Main Index of Articles

Main Management Index


Please read the 'Agreement' section on the View Articles page before downloading this article.



Author: Chris Persson  
Title: The Large Home Aquarium

Summary: Chris has had various large tanks including a 9-foot-long 340 gallon aquarium which weighs two tons when filled!  He gives ten steps for success when taking on such a challenge.
Contact for editing purposes:
email: Cichlid Scene <cichlidscene@SNET.Net>

Date first published:
Publication: Wet Pet Gazette, Norwalk Aquarium Society
Reprinted from Aquarticles:
January 2003: Fish Talk, Atlanta Area Aquarium Association.
May 2003: Reproduced on Jesse B. Hunt's web site Aquarium Information Source
Fall 2003: Colorado Aquarist, Colorado Aquarium Society

Internet publication (club or non-profit web site):
1. Credit author, original publication, and Aquarticles.
2.  Link to  and original website if applicable.
3.  Advise Aquarticles

Printed publication:
Mail two printed copies to:
Norwalk Aquarium Society,
P.O. Box 84,
South Norwalk.
CT 06852
-And one copy to:
#205 - 5525 West Boulevard
Vancouver, British Columbia
V6M 3W6

The Large Home Aquarium

By Chris Persson
First Published in Wet Pet Gazette, Norwalk Aquarium Society
Chris has a website about New World cichlids:

Thinking about a large home aquarium? Even if you aren’t, there are plenty of good reasons for getting one. Perhaps you’d like to house a really big fish or two, or several aggressive fish in the same tank, or maybe you’d just like to put LOTS of little fish in one tank. Or maybe you’re an aquarist who is now ready for the challenge of setting up and maintaining a bigger aquarium.

Large aquaria have much to offer those of us "in the hobby." In addition to satisfying the space requirements of big fish, large tanks tend to offer more stable water conditions than do similarly stocked and filtered smaller tanks. And, if properly set-up and maintained, a large aquarium can be an extremely impressive addition to your home.

In the past 8 years, I have purchased, set-up, and maintained a number of large aquariums, including a 9-foot-long, 340 gallon glass aquarium. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of dealing with big tanks. I’ve moved so many heavy tanks that I’ve exhausted the goodwill of my family and friends and helped put my chiropractor’s kids through college. I’ve been to the brink of litigation with freight companies. I’ve filled, spilled, and drained water in Noachian proportions. And I’ve loved every minute of it.

Still ready for the challenge of setting up and maintaining a large home aquarium? Here then are ten steps for success:

1. Commitment

As my Grandpa always said, "If you’re going to do something, do it right … or don’t do it at all!" And while he may have neither coined that phrase nor been sober when he said it, it’s the motto by which any hobbyist looking to set up a large aquarium should live by. Before you even begin, make sure you have the backing of your spouse, significant other, and/or family; after all, these are the people who will have to share their home with a huge water-filled contraption. You also need to ensure that you’ve got the necessary financial resources to purchase a quality product. And finally, be certain that you are both prepared and determined to put substantial time and effort into this project.

2. Location

Positioning a large aquarium in your home requires a bit more forethought than with standard-sized tanks. As always, a level spot, free from direct sunlight and heavy foot traffic is required. You'll need to plan for easy access for feeding and maintenance. And, of course, you’ll want to locate the tank in a place that offers comfortable viewing for you and your guests—but remember that you need not sit as close to large aquaria as you do with smaller ones.

When selecting a site for a large home aquarium, keep in mind your sense of proportion as large tanks can easily "overwhelm" a room. Consider the possibility of an "in-the-wall" tank; this can provide a very attractive finished look to your aquarium, and also allows you to service the tank from behind the scenes.

3. Weight

Let’s state the obvious: Big tanks mean big weight. Sure, you’ve got more water than with smaller tanks, but don’t neglect the added weight from thicker glass and sturdier stands. For example, an empty 125 gallon glass tank weighs about 200 lbs., while a 300 gallon glass tank (empty) runs 1,000 lbs. or so. Water tips the scale at about 8.3 lbs. per gallon and adds up mighty quickly, as do the heavier rocks and driftwood pieces you’re likely to use in a larger tank. By my best estimate, my 340 gallon weighs somewhere in the neighborhood of 2 tons!

Big tanks are probably safest in the basement on a concrete slab. The first floor of your home can be workable as well, assuming you sufficiently shore up the supporting floor. Spare yourself unnecessary worry and labor by saving the upper floors of your home for small tanks.

4. Stand

Ready-made aquarium stands are available for pretty much any size tank up to the standard six-foot 180 gallon. Tanks larger than that almost always require that you either custom-order from a manufacturer, or build your own stand. Those of you who—like myself—are inept at matters of carpentry should consider hiring a professional to ensure the job is done right. Determine how high you want the stand to be—high enough for comfortable viewing, but not so high that the aquarium dominates the room. And finally, take the time to figure out how much room you’ll need under the tank for any equipment and accessories you plan to put there, and provide enough space for easy access.

