How To Build A Cheap Nano Reef Tank

This entire website is dedicated to building a cheap 5 gallon nano reef tank for under $260.

I managed to build this tank including fish and live rock for that price!  The reason I felt something like this needed to be done was due to the lack of instructional nano reef tank builds online.  I picked a five gallon tank because of a few reasons.

-Cheap to keep running after its set up.

-Less time needed to clean tank.

-Easy one gallon water changes weekly.

-No need for a protein skimmer.


Furthermore, I have included links to each product I chose for the build included below.  I have an amazon prime account so I wanted to take advantage of that as well as not having to wait very long.  If you are planning on building this setup please make sure you read through the Assembling your Nano Reef Page.  There is additional information about the build, care and techniques for a successful reef.

5 Gallon Reef Aquarium – $64.99

5 gallon reef tank
Perfect for no more than two fish.

Aquarium lighting– $65.99

nano saltwater reef tank lighting
Cheapest LED lighting for a small tank.

Water Pump– $7.99

submersible aquarium pump
80 gallons per hour, perfect for this aquarium!

Live Sand– $21.99

Live salt water aquarium sand.
10lbs is more than enough sand!

 Algae Nano Magnet– $10.99

Nano magnet cleaner for reef aquariums
The small 1 inch secondary magnet is perfect!

Hydrometer– $8.99

A Hydrometer to test salinity.
You must have this to test your salinity!

Saltwater Mix– $13.99

Salt mix for marine aquariums
Separate into 5 equal amounts and add RO water!

Tubing– $4.99

airline tubing for marine aquariums
Tubing for siphoning out debris and for your water changes.

LED Spotlight– $17.99

A submersible aquarium LED
A submersible LED spotlight to highlight your dark corners!
Some extra IMPORTANT information

I chose this particular marine aquarium because it met minimum qualifications for a marine tank.  It has a hidden sump pump, bio-foam, charcoal filtration, and an included light.  In addition to that, it had great reviews and it was SUPER cheap.

The lighting, I added that specific model because I rather like a blue hue to my tank, but there is an exact model with just white instead.  This light is perfect because of the minimum of 3-5 watts per gallon guideline for reef tanks.  Another reason is that it attaches perfectly to the tank.

The additional pump…I looked for ages for a power-head small enough for a 5 gallon nano tank, and nothing with the amount of GPH I needed, this little pump fits perfectly on one of the sides, and provides just the right amount of flow for the tank.  It IS needed due to the pump included with the tank does not meet standards.  This pump is important because it limits the amount of detritus that collects on the sand and overall decreases your nitrite and nitrate levels, also most coral require high flow.

The salt water mix could be switched out for other brands, I personally think they’re all the same.  If you are not comfortable mixing your own salt or like myself, too lazy, you could go to your local fish store and purchase premixed salt water.  Usually its around a dollar or two per gallon. Remember, five gallons should last over a month.

The live sand can be switched out with different colors if you choose.  Make sure to get no more than 10lbs, even that was way too much.

The glorious nano magnet.  All your maintenance solved in an inch square cleaning pad.  A MUST!!

The Hydrometer is so important, the fastest way to ruin your reef is by having screwed up salinity.  I made the mistake of trusting the LFS(Local fish store) and I lost two corals right off the get go.  They had given me fish safe salinity around 1.19 and reefs require around 1.26, Always check your tank salinity and your premixed water.

Tubing is used to target piles of detritus(Poop) and extract them while doing your 1 gallon water change.  Its also perfect for acclimating your fish!

I made an arch with my live rock, and beneath it was so under-lit, I decided to purchase the LED spotlight and its perfect!  You may not need this if you don’t mind dark areas in your tank.

Update: Testing your water

For Beginners a testing kit is important to figure out if you’re overfeeding (nitrates and nitrites, phosphates). Another good reason is to find out when your ammonia levels have balanced when you’re cycling a tank. Although, with weekly water changes, and proper feeding, your nitrates, nitrites, phosphates and ammonia will be close to zero. Intermediate reefers can test for trace elements and dose to adjust to perfect levels. All trace elements are replenished with weekly water changes but occasional tests from your LFS(usually for free!) can help you figure out if you have alkalinity or calcium issues. These two tend to build up with frequent water changes. I personally never test my tanks at home, I take a water sample in to my local fish store and test for everything once every 3-4 months.

    Feed has no items.