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The right aquarium

The choice of aquarium will depend on several factors:

In many ways our fourth point, the needs of the fish should come first, but remember, you can change priorities by selecting the fish to fit your aquarium.

The size of an aquarium will depend on available space and, of course, cost.

The tank dimensions are of particular importance. When placed in a 200 square foot room it should not have more than 50 to 55 gallon capacity. In a room half that size a tank of about 25 gallons is better. For larger rooms the popular solution is to use a tank as a room divider, that is to separate a sitting area from the rest of the room with an aquarium. The tank can be placed on free-standing shelving and viewed from two sides. Aquariums thus seen are more difficult to decorate than those which stand against a wall because the decorations must be placed in the central axis of the tank rather than against the rear glass. For this reason the tank should be wider than one standing against a wall. We recommend a minimum width of 20 inch (50 cm.)
A larger aquarium is easier to maintain than a smaller one since it requires fewer water changes and less frequent cleaning. Your local pet shop can offer advice on both sizes and cost. If possible start with a 15 or 20-gallon tank. If a particular species is to be kept, the dimensions of the tank will depend on the requirements of the fish.

The best place.

There are many places in a house or apartment to keep an aquarium. If you use existing furniture as a support for the tank, instead of a specially designed stand, it should be sturdy enough to support both the tank and the water. Water weighs about eight pounds per gallon and an aquarium is heavier than it looks. A 30-gallon aquarium, for example, (one about three-feet in length) will weigh in at about 250 pounds and an antique table or an unreinforced shelf could not support it. If you build your own supports measure the bottom of the tank beforehand. The shelf should be as large or larger than the tank bottom. One smaller will not provide adequate support.
The modern all-glass aquarium, assembled with silicone cement, is so simple it blends with any room and the selection of stands and cabinets, in wood or metal, combines tastefully with most furniture. There are few limits on personal taste and while the hints below are merely suggestions they should be helpful when setting up an aquarium:

  • Monitor the sun - Too much sunlight can cause the water to overheat in summer and will encourage algae. With the selection of fluorescent hoods available, aquariums can be independent of daylight.
  • Avoid heat - Never place an aquarium above or near a heat source, a radiator, heating vent or stove. Similarly, avoid the sudden drops in temperature you can find near an air conditioning outlet.
  • Easy water changes - While you can change aquarium water with a bucket, it is easier if water outlets and drains are close. Any within fifty feet are both convenient and usable. Aquariums which must be drained and filled by bucket are too often neglected — to the detriment of both the fish and plants.
  • Convenient power- Electrical outlets should be convenient and plentiful and are best when beside or behind the tank. Be certain to have enough: a network of plugs and adapters is hazardous. Protect the furniture - Allow a safe distance between the tank and expensive furniture since splashing can hardly be avoided when cleaning a tank and changing water and accidents can happen. For example, a tank should not be placed near an expensive Persian carpet. The water may do little damage, but try to convince a housewife!
  • Be sure you're insured - The attitude may seem defeatist, but be wise, carry insurance to protect your furniture against water damage. Even the best-made tank can burst; even the finest hose can leak. If you live in a condo or apartment carry liability insurance to protect against damage to an apartment below.
  • Play it safe - If your stand is made of metal or if you have an older, metal-framed tank, never use it as an electrical ground. The danger of shock in an aquarium is minimal, but to attach electrical current to a direct ground is asking for trouble.
  • The proper support -Since water weighs more than eight pounds per gallon the larger the tank, the greater the need for adequate support. In older homes the feet of the stand or cabinet should be placed as close to floor joists as possible (you can find them by tapping the floor with a hammer or by visible rows of nails). On linoleum and carpeted floors protect against depressions and punctures by placing furniture cups beneath the feet. The tank should be carefully levelled.

Sometimes an aquarium is positioned so that a nearby window is reflected in the front of the tank. Though distracting it can be avoided by angling the aquarium just enough to send the reflection in another direction. Tilting the front glass forwards ten to 15 degrees often does the trick, deflecting a reflection below eye level.

Selecting an Aquarium (Aquarium design)

A variety of aquarium styles are available from local pet shops. You can choose by capacity — from a small plastic or glass bowl through five gallon tanks to more than 100 gallon setups; by material — glass or plexiglass; and by shape — rectangular, square or hexagonal. Some, or all of the following may be found in your area:

  • All-glass, frameless
  • All-glass with plastic framing
  • Plexiglass
  • Glass with anodized aluminum frames
  • Glass with coated steel frames
  • Glass with chrome-plated steel frames
  • Fiberglass holding tank
  • Professional tank (Molded glass)
  • Custom-made aquarium and cabinet

You can buy ready-made aquariums, you can build your own and you can have a hobbyist or a tank maker assemble one for you. Manufacturers of silicone cement, such as Dow Chemical, and General Electric (Marina) can provide plans and instructions, but remember, there are two types of cement, those with an acetic acid base and those with an ammonia base. Use only an acetic-acid base cement and even then only those specifically formulated for use with aquariums.
There are advantages and drawbacks for each type of tank:

Tank Type



Glass, frameless

Contemporary design fits any place.

Fragile. The edges easily broken.

A manufacturer's guarantee is important.

Glass, with plastic frame

An ideal tank if the frame is sturdy and the tank well-made.

Inexpensive tanks may leak. Buy only a well-known brand.


Very light. Particularly useful as a standby or hospital tank. Can be styled in curved and freeform designs.

Plastic scratches easily. Vulnerable to grit, sand and jewelry. In a curved tank the view can be disforted. Sometimes the distortion is pleasing.

Glass with aluminum frames

Panes are easily changed if scratched or broken.

Leaking tanks are difficult to seal.

Glass with coated steel


Frames may rust after a few years. Should not be used for saltwater. Obsolete in U.S.

Glass with chrome-plated steel frames

Inexpensive and good looking.

Chrome bleaches, then rusts. Not recommended for saltwater. Obsolete in the U.S.

Fiberglass Ponds

Stronger than glass. Ideal as a mini-pond for goldfish and koi. Fountains and other designs are available.

Some are unwieldy. Can be set into the earth. Some need a protective coating to prevent hardening of the water.

Molded glass

Handy. Ideal as a breeding tank for live bearers or as a tank for Betta. Inexpensive.

Some tanks more than 13 inches in length can crack - for no clear reason. Corners fragile.

Needs of the fish

Fish are not concerned about a tank's design but the inside should be roomy, large enough for the species you plan to keep, with adequate space for swimming.

  • Catfishes and labyrinth fishes generally prefer a broad, deep tank with a large water surface.
  • Tetras and danios and most schooling fish, require a long tank with room for swimming — you might call them 'racing tanks'. The tank can also be deep.
  • Angelfish do best in tall tanks.
  • Most other species or groups of fishes will be happy with whatever tank they are offered, but you should always pay attention to both the capacity and tank dimensions.

In Europe tanks are sold according to their length but in the U.S. they are sold by capacity. The common sizes (in gallons) are: 5, 10, 15. 20, 30, 40, 50, 55. 60, 70, 80, 100 and larger. The wider and longer the tank, the more space for plants and the greater the water surface for oxygen exchange. Both are important factors for the health of fish. A shorter, wider tank is always preferred over a narrow taller one.