There are hundreds, if not thousands, of ways to set up a reef aquarium.
If we were to take a closer look at 100 different reef aquarium systems, there would be some similarities, but most would be unique.
How can a hobbyist be sure the equipment they are buying is built to last? Does high-end always equal high-quality?
Most of us do not have unlimited means to buy aquarium gear. The simple truth is that owning and operating a reef aquarium is expensive. From buying equipment to purchasing livestock, the bills can quickly add up.
The expense of the hobby leads many aquarium hobbyists to make compromises on their aquarium builds. Rather than going with a trusted aquarium light or protein skimmer they really want, reefers often buy used or lesser-quality equipment "for now" to save a few bucks. Often the intention is to "upgrade" down the road when they have more money or when their tank matures.
I myself must plead guilty to the above scenario. Not surprisingly, I've discovered that when I cut corners, I usually end up paying the price down the road. Rather than being patient and waiting until I could afford the light or powerhead of my dreams, I've purchased what I could afford at the time—only to have to replace that equipment later when it fails or when I have saved enough to buy the controllable LED or pump I wanted in the first place.
I've been an aquarium hobbyist for a long time and only recently came to the conclusion that compromising on aquarium supplies is neither in my best interests nor in the interests of my aquarium inhabitants. I've tried stretching my dollar in the past to get more bang for my buck. More often than not, I've ended up shooting myself in the foot.
Now I simply buy the right equipment the first time.
Generally speaking, top-tier brands produce top-tier products. Look at EcoTech Marine and Neptune Systems as examples. While it is certainly true not every hobbyist has the desire to simulate a sunrise, sunset and lunar cycle or have their aquarium pump make waves, I do—and so do many others.
I crave control, drool over data and basically just want the peace of mind that I've done everything in my power to create as close-to-nature conditions in my tank as possible. I also want to be confident that my aquarium is going to be OK if I decide to take a trip to MACNA for the weekend.
Today I've come up with a short list of tips to help you decide how to choose equipment for your reef tank. Rather than repeat my mistakes, hopefully you can learn from them!
This is very difficult for me. In a society filled with instant gratification, patience has been lost by many, including yours truly. I want a beautiful reef tank and I want it NOW!
Resisting this urge and going slow is one of the keys to being successful. So save up for that higher-quality piece of equipment that will be more reliable and feature-rich rather than sacrificing for a lower-quality alternative. This may mean waiting a week, a month or even a year.
Many times I have purchased a less expensive piece of equipment only to upgrade it a few months later because I was unhappy. Paying twice for the same piece of equipment is far from fiscally responsible.
It is always wise to read product reviews or forum testimonials before purchasing a new piece of aquarium equipment. We have tens of thousands of user reviews on our website on a variety of different products.
You can also search your favorite aquarium message board or use an Internet search engine to find more information about the equipment you are considering. You may even find a less expensive piece of equipment than the one you were originally considering that has better reviews or has been used successfully in a tank similar to your own.
GET A WARRANTY
We back all the products we sell at Marine Depot with a 60-day return policy, one of the best in our industry. But reputable product manufacturers generally have their own product warranties that cover your product anywhere from a few months to a few years.
Kessil, a popular LED manufacturer, promises all of its products to be free from defects in both workmanship and material for a period of two years from the date of purchase to the original buyer. Dolphin Pumps also carry a 2-year warranty and have a Lifetime Service Guarantee. AquaticLife has a similar program in place. In addition to their standard 1-year warranty on light fixtures, AquaticLife offers a Lifetime Fixture Guarantee and will perform all labor to repair a broken light fixture... free of charge.
You can't be too careful. Even high-end, high-quality aquarium products can fail from time-to-time. Don't get stuck without warranty coverage—be sure to fill out any warranty cards you receive with your products and promptly send them in to the manufacturer.
GET MANUFACTURER SUPPORT
Don't be shy. Get in contact with the manufacturer prior to purchasing a product they produce.
Give them a call or send them an email to see how quickly they respond. See how knowledgeable they are about the aquarium hobby and the products they develop for it.
I prefer to deal only with brands that will reply to a customer inquiry within 48 hours (business days). If they reply back in a timely fashion with accurate and useful information, this is a good sign. If they treat someone who has never purchased one of their products with integrity and professionalism, it is likely any post-purchase interactions you have with them will also go smoothly. This is incredibly good information to know in the event you need to rely on their support down the road.
Checking out a company's interactions with customers on their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and other social media accounts is another a good indicator of how responsive the company is and whether or not they value their relationships with customers.
This piece of advice isn't for everyone. But if you have the time, means and skill set to build functional aquarium equipment yourself, by all means do so!
You are your own harshest critic, so the pursuit of perfection, especially in a passion project, will be high. Perhaps your craftsmanship and customization may rival or be superior to what the professionals offer.
If you are handy, you can save a lot of money building your own aquarium stand, light fixture or sump. I have seen stunning homemade aquarium stands and canopies people have fabricated for their tanks for a fraction of the cost of what you'd pay buying one from a store.
Your reef creations may be such a hit when you share them on your favorite forum that you get inundated with requests from hobbyists who want to hire you to build a project for them. Next thing you know, you have a new career in the aquarium industry!
DO SOME RESEARCH
When you are in the planning stages of a new build, research the care requirements of the animals you are considering for the tank. You may need to rethink the size of the tank, the strength of your light and the effectiveness of your filtration system in order to accommodate certain species of fish and coral. It is better to have this knowledge early when you are designing your system before you sink money into equipment that isn't going to work out the way you want it to.
This is especially true for reef aquarium lighting. When people first get into the hobby, they often underestimate the power of the light they'll need. You may not want a light with all the bells & whistles, but you will need a light that can produce the proper conditions for the animals in your care.
DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME
If you are considering buying an aquarium light, filter or pump you will replace in six months to a year, don't. Buying the right equipment the first time is always the way to go.
I cannot recall an instance where I had buyer's remorse after purchasing high-end, high-quality aquarium equipment. While it may cost more up front and take a bit longer to get your tank running, you will save money in the long run by not having to replace or upgrade equipment later on. You will have more confidence in your aquarium system as a whole and will be less likely to have casualties. Your equipment will last longer, perform better and be protected by the manufacturer (to some degree) in the event the unfortunate happens.
Don't waste your time with cheap, low-quality aquarium supplies. If you do, you may end up paying more than you ever expected.