The way I see it there are several types of moves. The first one I will talk about is the move across the room or across town, say 1 hour drive time or less. Second we will discuss a drive of 1-6 hours, and finally the long haul.
I hope you have a good relationship with one of the local pet shops because this time they get to pay you back for all of that loyal shopping you do.
Although this seems like a good time to do some of that maintenance that you have been slacking off on, DON’T DO IT. If you like you can knock that out the week prior to the move or the week after but do not clean anything during the move. When you tear down the tank you will disrupt the bacteria responsible for processing the waster generated by the animals. Cleaning filters and such will further disrupt the delicate bacteria and could cause an ammonia problem.
For the short move I suggest that you have all of the salt water you will need to replace mixing in a container right next to the future site of your tank. It is best to get this water ready one day prior to the move. It is a good idea to change as little water as possible, in other words you will need to carry bunches of buckets. You can normally get used pickle buckets from fast food hamburger joints for little of nothing. A quick rinse and you will be fine. No, you can’t get that pickle smell out of there but it will not hurt anything other than making you hungry. If they do not have the lids you can line them with an unscented garbage bag and tie off the top to prevent splashing.
One of the most important things to consider during a move is the stress factor on the fish and corals, the animals. The first thing you need to do is get the fish out of the tank and into bags. For the move across the room you can simply put the fish in a cooler with a bit of AmQuel and close the lid. Once the fish are removed it is important to keep them in the dark as this will reduce stress. This is were the friend at the pet shop comes in. I bet they have plenty of coolers and bags they will give you. For the bigger bags expect to pay about .05 cents a piece for them.
If you have a wet/dry filter you should take the water return and route it to the top of the filter. This will allow you to keep it running off the tank.
With the livestock out of the way and in the dark you can begin to remove the decoration. I prefer to keep it wet so put it in the buckets that you will be siphoning the water into. Treat live rock the same way. Once the decoration and or live rock is out begin to siphon water into the buckets. Leave the substrate in the tank with a couple of inches of water covering it. Any biological media and filter pads should be put into the tank with the substrate and water. The sloshing will keep things aerated.
Now get outta here and get that thing set back up. First thing you need to do is get the water in and get the filters running. Next step is to get the decoration in and lastly put the livestock back. Once you get the livestock in try to let them settle in for a day before you get in there to move things around. I would leave the light off for the rest of that day. Now is a good time to clean anything that is not in contact with the water like lights and hoods.
The 1-6 hour move is pretty much the same but you will have to put pure oxygen in the bags with livestock. Once again we call on our friend at the pet shop. You have two options here. One, you can bag the fish and corals up and take them to the pet shop to get the oxygen put in the bags. Second option, my preference, Take several small balloons to the pet shop, one for each animal you must bag. Have them fill each one up with pure oxygen. When you bag your animals put a full balloon in the bag with each one. Using a knitting needle or something long and sharply pointed burst the balloon and tie the bag without letting the oxygen out. This will keep your animals safe for 12 hours. As always once the animals are bagged they must stay in the dark until you are ready to put them back in the tank. When you are ready to put the animals back into the tank you do net need to acclimate. Just open the bag and quickly remove the animal and place it in your tank. DO NOT use the water in the bag.
For the long haul you do not have many options. If you think you can make it with the animals in the bag for less than 12 hours you have got it made. You should treat any biological media and prefilters like livestock. Bag them with the oxygen just like a fish. Your best bet is to sell off your livestock and start over in your new house, besides, you will have plenty of other things to do besides tinker with your aquarium.With any move you should try to be as brisk as possible. Just move the tank, you can get to that other stuff later. Also it is a good idea to keep tabs on water quality every day for the week after. Keep some AmQuel on hand in case you get an ammonia bloom.