How to Choose an Aquarium

The first and most obvious item of aquarium equipment is a tank. These used to be made by fitting panes of glass into angle-iron frames, and were thus restricted to a simple box shape. Nowadays most tanks are made by sticking pieces of glass together with silicone sealant (all-glass construction). Tanks are also moulded from clear plastics, e.g. acrylic, and both this and all-glass construction have permitted greater scope in shape and size. However, some ‘interesting’ constructions – e.g. tall, ‘thin,’ multi-sided towers – are designed primarily as novelty room decorations and are, in terms of providing suitable living quarters for fish, little better than the now universally condemned goldfish bowl. They offer little surface area and little scope for lateral movement – and few fish swim vertically! The old-fashioned rectangular glass box is far more suitable as a home for fish, and we cannot stress too heavily that this should be its main function; a tank can be decorative, entertaining and educational too, but never forget that it is its occupants’ entire world.

aquarium1 How to Choose an Aquarium

There is little wrong with using a sensibly shaped acrylic tank, but they are prone to scratching and this may detract from your viewing pleasure. The view of the interior may also be more distorted than it will be through glass. On the positive side, acrylic is durable, lighter and 17 times stronger than glass, and it is therefore less likely to crack or shatter. All-glass tanks are available ‘off the shelf in standard sizes, or can be made to order if non-standard dimensions or shapes are required. It may be cheaper to have a tank made (ask your dealer) than to buy a ‘branded’ one, the price of which includes transport and other overheads.

Size and siting of the aquarium

It was better to fit the aquarium to the fish rather than vice versa, but you may be limited by the space available, or by the load-bearing capacity of the floor or built-in feature on which the tank is to stand.

If space and weight are no object, a large volume of water is easier to keep biologically stable, and you can keep more fish in a large tank. If necessary you can always divide a large tank into compartments with glass or plastic ‘dividers”, but you can never join two small ones together. A large tank is likely to prove more versatile if your tastes change.

Although a very deep aquarium can look splendid, depth is generally less important than length and width (and thus surface area), unless you plan to keep fish with very deep bodies and/or long finnage. An aquarium more than 60cm (24in) deep may require you to strip to the waist for substrate-level maintenance, and if you want to grow plants you may find it difficult to provide lighting sufficiently bright to penetrate to the lower levels without blinding surface-dwelling fish. A depth of 40 to 45cm (15 to 18in) is suitable for most purposes.

If possible, site the aquarium where it is easily visible, but out of the way of ‘through traffic’ or accidental collisions with moving furniture. Avoid too secluded a site, or the fish may remain shy, and panic when approached. Position the tank at a height suited a comfortable ‘viewing” from your favourite chair, ideally close to an electric socket, to avoid any need for an extension cable. Although natural lighting can be very effective, siting the aquarium in direct sunlight may cause problems with algae, and possible overheating.

You will require regular, easy access for changing water; proximity of a tap and drain may influence your choice of room, as may the age/value of the carpet – it would be unrealistic to pretend that accidents don’t happen now and then.


The aquarium is normally raised to a convenient viewing level by placing it on a welded metal stand, in a smart wooden cabinet (with cupboards to house equipment), or on a built-in feature such as an alcove shelf or room-divider plinth. Occasionally tanks are set into the wall between two rooms. Home-made stands can be constructed from slotted tingle iron or wood. The base must be strong enough to support the not inconsiderable weight of the aquarium when filled, and professional advice should be sought if necessary in order to find the best fish tank for sale.

Aquarium cabinets arc often sold with a tank fitted, and come in standard sizes, as do metal stands – so if you have a nonstandard tank specially made, don’t expect to buy an off-the-shelf stand to match.

The bottom of an all-glass tank should be cushioned with expanded polystyrene (styrofoam) against any roughness or unevenness of the base. The styrofoam should be at least 1.25cm thick, and normally a baseboard of exterior or marine grade plywood (again at least 1.25cm thick) should be placed beneath it. Both the baseboard and the styrofoam are generally cut to the same size as the bottom of the tank.

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