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Building a 220-Gallon Reef


 Building a 220-Gallon Reef
By: Jack Wiblurn

First let me say that I am truly a novice when it comes to saltwater systems and maintenance. Everything I have learned has been from others or as some will say, “the hard way.” I hope that in some way this article will help others understand the trials and tribulations that come along with making a move to a bigger tank. I will do my best to covey my experiences, good and bad as we move along. As I continue to build my new system, I will document my activities and share them with you here in future editions of Reef Hobbyist Online.
A little history:
Like a lot of others in the marine aquarium hobby, I had fresh water tanks growing up. They ranged from the small carnival glass bowl to the big 20-gallon tanks; they seemed big at the time anyway. I then experimented with fresh water tropical’s through my young adult hood. I enjoyed feeding Arawana’s as their eating habits really amazed me. The vertical leap to get birds from a tree in the wild was just cool! Long past those days, marriage and some kids, I looked into getting a tank for the house. The wife was not to keen on the subject, as she knew my time was limited and some how she would end up taken care of the fish. I of course assured her that would “never happen”, but she stood firm. A short time later I had the opportunity to pick up a used 75-gallon aquarium with a broken side glass, with a stand included. I’m pretty handy and figured I could fix it and get a saltwater tank up and running cheap! More on that later. I picked up the 75-gallon tank and stand, fixed it and got it up and running. After it was cycled and I put in a few fish, low and behold, guess who took an immediate interest? You guessed it. The wife. My devious plan had actually worked.
Figure 1:

Figure 1: A picture of the authors current 75-gallon aquarium.

As we continued to mature and enjoy the tank, she noticed a few scratches in the lower front on the tank. After all it was used, it was expected to have a few blemishes, right? Well she could not get past it so the idea of getting a new tank began to surface. During our 75 setup we had come across a “to good to pass up” deal on a Blue Hippo Tang, Yellow Tang, and Two Maroon Clown’s. Naturally the kids had to have the full Nemo affect. Once we did a little research we realized that our 75-gallon was too small to support the tangs. So I did what any man “or woman” in this hobby would do… I decided to go BIGGER! For the fish of course!
The Hunt Is On:
After looking through the paper and online communities, hoping to score a good deal on a used big tank I realized it might be harder to find then I thought. The one’s we did go and see where not in very good condition and the last thing we wanted to do was setup a tank only to find scratches in it. Sometimes they are impossible to see until water is in the tank. So we decided it was in our best interest to buy a new aquarium. After heavy consideration and a lot of question posted to the online communities, considering a Glass Cages, ordering an All Glass Aquarium and then canceling it, I ended up ordering a Perfecto 220. Why the Perfecto versus the others? Well for me it was a couple of things. Price: cheaper then AGA. Availability: long wait on the AGA, although I am still not sure why. Corner Overflow on the Perfecto as I liked less of the back blocked. I do believe you can order the AGA this was as well. Last but not least the Perfecto used 1” returns versus 3/4” on the AGA so I could push more flow. All those considered lead me to the Perfecto 220; now I just needed to sell the wife! Something else worth mentioning is the Perfecto Warranty: 20 years using their stand!
So You Want A Big Tank, Huh?
There is a lot to consider when moving to a large tank. My 75 seemed really simple to setup and get going and for the most part it was, except for the expense. Remember? I said I would get to this later. Some one told me once that keeping a saltwater aquarium was the most expensive hobby ever. In fact his exact words when I told him I just setup a saltwater aquarium were “Welcome to the most expensive hobby on earth.” Well let me tell you, if you thought setting up a 50-gallon or 75-gallon was a bit on the pricy side, be prepared to take that expense to a whole new level! Even more on this later. Some of the things to consider when selecting your tank:
Location, size, weight, expense, equipment, and most importantly, WAF (wife approval factor).

Location: Select your location wisely. Some of the same rules apply here as with your smaller tank. Keep it away from windows or other sources of natural light and heat. Consider that there will be a lot more evaporation that you may need more then one power outlet and the water source if you’re going to do an auto top off or something of that nature.

Size: We all want the biggest tank we can get our hands on, don’t we? Well I know I sure did, in fact I tried to convince the wife to let me buy a custom 240 that was 8’ long! To this day I don’t know where I would have put it. Consider your room size, location and your ability to maintain the tank. The consensus is anything over 24” tall can be a royal pain if you plan on doing a lot of maintenance. The 220-gallon that I ordered is 30” deep, so we will see.

Weight: Anything over a 75-gallon is heavy, but up above 150 they get really heavy! The 220 Perfecto weighs in at 380lbs dry! Beyond the tank consider the rest of the factors that will affect the weight. The stand, sand, rock, equipment and most importantly the weight of the water must also be factored in. Once again, choose your location wisely as once a large tank is setup it’s all but impossible to move. For reference, water weighs approx. 8lbs a gallon. So the 220-gallon tank, sand, and water alone should come in well over 2,000lbs.

Expense: As everything is bigger and “badder”, it comes with a higher price tag. Don’t think that you’re going to be able to setup a big tank cheap, as I’m pretty cheap and it’s added up to more then I could have imagined. Do your homework here and figure out what your comfortable spending and this could help you choose the size tank you want to go with as well.

Equipment: There are so many options here I won’t even begin to try and list them all. I will however list what I selected and why later on in this article.

WAF: Pretty self-explanatory. Sorry ladies I had to put this in there, as us fella’s have a tendency to forget this important step.

