Reef tank hobby on a budget? This is how it works!
The expense of a reef aquarium scares many away from the hobby. It is mainly the initial costs that are the major factor. During regular operation, however, the costs hardly differ from those for keeping other pets.
You will hardly save money with a saltwater aquarium. However, there are a few things that you can consider to design your aquarium cost-effectively. We provide you with tips on energy-efficient setup, give examples of economical stocking and tell you where it is not worth saving.
#1 The size of your tank
In the long run, tank size determines cost: a larger aquarium means more power, more supplies, more reef inhabitants, and, of course, higher initial costs. So if you have or want to spend a limited budget, opt for buying a smaller aquarium. Nano tanks can be a cost-effective solution here, as they are not only small, but also come with less technical equipment. However, small tanks can sometimes be trickier to maintain, as the small volume of water does a poor job of buffering fluctuations. So if you have little experience in the reef hobby or are afraid of the maintenance effort, we recommend a tank size of at least 200 liters.
#2 Energy efficient setup
What is actually the main cost driver in the reef hobby? Of course, it is energy. Therefore, pay attention to an energy-efficient setup of your aquarium right from the start. Reduce the number of elbows and bends in the plumbing to the bare minimum to avoid pressure losses. You can install the sump at the same height as the main tank. You can even eliminate it altogether and integrate a technical section in the aquarium instead. Both save money, since the required pump capacity is lower. Furthermore, do not use mechanical controls for pumps. Either buy exactly the power you need or better: use electronically controlled pumps. If you have a UV filter, do not run it continuously (except in case of acute problems such as white spot disease, bacterial blooms etc.), but provide it with a timer to run it by the hour or generally only switch it on when needed.
#3 Loation of the tank
Following the lighting, the largest energy consumer in the operation of a saltwater aquarium is the heating system. Therefore, choose a well-tempered room for your tank. Cool basement rooms or the garage are rather unfavorable locations, since the heater would probably be permanently switched on (depending where in the world you live of course). But also with regard to hot summer days your aquarium should be placed in a favorable location. A spot with direct sunlight in the top floor apartment or in the conservatory is not advisable. Because at the latest when the temperatures in your tank reach the 27°C mark, the water must be cooled. Depending on the solution (aquarium fan, air conditioner or cooling unit), cooling costs many times more energy than heating.
#4 Second-Hand in the reef hobby?
To save money on the purchase of your saltwater aquarium, you can also buy some things second-hand. For this purpose, portals such as ebay are suitable. As a rule, you can buy skimmers and pumps quite well second-hand. On the other hand you should be careful with used glass aquariums, lighting and heaters - look carefully or buy new!
Do not buy "old" live rock from tank break-ups. These can bring phosphate deposits with them, which will only cause you problems.
#5 Watch out for the choice of stock!
A beautiful saltwater aquarium can do very well without rare fish or extremely light-hungry SPS. Instead, stock your tank with a focus on corals that have a lower demand for light, flow and/or calcium supply - this minimizes not only your costs for energy and additives (e.g. balling salts and trace elements) but also the maintenance effort. Provided, of course, that you make appropriate adjustments in the settings of the pumps and lighting.
Among the "energy saving corals" are for example Caulastrea, Cyphastrea, Duncanopsammia, Chalice, Leptastrea, Blastomussa and Discosoma. They all do very well with low light and flow.
Just a few examples of corals that do well with low light and flow (from top left to bottom right): Caulastrea, Cyphastrea, Leptastrea and Chalice
Another tip is patience: take your time with the setup of your aquarium and stock the tank bit by bit. This way you stretch the costs over several months. With good care your corals will quickly grow to the reef structure.
Also keep a lookout for special offers. In our shop you will find every week at least one new "discount coral". In addition, we offer you in the category "frag packs" monthly new sets at particularly low prices 😊