Setting Up a Nano Tank: When Big isn’t an Option

A set up nano tank in an office environment
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Sometimes owning a larger reef tank is just not in the cards. Maybe your apartment building won’t allow anything over 40 gallons. Maybe you don’t have enough space. Maybe it’s just not in your budget. Or maybe you have to downsize. Well, if you can’t picture not having a reef tank, don’t fold your cards just yet, because nano tanks can nix all those “maybes” and be just as nice as any larger aquarium.

“Judge me by my size, do you?”

The word “nano” is a subjective term but in the hobby usually categorizes aquariums ranging from 5 to 40 gallons and anything less than 5 gallons is considered a “pico” tank. Their small stature makes them easy to place around your home, without needing any special reinforced stands to keep them up. They will also require less rockwork and sand, so are easy to take down, if you need to move them.

nano tank examples which can come with filtration built-in, including filter socks or media basket
Lifegard Aquatics – 5.4 Gallon, Innovative Marine NUVO – AIO 20 Gallon, and Waterbox Aquariums Cube – AIO 10 Gallon

Filtration Needs

All the same filtration concepts still apply: mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration are no different than a larger aquarium. Some nano tanks even have the filtration built in, known as All-In-One or AIO aquariums. These style tanks are easier to service and place in your home having minimal equipment hanging off the back, or none at all.

Many AIO tanks are pretty much ready to go right out of the box with an included pump, filter socks, carbon, and bio media tucked away in a back compartment – it doesn’t get any easier. Depending on which nano tank model you get, some dual overflow models can also come with a media basket which makes swapping out for new media easier.

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hang on filtration options from a multifilter, power filter and hang on refugium
Hang-On Back style multifilter, power filter, and refugium

If the aquarium isn’t equipped with a filtering back chamber, there are excellent choices available that give you more room in the tank for aquascaping, fish and coral. For a multifunctioning choice, the AquaMaxx HF-M gives you does the mechanical filtration with compartments for chemical and biological media and built in skimmer. Power filters can house your filter floss, carbon/resin chemical media, and biological media. Hang-on refugiums are also a great addition to the filter system.

Examples of in-tank and hang on nano skimmers
Nano skimmer options from Reef Octopus, AquaMaxx and Reef Glass

An efficient, appropriately sized protein skimmer is also helpful for filtering a nano reefs. There are many hang-on or in-sump style skimmer options available like the Reef Octopus Classic 100, AquaMaxx NF-1 and Reef Glass Nano Skimmer.

Lighting Your Nano

Nano tank LED lighting options
Lighting options for nano tanks from Reef Breeders, AI, Kessil, and Ecotech

The advancement in LEDs have made keeping a nano reef tank reduces the worry of not having to deal with heat issues, in comparison to previous light sources like metal halide bulbs. On top of the benefit of giving off low heat, LED fixtures also use less power, can be customized to spectrum, intensity and daily schedule via Wi-Fi, with a shimmer comparable to halide. They will also last years with minimal drop in output; way past T5 and metal halide bulbs which need to be replaced every 9 -12 months.

In-Tank Circulation

Examples of powerheads rated for nano circulation

Nano reefs will need sufficient water circulation. Depending on what you plan on keeping and what your rock scaping looks like, the return pump might not be enough. Thankfully there are plenty of nano powerheads out there to suit whichever size aquarium you have like: the AI Nero 3, EcoTech MP10, Aqamai KPS, IceCap Gyre 2K, or Sicce Voyager Nano 1000. Many of these top performing pumps are equipped with controllers to customize your flow. Check out the manufacturer’s tank recommendations to find out which wavemaker would be right for you. A second powerhead may also be considered for better flow in SPS tanks or aquariums longer in length.

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Temperature Control

Chillers, heaters, and a controller to keep temperature parameters stable
Chillers, heaters and fans help keep nano tank temperatures from fluctuating.

Due to their small sizes, nano tanks can easily swing in temperature from the room they are set up in, alone. If your home thermostat isn’t set to a pleasant 78°F year round, nano chillers, heaters and fans are available to keep your tank at a stable temperature range. Keep in mind, that if the nano is set up in the coolest room in the house, an appropriate wattage heater will usually be enough; no nano chiller needed.

Aquarium controllers like the HYDROS Control 2 Aquarium Controller Starter Pack is equipped with a probe sensor that will tell the controller to turn heating or chilling equipment on and off, among its many other capabilities for your tank. It will even a mobile alert, if the tank does go out of your set temperature range.

Nano Scaping

Small rock to aquascape the aquarium.
Frag Zone, Nano Arches, and Marco Rock are perfectly sized for nano aquariums

Scaping your your rockwork has never been so easy. Companies like Two Little Fishies, Caribsea, and AquaMaxx offer rock packages of 5 pounds or less containing easy to manage pieces which can be glued or epoxied together. Create structures that can defy gravity which any larger aquarium owners could only dream of, at a fraction of the cost.

Sand is just as cost effective, with less being needed and is available in bags of 10 pounds and up. There is also the option of going bare-bottom that can improve water flow throughout the tank, and can keep detritus from building up before they affect the small body of water.

Final Thoughts

A nano tank is a great and affordable way to get into the hobby. Nanos are less costly to set up, take care of and are generally easier to maintain and supplement. However, fluctuations in tank parameters are more likely because of their small stature. So, try to keep the lighting, water flow, filtration, and nutrient levels as stable as possible and you will see success in your mini reef.

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Livestock limits are also a concern. An overstocked nano tank can end up being too much for its bio-filtration to handle. Having too many fish increases the chances of disease spreading or may also end up in a fight for territory, ultimately leading to fish death. So, do some research on fish that are great for nano aquariums and remember less is more.

If you have any questions on getting your nano started, we are here to help you build a better aquarium – contact us!

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