Until recently, if you wanted a neat cover for your open-topped rimless tank, options were few and far between. Even the easiest solution involved a fair amount of DIY to end-up with a usable product. Given the never-ending stories of people losing fish through them jumping out of uncovered aquaria, we probably weren’t the only ones that thought it bizarre that none of the tank manufacturers provided their own solution to fit their standard sizes on offer. Thankfully it now seems that a few of the larger companies are taking notice and offering “off the shelf” solutions (see our AquaTelford trade show report in the last issue). Furthermore, in a shining example of the entrepreneurial activity that can be generated by the hobby, a specialist UK provider is now offering genuinely stunning bespoke covers as a premium option for uncompromising reefers!
Based in Ipswich, Suffolk, ReefTops is the creation of Managing Director Mark Vince. Mark explains what led to him set up the company; “I actually started out by exploring another avenue in a totally different hobby which lead me to build a CNC machine. I had no experience in CAD files or G-codes or anything to do with what the CNC needs to run. A good friend of mine, Chris Mooney, approached me and asked if I could make him a top for his marine tank as he knew I had the CNC machine, so I set out to get him one designed and built. This took a lot of research, trial and error, and long nights and early mornings to get it to the point where I was happy with it. Chris was very patient and once it was complete he was very pleased with the outcome. That night he put a few pictures up of his new ‘reeftop’ on Facebook and from that night people have just gone crazy for them. There’s been a couple of times where I’ve thought to myself ‘can I do this?’ and it hasn’t been easy to get to the point to where I am today”.
So, what makes these covers so desirable you may ask. Mark explains “the reeftops I make are made from polycarbonate, not acrylic, and are all custom-made to fit the customer’s needs. Polycarbonate is a soft plastic and has more ‘play’ to it which allows it to flex or even be smashed with a hammer without breaking. It also keeps its shape very well, to the point where it can bend right in half with both ends touching and it will still spring back to its normal shape. The mesh is held in with a silicone 3mm tube which is very strong and can be pulled nice and taught to remove all the creases and you get the fine straight lines which sets the tops off. With a reeftop you don’t get a top for a few weeks or months, you get a top for life whilst not taking away that rimless look to the tank which a lot of us like. There is no building the top yourself as they come fully assembled and ready to go straight on the tank. There is no metal involved so there is no risk of any alloy leaching in to the water column. Finally, I do everything I can to make my customers happy. It’s been a hard 12 months so far but there’s a lot more to come. Watch this space!”.
Having used a generic DIY kit on a previous system, we were keen to test this high-end option not least because, in addition to the security it adds for our livestock, it really does look fantastic and sets-off our rimless test tank (a Red Sea REEFER XXL 625) beautifully. Delivered in perfect condition, installing this item was relatively easy although take note that you’ll need to wipe down the tank’s glass rim to absorb any water first, as close fit of the supporting ledge will make even the tiniest droplet of water spread out and affect the look. In reality we found this easy to achieve and once wiped no more water invaded this space. We did find that the underside of the unit soon developed condensation, and over the course of a week or two, surface residues did slowly accumulate. This necessitated removal of the cover occasionally and in doing this we found that it was difficult not to get condensation droplets from the cover on the floor. After a couple of attempts we worked out a system with a towel and were able to minimise any ‘dribbles’. There is a fair amount of flex in the cover also (as Chris explains), and while this isn’t apparent or a problem when the cover is in place, it does mean that you need to be quite careful when removing or replacing the cover as it can be easy to snag the mesh on the corner of the tank, or dip part of the cover in the water before it is supported on all sides. Doing so isn’t a major issue but perhaps something that only personal use of the item will show. To be honest it’s more about developing a ‘knack’ for performing this kind of maintenance… we’d say that this lid is slightly higher maintenance than the DIY options we’ve used though. Of course, shorter covers are going to be easier to handle.
Beyond such minor observations, the item functions perfectly and completely seals our test aquarium. The precision of the fit really is very impressive and not something we think can be achieved with other systems to date. Communicating our needs to ReefTops was also great and we opted for a cut-out with cover over the top of the rear central weir on our system to allow for easy access, and a central feeding port in the front centre. Of course, additional ports can be added and it is well worth considering extras as we found that target feeding corals at the ends of the tank was quite difficult with just a centre feeding port, even with a long pipette. The diameter of the mesh does allow for a length of rigid acrylic pipe to be ‘poked-through’ but take note that this needs to be in the region of 5mm outside diameter to fit through the mesh (so quite a narrow bore). There’s always a risk that you might damage the mesh if doing this too, so as said, consider multiple feeding ports if your tank is say 4 feet long or more. Cable ports are also an option and we added one in each rear corner for the cables from our Tunze 6105s.
A final point is the price and yes, the expertise and specialist equipment involved in creating such an option makes it a lot more expensive than the generic, off-the-shelf kits offered by some of the other players. You can expect to pay anywhere from £100 – 350 depending on tank size and ‘extras’. That said, even with the extra maintenance involved for larger tops, we think reeftops are the clear premium option for the reef-keeper who wants the best and has the resources. They are definitely ‘a cut above the competition’ and well worth the stylish security they provide for your treasured fish collection.
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