Learning how to buy a new aquarium means choosing the best fish tank for your unique application and your needs and desires. We’ll try to break down the things to pay attention to when shopping for your next aquarium. Making a poor decision will cause you financial pain in the long run. This is because your aquarium will dictate most aspects of your reef keeping experience and changing to a different tank at a later date will be an expensive proposition.
Size: Nano Reef vs Mega Reef
The size of your tank is the first thing to consider in your reef tank build. Many people will want to go the route of a Nano Reef tank thinking that it will be the easiest to care for, however small fish tanks require more frequent maintenance due to the smaller water volume. Large tanks require less frequent maintenance and the larger water volume will create a more stable environment for the delicate fish and corals.
Nano Reef Tank Pros
- It is an overall lower cost, not just for the aquarium itself, but for all of the associated equipment
- Requires less effort when maintenance is needed
- Versatility of location – Low weight of the water and small physical space requirements allow for a tank to be placed almost anywhere!
Nano Reef Tank Cons
- Needs frequent maintenance, although it will be easier to perform
- Fish and coral selection is limited due to the physical space constraints
- Could be difficult to hide equipment such as a Protein Skimmer or even impossible to have a Sump with a small tank depending on your situation
Mega Reef Tank Pros
- A much more stable environment for your reef inhabitants
- Much wider range of options available for fish and corals
- Typically easy to hide equipment in the aquarium stand
- A grand view of your own reef habitat!
Mega Reef Tank Cons
- Expense – The hobby is expense and skyrockets with larger aquariums
- The larger the aquarium the more you will have to consider location due to not just the physical size but the enormous weight of the water in the tank
- While maintenance may be less frequent, it will be much more involved when it needs to be performed
Shape: Short, Tall, Deep
You likely have a vision of what your ideal tank will look like and where it will be placed. Before you get too wedded to the idea in mind, you’ll want to weigh the pros and cons of the different shapes of tank available.
Short Tank Issues
- A short tank can be far easier to maintain since it will likely be easier to reach to the bottom and access areas that require attention
- The shorter the tank the more limited you may be with aquascaping and with some selections of fish and corals.
Tall Tank Issues
- Tanks taller than an arms length require tools to help with cleaning and maintenance to reach the bottom of the tank
Shallow Depth Tank Issues (Tanks with little space from front to back)
- Can limit aquascaping and fish/coral selection
- Can be difficult to get proper water circulation
Deep Tank Issues (Tanks with large space from front to back)
- Great for aquascaping and water circulation
- May be more difficult to access the back of the tank for maintenance depending on your circumstance
Glass vs Acrylic
Glass is the typical choice as it tends to be less expensive, but that doesn’t mean you should go with it for your tank. Here are some things to keep in mind when making your decision.
- Glass is far less likely to get scratched than Acrylic, although it’s not impossible
- Glass doesn’t scratch as easily but scratches can be polished out much easier in acrylic than with glass
- Acrylic allows for much more creative shapes, including various bends, rounded corners, etc.
- Acrylic is more shatter-resistant
- Glass can be many times heavier than Acrylic and will need to be factored in to your plan
- Glass typically needs to be thicker than Acrylic to support the same volume of water
- Some manufacturers will use tempered Glass, which can not be drilled for plumbing requirements
- The bottoms of Acrylic aquariums require more consistent support across the entire bottom of the tank
- Acrylic can yellow over time
- Glass can have a green tint however low-iron glass is available but more expensive
- Acrylic tanks are typically more expensive than a similarly sized and shaped Glass Aquarium
Rimless vs Braced
Rimless aquariums are the current preferred design of aquarium. Traditional braced aquariums include a plastic frame around the top of the aquarium. A rimless aquarium does away with this. Also, rimless aquariums don’t have canopies or lids of any kind. They only have lights suspended above the water. This design allows the aquarium itself to “disappear” more and show off the contents better.
Rimless aquariums tend to be more expensive due to the use of thicker glass to account for the lack of bracing. There will also be more evaporation loss due to the lack of any lid or canopy. Last, you may want to choose fish less likely to jump with a rimless tank. It’s not uncommon to find jumpers on the floor from time to time.
When choosing a reef tank you’ll want to make sure that it includes an overflow. If it doesn’t you will at least want to ensure that the glass isn’t tempered and can be drilled to include one. You’ll also want to read up on the various overflow designs that you can implement. For instance, a Durso will only require one drain pipe. A Herbie will require two. A Bean Animal will require three. If there are only two holes drilled you’ll be limited. You also need to factor in your return line to pump water back into the tank.
Many but not all aquariums come with a stand. You’ll want to consider wether you want to purchase a stand separately or purchase a tank and stand together. Most stands that come with an aquarium are made from a pressboard, particleboard, or other similar type of material. The better designs have a very durable coating protecting the wood beneath. The better stands are made from more substantial lumber, like 2×4’s. Some of the nicest stands are made from metals such as aluminum t-slot framing. Metal stands are obviously more expensive.
You should also consider flexibility of accessing the area within the stand. Most wood stands will have a brace in the front middle of wider designs. Metal stands can have more open accessibility since they can support more weight with less material.
The best fish tanks are different in every situation. Don’t forget to research brand reputation and read reviews on manufacturers you’re considering. Hopefully this list has been helpful in setting you on the right path in your reef keeping adventure.