The Large Home Aquarium
By Chris Persson
First Published in Wet Pet Gazette, Norwalk Aquarium Society
Chris has a website about New World cichlids: http://www.cichlidscene.com
Thinking about a large home aquarium? Even if you arent, there are plenty of good
reasons for getting one. Perhaps youd like to house a really big fish or two, or
several aggressive fish in the same tank, or maybe youd just like to put LOTS of
little fish in one tank. Or maybe youre 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. Ive seen the good,
the bad, and the ugly of dealing with big tanks. Ive moved so many heavy tanks that
Ive exhausted the goodwill of my family and friends and helped put my
chiropractors kids through college. Ive been to the brink of litigation with
freight companies. Ive filled, spilled, and drained water in Noachian proportions.
And Ive 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:
As my Grandpa always said, "If youre going to do something, do it right
or dont do it at all!" And while he may have neither coined that phrase
nor been sober when he said it, its 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 youve 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.
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, youll want to locate the tank in a place that offers comfortable viewing
for you and your guestsbut 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.
Lets state the obvious: Big tanks mean big weight. Sure, youve got more
water than with smaller tanks, but dont 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 youre 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.
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 wholike
myselfare 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 behigh 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 youll need under the tank for any
equipment and accessories you plan to put there, and provide enough space for easy access.
We know were going to put water in the tankand take some out during
maintenanceso weve 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 doesnt mean we shouldnt 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 drainand also to fillthe tank rapidly.
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 todays 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.
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 youll 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 wont 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
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
freightget 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.
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 intoor even nearyour house.
Theyll bring it only to the end of your driveway; youll 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.
Once its at your house, youll need help getting the aquarium inside. Tanks
up to 55 gallons or so can more or less be handled by one personalthough I confess
to once moving a 125 gallon solo, using a SUV, a trio of sawhorses, and absolutely no
common sensebut larger tanks require assistance. Getting family members or friends
to help out may be an option, but once youre moving a tank heavier than a couple of
hundred pounds youre going to need friends that are either very understanding or
very strong. Larger glass tanks may require professional helpI 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
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, Ive found
though that a better option is to order the tank "reef-ready." Whats 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 sightas 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
Once the tank is set-up, filled, decorated and cycled, youre ready to add fish,
sit back and enjoy
and think about the even BIGGER aquarium youre going to
tackle next time!