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What Aquarium Should You Buy!?

Deciding what aquarium to get and where to put it can be one of the most challenging parts for a saltwater aquarium beginner! This week we are going to cover the basics of what an aquarium is, where you should put it, how much you should expect to pay, and other things you should consider. We want to make sure you don’t forget anything important in the planning of your saltwater aquarium setup.

Because this topic can be a bit longer than our previous topics, we decided to divide it into two videos! We don’t want you to get overwhelmed with a long video, and it gives you time to process the information. The article will cover everything but we highly suggest re-reading it! Hopefully you take the time to think about everything covered in here, it always helps to plan slowly and thoroughly! 

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Table of Contents

This Week's Video (part 1)

This Week's Video (part 2) Coming Soon!

What is an Aquarium? Glass vs Acrylic!

An aquarium is basically a container that holds water, and is made out of some material that is safe for the things living within. Most saltwater aquariums or are made of glass or acrylic, with glass being more common. There are other “tub” style aquariums that people may use for quarantine, a pond, or some other purpose where a top down view is all they want or need. 

So why get a glass or acrylic saltwater aquarium? Well, simply because they are transparent and you can view the inside of your saltwater aquarium from multiple angles. Now you have the choice between glass and acrylic, which one is best for you?

It is more than likely you will get a glass aquarium, simply because these are cheaper, more common, and generally less of a hassle. While you can find hobbyists with an acrylic aquarium, it is really a more specialized material for more unique aquarium builds. 

The major advantages an acrylic aquarium has over glass is that it weighs less, is more clear, and can come in custom shapes. However, it is more expensive, can scratch more easily, and deteriorates faster. The price has also made it much less common to even see one for sale, but if you still decide you want one, you can find one pretty quickly or have someone make one for you! 

Aquarium Shapes, Sizes, and More!

Even though most of the aquarium available are made of glass, there are still various shapes and styles!

The most common shape is either rectangular or cubed. There are also aquariums with curved front glass, either a bowfront or a corner aquarium. However, the latter shapes are out of fashion at the moment and can have some annoying features like distortion. A cube or rectangular aquarium almost always looks better and is easier to work with!

After shapes, the next thing to think about is the style of your saltwater aquarium. These styles include:

  1. “Reef Ready”- This an aquarium that already has holes drilled into it or even a pre-installed overflow for plumbing into the sump. If the aquarium is not reef ready, you’ll have to do it yourself or find some sort of work around.
  2. All-in-One (AIO)- This style of aquarium does not rely on a sump, but instead it has a sectioned off area within the aquarium for filtration. The name is misleading because an AIO aquarium usually does not actually have everything you need, but it certainly is more beginner friendly. 
  3. Rimmed- Mostly found in cheaper aquariums from Petco or PetSmart, using a plastic rim on the top and bottom. Also common to see on really large aquariums over 200 gallons. 
  4. Eurobraced- The modern alternative to a plastic rim, thin glass pieces at the top of the aquarium that give a sleek look but offer more structural integrity than rimless aquariums.
  5. Rimless- The most popular style currently, with a modern aesthetic that makes it possible to use an aquarium as piece of interior decoration!
  6. Peninsula- A rectangular aquarium with a short end against the wall, allowing you to view it from both long sides. Can even be used as a partial room divider, such as dividing the kitchen from living room. 
  7. Frag- Mostly a “frag tank”  is long but shallow, sometimes even just a tub made out of plastic. These are used to grow out corals for sale or keep them in quarantine, more for functional instead of aesthetic purposes.
  8. Lagoon- An aquarium that is usually more shallow but also wider or deeper. Allows for better light penetration, emergent elements like mangrove trees or exposed rock, and for viewing from the top! 
  9. Drop off- As the name suggests, this style has a second level that mimics a cliff, like the edge of a wild coral reef.

