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Building Debt With a Basement

Posted 12/27/2011 at 05:40 PM by speedpacer
Updated 05/13/2012 at 12:14 PM by speedpacer

Anyone who's been in this hobby for a while knows that a basement set-up is the way to go if you have one, and up until just recently, I was among the many who wished they had one.

Well, thanks to the combination of a marriage and a recent non-traveling job offer that landed me here in the Rocket City, I now have one! Plus, I have enough time and a little extra money to invest in such a set-up and finally have that big beautiful SPS dominant coral reef tank in my living room that I always dreamed of. You know the one I'm talking about. Shock and Awe.

On the flip side of this of course, is the fact that I am married now and I can't go throwing money around like I used to. While spending large sums of cash on fish and corals is a much more acceptable alternative to drugs and hookers, my other half still insists that I exercise some degree of restraint in funding this new project, in hopes that we can avoid rolling pennies for Ramen noodles by the end of the month.

So this blog will serve as my daily... ish journal into the depths of my newly acquired basement and the saltwater aquarium hobby, while maintaining a budget-minded conscience and hopefully avoiding starvation and/or a divorce.

To provide a little background, I got started in the coral reef hobby roughly 7-8 years ago while living near Clearwater Beach, Florida for a few years. That in no way, shape, or form, qualifies me as a long term "expert", considering I never really had what I felt was a high quality thriving reef tank, certainly not by my own standards and obviously not by those of the "Tank of The Month" judging outfit.

I started out with a standard 10 gallon tank after overhearing some people at work talking about this new "nano reef" phenomenon. It sounded like something that would be fun to try and wouldn't cost a lot of money. Unfortunately, nobody was there to caution me that it had the same addictive qualities one might find in Warcraft, gambling, or crack cocaine.

After a 50 gallon and then up to a 90 gallon VHO lit euphyllia dominated tank, followed abruptly by 5 hurricanes, flooding, several power outages and a recession that put me out of a job, I decided it was time to take a break from my hobbies and break out the suitcase once again.

Over the years, I'd settle in one place or another from six months to a few years and set up a little nano tank here and there but nothing too elaborate. My most recent tank was a little Finnex M30, basically a 30 gallon tank with a built-in fuge and sump in the back.


This tank used to look half-way decent before several power outages last summer and a move to another state, which leads me to present day, circa fed up and on the verge of putting my hands in the air and backing away slowly.

What I've decided to do in contrast, now that I have a basement and a reasonable budget to work with, is dedicate more time and effort into the hobby and expand my system. I'll be working with a budget of roughly $500/month, give or take a little. I'm about two months into it and so far, I've purchased a few used tanks and built some shelves for the sumps in the basement.

As I'm writing this, my main display tank is nearly half-way full of RO/DI water.


This is a used 100 gallon tank that I snagged up on Craig's List. Along with the stand and canopy, two sumps, a 40-gallon rimless cube, the U-haul trailer and a tank of gas, I think I paid in the neighborhood of $500-$600.

Luckily, I didn't have to do a lot of drilling. There just happened to be a vent on the wall where a 90-120 gallon tank would look nice that led right down into the basement.


All I had to do was disconnect the vent and cap it off. I also had a certified Electrician install new outlets in the basement on their own circuit to support the system.


I'm planning on having a 2-sump system, if it works. Theoretically, the first and upper sump will be for drainage, bio balls and a protein skimmer, sock filters, carbon, etc.


The other secondary (lower) sump will host the return pumps and (once again) theoretically, serve as a temporary holding area for water changes... more on that later.


The refugium is setting above the secondary sump and will drain directly into it so the pods don't get stuck in the filters. I'm hoping that once I turn the return pumps off, the water will rise enough in the lower sump to give me the 30 or so gallons I'll need for water changes. I'm estimating a total volume of 300 gallons.
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  1. New Comment
    speedpacer's Avatar
    Here you can see the front of the refugium setting above a 72 gallon bow front that I also picked up off of Craig's List.

    They also had some tanks that used to be in a Wal-Mart and I was able to purchase 5 of those and the bow front for roughly $400. One of those of course is being used as the refugium and the other four will be frag tanks, or maybe I'll take a stab at breeding.

    I'm planning on using the 72 bow front for softies and maybe the clown/anemone thing. The 40-gallon rimless cube will host a long awaited Black Angler and set on top of the wooden stand to the right of the bow front.

    On the other side, if facing the sumps, to my right will be my equipment rack where I'll have some Auto Top-Off, kalk dosing and other similar action going on.

    Posted 12/27/2011 at 05:50 PM by speedpacer speedpacer is offline
  2. New Comment
    speedpacer's Avatar
    I'll have a few Brute 33s behind the "equipment rack" if you will, for fresh and saltwater reserve. Right now, I just have some live rock and sand back there waiting to go into the upstairs display and fuge, respectively.

    On the other side to the left and facing out, if you're facing the sump, will be the frag tanks. Here's a sketch of what those will look like. I'm sure future photos will prove less confusing.

    In order to build the shelving, I had to buy a circular saw and a power drill, which is cool because I'll have those for other projects in the future. Those and the lumber set me back about $200 and I've spent a few hundred on a pump and some more live sand so I'm up to a little over $1000, which isn't bad considering everything I've gotten, especially compared to what all that crap would've cost me new.

    Here's a shot of the main display with the canopy. I'm planning on a DIY LED system.

