Choosing the Aquarium
There are a few things you should take into consideration when choosing an aquarium. The dimensions of the tank, the species of fish you plan to keep, species of plants you may want to keep, and the type of filtration you plan to use. The surface area is the most important factor when choosing an aquarium. Most of the oxygen that enters the water enters at the surface. An aquarium that is 36 in. Length x 12 in. Width x 18 in. Height (90cm x 30cm x 45cm) can hold about the same amount fish as one 36 L x 12 W x 36 H (90cm x 30cm x 90cm).
Fish that are territorial, set up their territory based on the surface area of the bottom or top of the aquarium. Aquariums that are long and wide are the best for heavy stocking. Octagon, hexagon and short/tall aquariums severely limit the number of species of fish you can keep. Often short tanks are only suited for small schooling fish or a pair of territorial fish.
Deep aquariums over 24 inches (60 cm) are more difficult to clean, plant, and decorate. Powerful glass cleaning magnets are usually used on deep aquariums. Deep aquariums should be considered when you plan on keeping large fish.
Aquariums that are wide (front to back) are desirable for planted tanks. Wide tanks allow a depth of field look to the aquarium. Wide tanks allow you to have foreground, middleground, and background plants and decor.
All aquariums should be leveled on the bottom, and be completely in contact with base support. Aquariums that are not level and equally supported across the bottom can break, sometimes after they have been set up for more than a year. Shimming the bottom may be necessary with wood. A ¼ inch sheet of styrofoam can also be used to distribute the weight of an uneven surface.
Glass aquariums have some advantages and disadvantages. Glass aquariums are often less than half the price of a acrylic aquarium. Glass aquariums have some disadvantages as well, they are heavy, have a green tint (unless starfire glass is used), and are not as easy to drill holes for using sump style filtration systems.
Acrylic aquariums have some advantages and disadvantages too. Acrylic aquariums are light, clearer than glass, and easy to drill holes in for the addition of an external sump style filtration systems. You can easily install internal overflow pre-filter for a sump style filtration systems or buy a tank with one already built in. Acrylic aquariums have some disadvantages as well, they scratch easily, they have a tendency to bow, and they are typically more expensive than glass. Acrylic aquariums have the option of the back plate being colored acrylic (black, or blue). For tanks that will be placed up against a wall, a colored back is desirable.
With acrylic aquarium, a tank can come with a colored acrylic sheet as a background. For glass aquariums, it is recommended that you spray paint the background on the tank before it is set up. With glass you can select any color to paint the aquarium. Black is the best color for aquarium photography. Another alternative is to silicone cork tiles to the inside of the aquarium, and attach plants to it that do not require their roots be buried in substrate.
My recommendation for choosing a tank is based mostly on the size. If the aquarium you plan to buy is over 100 gallons (380 l) you should consider acrylic, because the weight of the tank makes it difficult to move. A 125 (475 l) gallon glass tank is difficult to move for two average size men. On the other hand a 125 gallon (475 l) acrylic tank can be moved by one person.
If you plan to use a sump style filtration system, a built in overflow prefilter is much better than the hang on the back pre-filter. This is explained in more detail in the filter section of this book.
The size and shape of the aquarium should be determined by the species of fish you plan to keep. If you plan to keep an arowana you should think about buying a long tank. If you plan on keeping guppies or dwarf cichlids, a small shallow tank will do just fine.
The type of furniture you will select for the aquarium can have undesirable consequences if you do not select the correct one for your application. If you cannot find the correct furniture, you can always design and build it yourself or have a cabinet maker build it.
If you plan on using some type of sump filtration system, you will need to make sure the cabinet you choose will have access large enough to fit the filter in through the door or back. The cabinet should also provide enough room for any external equipment, and supplies you will want to store. A cabinet should be well ventilated, as excessive heat can build up from electronic equipment and transfer to the aquarium. It may be necessary to install a small fan in the cabinet to vacate heat.
If you do not plan on using a sump or canister filter, a simple aquarium stand will be sufficient. Aquarium stands often allow room for an aquarium under the main display. Stands are often used by breeders as it allows more aquariums for a given footprint. Filters can be internal, hang on the back, or a remote sump style filter.
The primary viewing height should be considered when selecting a stand or cabinet. If the aquarium is going to be primarily viewed while standing, a height of four feet (120 cm) may be an optimal height. If the primary viewing height will be from living room furniture, 24 to 30 inches (60 to 75 cm) would be adequate in most cases.
Canopies should be tall enough to allow installation of retrofit lighting system. Metal halide lights often require that they be mounted about 12 inches (30 cm) above the water surface for proper light distribution. Canopies should be well ventilated, with the addition of one or more small fans to keep excessive heat from the lights transferring to the aquarium water. Many aquariums that use a canopy often do not use a glass cover on top of the tank, as glass can filter out some light. A canopy can help keep jumping fish in the aquarium.