[Tank Diaries] Giancarlo’s 180 Gallon Reef Build

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TankDiaries1As you may already know, the key to becoming a successful home aquarist is by accumulating knowledge and experience. However, gaining experience on your own via trial and error can be a highly time consuming and laborious task. Thankfully, the learning curve can be shortened by leveraging on other people’s experience and knowledge. Studying what other’s have done can help you avoid the common mistakes and will perhaps guide you in the right direction in dealing with your own aquarium issues.

Pfffttt Dennis, so what’s the big deal?

With that in mind, Home Aquaria now has a new series called Tank Diaries. This series will feature aquarium builds, case studies and more from experienced aquarists around the world. The hopes for this series is that it’s able to educate, guide, and inspire not only the newbies in the hobby but also the more experienced hobbyists.

So let’s get on with it, shall we?

In the first edition of the Tank Diaries series, we feature Giancarlo Podio’s 180 Gallon Reef Build. In this tank build journal, you’ll see how Giancarlo decided on his initial setup including his decisions on lighting, sump, filtration, circulation and more. He also goes into what influenced his decisions and why he chose to set things up the way that he did.

So, pour a glass of you favourite java and enjoy the read!

180 Gallon Reef Build Journal

by Giancarlo Podio (Originally posted on aquarticles.com)

Starting a new tank is always an exciting challenge full of decisions and surprises along the way and I’ve always found it useful to look into other people’s tank builds to get ideas from. Here I will try to document as best I can my latest tank build.

Xmas 2006 – My xmas present:

All-Glass 180g Reef Ready tank with oak stained pine stand

There was one condition however… it is an “upgrade” not an “addition”… :-) It will be replacing my very overgrown 40g Oceanic Stretch Hex:





January 2007 – Deciding where, what, how and when…

I’ve always wanted an open top “look-down” reef of some kind so my first decision is to keep the tank open and build a hanging light fixture. A little too tall to be a real look-down tank but I suppose that also depends how tall you are… I’ll provide a stool for the shorties :-)

Lighting: My initial thought is to have a 400W MH in the center and a 250W MH bulb on either side, supplemented by two 110W VHO Actinics. My current 40g has a 400W 20K MH and 110W PC Actinics so it will be a step down in intensity which is fine as most of my coraline has gone from the intense lighting.

Sump: This was the hardest decision so far… I debated over many tank sizes but I could never surpass the fear of not being able to remove the sump from the stand without lifting the main tank or some other method requiring a circular saw… the only thing I came up with was 14g Rubbermaid Roughneck totes, I have used these for years for maintenance and water storage and trust (hope) they are safe for long term use. I purchased 3 of them and connected them in series using bulkheads for easy removal in the future. One will house the skimmer and drain pipes from the display which will flow into the center tub where the return pumps and heaters are located. On the other side of the center tub will be the refugium tub, here water will flow much slower into the refugium and directly into the return tub, bypassing the skimmer tub.

Filtration: Typical Berlin methodology… live rock for biological filtration, skimmer and refugium.

Circulation: I’m thinking about 2000GPH between tank and sump and an additional 2000GPH in the main tank by way of Seio/Tunze pumps. An additional 5 gallon surge device will be used to create a stronger surge in the display.

Painting the background: Not wanting to mess with stick on backgrounds and such, I decided to paint the background. I used gloss black oil based “Rust-oleum” branded paint and rolled it on with a small sponge roller:

Getting ready to paint the back of the tank

Paint used on back of tank

Plumbing time…

The tank came with standpipes and bulkheads but I had a horrible time trying to get a good seal around the barbed bulkheads on the drain side. These bulkheads are moulded in two halves and fused together, leaving a visible line from the mould which isn’t flush with the rest of the plastic. I tried it all, I shaved off what I could, heated the hoses and clamped them tightly without success. After wasting too much time with this I threw the bulkheads on the lathe, cut the barbs off and converted them to a female slip fitting on both sides. Plumbing with PVC from there on was very easy and fast. Here’s what it looks like so far:

I used 2″ spaflex to connect the skimmer tote to the return tote and 1″ spaflex to connect the refugium tote to the return tote. I didn’t have bulkheads so I used the gray PVC fittings from the electrical supply section as these have threads that are not tapered and will tighten down all the way. A regular 2″ seal used for flushing systems in toilets made the ideal seal for the DIY bulkheads. It worked better than I thought it would.

