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I'm currently going through the process of setting up a 180 gallon aquarium with the end goal of a planted community tank with a school of Discus, Cardinal Tetras, Rummynose Tetras, Sterbai Corys, and a pleco or two. The project is no light undertaking, so I thought this would be a great place to document the process. Not only do I want to be able to look back years down the road, I hope I can educate and entertain others along the way. I know me, and know I am going to ramble here, but that's what a journal is for, right? 

For starters, this is all new to me. I've only been keeping fish for a little overr a year. I wanted to keep fish for well over a decade now, but I never got around it. Finally, my father-in-law got my daughter a Betta for her 1st birthday last year, and that kicked off my obsession. That quickly upgraded to a planted 36 gallon community tank and a 6 gallon cube for the Betta. Now, I finally got my wife on board with, or at least not objecting to, setting up a large aquarium in the basement. Bonus points because my now 2-year-old daughter loves the hobby too. Loves feeding the fish and always asks to go to the fishy store. 

Once that green light was given by my wife, I started browsing Facebook Marketplace for the aquarium. The goal was something between 125-180. After a while, 2 180s popped up at the same time. One was older with wood trim and wasn't drilled. The other (the one I got) had black plastic trim and was predrilled with what I guess is called reef-ready. The seller never had it set up and I think he ended up with it after buying a storage locker at auction. It seemed to be in okay shape from my limited knowledge and was $400 so I rolled with it. I also knew I wanted to run it with a sump, so I set out to find a 75 gallon aquarium for that purpose. Interestingly, I found one right away and after talking to the owner about it, I had his 180 gallon. He let it go after moving and seemed to have gotten out of the hobby. He sold me the 75 gallon for $50. 

After getting both home and in my garage, I started watching videos on cleaning used aquariums and that sent me down a rabbit hole of resealing them. I decided I was going to tackle that project. The seams looked to be in great shape. No bubbles in the structural part of the silicone whatsoever, but the silicone I would be replacing had seen better days. While it was still pliable, the edges were beginning to dry rot, and peel back. It did hold water though. I filled it, added citric acid to scrub the salt off, and it stayed full for a few hours with no issues. after cleaning it, I quickly drained it though because my garage was not completely level and I didn't want any added stress to one seam over another. I ordered Momentive RTV103 Silicone after reading several reef forums. I also picked up several kinds of razors from Lowes and got down to business. 

Thanks to my dad, brother-in-law, and best friend, we were able to move it down to my basement so I could work on it in a heated space. Plus that's where it will eventually be set up. Currently, I have both overflow boxes removed, and silicone cleaned out of 2 of the 8 seams. It'll be a long process, but I enjoy these DIY projects. Tonight, I did find a pretty decent chip in one of the side panels below the silicone seal. That has me pretty nervous, but If it was there prior and I make sure its completely covered, I should be okay. At least I hope I'm okay because a new 180 gallon aquarium isn't in the budget currently. 

For the sump, I plan to only have 3 chambers. The first chamber will house a series of mechanical filtration most likely with sponges and filter floss. This area will be about 6 inches wide. From there I plan to have the water flow up through an 8 inch wide chamber full of bio media. The baffle here will be about 14 inches tall so from my math, could hold about 8 gallons of bio media. After that, the water will fall into a large return chamber (34x18). If I have the water filled up to 14 inches in the sump, the return chamber should have about 37 gallons of water in it. I'll house the heaters, and a few sponge filters here to help with aeration and to have seeded sponges if I need a quarantine tank set up fast.

My goal is to run an auto water change system out of the return chamber. I should be able to drain about 20 gallons of water out of that chamber and still allow my return pump to run. In theory, I think as long as the pump speed doesn't vary, changing water from the return chamber should just lower and raise the water level in the return, meanwhile, nothing changes or is noticeable in the display tank. All of that happens with the return pump staying on. I could be totally wrong on this but I couldn't find anyone running a setup like this. Maybe there is a reason for that, but it sounds like a fun idea to me so we'll see! 

I have about 80% of the materials purchased to finish the build. I went with a Sicce SDC 6.0 pump and Sicce Scuba Contactless heaters. I'm going to build the stand out of 2x4s and 2x6s. I will eventually wrap the stand in a nice plywood and stain it, but I want to get the tank resealed, set up, and running before I worry about the aesthetics.

I also find water chemistry super fascinating. I will start out by saying, I don't think you should chase parameters. It's probably best in most situations to let acclimate your fish to your water. With that said, my tap water would supply an amazing African cichlid tank, but isn't ideal for the fish I want to keep. To remedy this, I purchased 4x 30 gallon food-grade drums so I can mix my very hard and alkaline tap water with RO water. This is another element of the DIY process I really like. I'm still working on the logistics of it, but ideally, I can set up the tanks to automatically fill and mix the right amount to get softer water around a PH of 6.8 or so. I manually do this in my Betta's tank now, but with the drums and float valves, I think I can automate the process and consistently have a stable source of water without chasing parameters with additives. 

More updates to come! 

Heres the tank how I got it. 


Taking the old black paint off the back


All Cleaned Up!


The joints seem to be in great shape


75 Gallon running citric acid through it 


In the basement, Overflows off, and starting to remove the silicone


Defect in glass


Box of goodies!


30 Gallon Drums!




Edited by Corey Sharp
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On 1/12/2024 at 8:55 PM, mrPickles said:

Looking forward to seeing this as well. I'm hoping to pick up a used 180 gallon soon too. Can't wait to see some updates.


On 1/30/2024 at 2:29 PM, Chrishogs said:

Subscribed! Any recent updates? 

I am beginning to plan out a 180 discus community tank and can’t wait to watch your journey to build off on for mine. 

No new updates! The holidays and work slowed things down a bit. I have pretty much everything needed and hoping to actually finish removing the old silicone and resealing tomorrow. Im questioning my stocking ideas though. Im so torn on if I want discus or not. I know I eventually want to keep them, but I'm also contemplating a few other ideas. Either way, the tank and stand need to be setup, so one step at a time! I'll keep updates coming! 

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On 1/30/2024 at 5:56 PM, Corey Sharp said:


No new updates! The holidays and work slowed things down a bit. I have pretty much everything needed and hoping to actually finish removing the old silicone and resealing tomorrow. Im questioning my stocking ideas though. Im so torn on if I want discus or not. I know I eventually want to keep them, but I'm also contemplating a few other ideas. Either way, the tank and stand need to be setup, so one step at a time! I'll keep updates coming! 

As a two year discus keeper, I would encourage you to not get discus.  Doing them "right" is a lot of work in most cases and IMO they're best kept as a species only tank (or discus + cories or plecos kind of deal).  Every time I've done new tankmates with my discus, I have to worm them as one of them drops off and stops eating and starts losing weight.


Interested to see the 180 as you get going.  I just set up a 125 (used, resealed, etc).  I have a 30 gallon sump under it.  I'm not sure that I love sumps, but I know I don't like canisters... so that's kind of out as an option.

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For the limited time that you've kept fish, you're on the right track!

Yes - never chase water parameters. Even if your fish need a specific Ph or something; as long as your water in that range - you're good. Always manage the water parameters you have. Keep up with consistent water changes and testing; and you'll do just fine.

Looking forward to your build!

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