, etc.), but may do so while sacrificing flow and/or lighting that may help the coral achieve better growth and coloration. I’m going to try and fall somewhere in between… especially with a Peninsula style tank, where you can’t just shove everything behind the tank. Will you see some cords? Probably… but I’ll try to make them as discreet as possible and will be more than happy to hear any ideas. Somewhat related is the noise-level of the system. As they say, silence is golden… unless you have kids, then silence means they are destroying something. Nonetheless, since this tank will be placed right next to where my family will be watching T.V. and eating dinner, I don’t want a tank that requires us to turn the T.V. up or try to speak over it when talking at the dinner table. As I’ll explain later, this is one of the reasons I took the opportunity to place the sump remotely.
 
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#3
AQUARIUM & STAND DETAILS

First thing is first… the tank.

Peninsula style tank: I’ve always loved the way peninsula style tanks look and the ability you have to create THREE viewable sides and different aquascapes/perspectives. The downside, of course, being the difficulties this style of tank presents when it comes to flow (which I will discuss how I try to address at length later) and footprint availability within the home. Luckily, I found a pretty good spot to place the tank- right in between my family room and dining area, and the first thing you see when you enter the house.



52”L x 36”W x 26”T (approximately 210 gallons): one thing I’ve learned about custom tanks is that you go as big as you can in the space available (might as well, since you’re already paying more for the tank!). Here, one of the appealing dimensions was the 36” width, which should give me almost endless aquascaping options for a peninsula style tank. The length was the absolute maximum my wife was comfortable with having the tank come off the wall, and the 26” height was pretty much the maximum because of anatomical limitations (I’m not that tall, nor do I have long arms).

Custom Tank & Stand by Crystal Dynamics: After looking at custom builders outside of the state, I decided the best option for me was to go with a local builder, in this case, Crystal Dynamics (formerly Lee Mar). I’ve owned a custom Lee Mar tank in the past and was happy with that one. Also, after speaking with their sales representative (Zoya), I felt more comfortable in proceeding with them… it seems most everyone on these forums have had good experiences even though there were some longer than projected build timelines. In my case, I wasn’t in any hurry since I hadn’t even purchased my first piece of equipment at that point (back in February 2020). Here are the specs:

  • ½” Starfire Glass on all three viewing panels
  • Double Perimeter/Euro Bracing (with no cross braces)
  • Bottom Perimeter Bracing
  • Reinforced Vertical Seams
  • Black Starboard Bottom
  • Black Silicone
  • Internal Overflow with 4 holes drilled (two 1” returns and two 1.5” drains drilled for Schedule 80 bulkheads); I decided to do an internal overflow so that I could place the tank as close to the wall as possible
  • The steel stand is also built by Crystal Dynamics and skinned with wood



 
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#4
THE MOVE-IN

After waiting and planning, then waiting and planning some more, the move-in day finally was here. Due to the width of the stand, the only option was to cart this bad boy through my side-yard and bring everything through my backdoor (no pun intended).



Luckily, despite COVID, I was able to enlist a few guys to help with the move. It actually went much smoother than I had ever imagined. Although, having an almost endless supply of donuts never hurts...





 

Smite

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#7
Nice! That stand and tank combo is gorgeous. Looking forward to the build and equipment list/outdoor fish room
 
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#9
SALTWATER PRODUCTION

I know this is a topic that many gloss over in their build threads, but I figured no matter what equipment you have on your tank, a reef tank is only as good as the water you put in, right?

RODI Unit: I decided to go with BRS’ 6-Stage Deluxe Plus RO/DI System with the ¼” Aquatec 8800 Booster Pump kit. My goal here was to find a unit that:

  • Produces high quality RODI water regardless of the quality of water my city produces and shouldn’t burn through my DI resin as quickly (which is one of the reasons why I went with the 6-stage unit… could’ve gone with the 7 stage unit but those were out of stock when purchasing and would’ve likely been overkill for my needs);
  • Is relatively efficient, and spits out about as much as it keeps (which is why I paired the 6-Stage Deluxe unit with the booster pump… the deluxe unit has a 1.5:1 waste/water ratio, but with the booster pump should be even more efficient); and
  • If called upon, produces a lot of water (close to tank volume) if needed. I figured if I can pump out 200+ gallons in a day with the booster pump, I should be able to handle any emergency water changes if/when needed.


Salt Mix: As you know, there are ENDLESS salt mixes out there to choose from. I’ve used Instant Ocean in the past and just dosed Ca/Alk/Mg to bring it up to my levels, but it seems to leave behind a residue in my mixing container and having to constantly dose after-the-fact was a pain in the ass. Ultimately, I landed on Brightwell’s Neomarine Salt Mix for a number of reasons.

