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How are you guys doing, I've been reading over this site for awhile now - and am finally starting to have a decent idea of what the story is with cichlids. I have a bunch of very fundamental questions, and I'd appreciate if you guys could bear with me. Hopefully it will end up being informative for other individuals in my position. Seeing as how this is the tank setup portion, this is what I'm going to address here.

I currently have a 29 gallon with 8 zebra danios, 6 female bettas and 3 otos + a few ghost shrimp. Seeing all these gorgeous cichlid tanks has made me want to expand my horizons and get a new tank. So, i'll try to make this succint.

It's going to be an essay! But I'll break it down and people can address what they would like and I can learn and appreciate it.

1) Aquarium tank size - 75 vs 90 gallon. 75 gallon 48" x 18" x 21" || 90 gallon 48" x 18" x 24"
so the difference there being a 3" tank height. It takes up the same amount of floor space, obviously - it would seem then it's a no brainer - but i'm wondering if the extra 15 gallons / 3" is something that will be utilized at all? Or is it basically no difference over the 75 gallon and only going to increase my equipment / maintenance costs? I also plan to attempt live plants, and this would increase my lighting costs too. I don't particularly care, and would actually prefer the 90 - but if the fish aren't going to utilize the space then it's a moot point. In here as well I would suppose would be what stand to get? (I can't post links) but it's an aquatic fundamentals 75/90 gallon stand, black with simple cabinets - nothing fancy. was just going to go with that one, pretty fundamental stand. Don't know if there is even other stuff out there that you guys use. I figure minus the looks a stand is a stand.

2) Driftwood / Rocks and the balance. I love the natural look of driftwood, and in my betta tank every single species utilizes it for something - i'd love to toss a few pieces in there. However, the tannins are something cichlids don't want or need.. so I was thinking of a PH buffering substrate or rocks - what rocks would get this done? Limestone? I really like those cichlid stones that are going around, but I'd also like to supplement with real rock as well. I'm not a big fan of Texas holey rock - and would prefer to keep everything a darker color to really bring out the color of the fish. So, I guess the primary question here is - what dark colored, preferably PH buffering rocks should I look for that cichlids will enjoy and be comfortable with.

3) Substrate - I definitely want some kind of sand. The big attraction with a cichlid tank over my betta tank is that they want totally different things. My betta tank is brown with tannins, gravel substrate, very densely planted, and no rock - so i want to make sure to do it totally different with this tank. I'm looking for a sand substrate that's dark in color, ideally having some kind of PH buffering effect and benefiting live plants in some way?

4) HOB vs canister Filter - I know the general rule about wanting to cycle 10x your tank size hourly. My question here becomes why do people opt for these super expensive canister filters over the 1/4 price HOB? Is it purely a visual thing? I understand some canister filters you can insert your own media, but otherwise power filters just seem to do the same thing better?
I was thinking just 2 HoB filters on either side, with some kind of power head in the middle to prevent dead zones, and attempting to hit 750 gph or 900 gph depending which tank size you guys recommend? Anything else with regards to filtration I'm missing? I have a fully cycled tank here with 2 HoB filters and my ammonia / nitrate / nitrite levels are consistently 0 across the board every time I test them with a solid PH, so it seems to be working ok. It's a smaller tank though (29 gall)

5) Heater - This one is a no brainer, just wondering if there is any particular brand you guys go for. I will most likely be using a traditional in tank heater seeing as how the in lines typically go with canister style filters.

6) Lighting that won't break the bank - I have a few questions with this. First and foremost, live plants I feel are an integral part of the tank. Not only does it make the tank that much healthier, but in my opinion it just brings things out so much more. I don't have any crazy aspirations, probably just some simple amazon / java type low / med light plants. I figure 150w should be more then sufficient (i'll likely do more research into this when I have everything on the way as far as what plants i will get) but really what I want to know is - what kind of lightning will make the *fish* look the best, while still providing adequate stimulation for the plants? I have a corallife dual t8 fixture in my 29 gallon with one 6700k bulb and one 10k bulb and the fish look noticeably better then they did with standard fluorescent (which looked noticeably better then the incandescent originally) so I've noticed first hand the difference. Primarily for me, is the best looking fish - and then I'll make it work for the plants. Just need some direction.

I have more questions, but I think that's enough for now! Plus I'm sure I'll have questions about your answers. I appreciate any help you guys can give, I want to do this right.
 

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1) I would stick with the 75, very few cichlids will use the upper half on a regular basis.

2) Personal choice, but I doubt any rocks will offset the tanins from real driftwood. You could opt for fake drift wood.

3) Many choose sand, just becareful if you use HOB filters. There is black sand available but it will result in a generally darker tank (no lighting on the underside of the fish), but if you want a bright tank vs a dark tank like you currently have you could get argonite, it's like between gravel and sand.

4) Personally choice - I prefer the low maintenance/noise of a canister filter. I rinse mine once/month, whereas the HOBs need it once/week.

5) I use in-tank heaters exclusively and have 3 tanks with canister filters. I am using the MarineLand Stealth Pro; mixed results from some folks - had mine about a year, no issues.

6) Most cichlids will eat your plants but I'm sure there are some that will work. I don't remember if the Amazon/Java will work. That being said, I've not had much luck with live plants in other tanhks. Lighting wise, that will depend on your plants and your color taste.
 

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1) 75 is a great tank size, there is no real need for the 90 except for extra water to help with water perameters, the extra height makes catching fish and maintenance slightly more difficult, but also gives vertain plants more room to grow (like val) if you're going with africans though, be aware that they tend to tare up plants, usually anubis and val are what go best

2) there is nothing that is dark, that naturally buffers the water. I have a large piece of dirftwood, pfs and river rock in my tank and the PH stays at 8.2, it really all depends on your water and type of wood

3) if you can find planted sustrate that's dark and buffers pH you need to make sure you share it with everyone, but I really don't think you're going to find the trio in one, duffering substrate is made of calcite, which is white, planted substrates tend to have flourite or laterite, and come in darker colors

4) all personal preference, to me it depends on where the tank is located, if I can hear it, I don't want an hob, if I can't, hob's are fine, but I love my canisters, I have 2 eheims, 2 renas, and one marineland canister, all on two tanks

5) I have had good luck with the hydor theos, and I own two stealths, which so far have been great. some like the titanium heaters. I love me rena heater, but really should only be used with a rena filter

6) from what I understand, the blue actinic will do nothing for your plants, but it does tend to make fish look good, I run 2 6500k on my 75 and its not bad, but there are much better bulbs out there for cichlids. though with 6500k, you can buy regular bulbs and not the higher priced aquarium bulbs for the same light
 
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