Checklist - Part 1:
Tanks and Stands
Now that you have worked on your game plan,
it is time to begin working the first part of our checklist.
In this month's article we are going to discuss the aquarium,
the aquarium stand and its location. While you would think
that it would be a simple to choose an aquarium and stand,
there are many things to consider before doing so.
While choosing an aquarium sounds simple,
there are many different choices available to the reef hobbyist
today. Aquariums which come in all shapes and sizes, that
can fit into almost any space, and fit the needs of the most
demanding hobbyist, are only a short drive or a phone call
away. Because of this, we need to ensure that the aquarium
will not only fit our needs but also the needs of the animals
that we wish to keep.
The most common suggestion is to start
with the largest aquarium that you can afford which will fit
in the available space. I agree, and I have found that no
matter how much I upgrade, I still always wish for a larger
aquarium. Once I have a larger aquarium, I soon wish for a
larger house and then the vicious cycle starts again.
While there are many successful small reef
aquarium keepers, it is easier to start with a larger aquarium
for the following reasons:
Stability - A larger aquarium will
be more stable than a smaller aquarium. The salt content or
specific gravity will not deviate as much in a larger aquarium,
due to evaporation, as it will in a smaller aquarium. For
example, a gallon of evaporation on a 10-gallon aquarium will
have a much larger impact on the specific gravity when compared
to 5 gallons of evaporation on a 100-gallon aquarium. Another
area where stability is important is related to aquarium temperature.
In a larger aquarium the amount of overheating or heat loss
will be less than the amount in a smaller aquarium. Larger
volumes of water are much better at holding aquarium temperatures
constant than a smaller volume of water.
Dilution - A larger aquarium will
absorb mistakes or fish losses easier than a smaller aquarium.
If a smaller aquarium is overfed or an animal is lost, the
impact on the aquarium will be greater than that on a larger
aquarium. If an animal dies in a smaller aquarium it will
have a larger impact on the filtration and overall water quality
than an animal dying in a larger aquarium. Because of its
ability to dilute waste or other water quality issues, the
larger volume of water allows some margin for error. For example,
if a two-inch fish dies in a 20-gallon aquarium, it will impact
the water quality much more than if the same size fish dies
in a 50-gallon aquarium.
A larger aquarium provides you with more
choices for aquarium inhabitants - I have witnessed more mistakes
in this particular area than almost any area of the hobby.
Many new reef keepers, including myself, have a tendency to
overload smaller aquariums with fish. Many of us start out
with the intention of having only a few fish in a small aquarium,
but end up adding too many fish and overloading the filtration
system. Another added benefit of a larger aquarium, as long
as the proper fish are chosen, is the fish have more room
to define a territory and less of a chance of aggression against
each other. For those that are new to the hobby, territoriality
relates to the amount of space that a certain fish requires
to remain healthy. Fish such as tangs, damsels or even clownfish
require a certain amount of space where no other animals of
the same species reside. The most common mistake is keeping
two or more of the same species of territorial fish together,
where these fish will often fight until the weakest animal
dies. This is not to say that all same species of fish cannot
be kept together in the same tank, but choose fish carefully
when considering doing so.
Aquariums that are tall, while visually appealing to some,
have issues as far as lighting and swimming space is concerned.
Depending upon the types of light-loving corals that you wish
to keep, you need to take into consideration the amount of
light needed to keep them healthy and thriving. As an example,
a reef keeper that wishes to keep SPS type corals and clams
near the bottom will need an intense, high-powered lighting
system for a taller aquarium, whereas less would be required
over a shorter aquarium. An aquarium that is larger than 24
to 30 inches will require very strong lighting if high light-loving
animals are going to be kept in the bottom half of the aquarium.
One other thing to take in to account if you are going to
use a deep sand bed for substrate, is that you can purchase
a taller aquarium because the sand bed will allow the animals
to be closer to the light. In simple terms, a 30-inch tall
aquarium is only 24 inches tall with a 6 inch deep sand bed
in place. A deep sand bed creates a shorter distance from
bottom to top. The other height issue to bear in mind when
purchasing and aquarium is that fish normally swim back and
forth, not up and down. Finally, you need to consider the
depth of the aquarium versus the length of your arms. If the
aquarium is too tall, when placed on a stand, it can be very
difficult to reach to the bottom for maintenance, or to clean
The length of the aquarium will impact the amount of swimming
space available for fish and will limit the types of larger
reef fish that can be kept. A two-foot long aquarium will
not keep active swimmers very happy which can lead to aggressiveness
or other issues with aquarium inhabitants. While there are
fish that will be fine in a narrow aquarium, make sure that
you research their needs first before purchasing the wrong
The width of the aquarium is another issue that should be
taken into consideration. The front- to- back dimensions will
impact the amount of room for aquascaping and visual viewing
depth. While an aquarium that is 12 inches wide will accommodate
a nice aqauscaping scheme, an aquarium that is 18 inches wide
will give a deeper visual impact. While an extra six inches
of space does not seem like a large amount of space, it will
allow for a more realistic rock structure and more space for
corals. For example, complaints are often heard from owners
of 55 gallon aquariums because the available width does not
allow for the aquascaping plan they had intended to use. I
have found that a wider aquarium offers more stability when
placed on carpeting. The larger footprint helps ensure that
the aquarium will be less susceptible to tipping.