  • The levels are within range of what I hope to keep my levels at: around 425ppm Calcium/8.5 dKh Alkalinity/1300 Magnesium (although my dosing regimen will need to bring it up a little to meet these levels)
  • It received good reviews on tests run by Bulk Reef Supply (very little residue, creates close to the number of gallons stated on the container, and stores well after mixing) and WWC uses it with amazing results (so who am I to argue);
  • It is available EVERYWHERE, including Amazon where you can “subscribe and save” (Last thing I want to do is change salt mixes in a pinch and throw everything off); and
  • It is relatively cost effective per gallon as compared to some of the other above average salt mixes.


Mixing/Reservoir Containers: I went economical with this and found that the 40 gallon square BRUTE trash cans (that are 24” x 24”) were the best fit for the space available. So, I just went with one each for RO/DI freshwater and pre-mixed saltwater. I might upgrade this later, but for now, it’ll do.

 
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#10
TIME TO FILL HER UP!

It took less than a day to fill the tank up. I didn't even have any plumbing done yet, but I had to get the process started. But first, the kids had to do the obligatory tank shot.





 
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#12
FILTRATION

The logical next step after MAKING clean saltwater is to KEEP it clean. The key element of my filtration was that I wanted it to be pretty simple and “tunable”… meaning, I wanted to be able to increase or decrease the extraction of excess nutrients (phosphates/nitrates) in concert with each other (rather than just one or the other) by adjusting any one or a number of the filtration components. For example, if my nitrates/phosphates are running high/low, I can adjust how long/intensely I run the refugium light, and/or how wet/dry I run my skimmer. I also intentionally had the skimmer come before the refugium for a few reasons, but the main one is I feel the more you can remove particulates from the water before it hits the refugium, the less detritus will collect in the refugium section, the cleaner overall your sump will be. So, here’s an overview of my approach.

Mechanical Filtration:

  • Auto Fleece Filter Roller: This was one of the automated components I felt I could not go without for the low-maintenance factor. I thought to myself, “Do I want to change out my filter socks every couple of days, or once a week, AT BEST; go without socks and have a filthy sump that collects detritus; or find an automated option?” The answer to this led to me to incorporating an Auto Fleece Filter Roller as part of my filtration. Ultimately, I landed on the AquaMaxx AF-1 Auto Filter Roller, but it was not an easy decision. I went back and forth between this and the Bubble Magus ARF-1 and the ClariSea SK-5000 (all rated for about 1,300 to 1,500 gph) but found that none of them are perfect… some commented that the ClariSea went through the fleece too quickly (likely due to the smaller micron fleece used), while others didn’t seem to like the Bubble Magus and/or AquaMaxx for various other reasons. So, in my eyes, the more economical one seemed to be the safest bet and I decided to go with the AquaMaxx AF-1. Time will tell.

  • Skimmer: The decision here all came down to “tunability”… I was again looking for a good quality skimmer that was cost effective and was deciding between the Red Sea (RSK 900) and the Reef Octopus Regal 250INT, but it all came down to the fact that the Regal 250 INT ran on a DC pump (VarioS-4) that allows you to increase or decrease the pump speed and, in turn, the volume of air and water that flows through the skimmer, which essentially equates to the ability to “tune” your skimmer even more precisely than a skimmer run on an AC pump. Also, I was able to get the Regal 250 INT on an “Open Box” sale, so the price difference did not end up that significant in the end.

  • Carbon Reactor: Again, trying to keep this relatively simple, and carbon seems to be a pretty cheap and easy monthly chore to change in and out (especially since I purchased a 2nd Reactor that I can pre-fill with Carbon or use for other purposes if needed), while keeping the water as clear I can. The last thing I want is a yellow haze when I look through the peninsula.
Biological Filtration:

  • Refugium: this came down to how “tunable” and low maintenance I could make my filtration system, so I landed on lighting my refugium with a “tunable” light… the Kessil A360X Refugium light. Overkill? For now, yes. But I plan to only place this online after I have several fish that can provide some nutrients to the chaeto but before I turn on the main display lights. Also, since you can turn the intensity up and down or modify the lighting schedule, I’ll plan to start off lighting the refugium at 50% or so for an hour per day for the first week, then slowly (increase 1 hour per week) ramp it up while keeping an eye on the phosphates/nitrates until my phosphates are somewhere between .03 and .1, and my nitrates are between 1 and 10. Not to mention the added benefit of more easily maintaining pH that running a refugium opposite the DT lights provides.