The last thing to consider is the size of an aquarium. A good range of sizes is somewhere between 30-100 gallons. This is because smaller aquariums offer less stability, less room for mistakes, and literally less room for livestock. While it is tempting, we highly discourage beginners getting smaller aquariums!

At the same time, larger aquariums come with more costs. As well, a larger aquarium requires you to consider extra things that you don’t need to worry about as much with smaller aquariums. 

You can certainly go higher or lower, and in the second half of this article we will go over all the things you should consider to help you make your decision. 

Innovative Marine NUVO Concept Dropoff Tank
Waterbox Silver Marine Tank and Stand

What Should You Consider Before Buying an Aquarium?

Where Do You Want to Put Your Aquarium?

Where you decide to put your aquarium is a more important decision than you may think. Firstly, are you going to use a dedicated stand or not? Generally, you can only put an aquarium on a desk, kitchen counter, or cabinet if it is somewhere around 15 gallons or less. If your aquarium is larger, then you will need a dedicated stand! 

Usually, manufacturers have premade stands that will exactly fit your aquarium and have other little things that are useful for dedicated aquarium stand. There is always the option of building your own, but this comes with more risk and requires tools, skills, and planning. If you have never built anything, just be safe and buy a stand!

If your aquarium is less than 100 gallons, you can pretty much place it anywhere it fits! When you start going over that amount, the weight is something you need to worry about, because it is not guaranteed you floor can hold it. As well, you run the risk of overloading an outlet with equipment and causing a breaker to trip!

A good idea is to have a contactor come over to help you make sure you floor supports the weight and that your electrical grid can support the power requirements. Another option is to place it in your basement and get dedicated outlets installed. 

The next point is about being level, basically having no tilt to the aquarium or its stand. This is because not being level will cause there to be uneven stress, and eventually an aquarium failure! Its okay if your floor is not perfectly level, there are many ways to correct this, like using shims. But, if you have an unusually slanted floor, it might be best to find a different spot for your aquarium.

Finally, you should to consider the other members of your family. Do you have a mischievous dog, cat, or kid? Will your family be okay with the noise your aquarium makes? You can certainly have a setup that is protected from animals and kids, as well as having an aquarium that is almost silent. Otherwise, you may want to consider having a small room or the basement dedicated to your saltwater aquarium. 

What is Your Budget?

Something that you should always be mindful of is your budget. Some people may set a specific limit to not go over, while others may have a more flexible approach.

A majority of the things you buy in the saltwater aquarium hobby are a one time purchase, or at least infrequent purchases. As you might expect, the bigger your aquarium the more it will cost, and all the gear for it will also cost more.

Even though buying gear can seem very expensive at first, remember that it will last a long time, and that you do not have to buy everything all at once! We covered ways to save money and get all the gear that you want in the first week’s article, so check it out if you are interested. 

The ongoing costs are usually pretty small, but they also scale with the size of your aquarium. These costs generally include electricity, water, fish or coral food, and salt mix. If you have a small or medium sized aquarium, you probably won’t even notice these costs, but they are definitely noticeable in large systems. 

Finally, do not forget to include the cost of corals, fish, rocks, and sand! Corals and fish costs can be hard to calculate in the beginning, so it helps to really plan out what you want to have inside of your aquarium. If you really have no idea, check out our article from week 2 that talks about different saltwater aquarium types and styles! 

What are Your Aquarium Livestock Goals?

To expand more on the previous point, planning out what you want to keep inside of your aquarium is crucial. We have talked about how not all fish, corals, and other invertebrates are always compatible. As well, there might be some fish that seem small, but can quickly outgrow your aquarium. There are also some livestock that have very specific requirements for food, lighting or water parameters!

If you are not sure, review the article and video from week 2, where we cover the various saltwater aquarium styles and their requirements. This will give you some direction, from which you can zero in on a specific look or a specific list of corals and fish! 

Research and planning is key here, you do not want to accidentally kill anything, as well as lose money!