The overall length, width and height of
the aquarium will also affect the amount of oxygen available
to the aquarium inhabitants. The surface area of a longer,
wider aquarium will allow more oxygen to be available to the
aquarium inhabitants than an aquarium which is shorter and
narrower. The larger air/surface interface will allow for
more available oxygen in the water in a longer, wider aquarium.
I am not suggesting that you run out and
purchase a 200-gallon aquarium. However, I do suggest that
you use the game plan that you created last month, to help
you choose the best aquarium for the animals that you wish
to keep. A nice starter size aquarium that will allow for
a good combination of fish, equipment, oxygenation and visual
appeal is the standard 40-gallon breeder aquarium. The aquarium
dimensions are 3 feet in length, by 18 inches in width and
20 inches in height. The next size that I would recommend
for a larger starter aquarium is the 75-gallon, which has
dimensions of 4 feet in length, by 18 inches in width and
20 inches in height. A taller aquarium can be used if you
are going to utilize a deep sand bed for your substrate.
Included below is a chart of common aquarium
sizes and dimensions:
Size in gallons
Available in Acrylic
L" x W" x H"
Acrylic or Glass
36 x 12 x 16
Glass - breeder tank
36 x 18 x 12
36 x 15 x 16
Glass - breeder tank
36 x 18x 16
Acrylic or Glass
48 x 13 x 20
Acrylic or Glass
48 x 18 x 20
Acrylic or Glass
48 x 24 x 24
72 x 18 x 20
72 x 18 x 22
72 x 18 x 24
72 x 24 x 24
96 x 24 x 20
*(Above information provided by All-Glass
Aquarium and Tenecor
Glass or acrylic? The most commonly available
aquariums are normally made of glass or acrylic. The advantages
and disadvantages of both types of aquariums are as follows.
Advantages of a Glass Aquarium:
Glass aquariums cost less than acrylic
aquariums. Because glass aquariums are so common and widely
available they normally cost much less than their acrylic
counterparts. An All Glass Aquarium 40 gallon breeder aquarium
has a cost of approximately $80.00(US) whereas the same size
aquarium in acrylic has a cost of approximately $250.00(US).
Glass aquariums are available in many common
sizes. In almost any local fish store or pet shop you will
find a very large selection of different sized glass aquariums.
Glass aquariums are more resistant to scratches
than acrylic. While a glass aquarium can be scratched, it
is much harder to scratch a glass aquarium than an acrylic
aquarium. You can use a razor blade or abrasive scrapers to
clean a glass aquarium whereas the same tools used on an acrylic
aquarium would be disastrous.
Disadvantages of a Glass Aquarium:
Glass aquariums are heavy. A 90-gallon
glass aquarium has an empty weight of 160 pounds where an
acrylic aquarium will weight of approximately 80 pounds. The
weights can vary depending upon the thickness of the glass
or acrylic used to manufacture the aquarium.
Glass aquariums are more susceptible to
leaks and breakage. The seams are more susceptible to leaks
because they are bound together with silicone whereas acrylic
has a molecular bond, which is said to be five times stronger.
An accidental bump with a blunt object or an object thrown
into a glass aquarium could be disastrous. Many of the larger,
thicker glass aquariums can handle these accidents but can
still be broken.
Glass aquariums seams are more visible
and susceptible to failure. The seams, where the glass is
joined, are more visible and normally have an annoying green
tint. Many used aquariums are also susceptible to silicone
dry rot. If a used glass aquarium is left empty for a long
period of time the silicone which bonds the seams together
can dry out and become brittle. Also, if any medication is
used, there is a strong chance that the silicone will discolor
and take on a blue tint.
Advantages of Acrylic Aquariums:
Acrylic aquariums are available in almost
any shape and size. Unlike glass, acrylic aquariums can be
made into circular shapes, tube shapes and all of the other
common shapes that are not offered in glass.
