Fish Tanks, Your Little Friend's New House

The difference in a fish tank and an aquarium is like the difference in a house and a home. When selecting your new friend's home, you must think about what kind of house he needs to live in. And as with any house, you must always think about the lot. Make sure you have space in your house, and a solid floor area, for your new neighbor.

Finding A Tank So You Can Create An Aquarium

So your fishbowl looks so small now. There is a reason, when we were kids, that we could never keep our goldfish alive after we got home from the county fair. We all kept our prize fish in an empty little house...and then we smothered it with affection, literally.

The primary reason to keep your new friend in a tropical fish aquarium, versus that impulse buy fishbowl, is the size of the tank. Later you will learn exactly why this is so important. For now, all you have to know is that the more water you provide for your new friend, the happier and more healthy he will be. This one truth is especially important for the tropical river and lake fish that we are interested in. Your purpose in creating a tropical fish aquarium is to recreate natural river and lake conditions for your aquatic buddies...without the hooks and nets of the local fishermen.

Size, what matters most.

Tanks come in a vast array of sizes. They range from the little 3 gallon kits that your kids beg you to buy at the grocery store all the way up to the attraction themed professional tanks that you have waited in line to walk through. Several factors come into play when deciding what best suits your aquatic friends' needs. Tank size is the key element when you want to purchase a fish tank. That's why they are sold with eye-catching gallon/liter stickers on the front glass. You will probably say some naughty words while scraping that mess off at home.

Location, a great way to start an argument with your wife.

By now, you have probably thought a little bit about where you want to put your aquarium, but I bet you didn't think about a couple of fishkeeping reasons that might change your mind.

Don't place your tank by a window or you will have algae problems. Under or over vents dosen't work because of temperature and dust problems. Is there an electrical socket nearby? There will be equipment that needs that. The area that the aquarium occupies matters more than just being out of the way or someplace where it will look nice.

Ramming a square block into a small, round hole never works. Your aquarium is usually a square block of water and life, so why would forcing its location be a good idea?

This element will matter more than you might realize when you make your decision.

I prefer to put a fish tank in a low traffic area of the house, where I can enjoy the daily adventures of my little friends. I also like to have it near an electrical socket, with a surge protected power strip. Having it close enough to the kitchen sink to run a hose is also a luxury that I can't live without.

Yes, to answer what you are thinking, I am to lazy to run all over the house with a five gallon bucket and a mop. In a perfect fishkeeping home, I would have concrete floors with a drain in the living room.

Shape, the surprise of its importance.

You may have an idea of how big you want your tank to be now, but the shape of your tank is important. In my mind, I see tanks in three basic shapes.

  • Landscapes-Wider than they are tall. This is what you see at the fish store.
  • Columns-Taller than they are wider or deeper. This is what you see with tanks when people put them in the middle of a room.
  • Triangular Colomns-Odd shaped columns that fit in corners. Probably what you have seen in the lobby of your dentist's office.

When choosing one of these basic shapes, consider two fishkeeping points.

  • What kind of fish do you want? We will be exploring this further later on, but start putting a little thought into that now. You may change your mind because of your fish tank shape tastes. This matters because some fish are horizontal swimmers and others are vertical swimmers. Many don't care.
  • How does the shape disperse the weight of the aquarium across your floor? Oh yeah, these suckers are heavy. We will be exploring that issue in just a minute.

Again with my imposing preferences...tired of that yet? I like landscapes. They take up a lot of space, but they distribute the weight across my second story apartment floor very well. Wet neighbors tend to get mad. A friend of mine had an incident in college with a 100 gallon tank and a downstairs neighbor. That was not as funny at the time as it is now. I also like that my fish tank is shaped like a big screen television. Seeing a lazy trend developing with me yet?

Weight, the driving force behind the fish space program.

Ok, a little techie-nerd language for you here. I love when I get to talk people into doing math. It is the language of the universe.

Here is a math stat that you should always keep in mind. Ready?

1 gallon of water = 8.3 pounds

And for those of you that are not in the United States...

1 Liter of water = 1 kilogram

I bet the metric system folks already knew that.

