Brand New to reefing and have quite a few questions


Reefing newb
Hi! My husband and I are brand new to salt! We have a 20 something gallon aquarium that was a fresh tank until disease hit that we want to convert to a salt tank! We know smaller tanks are harder to maintain and less forgiving however we just don't have the space for a large tank due to living in military housing. We are wanting to have live rock & corals as well as a few fish. Naturally, we would like to have a clown. So! I guess lets get started with my questions!

First of all, with the small tank size I know I'm going to need a power head because of wanting corals. I've also been told t5 lighting is likely the best way to go for what we want to set up. But do I need to set up a sump?

If a sump is a necessary item am I better off setting that and the protein skimmer up during initial set up?

Will an underwater filtration system be needed or will a hang-on filter suffice?

Any other advice on initial set up and equipment necessities would be awesome as well possibly tank capacity for live rock/corals and when/how to properly introduce would be wonderful!!!

Thanks so much for any advice in advance :)
Smaller reef tanks are typically more challenging because their smaller water volume makes them prone to rapid parameter fluctuations.
If you can take measures to ensure that the tank parameters remain as stable as possible, then 20 gallons would be a reasonable size.

Yes you will need powerheads. How much flow you need will depend on the type of corals you want.
SPS for example, require near turbulent and random water movement.

T5 lighting would be a good price point for a 20 gallon. Again, how much lighting power you need will depend on what type of corals you want.

A sump is not mandatory, but it really makes things easier if you can afford to set one up. Also, a 20 gallon reef tank would not look that appealing with all the equipment hanging on the back/sides.

A skimmer is not absolutely necessary for a tank that size. Performing a 5 gallon water change weekly would be more than enough to dilute the concentration of organic waste in the water.
However, having a skimmer gives you a more forgiving margin as it constantly removes a portion of the organic waste 24/7.

You do not need mechanical filtration for a reef tank. Detritus and solid waste is handled by the "clean up crew" (snails, crabs, etc). So it is critical not to overfeed in a reef tank setting.

Biological and chemical filtration is handled by the bacteria that colonizes the porous rocks inside the aquarium.
This is what we call "live rock" as it hosts the millions of bacteria that perform this role.
The recommendation is about 2 pounds of live rock per gallon size of the tank.
Please note that this needs to be porous rock. Dense rocks will be heavier but provide very little surface area for bacteria to colonize.

Some extra info:
Some corals do not like neighbors, so in a small reef tank you need to make sure that you choose corals that are "friendly".
Certain varieties of the galaxea coral for example, can deploy sweeper tentacles to clear out territory up to 6 inches all around it.
Thank you for so much information!! So as far as a filtration systems go, to make sure I'm understanding you correctly, I shouldn't need one other than a sump, protein skimmer, and frequent water changes?

Also, a rather important question I forgot to ask... How should I clean the tank prior to set up! It is a failed freshwater tank so I know it needs to be thoroughly cleaned... But how is the best way to do so?!
Good luck with the new tank. I've actually only kept small tanks, largest has been 29 gallons. Best advice I can give you is what was given me, work slowly. If you rush something you will have problems. I spent about 3 months doing research before I put any fish in my first tank.
You don't need a sump, but it does hide the equipment and makes the display tank a little nicer to look at. I always do 5 gallon water changes each week, and have been successful without a protein skimmer. I have a friend that swears by his skimmer, and his tank looks just as clean and clear as mine. So it really comes down to your choice.
You don't have to have a filter, the live rock will take care of the bio filter for you. I have done a smaller tank with a filter and also did one without a filter. So I'm still torn on what is better for a small tank. Again comes down to your choice.
All in all, take your time and do plenty of research. Have fun with it too.
The best way to clean your tank is with a 50/50 mix of vinegar and RODI or distilled water. Let it soak for awhile then scrub out. Then rinse till you cant smell the vinegar.
Have you ever used medications in the fresh water tank? Most meds have copper in them and the copper can be absorbed into the silicone on the tank and leach out over time, if you heavily medicated the tank for ich you may want to pick up a copper test kit before adding corals and inverts to the new tank. And yes you got it right you don't need a mecanical filter if your properly stocked with live rock. Personally I Keep one on hand in case I need to run carbon or clear up a cloudy tank ect.

Welcome and good luck:D
Fantastic!!! Yes the fresh tank was treated for ich before it started to clear up then the fish all randomly disentigrated, so we will definitely be getting a copper test kit!! That's pretty cool news about not needing the filter,
I never would have guessed! I don't know a lot about sumps other than they are great for hiding equipment and if you need to add anything to the tank? Are they fairly easy to set up?
Yep. Do a little research on our tank forum here and see peoples sumps. Check out d2minis page as he has a better looking sump than my display! Its another set up to grow microalgae to consume phosphates and nitrates. You can put a refugium in there with a deep sand bed (dsb). You can create on hell of an ecosystem that is self dependant with of course great husbandtry. I personally would like to say that you should go as big as your buget can go, the bigger you are the more options you have.
Small tanks are very easy, more so if you have a sump and it can be put anywhere, even in the next room or out side of the home.
Two pipes, one pipe out and one pipe back in and it can be a long set of pipes if you need to.
Your sump does not have be under the aquarium!
Lighting,go with leds,don’t bother with T5s,resistance lighting is dead compared to liquid emitting diodes.
3 to 5 months of quality coral growing colours from an average T5 tube and up to 10 years of coral growing colours from fan cooled leds.
Under water filtration is a must for stable parameters.
Do not use a substrate in your aqaurium; rely on live rock for one third of your biological filtration and the greatest amount of aerobic oxidation and anoxic nitrate reduction externally.
Make do with support from a small skimmer,nitra guard biocubes titanium and a little phosphate killer as well.
Use a return pump power head capable of returning at 5 times the aquariums volume per hour and chiller is a must, also a cheap wave maker that will turn over your waters at 15 to 25 times the aquariums water content per hour instead of a power head in the aquarium for water movement; sps desperately needs immense water movement.
Nothing freshwater will worry saltwater.
Did your treatments for fresh ich have copper documented on the container?
If it was copper chloride its fine,it will be none toxic in two water changes, copper sulphate is a little more of an issue, but not much after two water changes.
Corals,large polyps can harm sps,soft and leather corals can harm sps,any extending corals can harm sps.
Keep it simple and ask before each life form is added and it takes time to establish aerobic and anaerobic bacteria and the essential none parasitic protists that help run a mature aquarium.
Mine are the oldies from 2008 of cree 3 watt diodes when they were just starting to kick resistance lighting out.
Leds are beneficial in so many ways that it would take many words to tell of all of these.
The main ones are they last for a very long time, their out put is of near no heat at all and they do not emit any radiation to speak of that harms corals that have to make their own sunscreen in the wild to protect them selves from, all resistance lighting emits UV radiation.
I bought mine direct from the manufacturer in china as I did with my 60 degree optic leds in my 2 foot fluro replacement tubes at the same time, they run my refugium.
Leds have been around since they were accidental invented in the 1920s, then if it wasn’t for the US gov trying to get lazer tech from them in the 60s and getting the impurities in the chips worked out better, then they would not be making our hobby even more amazing as yet!