    And of course, overseeing the project while my wife is out of town...

    That's about where I'm at right now. Since I've started this, I've gained another few inches of water in the tank. Hopefully, I'll be able to start the transferring process before the weekend and weather permitting, I'll try to finish the shelving for the frag tanks.

    By the end of April, I hope to have the entire system fully functional, automated, monitored and controlled via my iPhone. In order to save money on the monitoring, controlling and automation, I'll be building and developing my own computer using a custom Arduino-based board/chipset. Basically, I'd like to automate everything but the feeding.

    That's all for now. I'll post more pictures once the tank is full and I get a little aquascaping done.
    Posted 12/27/2011 at 05:52 PM by speedpacer speedpacer is offline
  3. New Comment
    fpv930's Avatar
    The setup looks like its going to be great! Are you going to post any updates?
    Posted 02/07/2012 at 06:39 PM by fpv930 fpv930 is offline
  4. New Comment
    speedpacer's Avatar
    Sorry, I just saw your comment. Thank you and yes! It's actually been coming along quite nicely. I'll try to take some pictures this weekend.
    Posted 03/16/2012 at 04:53 AM by speedpacer speedpacer is offline
  5. New Comment
    It looks pretty good. I'll have to tag along. Good Luck
    Posted 04/07/2012 at 09:43 PM by Mel 2038 Mel 2038 is offline
  6. New Comment
    speedpacer's Avatar
    It's been a while since I've posted... been starting a new business. Everything has been doing really well.

    The 100gal display tank upstairs has been running since the beginning, just a small cluster of zooanthids that I had left over from the other tank and I've gotten a few fish. The reason it looks brighter on one side is because I'm using a compact T5 that I had over the smaller tank on the left side and then a standard 10gal light on the right side for now. I had a lot of detritus on the bottom at first but I put a Tunze 6215 in there and it solved that problem.

    My LED parts have been sitting in a box for 4 months but I finally broke those out and started to put it together yesterday, until I ran out of nylon washers. More of those on order.

    I also built me a little workbench to help put all of this together.

    So far, I just have the main display, sump, refugium and 72 gallon bowfront hooked up. I haven't put anything in the bowfront yet, will probably just be for LPS, and I'll probably do the clownfish/anemone thing in the cube on the right, once I get everything stabilized. The QT/hospital tank is on the far left, which is where this all started from. It's still empty right now as well. You can see the fuge up above the 72.

    Posted 07/29/2012 at 09:26 AM by speedpacer speedpacer is offline
  7. New Comment
    speedpacer's Avatar
    I've had the shelves for the frag tanks built for a while but they're still not hooked up yet.

    And here's the backside...

    What I'm working on now is the automation. It'll be controlled by an Arduino micro controller and 3 American DJ PC100A power strips with an iPad User Interface so I can control and monitor everything at home, from work or while on vacation, etc.

    Maybe next weekend, time permitting, I'll be able to finish the lights and start getting some corals! I also have a kalk reactor and a phosban reactor that have been sitting in the box for 4-5 months. I'll probably get around to hooking those up next weekend too.
    Posted 07/29/2012 at 09:37 AM by speedpacer speedpacer is offline
  8. New Comment
    speedpacer's Avatar
    Almost forgot... here's my plans for the LED lights (x2) over the main display upstairs. The daylights will be wired up in parallel with ELN-60-48D Mean Well drivers to control 24 LEDs (x4) and then the 12 dawn/dusk (reds) will have their own driver, 12 moonlights will have their own and 12 high noons will have their own. The idea is that I'll be able to simulate sunrise/sunset and lightning storms via the Arduino controller.

    Posted 07/29/2012 at 10:08 AM by speedpacer speedpacer is offline
  9. New Comment
    speedpacer's Avatar
    So, while I had a little downtime waiting on the nylon washers to finish my lights, and having to exchange my Mean Well 48D drivers for 48Ps since Arduino uses PWM, I went ahead and started hacking my American DJ power strip. I've noticed a lot of guys are building small cases for their controller setups but since I have all of this room in the basement, I opted for a different approach.

    Since the American DJs are rack mountable, I decided to make the entire controller rack mountable. I'll be using 3 American DJs in all, so I ordered 3 1U cases, which fit the relays perfectly (8 each):

    And then I ordered a 2U case for the Arduino Mega 2560 and the Uno/Ethernet shield and the rest of the guts and glory.

    There aren't enough PWM outputs on the Uno for my 7 channels so I decided to do a master/slave configuration and have the web server/client separate from the main I/O board. I still haven't decided if I'm going to use the ethernet shield as a server or client, but I'd like to track historical data in a mysql database, so probably a client. I already have a LAMP (web) server in the basement anyway.

    Once it's all together, it should all fit snuggly into this rack:

    I've got the prototype for the ATO working. It was a lot easier than I expected actually. Well, in part thanks to some other threads on here and Here you can see when the float switch is up, the lamp is off:

    And when the float switch is down, the lamp comes on:

    Very cool! It's progress like this that drives me to move forward.

    I just downloaded X-Code today and I may play around with the interface a little tomorrow. Then, maybe I'll have a better idea of how the web server/client will come into play. Everyone else seems to be using LCD panels but since the bulk of my setup will be in the basement and the display is upstairs, I'm going for a iPhone/iPad display panel. Plus, I like the cool factor.
    Posted 08/02/2012 at 06:26 PM by speedpacer speedpacer is offline

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