Is It Easier To Purchase A Second Hand Aquarium System Or To Set One Up From Scratch

To be honest there are benefits to both methods and realistically it is up to yourself as the aquarist to decide which one is best for both you and your bank balance.

Let’s look at each option in turn:

Purchasing A Second Hand Aquarium System

The immediate benefit for choosing this method is cost savings. When you purchase a second hand aquarium system then the overall cost will be significantly cheaper than if you purchased all of the items individually. I suppose this is the reason why a lot of people choose this option and why not.

The downfall of this option is that as time progresses you may find that there are items which you do not actually need, there may be items which you would like to replace and there may be items which you wish you had. With you purchasing items which are second hand you obviouslly will not get the choice as you would if you set up your own from scratch. The aquarium size and shape may not be the one which you would have purchased, the skimmer may be different etc. Only a small downside but still a downside.

There are two types of second hand system which you can purchase – the ones with livestock and the ones without. If you purchase one with livestock included then you will need to get the aquarium system home as quickly as you can so that you can get it setup so that livestock can be placed back into the aquarium.

This takes me onto another area for consideration. When you purchase a second hand system you have to go and collect it so that you can take it home and put it all back together again. Only a small downside but believe me it is hard work.

Another consideration is that you will need to find out how the aquarium has been cared for. Has the equipment been maintained, has the correct care and maintenance been performed, have any medications been used in the aquarium etc. If I was considering purchasing a second hand system I would have a set of question which I would want to ask the seller prior to committing to a purchase.

Setting Up The Aquarium System From Scratch

This method can potentially cost you more in the long run but the benefit of this method is that you can purchase the exact equipment you want, the exact aquarium size you want etc.

The greatest benefit for me of this method is that you can have the joy (and at times frustration) of the planning and design stages.

You can plan the entire system and purchase over time or you can go our and purchase it all at once the choice is yours.

The same amount of research will still be required by the aquarist as if the decision to purchase a second hand system was made. I see a lot of instances where someone purchases a second hand system and does not bother researching how the equipment works and why it is required. I presume that this is because they believe that the previous owner has researched the equipment prior to the purchase.

A good example of this would be the protein skimmer, when you are setting you own aquarium up you will need to research what a protein skimmer is, how it works, where in the system it will be placed, the best one to purchase etc. When you purchase a second hand system you will still need to research what a protein skimmer is, how it works etc

A lot of people are put off this method due to the perceived cost that this method may produce. To be honest it does not have to be expensive. As long as you look into the requirements then you will not purchase items which are not required and of course you can purchase second hand equipment along the way. Items such as protein skimmers, water pumps can be sourced and purchased to ease the burden on the bank balance.


It is very hard to make a conclusion as to which is the best option as the decision does ultimately come down to the individual aquarist.

For me I prefer to set up my own system myself. This way I can have the system exactly as I want and not as someone else designed. I can understand why some people do purchase a second hand system though – cost. It is a lot cheaper to purchase a second hand system.

As said the greatest benefit of a second hand system is cost however there are potential downsides. There may be aspects which you will not agree with later on and have to spend money, time or both to put right. This may be something like plumbing, lighting etc – anything really. As you research and learn more you may realise that there is an aspect of the second hand system which is actually incorrect.

Personally I like the planning stage. I enjoy looking into the equipment I will require, planning and drawing the plumbing, designing the sump etc. The feeling is great when you start to purchase the items and all the boxes start to arive. Then you put it all together, stand back and say to yourself – I did that.

  1. I have what you would call a second hand setup, but I didnt buy everything at once. I have slowly purchased Items over time from other fellow reefers..

  2. That’s a good way forward, and buying from marine aquarists usually means you’ll get what you expect without some of that “persuasion” ( 🙄 )many have met from time to time.

Comments are closed.