A Guide to Basic Layouts for Reef Tanks

Having difficulty choosing amongst the many layouts for reef tanks? Here are some basic tips and suggestions to guide you along the way.

A lot of people think it is difficult conceptualizing a layout for a reef tank, especially when this is for a saltwater reef tank. This is not necessarily true at all. In fact, there are a lot of easy things you can do when conceptualizing layouts for reef tanks. Here are some of the things you need to take note of to make this endeavor easier and more manageable for you.


Here are some of the materials you should have handy. This list can be long, but you don’t really need to have everything. This would ultimately depend on what you want to have in your reef tank.

• Aquarium

• Sand

• Salt mix

• Lights

• Light timer

• Live rock

• Algae scraper

• Power filter

• Protein skimmer

• Refugium or sump

• Quarantine tank

• Thermometer

• Power heads

• Heater

• Test kits

• Reverse osmosis filter

• Refractometer or hydrometer

• 2 5-gallon buckets

• Fish and corals

• Macro algae, for the purpose of refugium

It’s All about Choice

It’s really up to you what you want to do with your tank. Its layout, setup, shape, size, and dimensions actually depend on the fish that you plan to grow or keep. If you plan to have corals, then you should consider getting a shallow reef tank, to ensure that you provide the corals maximum light intensity.

After picking a spot for your tank, you should then ensure that it has no leaks. Fill your tank with freshwater and check if there are any leaks anywhere. You should also take this time to clean your tank using just freshwater. Do not use soap in cleaning your tank, as this will harm your finned friends later on.

Reverse Osmosis Water is Better

Once you’ve passed the leak test, you can then fill your tank with dechlorinated tap water. Interestingly, it is actually better to use Reverse Osmosis water here because tap water tends to contain dissolved solids, which ultimately adds to the formation of algae.

Fill your tank with 2/3’s worth of water and then add your salt mix. The amount of salt mix is actually pre-measured and this figure is often plotted at the back of the salt mix box. To ensure that the salt mix is dissolved sufficiently, use your algae scraper. When you’re done, you should then add your power heads to keep your water moving.

Rock Your Tank!

With the power heads in motion, you should then start adding live rock to your tank. Make sure your live rock is positioned strategically. It is actually recommended to place your live rock on the bottom of the reef tank, rather than on top of sand. With the live rock on the glass bottom, you can then prevent your burrowing finned friends from disturbing your live rock.

Set the Ambience of Your Reef Tank

Proper lighting is essential when you are conceptualizing layouts for reef tanks. Thus, you need to do extensive research about the corals and the fish you plan to keep so that you are sure you’re able to provide the light they need.

The intensity of light actually drops as you go deeper into the water. For soft corals, the standard lighting system for 24 inches deep will suffice. However, for larger and polyped stony corals, you should consider getting HO or VHO fluorescents. Power compacts can still be used here, but your corals might need to be placed in the top portion of the tank.

It also pays to consider getting a light timer so you can easily program when to switch your lighting system on or off.


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