Acrylic aquariums are visibly clearer than
glass aquariums. Glass aquariums, especially thick glass,
have a tendency to distort the view of the inhabitants. Most
acrylic does not have the common green tint that is normally
associated with standard glass aquariums. Acrylic may still
have color, and this should be taken in to consideration when
purchasing your tank.
Acrylic aquariums are much lighter than
glass aquariums. As specified under glass aquarium disadvantages,
the weight of an acrylic aquarium is half that of an aquarium
made of glass.
Acrylic aquariums are stronger than glass
aquariums. Even though an acrylic
aquarium can be broken, they can withstand accidents and mistakes
better than glass.
Acrylic aquariums are better insulators
than glass. An acrylic aquarium will hold the water temperature
easier than a glass aquarium. The ambient room temperature
will not have as large of an impact on an acrylic aquarium
as it will on a glass aquarium.
Acrylic can be refinished. Unlike glass, if acrylic is scratched,
it can be repaired. Kits are available that will allow scratches
to be polished out of acrylic. With glass aquariums, once
they are scratched, they are scratched for life.
Acrylic aquariums are easier to drill than glass aquariums.
While you can purchase drilled glass aquariums, there is always
a greater risk of breakage during drilling compared to an
Disadvantages of Acrylic Aquariums:
Acrylic aquariums cost much more than glass
aquariums. While the cost of acrylic aquariums have come down
one can expect to pay almost double the cost for an acrylic
aquarium when compared to glass. Because of manufacturing
costs and limited availability the cost is more than glass
Acrylic aquariums are less commonly available.
Many local fish stores stock only a few sizes of acrylic aquariums,
if any. As an example, the LFS near my house has four different
sized acrylic aquariums in stock and nearly 30 different sized
Acrylic aquariums may significantly deform
when full of water, causing bowing of the edges and deformation
of the sides. Additionally acrylic aquariums need to be supported
completely across the bottom; metal stands which support aquariums
only on the edges need to have a piece of plywood or other
support completely across the bottom of the tank.
Whether you choose glass or acrylic, as long as you stick
to high quality brands with good warranties, you should have
many years of enjoyment from your aquarium. I have used glass
aquariums since I started in this hobby and have been happy
with the results but since I am going to be setting up a 200
plus gallon aquarium, this time, I am going to use acrylic
because of the reduced weight and better visual clarity.
Drilled or UN-drilled Aquariums
Most aquariums, both acrylic and glass,
can be ordered with drilled holes for overflows and water
returns. While a hang-on type overflow can be used on un-drilled
aquariums, many hobbyists opt for the drilled overflows. One
thing to remember if you plan on drilling your glass aquarium
on a later date is to make sure that it does not have tempered
glass panels. Tempered glass is not drillable. While acrylic
is easier to drill, you should only drill it yourself if you
are certain that you can do it, otherwise give that task to
someone with experience. We will discuss overflows in a future
There are many different types of commercial
stands and other stand options available to the reef hobbyist.
For most of the common size aquariums there is a stand available
from the same manufacturer of the aquarium. There is also
the option of using a good, sturdy piece of furniture or building
your own stand, but the aquarium manufacturer may have certain
stand requirements when it comes to honoring warranties.
Most, if not all, of the aquarium manufacturers
offer stands that are made to specifically fit the aquariums
that they manufacture. Many of these stands also come in a
variety of colors and materials to match everyone's taste
and décor. Oak, walnut, pine, and acrylic are just
some of the materials that are offered by certain aquarium
Another consideration when purchasing a
stand is the amount of room available for equipment beneath
the aquarium. Large door openings and plentiful space go a
long way in helping to hide the amount of equipment associated
with some reef aquariums. If you plan on keeping your filtration,
skimmer, sump, refugium and lighting ballast's under the aquarium
you need to have enough room not only to hold all of the equipment
but also room to work on and maintain it.
The height of the stand will also impact
your viewing enjoyment. Ask yourself if you are going to be
spending most of your viewing time while standing or sitting,
and choose your stand based on your answer to that question.
Most standard sized stands are built for viewing while sitting
down. Viewing the aquarium while standing is possible, but
it will be much less enjoyable if you need to lean over every
time you want to look at your aquarium.
There are custom and Do It Yourself options
available to the reef keeper. If you are handy with woodworking
or cabinet making you have the option of building your own
Central has a large section dedicated to DIY projects
that might be helpful. You can also inquire around your neighborhood
for carpenters or cabinetmakers that build stands specifically
for aquariums. Take in to consideration that that using a
stand not manufactured by the aquarium manufacturer can shorten
or void the warranty of the aquarium against breakage. Make
certain that you research and follow the aquarium manufacturers
recommendations when using or building your own custom stand.