The skimmer chosen is the Octopus NW200 which is a needle wheel venturi driven skimmer. It is relatively new on the market and has been getting some good reviews along with a growing number of modifications people have posted to improve it’s performance. Fitting it in the sump was no problem and I have about an inch to spare on top which is just enough to remove the lid when needed.

The one “problem” that was evident before running this skimmer was an obvious bottleneck in the elbow used to connect the pump to the skimmer. These are all metric sizes and it was easier to modify the existing elbow rather than replace it. Luckily a regular drum sander attachment that came with my Dremmel tool was the perfect diameter, it takes some patience as it quickly clogs up with plastic shavings but eventually it made it through without any problems. Here’s a picture of the original sized fitting and the modified one:

February 2007 – The Canopy

I decided to build my own canopy rather than use pendants. The canopy will be slightly smaller than the tank so that hanging it a few inches above the tank will leave sufficient room to view the entire tank from above. I’ll figure most things out as I go but I need it to be light and strong at the same time so rather than using solid sheets of wood I’ll frame it out and panel it using plywood… After a few schetches I decided on the look and started to cut and route all the pieces I need…

Once I had all the pieces cut it was like putting a lego kit together… I glued and stapled the frame first and then glued and nailed the panels in the frame:

Before staining and sealing I need to test fit the reflectors, glue some pieces here and there that will support he reflectors off the wood itself and any other modifications I need to make for cabling, moonlighting and hanging hardware.

March 2007 – Time to get wet…

I ordered 100lb of live rock from Fiji, it’s the “bio rock” which seems to be harvested from deeper waters than the rock I’m used to seeing. It was nice to work with as it really didn’t need much cleaning at all, there were minimal number of black sponges and that was about it, a good rinse in a very low salinity water flushed out most of the silt and mud on the rock and it was ready to go in the tank.

I tend to prefer the “mound” look over the more common “reef wall”, this is why I only ordered 100lb of rock initially, there’s another 50lb in the existing tank and I figure I’ll add another 50lb or so to the refugium. As much as 100lb of live rock hurts the wallet, it really doesn’t make much of an impact in this size tank…

I plan on leaving the tank mature for a month now before moving anything over to it. This will give me time to play with the rock arrangement, finish the lighting and install the rest of the pumps.

Sump update

Small cracks formed just above the 2″ bulkheads when I tried filling the sump to the very top. The problem was the bulkheads being too close to the fold in the plastic that circles each tote. I replaced the two tubs on the right and lowered the bulkheads by about an inch, this allows the totes to bow out when full without problems. Also T’d off the MAG18 return pump to both returns, this seems to be the best balance between noise, splashing and circulation.

Skimmer seems to be working too, this is about 3 days worth of skimmate with 100lb of live rock sitting in the tank.

April 2007 – Need a light!

Been wasting a lot of time on minor details, I really need to push for the finish line and get this canopy completed!

Strained and sealed


I decided to paint the inside black to avoid extra reflections when looking into the tank from above. The moonlights are 4″ cold cathode lights commonly used to jazz up computer cases and such, they put out a lot more light than LEDs and in a flood light fashion compared to spot lighting. For the time being it’s two UV and two blue tubes which can be controlled independantly.

Installed reflectors and tidied up the wiring…

And finally…

June 2007 – Time to move the corals

Well the tank has been “resting” for another month while I treat the 40g hex for flatworms. Now that they are all gone it’s time to move things over.

The move took a little longer than expected, 3 evenings in all and luckily only one of the large colonies was damaged (I dropped it on the tiled floor…). I moved the rocks around a bit, most of them are actually in the fuge now. I’m liking the open space though!


The end result


So, there you have it folks. Our very first Tank Diaries series. I sincerely hope it was an educational and enjoyable read.

What do you think of Giancarlos’ 180 Gallon Reef Build? Share it with us in the comments below.

Would also love to hear your opinions on our Tank Diaries series too.

About Dennis Hanson

Dennis is an experienced aquarist with many years of knowledge and experience in keeping successful tanks. He also has no relations to the pop group Hanson.

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