What does it cost to set up a saltwater reef tank?

I've seen many different rules and guides about what someone should spend when setting up a saltwater reef tank and I've always wondered how does one get to these numbers when the configurations are endless.

I've seen estimates of $25 to $50 dollars per gallon. Here I'll highlight my equipment to try and see how much I've spent. I sincerely hope my wife does not read this post.

Here are the rules

  1. I'll only list my current equipment, in some instances it's taken me 2 or 3 purchases before I get equipment correct.
  2. I'll list the current selling price
  3. I'll note when I purchased equipment 2nd hand and also include that price

Equipment List

  • Apex Lite System with extras - $500
    • VDM Port - dimming port to control lights
    • PM1 pH monitor
    • WXM to control Vortech Pumps
    • Lab grad pH probe
    • I have a 50 breeder Aqueon tank - dimensions 36 inches long by 18 high by 18 deep. - $160
    • All Glass Aquarium pine stand - $240
    • 2 Kessil A360WE pendant lights - $399 each
      • 2 Kessil gooseneck mounts to go with the Kessil lights - sold separately - $35 each
      • Bubble Magus Curve 5 Skimmer - $209
      • Ecotech Marine MP40QD - $349 (bought used on Reefcentral for $250)
      • Ecotech Marine MP10WES - $235
      • Jebao/Jecod DCT1200 - used as my return pump -$145
      • Jebao/Jecod DCT800 Pump - used to run my reactors - $80
      • Bulk Reef Supply Biopellet reactor - $49
      • Bulk Reef Supply Deluxe reactor - $64.99
      • 50 pounds of Bulk Reef Supply reef saver rock - approximately $130
      • Tunze Osmolator Auto Top Off - $209
      • RO Buddie RODI System - $99
      • BRS Dosing System - $200

Final Calculations

So we are looking at $3811 - which comes out to about just under $77 per gallon. This does not include salt, supplements, food, fish, corals, sand and my monthly electric bill.

That figure does not include equipment I bought and had to resell. Off the top of my head, some of that equipment is

  • AI Hydra light and Director controller - $500
  • Apex PM2 Salinity Monitor and Probe - $200
  • Reef Octopus Skimmer - $209
  • AquaMaxx HOB-1 Skimmer - $220
  • Custom Advanced Acrylics sump - $250
  • Custom Sump I built but was done poorly - $120