Another option is to have your aquarium
built into a wall. Many reef keepers build their aquariums
into the walls of their homes or even use them as room dividers.
While this installation has an excellent visual effect, it
will impact the work that needs to be done when selling your
home unless you intend to sell your aquarium with the home.
Aquarium location is another very important
aspect that should be taken into consideration when choosing
the size and dimensions of the aquarium. Some of the main
considerations in aquarium placement are the following:
The aquarium should be located in an area
where maintenance can be performed. If you own an expensive
rug or hard wood floor you need to expect water to be spilled
on to it, no matter how careful you might be. Simple things
like water changes or skimmer cleaning can easily cause a
big stain on a carpet. Also, unforeseen problems such as a
plugged overflow, cracked aquarium or spilling your water
change bucket can ruin a rug or hardwood floor very easily.
This is one area where a good shopvac and a supply of clean
towels will come in handy.
The aquarium should also be located in
an area where you can view it easily. If you go through all
the work of setting up an aquarium but you have to view it
through an obstruction or keep it in a room where you do not
have space for a comfortable chair I would not even consider
setting it up. As an example, I have my two largest aquariums
in my family room where I spend 95% of my time at home. As
I am typing this article, I am sitting on my couch with my
90 gallon aquarium only five feet away from me in full view
and my 75 gallon aquarium another 12 feet away from me on
the other side of the room. I have found that I have a tendency
to neglect my other three aquariums because they are in different
rooms of the house. While the 20 gallon reef aquarium in my
home office does get a fair share of attention, my 55 gallon
reef and 38 gallon freshwater aquarium only get attention
for feeding and normal maintenance. While having a dedicated
space for your aquarium can be enjoyable make sure that you
will want to be in that area more often than not.
Make certain that you have a sturdy structure
that will support the weight of your aquarium. Since saltwater
weighs approximately 8 pounds per gallon, you need to ensure
that your floor will hold the weight of the aquarium and related
items. A 75-gallon aquarium with water, live rock, substrate,
equipment, aquarium and stand can easily weigh over 900 pounds.
While this is normally not a huge consideration in newer,
well built homes or older, solid homes you need to ensure
that that aquarium will not come crashing through the floor
into the area below. One thing to take into consideration
is the type of carpet that the aquarium might sit upon. I
have found that thick carpet can make an aquarium unstable
and increase the possibility of it tipping over.
Another consideration for location is,
will there be small children or pets near the aquarium. A
small child can drown in a small amount of water and you need
to ensure that there is not chance of them being hurt or killed
by falling into the aquarium or tipping it over. Small children
can unintentionally poison the aquarium by putting common
household chemicals or certain foods into the aquarium. Pets
can also cause problems if the aquarium is located in an area
where they have access. Cats like to climb on the aquarium
top and have the chance of falling in to the aquarium. Dogs
can also drink aquarium water or other chemicals around the
aquarium that can be hazardous to their health.
Make certain that the aquarium will not
be subjected to noxious odors from chemicals or auto exhaust
fumes if your aquarium is near the garage. Some hobbyists
keep aquariums in the kitchen, utility room or even built
in to the garage. Certain fumes and odors can degrade water
quality and even kill animals if the concentration is too
Aquarium placement around windows should
also be done with caution. The sunlight from a window can
add to the amount of unwanted algae growth in the aquarium.
While many people use shades or blinds on their windows this
may not be a problem but it is something that should be taken
in to account when placing the aquarium. . As an example,
a fellow aquarist has a 300 gallon fish only aquarium placed
in an area of his home where the windows span floor to ceiling.
He asked why he was having so many problems with algae and
then realized that his aquarium was getting direct sunlight
for four to six hours each day. Another issue with placing
the aquarium near a window, is the amount of heat created
by the sun beating down on the aquarium for hours each day.
Lastly, an aquarium should not be placed
in an area where the foot traffic is high. An area where people
are often moving back and forth can stress certain fish and
cause them to hide. As you notice at most local fish stores
many fish will hide when people walk past or get close to
the aquariums. Fast movements or vibrations from people walking
past the aquarium can cause many fish to seek shelter in the
A little common sense will go a long way in deciding the location
for your reef aquarium.
Try to purchase the largest aquarium possible,
based on your ability to maintain it and your budget. Choose
the proper aquarium dimensions based on the animals and type
of ecosystem that you are trying to create. Pick the best
choice of aquarium materials, glass or acrylic, based on your
needs and the environment that it is going to be placed in.
Lastly, choose a location that will allow you the most enjoyable
view, but also allow the best environment for the animals
that you wish to to keep.