  • Live Rock: starting from scratch here and went with all dry rock… I like the look of Marco Rocks and went with mostly shelf rock; sprinkled in some Marco reef saver rock and then a dash of Stax rocks to finish it all off. In all, I think I have about 150 or so lbs. in rock. More than I planned for to be honest, but I wanted to create a good amount of real estate to place the corals and add visual depth, while still allowing water flow through and around the rockwork. Also, to kickstart the cycling process before the tank was even built and delivered, I started cycling the rock by seeding it with bacteria (Brightwell’s MicroBacter7) and adding a source of ammonia (table shrimp) for about 3 months before it even went into the tank. My wife loved me for taking up this space in the garage [insert sarcasm here].

  • Live Sand: I personally can’t have a reef tank without sand. And, given the high flow I was planning for the tank (being that this will be an SPS dominant mixed reef), I went with the larger grain size sand so it hopefully won’t get blown all over the place. Specifically, I went with a mixture of CaribSea Florida Crushed Coral (2.0-5.0 mm diameter grain) placed mostly at the far end where I suspect the flow bouncing off of the glass would blow around smaller grains of sand, and a mixture of CaribSea Special Grade and Tropic Eden Reefflakes Grand Select (4.5 mm diameter grain) throughout the rest of the tank to see if it would stay put. I expect that they will mix over time, but time will tell with this one.


 
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#13
Why I Decided Not to Go With Other Forms of Filtration/Nutrient Removal:

  • GFO: I’ve found from past experience that, if not careful, this can quickly strip the tank of phosphates, but does little to nothing for nitrates, which could result in an imbalance in nutrient levels and potentially the bacterial (Dyno/Cyano) blooms that are speculated to come from these imbalances. My goal was to bring both nutrients down in a relatively “soft” and natural way rather than stripping the water of them. I might utilize my second reactor for GFO if my phosphates get out of control down the line, but I plan to keep a close eye on these levels (especially at the beginning) to avoid this.
  • Zeovit or other variation of carbon dosing: Although this is clearly a proven method of getting some awesome looking tanks, I also don’t want to rely on a handful of bottles that need to be dosed daily along with a reactor that requires management daily (shaking up the media) as my form of filtration/nutrient removal. Maybe this changes as my life changes, but for now, I’m trying to keep my daily maintenance time as low as possible. Having said that, I’m still not closing the door on using some of the KZ products offered as supplements.
  • Triton: It was a little tempting to build a reef tank where water changes were only done on an as-needed basis, but, honestly, I know myself and I won’t send in my water samples in on a regular basis. I would rather just stay on top of my water changes, track the levels I can test for, and know that my levels are within an acceptable range, rather than waiting for my water to fall out of the acceptable range. Lastly, see above on adding multiple supplements on a regular basis.
  • Algae Turf Scrubber/Algae Reactor: The decision between these options and the Refugium came down to maintenance. With a Refugium, you really just need to take out some chaeto every now and then and maybe clean out any built-up detritus on the bottom from time to time, but there’s no assembly/disassembly required when doing this and not a ton of monitoring (other than making sure it is taking out enough or not too much phosphates/nitrates). It’s also one less reactor/piece of equipment that can break/leak/clog/etc.
 
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#16
SUMP & PLUMBING

Logically, once you have the tank and the water to fill it up, and the means to KEEP it clean, you have to figure out how to get the water where you want it. Usually I find this to be pretty straight-forward… slap some PVC together with some unions, elbows, various valves and give it a go, but this time around I threw a little wrinkle in my build. As I mentioned before, I’m not placing the sump below my tank for this build… it’s going on the outside of my house! Yup… the tank sits up against a wall that separates the house from my side-yard, and with the young kids running around and getting into things, the inevitable mess I will make screwing around in the sump and cleaning, the increased flexibility in placement and pieces of equipment I will have running the sump remote, and the added benefit of noise reduction, I figured what the hell.



Plumbing: I used the Herbie Overflow Method (1 Main Drain, 1 Emergency Drain, then two Return Lines coming back in through the overflow). The trick here was trying to create the plumbing so that, if and when needed, I could disassemble various sections to maintenance or change in the future. Thus, I used almost 20 unions and quite a few 45-degree fittings to maneuver around some tight spots









Overkill? Probably; but all of the unions give me some flexibility to remove/add/maintenance when needed. Also, the manifold allows me to maintenance less pumps that would normally feed my Chiller, Reactors, and any other pieces of equipment I may add on in the future.
 
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#19
looks great man, i like the thought process too

are you going for some sand burying wrasses or you just like the aesthetic of sand?
 

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