Why is that so important? Because your little 10 gallon fish tank weighs 83.4 pounds. You don't believe me? Fill it up and then lift it. Good luck. You had better find a friend to help you. That is a shifting weight and when you try to lift it, it is going to spill everywhere. You should not actually try this. That shifting weight can break your fish tank, not to mention your back.


Yep, you can break a tank just by trying to move it with water inside. This is one lesson that I have managed not to learn the hard way. Never try to half empty your fish tank, leaving your little friends inside, and move it to another location. The water will all shift to one side and push against a single panel of glass. This can, and probably will, crack the corner glue and push out that side of the glass. You and everything around you will be drenched. All your little wet buddies will suddenly be dry and flopping around in the fish version of outer space.

Ok, enough driving home the importance of the weight of water. Let's talk about how to use this information in deciding which fish tank you want to get.

Remember when we were looking at shape and I mentioned how I liked the landscape shapes the best? Well, you have to think about how the weight of your tropical fish tank, little wet friends, all their aquarium decor, the substrate (rocks in the bottom), and water will add up.

And...always an does that distribute across your fish tank stand then transfer to the floor? We could do a bunch of math here if you wanted to, but the simple answer comes in two parts.

  • Calculate the weight of your water-Click Here for a web tool. (For people that are nerds like me, here is a link to Wolframalfa so you can play with the numbers.)
  • Buy weight rated fish tank stands. This is ususally as simple as looking at the gallon rating of the fish tank that the stand was built to hold. I have a 55 gallon fish tank on a stand that was sold at my local pet store as a stand that is built to put a 55 gallon or 75 gallon fish tank on.

And that is all there is to that.

All that math I talked you into doing and it comes down to reading the label.

It is still good to know this information, because if you live on a second story, a mobile home, or have a basement then you need to find out if your floor will hold the weight of your tank. 75 gallons and under will probably be your limit on anything but the 1st story.

Don't be my college buddy. Long story short, shoddy 30 year old construction plus over 800 pounds of water in less than a ten square foot area equaled a tilting fish tank and 100 gallons of water that pushed out the front glass. Never move your fish tank with water in it, or in this case let gravity move it. Neighbors get wet, stereos get destroyed, and fish go to outer space. What a world.

Number Of Fish, the straight poop.

We know you have the one little wet friend right now, but how about some company for him? Keeping fish is an addictive hobby. Know that now. You are always going to want this fish or that one and probably not be able to have him. So, right now, think in your mind how many little buddies do you want to see dancing around in your shiny new fish tank?

When your eyes readjust to the bright light of your computer screen, consider the next two factors.

  • How big are your new friends going to be?
  • How much are they going to poop?

Later on, we will explore this topic on the Tropical Fish Selection page. For now, estimates of the two points above will be ok.

Myth-I need one gallon for each inch of tropical fish I have.

This is absolutely wrong. For instance, tropical fish like the Discus and Angelfish are sort of circle or triangle shaped. Wanna do math again? I didn't think so.

I know it sounds bad, but I always think poop when I get to this point. It is the driving force behind the Nitrogen Cycle, which we will also discuss later. The easy way to think about this is... more tropical fish equal more poop. More poop equals unhealthy tropical fish.

For the novice aquarist, my suggestion is to think small in fish size and number. Little tropical fish will have little poops. Fewer tropical fish having smaller poops means there will be less poop in your aquarium. Dilute this poop in larger quantities of water and you have less pollution. Then you have healthy fish and an easier aquarium maintenance schedule. Keeping fish is all about poop management.

Don't get bogged down in this step. You will figure it out after we talk about how to select tropical fish later. It is just something to think about quickly and move on. That is unless you want to think about poop all day.

Cost, making the decision.

Your selection of a fish tank can be a large percentage of your budget. Explore fish tank cost options online and apply that to your plan.

For freshwater I prefer glass. I guess I am just old-fashioned like that. Cars are metal, fish tanks are glass, fingernails are acrylic. The world is right again.

You should now be able to make a solid, educated guess at how big your fish tank needs to be.

Go to our affiliate partner's website to browse different types of fish tanks and find what will work best for your aquarium plan. icon

For more information, got to Wikipedia's Fish Tanks page.

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PetSmart - Fish