Choosing a Setup

Last Reviewed and Updated: April 12, 2017

The first step in setting up a reef aquarium is to determine what kind of setup you’re going to have. The options are virtually limitless, so here are the criteria we use to narrow it down.


Of all the factors guiding your decision, location is the most restrictive. There won’t be many places in your home where you can put an aquarium, so this is the #1 factor that will determine what kind of system to go with. Here are some things to consider while you’re deciding on a location.

Put It Where You Can Enjoy It

You’re going to put a lot of time and energy (and money) into this reef tank, so put it where you will see it naturally. You’re probably going to be unhappy if you have to go sit in your basement just to see it. A smaller tank where you can enjoy it throughout the day usually beats a larger tank that requires effort to go see.

Avoid Natural Light

This sounds super counter-intuitive — don’t reef tanks need light? They do, but the lights you’ll be using on your aquarium use a spectrum specialized for coral. Full-spectrum sunlight includes that spectrum plus higher-spectrum light that algae love. The more direct sunlight your tank gets, the more algae you’ll have to worry about.

Make Sure the Floor Will Hold It

One gallon of water weighs about eight pounds. Add equipment to that, and even a 50 gallon tank can weigh over 500 pounds. Putting that amount of weight in such a small area can easily overload what your floor was meant to support.

Visit as many LFSs and fellow reefers as possible to get a feel for what’s possible and what it is that you’re really drawn to

How big
Priority: Corals or Fish?
What kind of corals
What kind of fish

Ask lots of questions and read for months

My simply stupid mistakes as a reefkeeper

Feature Photo Credit: Reef Aquaria Design