5. H2O

We know we’re going to put water in the tank—and take some out during maintenance—so we’ve got to plan ahead. A nearby source of cold and hot water (and a drain) is a must. Although modern water change systems like the PYTHON make this less of a concern than in the past, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t consider other options. With proper planning, water lines can be run adjacent to or directly into the tank, and means for draining water can be incorporated as well. Remember, even a 25% water change on a big tank is a lot of water; imagine the convenience of turning a couple of valves to drain—and also to fill—the tank rapidly.

6. Material

Glass or Acrylic? The debate rages, and each material offers specific advantages and disadvantages. In general, acrylic is lighter than glass and more readily fashioned into unique or extra-tall shapes, but it is more expensive and somewhat more easily scratched than glass. However, some acrylic scratches can be polished out, while scratched glass is all but impossible to fix. Acrylic is supposedly "clearer" than glass, and modern acrylic tank manufacturers claim that today’s acrylics do not discolor, as did their predecessors. Personally, I will never again use glass for anything over 180 gallons, if only in consideration of weight.

7. Source

Most any retail pet shop can readily obtain glass or acrylic tanks up to 180 gallons; some stores even carry 7’ and 8’ tanks up to as much as 265g or so. Get beyond that, and you’ll be faced with one of three choices:

a. Build your own. This alternative is only available to those who are not ham-fisted like myself. Done properly, this can be the least expensive route, as you provide the labor (search the web or check out the "Manual of Tankbusters" for how to do). Just note that glass sheets are heavy and awkward, meaning you won’t be able to build a big tank without help. In addition, use care as to the type of silicone and/or sealant employed; many are not approved for aquarium use. Proceed with caution!

b. Special order via your retailer Your retailer probably has a source of his own that makes extra large tanks. This is the most convenient AND most expensive way to get a tank. You will pay thousands of dollars for tanks over 300 gallons. On the plus side, the retailer will (or should) arrange for delivery, and will also help with any problems that might arise.

c. Mail Order/Direct Purchase I have found this provides the most reasonable compromise. If you choose acrylic, there are a number of manufacturers that advertise each month in FAMA. Glass aquarium manufacturers that sell direct to the public are less common but do exist. You will definitely save money on the cost of the tank by ordering direct, but should be prepared for hidden charges such as packing, shipping crates, and freight—get these prices quoted ahead of time.

As a rough guide to cost, retailers quoted me prices exceeding $4,000 for purchase and delivery of a glass 9’ 340 gallon. Buying directly from the manufacturer cut my cost to less than half of this.

8. Transport

If you buy directly from the manufacturer they will either send the aquarium to a nearby airport or to your local freight depot. You can then arrange your own transportation and pick it up, or have the freight company deliver to your address. Note that this does not mean they will bring the tank into—or even near—your house. They’ll bring it only to the end of your driveway; you’ll still have to unload the tank and move it in. If you decide to have the freight line deliver you should be aware that these companies are notorious for not showing when promised; I prefer to go to their depot (with my own movers) and get the tank myself.

9. Moving

Once it’s at your house, you’ll need help getting the aquarium inside. Tanks up to 55 gallons or so can more or less be handled by one person—although I confess to once moving a 125 gallon solo, using a SUV, a trio of sawhorses, and absolutely no common sense—but larger tanks require assistance. Getting family members or friends to help out may be an option, but once you’re moving a tank heavier than a couple of hundred pounds you’re going to need friends that are either very understanding or very strong. Larger glass tanks may require professional help—I wound up hiring eight movers to get my 340 gallon into my house.

Plan ahead! Moving a large tank may require twisting and turning to get around corners and deal with the various angles created by doorways and stairwells. Stories abound of hobbyists who wound up having to remove windows or doors in the process. Inter-American Pet Supply even told me of a customer who took delivery of an 8’ x 3’ x 3’ aquarium only to then find he could not get it into his house! So, measure twice, cut once…

10. Filtration

A wide array of options exists for filtering the large tank. Although you could strap on a bunch of outside power filters or canisters and get the job done, I’ve found though that a better option is to order the tank "reef-ready." What’s reef ready? The tank comes pre-drilled with several holes and an overflow box which are plumbed to a second smaller "sump" tank, which contains a trickle filter or other filtration process. Water pumps are used to circulate the tank water between your main tank and the sump via PVC pipe or flexible tubing.

This may sound complicated, but plumbing an aquarium is less complex than installing a faucet or toilet. Just be sure to allow a few days for all glue and sealant to cure before filling with water and adding fish.

This plumbed system works great; it permits easy access to the filter media, and allows you to put heaters, filter intakes and such in the sump and out of sight—as well as out of reach of large fish. The water pumps used in such a system are very powerful and provide excellent turnover of tank volume. And since there are no filters hanging off the back of the tank, you can push the aquarium flat against a wall. Sumps also have room for you to add other fancy stuff, like a fluidized bed filter or UV sterilizer, should you so desire.


Once the tank is set-up, filled, decorated and cycled, you’re ready to add fish, sit back and enjoy … and think about the even BIGGER aquarium you’re going to tackle next time!

See also: Aquarticles/Salt Water/ Considerations for Buying a Large Tank, by Rex Niedemeyer