Planning Has Begun:
Ok, I made the tank selection and now it’s time to figure out everything else. Things like stand and canopy, filtration, and lighting are some of the most important at this stage. Let’s get the tank in the house first. I did a lot of research on the stand options and compared pricing and options from tank manufactures and custom builders. I opted to have a stand built as it gave me the ability to add things like extra doors on the ends, extra height in the hood, etc. Not to mention I found a builder that would do it all for less then I could buy a pre-built stand from most of the tank builders. I will provide some information on the sources later. The stand I ordered was completely customizable so I opted to add a few things. I added doors at both ends of the stand to allow me side access for getting the filtration devices in and out easily and provide easy access for plumbing and maintenance. The stand was ordered at 30” high to get the tank up to what I thought would be a good viewing height and provide additional height underneath for skimmer, etc.


I also did a lot of research regarding filtration. My current 75-gallon setup used a Wet/Dry filtration setup. It seems the consensus is that this is good for a FO “fish only” tank or a FOWLR “fish only with live rock” but not the most desirable for a reef tank as it can become a nitrate farm down the road. I’m sure a little light just came on that said, hey there’s something else I need to decide on. Fish Only or Reef tank? You are correct, it was about this time that I asked myself the same question. I started off my 75-gallon with every intention to be a FO tank, however I quickly found that I liked the liverock and didn’t like the fake plants so I moved to a FOWLR setup. Nothing against the fake stuff it just was not my thing. Soon after that I found myself eyeballing some softies at the local fish store. So you can see it is very easy to start moving in the direction of a reef tank. Be sure to give it some thought before you start purchasing your equipment as this decision can diversely affect the decisions your make on equipment.

In my case I was already on my way to a more reef environment so I needed to plan accordingly. I knew I wanted a primarily FOWLR but wanted to keep a few corals in the tank as well. Some Xenia, Zoanthids, and Frogspawn are some I had in mind. Based on those factors, I decided to go with the sump/refugium setup. The idea here is simple, or so I thought. The added water volume minimized the negative affects on the tank as well as provides more “natural” filtration material for the tank itself. Not only that but you can also keep your other equipment in the sump like heaters, skimmers, probes, etc. I will not go into that detailed function of a sump/refugium as there are a ton of descriptive definitions and combination online already. I will link to a few later. Hopefully the example of how I set mine up will be helpful.

Past To Present – This is where things get interesting:

Here we are, the tank is on order, backorder mind you, the stand is on order to my specifications and I’m focusing on the sump/refugium setup. I already had a 55G long tank in my garage that I had acquired a few months back and figured this would make a great sump/refugium. After all, it had all the qualities I needed. It was 48” long, 21” deep and would hold a substantial amount of water. It has plenty of room for the required sections and baffles and enough to hold my heater and skimmer as well. I did a lot of reading and looked at a lot of DIY plans and example of others on the internet. I sat down and drew out several possibilities for my configuration. After several revisions and input from other more knowledgeable people, I was finally able to come up with a final design.

Figure 2:

Figure 2: A diagram of the planned tank setup and plumbing. Although planning is done to this detail, be prepared to make last minute modifications to your plan.

As you can see in the diagram above, there is an inlet compartment on the right with room for my skimmer, then some baffles and an area for a media filter of my choosing; (water floss, carbon, etc.). After that there is an area for the refugium which will contain a sand bed, live rock and some Caulerpa spp. for filtration purposes. After the refugium are some additional baffles and finally to the return section where the pump inlet is located. There are plenty of companies and professional individuals that make systems like this which you can buy directly. For me, I already had the 55G and figured what the heck! I started the process of cutting panels and assembling the sump/refugium over the period of a few days. I am taking my time to make sure all the panels are setup nicely before proceeding to the next set. During this process the stand arrives and my attention is shifted to that, as I need it in place before the tank arrives.

The Stand Arrives:
The stand has arrived and I must say it is nicer then I even imagined. I commented to the gentleman that made it that I have no idea how he did it for the amount he charged. Needless to say I have very happy with the way it came out. It was all natural so I could stain it to the color of choice. My color of choice for the stand and canopy is black. So off I go to stain my stand.

Figures 3-5:









Figure 3: A picture of the stand and canopy when it was completed. Figures 4 & 5: The stand and canopy after it was stained.

The stand is done and in place waiting for the tank to arrive. My attention is now switched back to the sump/refugium to finish it up. However two days later, low and behold the tank is on the truck for delivery. The sump will have to wait.

Tank Arrives:
The tank was delivered today and man is this thing heavy. And HUGE! You know how mirrors say that things may be closer then they appear; well the same applies here, just larger once you get it home. I gather some friends (you really find out who your friends are in these situations) and made arrangement to get the beast in the house. I had to spend a little time making some cuts in the stand for the tank overflows. Be sure to do this once you get the tank as I have heard they are not necessarily consistent from tank to tank. We got the beast off the truck and into the house. Wow! Once the tank was placed on the stand and the canopy placed on the tank, it can only be described with one word. GIGANTIC! All together it stands over 6’ tall. The WAF is really being tested now.

Figure 6:


Figure 6: The tank sitting on the stand with it’s canopy in place. The height is 6′.

This is where we are to date. In the next series we will hopefully complete the sump/refugium, start with the actual setup of the tank, acquiring some more of the equipment and, if all goes well, filling this beauty with water!