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Fish Tanks: Which one do I choose?

The fish-keeping hobby has taken enormous strides over the last ten years, from simple and plain metal-frames fish tanks in black plastic covered frames to the very attractive bow-fronted acrylic aquariums and wood-effect cabinets of today.

This guide is aimed at setting up a medium or large aquarium and the considerations that need to be addressed. It aims to help the inexperienced or beginner at fish-keeping, but will also contain valuable information for the more experienced.

So, with the huge range available, which one should I choose?

This is a question that can lead to big mistakes and huge costs if you get it wrong! Firstly, what do you want in the way of an aquarium? Things to consider are:

* how much you can afford to spend, * The space available, * The type of fish you want to keep, * The eventual size of those fish, * Whether the aquarium will be on it’s own stand or on that favourite unit in the corner, * Availability of power outlets, * The type of floor, * How much time you can devote to the hobby.

Let’s look at the reasons for the above questions:

How much you can afford to spend:

The number one question in any project. What is the most that you can comfortably set aside for this project? Don’t forget that in pricing up a fish tank, you need to allow for filters, lighting, décor, substrate, plants, air pumps and lots of other little things called fish, that all add up to the eventual cost. If you spend too much on the initial purchase of the fish tank, you might find it sitting in the corner of your room, empty or partially set up, waiting for more money to be spent!

The space available:

There is no point in buying a large, fancy fish tank if you haven’t got the room for it! The same works in reverse. A small fish tank will look silly in a large space! You need to plan carefully and buy the largest tank that you can afford for the space available. When I say “afford”, don’t forget to take into consideration the additional equipment that you will need to buy as well!

The type of fish you want to keep:

Here again, there is a vast choice of fresh-water or marine fish available. Consider the combinations that you can have in your fish tank, research the fish and check their behaviour profile to make sure that you don’t buy aggressive fish to mix with placid ones.

The eventual size of those fish:

A rule that many aquarists use for stocking levels in aquariums is 1” of fish per gallon of water. This refers to the adult size of the fish, not the size when you buy them! It is incredibly easy to overstock your fish tank when you start, because it looks so empty with just a few small fish in there. But 6 months down the road, when those little fish have grown to adult size you start losing them because the tank isn’t big enough!

Whether the aquarium will be on its own stand or on that favourite unit in the corner:

This is where you can save money if you need to, with care. A free-standing aquarium with its own cabinet looks very nice, is self-contained, with room under the tank for filters and accessories, usually has its own lighting already built in and sometimes comes with all the necessary equipment to get it running. That sounds very attractive, but it’s supposed to. It’s also very expensive! You get what you pay for in this life and very little comes cheap! If money is a governing factor, and it usually is, then you need to weigh up the cost of this type of unit carefully.

You may be better off to look down the DIY road, if you are inclined to carpentry, as the cost is much less and the effect can be as good as you make it. There’s also the satisfaction factor in DIY, as there is no better feeling than to stand back and admire your own creation!

If you are looking to use existing furniture to support the fish tank, then you need to look at how strong the furniture is and whether it will need additional support. A fish tank full of water is heavy. The basic calculation is one litre of water to one kilo in weight. Most household furniture is not designed to withstand this type of use, so take a look at the unit you intend to use and examine the construction. If it is made of compressed board or chipboard, the chances are it will fail under the weight of the tank. Many pieces of modern furniture are constructed for looks, not strength, and to add additional support under the top may not be aesthetically pleasing, may de-value the unit and ultimately spoil it completely. This may well change your plans for that unit!

Availability of power outlets:

Setting up a fish tank requires certain electrical outlets to be available. Although the tank doesn’t demand a lot of power, you don’t want to be tripping over the wires where you are running an extension lead across the doorway! So the positioning of the aquarium needs to be with consideration to the available outlets for the power supply. The outlet should ideally be beside or in close proximity to, not behind the tank. Electricity and water do not mix well! You will also need several outlets for the various pieces of equipment involved. You will have lighting and filter as a basic minimum, air pump, UVC and other equipment as options.

The type of floor:

Do you live in a house with wooden floors? If you do, be advised that weight distribution is very important! If the fish tank is upstairs, then it’s even more important! You need to make sure that the weight is spread across the support joists, not running along them. This may mean that you have to change your plans to put the tank on another wall.

How much time you can devote to the hobby:

Keeping fish can be very time-consuming! Most aquarists will confirm that they spend a lot more time looking after their fish than they expected to. So you need to set aside time to look after this fish tank once it’s been set up. It’s not just a matter of feeding the fish every so often and sitting back! The tank needs regular cleaning, water changes and the filter will need to be cleaned every so often too. You will have to check the water quality periodically and take measures according to the results. You will need to check that the fish are healthy and have medications to hand in the event of disease or illness affecting them. If you keep real plants, they need to be tended once in a while, and pruned, trimmed, dead leaves and stems removed…… How much time does it need?

That covers the first stage of buying your fish tank. Now, the answers you come up with to the above questions will have given you an insight into what you are about to embark on.

The next thing that you should do, is to read all you can about how to set up and maintain a fish tank, what type of filter/s to use, the type of substrate, plants and so on to go in there. I would never consider buying a fish tank without all the guideline costs worked out, at least!

Here is some further reading that should be done, so that you have a good idea of what’s involved:

The Essential Nitrogen Cycle Water Chemistry The Purpose of an Aquarium Filter Why have a Planted Tank?

Still want to buy that aquarium? At least you aren’t going in blind now! This guide should have high-lighted the important things that should be considered before you buy your fish tank. It is not designed to detract you from the idea, more to help you make an informed decision and hopefully save you making expensive mistakes.

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