240-gallon reef

This page describes the progression of our 240-gallon reef tank. It's been a long time in the making; we received the tank back in April 2001, did some work with the stand, then let it sit for two and a half years. We finally finished it in April 2004.

April 2001. The tank arrives. We let this sit for a few months while we figure out how we want everything set up. We also get a stand built out of stainless steel during this time.


Tenecor reef-ready acrylic tank. 240g, 96x18x30.


July 2001. The stand arrives and we begin the initial work of getting the stand ready for the tank.


First, 600 lbs of sand. Ok, so we're a little ahead of ourselves, but what does it hurt?


The stand, made with 1"x2" stainless steel tubing. This is probably overkill, but the tank is going to be a little heavy. A couple of pieces of plywood for the tank and floor, and voila.


Some reinforcements under the floor to support the extra weight.


The tank and stand in place.


So we got a little excited about that sand and dumped it right in. Note also the fine outdoor carpeting on the floor of the stand.


January 2004. Fast forward two and a half years. After much bickering about the design of the cabinet, we finally get it made and installed. The cabinet consists of a fascia covering the steel stand, wide cabinets to house the lights, and some regular cabinets and shelves for the sides. The cabinets are maple and custom made to fit the space. All the cabinet doors have quick-release hinges for easy maintenance.


Some of the cabinet pieces. The fascia is already in place.


The long top cabinet for the lights. The lights will be mounted on shelves inside.


The cabinet comes together...


Presto-chango, we're done.


February 2004. Setup continues.


D'oh! Forgot to take pictures of the lights outside the stand, so all you get are the lights already mounted. The shelves are adjustable; they're up high right now while we working on the tank. The lights are four 2' Hamilton power compact / metal halide retrofits. There are two 55w power compacts and one 250w metal halide in each kit. 1440 watts of lighting fury. Yeah, baby!


Notice the slots in the top of the cabinet. Those are the lower part of a set of louvers that allow heat out but keeps light from leaking out the top. Still need to add fans, though. You can also see the brown weatherstripping we had to add to keep the light from leaking out the side of the cabinet doors.


We're also starting to mix and add water. Our little RO (reverse osmosis) unit only puts out about 10-15 gallons a day, so it's slow going. We should have the tank filled up in a few weeks, plenty of time to get everything else set up.


And there's the computer. This will connect to our tank controller to help us monitor and control the equipment on the tank. That's a bluetooth wireless keyboard and mouse in there; we can use the computer from anywhere in the room (and beyond, actually, but we'd just be guessing what we're typing from that far away). We might also replace the unsightly beige box with something more svelte. We'll see.


The calcium reactor came in later in the month. Here it is, in all its aragonite glory.


Wiring begins. What a mess. We had two new GFI circuits put in (nice hole in the wall, huh?). On those circuits will go two DJ switches (you can see one of them lying sideways in this picture). The DJ switches will be wired to banks of outlets (sixteen total) on each side of the cabinet.


The tank is full! That's just a powerhead in there until we get the pumps going. It doesn't move much water. We also threw a couple of old aragocrete rocks, you know, so it doesn't look so bare.


The DJ switches mounted. The ballasts for the lights are also mounted to the cabinet ceiling.


The first piece of live rock goes in!  There's 400 lbs to put in, and they must be stacked very carefully so they don't fall on the front of the tank.


All the live rock is in. The tank is now cycling. It's a nasty, soupy mess until the bacteria can catch up with all the die-off. The skimmer is going mad. The pumps are running now, and the plumbing is pretty much set up. We're using a wet-dry as a sump until the custom sump comes in.


March 2004. Tank is mostly ready; we're waiting on a few things like the Tunze Streams (which have been on backorder forever) and Neilson reactor.


The custom sump, finally! Water from the drains flow into the first (left) chamber, where the skimmer is housed. The water flows through a bubble trap into the refugium, then into the pump chamber. The drain and pump return lines are all PVC, with some ball valves to shut off flow if necessary.


The right electrical panel, below the tank. There's a smaller one on the left side. Those are X10 switches plugged in there to control lights, heat, etc. The sockets are plugged into the DJ switches, mounted above the panel in this picture. All electrical equipment is split between the circuits (half the lights and one pump on each circuit) in case one circuit fails.


April 2004. We started stocking the tank, then we decided that the top cabinet was getting really really hot. We bought one of those bathroom fans that vent out the wall. We also got our chiller, and built a chiller hut outside the house. We originally set up the tank with pumps under the tank, next to the sump. When we built the chiller hut, we put the pumps outside, under the chiller. It was quite the replumbing job.


OMG. There's a hole in the side of my house.                                                     OMFG! THERE'S A HOLE IN THE SIDE OF MY HOUSE!


Ahh. That's better. The fan is inside there, and there's a vent cover on the inside of the cabinet. Sucker puts out a lot of hot air, too, like a dryer vent.


Ok, now for the chiller hut. First, the foundation. We'll let that dry a for a week.


The week goes by, and we're ready to frame and plumb. We built the frame, and rerouted the plumbing so that the pumps sit outside the house, under the chiller. We're so glad we put in the ball valves, made the rerouting so much easier. The drain lines still dump water into the sump, then the pumps draw the water out of the house from the sump, pump them up to the chiller, and back into the house and up the return. Much quieter inside now. And, OMG, there are holes in the side of my house!


It is done. Well, except for the paint. I forgot to take pictures after it was painted. We painted the sides of the hut and the pipes the same color as the house. We put some soundproofing insulation inside the walls to keep the sound down outside. Works pretty well. The roof is pretty nifty too. Viva la DIY!


That's pretty much it. Pumps are back on, chiller is chilling, everything works great. Here's everything we have crammed in under the tank. On the left, the sump with EuroReef skimmer. There's also an ozone generator, AquaController (hooked up to the PC mentioned earlier), a Tunze Streams controller (varies the speed of the Tunze Streams to simulate wave current) and a Tunze Osmolator auto-topoff system.  On the right, the calcium reactor, the freshwater reservoir for the Osmolator, and the Neilson reactor. In front of the Neilson reactor is a CO2 bottle for the calcium reactor. You can also see the chiller control on the floor, the DJ switches under the top, and the right electrical panel. While we had everything apart, we replaced the clunky X10 switches with built-in X10 sockets.


June 2004. A couple of months later, and everything is doing fine. 


Stocking is coming along nicely. Everyone is happy and healthy and adjusting well. After all that effort, the tank is turning out to be a fine addition to our living room. Except, it somehow has the power to suck the energy out of human beings. Spend a few minutes on the comfy couch staring at the tank, and you're out like a light. Go fig.


Last updated June 16, 2004