Costs of a Saltwater Reef Tank

Learn how much it costs to maintain a saltwater reef tank from aquarium expert Joseph Caparatta in this Howcast video.


When setting up a reef tank they are not cheap. You can get a turnkey small nano setup for several hundred dollars that has most of the equipment you would need. It has the protein skimmer, a good light, stands, everything you need to set it up.

You're going to need some supplies: some salt, chemicals, test kit, substrate. So when all is said and done, be prepared to spend four to five hundred dollars on even a small ten to twenty-gallon reef aquarium. And then if you factor in the livestock, depending on your taste, that number could easily double. It's not for the feint of heart. It's not for somebody with a very, very limited budget.

However, it's what you make of it. So if you just want a saltwater aquarium with a couple of fish and a couple of corals in it and you get a small twenty-gallon turnkey aquarium, it is possible to set the whole thing up, and have it decorated and filled with livestock for less than seven or eight hundred dollars.

But most people when they dive in they go really, really deep and they're at the fish store twice a week, once a week, and they're buying a lot of livestock. They're oftentimes buying too much.

Reef tank pricing goes up, and it goes up quick. To get a 75-gallon tank fully stocked with a chiller, lights, all the proper equipment you'd easily be spending $5,000 on a good new setup. And you don't want to skimp. You really don't want to skimp on the chiller. You don't want to skimp on the protein skimmer. If you have a reef tank you're going to need good lighting. You're going to need a strong pump, something that's reliable. So there's really no parts of the system that you can skimp on.

However, if you know the types of animal that you want to keep it's possible to not have to buy equipment that you don't necessarily need for those animals. If you just want to keep soft corals and not keep hard corals then you don't need a crazy protein skimmer. You're not going to need a calcium reactor. You can get by with manually adding the trace elements and the minerals that you need because the soft corals don't require as much as the hard stony corals. So it's good to know the types of animals that you want to keep before investing in your filter system and your supplemental pieces of equipment.

So to put a price tag on a reef setup or on a fish tank in general is kind of hard but for a freshwater tank a typical ten to twenty-gallon tank, three to four hundred dollars for a good setup. Yes, you can get a ten-gallon starter kit for $14.99 but all you're getting is a starter kit. You're only going to be able to keep a couple of fish and you're going to be doing lots of water changes and lots of upkeep.

You're better off saving your money, waiting until you can afford to do it right. Get a thirty-gallon tank. It'll be a more stable environment, less resistant to change, the fish will do better. Get a good fluorescent light or an LED light. Get a good protein skimmer or, on a freshwater tank, just a hang-on filter.

But with all the nuts and bolts and the supplies and test kits, you're going to be spending three to four hundred on that setup before no time.

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