Aquarium manufacturers offer a ton of options on standard aquariums that satisfy the needs of many reefkeepers. My first reef tank was a standard acrylic tank and it served me well for years. Eventually, as I gained experience, I discovered that I wanted certain things in a tank that were not standard options so I went the custom route.
Custom aquariums are typically more expensive than standard tanks but the extra expense should be viewed as an investment that will provide years of enjoyment. Do your homework by talking to a number of custom tank manufacturers and get at least three cost quotes. Also ask other hobbyists about their experiences with manufactures to make sure you are selecting a reputable company that is willing to stand behind its product and has good customer service. I did a lot of due diligence for my new tank and decided to go with Coast to Coast Custom Aquariums due to their reputation for producing high quality tanks.
In terms of tank size, don’t bite off more then you can chew. Make sure you can handle the expense and maintenance of a large tank. On the plus side a big tank will be a more stable ecosystem since parameters such as temperature, pH and alkalinity will not swing as much as they would in a smaller tank.
Once you have settled on tank volume you should consider different options for the tank’s dimensions. Think ahead about how you want to aquascape the tank with rock and factor in the growth of your corals. I always like to go as wide as possible since the added depth provides some cool aquascaping options. A wider tank can also improve flow and help prevent dead spots in the tank. My 225 gallon tank was 30 inches wide and I created a 6 inch channel behind the live rock and back panel of the tank to maximize flow in that area. Two Tunze pumps were positioned in both back corners and faced one another, creating a nice surge that helped minimize settling detritus.
The Channel Behind Live Rock in My 225 Gallon Reef
External overflows can also be beneficial when it comes to flow since they do not protrude into the tank as is the case with internal overflows, which can create funky dead spots. External overflows also provide a cleaner look and make it easier to keep the back panel of the tank clean. I think this is critical since a clean back panel makes it easier for corals and fish to stand out or “pop”.
Going with an open top tank that is rimless or eurobraced will also provide a clean look and open up more viewing angles. I like to think of open top tanks as four dimensional, with viewing through the front, both sides and top.
The Clean and Sleek Look of an Open Top Tank
Another option I highly recommend with a custom tank is low iron glass. The clarity is much better than standard glass and is well worth the upgrade. Some say low iron glass is more prone to scratches but this has not been an issue with my tanks. Just be careful. Acrylic is used by many who opt for large tanks since the material is much lighter than glass. It also has great clarity but is much more prone to scratches, although these can be removed if one is willing to do a little work.
In regards to plumbing, I do not like to have any drains or return lines far below the water line. Some do this with external pumps to create flow in hard to reach spots near the bottom of the tank but I think it is just too risky given the chance that a bulkhead leaks or fails. So there you have it…..tips on designing a custom reef tank. As you can see, there are a lot of options available to customize the tank of your dreams!
If you would like some help with a new tank build, including help designing a custom aquarium, or help re-configuring your current setup then you can visit this page for more information. And if you are looking to add some equipment, I do sell GHL, Pax Bellum, Reef Octopus Calcium and Kalk Reactors and Royal Exclusiv products, including Dreamboxes, which is the equipment I use and recommend. I also sell Reef Brite metal halide and LED fixtures as well as Maxspect & IceCap Gyres.
As for additional insights and information, please explore my many other reef tank and SPS related articles as well as my YouTube channel. For an even deeper dive into reef tank care you can check out my Reef Keeping Master Class. This online course is an immersive and one of a kind educational tool designed to help reef aquarium hobbyists build and maintain a beautiful SPS reef tank. The course is a series of video presentations with some supplemental video from my YouTube channel. There are also quizzes to help students retain and understand the information presented in the course.
Need some frags…..I can help with that as well 🙂 Please visit my SPS Frag store to see what is available.