How to Choose an Aquarium

How to Choose an Aquarium

Choosing the proper aquarium to suit your needs can be a challenge. The tank you choose will act as the canvas you need to achieve your aquarist goals. There are five primary considerations for how to choose an aquarium: location, size and shape, material (glass or acrylic), filtration style (built-in, hang-on, or sump), and budget. Each of these factors will play a vital role in determining what your tank will eventually look like. With the proper attention paid to each of these considerations, you will be able to take the next step in purchasing your dream aquarium.


Aquarium Locations
Aquarium Locations

While many folks already have a place in mind, there are important details to consider beyond just having a space for the tank. The first is to ensure that there is enough space for performing maintenance on the tank. It is also essential to have a power source close to the tank. Additionally, do not place the tank in an abnormally hot or cold area and do not place it near a window. It is also important to avoid areas with direct sunlight as this can increase tank temperature and exacerbate algae growth.

General Reccomendations

  • Location: Placing an aquarium against a flat wall is preferred over a corner because it provides better tank access. When placed flush against the center of a wall, you can access the tank from three sides. Alternatively, installing an aquarium in the corner of a room only allows you to access it from one side.
  • Working Space: 3 feet or more of open space on the front and both sides of the tank.  
  • Power: A grounded outlet with at least 15 Amps of power for most small to medium reef tanks up to 100 gallons. (Larger tanks may need more power.)
  • Windows: Avoid putting a tank too close to a window or in an area exposed to direct sunlight.
  • Temperature: Avoid areas exposed to regular hot or cold air from heat or air conditioning vents, radiators, or other recurring hot or cold drafts.

Size & Shape

Aquarium Sizes & Shapes
Aquarium Sizes & Shapes

The size and shape of your aquarium will primarily depend on the space you have for your tank. For a desktop or counter location, a nano or small tank is the natural fit. A medium to a large tank with a matching stand is the preferred route for a larger area against an open wall or in a corner. As a general rule of thumb, larger tanks are more forgiving than smaller tanks due to the larger volume of water which keeps the water parameters more stable. Larger tanks also provide significantly more options for fish, corals, and other livestock. On the flip side, smaller tanks are more affordable and require less maintenance than their larger brothers.

General Recommendations

  • Fill It: Once you have chosen a location for your aquarium, fill the area with the largest tank you can afford.
  • Shape: Rectangular, unless your space dictates a different shape.
  • Width: Ideally, 24” or more as wider tanks provide greater flexibility for aquascaping and more space for coral.
  • Depth: Limit depth to no more than 24” as installing and maintaining a tall tank can be challenging.

Glass Vs. Acrylic

Virtually all aquariums are either glass or acrylic. Each of these materials has its benefits and drawbacks. Glass tanks are generally less expensive; however, they are heavier than acrylic tanks. Acrylic tanks are more impact resistant; however, they scratch much easier than glass tanks. Both glass and acrylic tanks are optically clear; however, acrylic can discolor over time.

General Recommendations

  • For most aquarium applications, we recommend a glass aquarium as they are less expensive, more durable, and more scratch-resistant.

Filtration Style

Aquarium Filtration Styles
Aquarium Filtration Styles

Another factor when choosing an aquarium is the type of filtration. Filtration options include all-in-one (aka built-in), hang-on, and sump-style filtration. For nano and smaller aquariums, the filtration is usually built into the back of the tank or hung off the back. The hang-on-the-back option works well for smaller tanks that don’t have built-in filtration and for where users prefer not to drill the tank or use a sump. It is also often the most affordable option. For mid-sized tanks and above, most keep the filtration system in an external sump below the tank. The extra space provided by a sump allows for more options and customization compared to built-in or hang-on options. As a general rule of thumb, a sump should be at least 25% the volume of the main tank, and it should have adequate space for both a skimmer and a return pump. Other standard accessories for a sump area include media reactors, water top-offs, and frag racks.

General Recommendations

  • Nano Aquariums (Less than 20 gallons): All-in-one filtration built into the back of the tank.
  • Smaller Aquariums (20-40 Gallons): Hang-on-the back or all-in-one filtration.
  • Medium and Large Aquariums: Sump-style filtration.


Aquarium Budgeting
Aquarium Budgeting

The final consideration for determining how to choose an aquarium is your budget. As a general rule of thumb, the larger the aquarium, the more expensive it will be. That said, as we’ve already discussed, it is much easier to keep the water parameters stable in a larger aquarium with more volume. Beyond being easier to maintain, this will also allow you to learn ideal maintenance habits as you grow with your tank. To help save some money and buy a bigger tank, consider purchasing a used aquarium and equipment. When purchasing any used aquarium equipment, thoroughly inspect it for any possible cracks, leaks, or broken parts. When it comes to your budget, we recommend purchasing a tank you can afford that allows you to achieve your goals.

General Recommendations

  • Go as big as you can afford that will still fit your space. Purchasing the largest aquarium that fills your area now will prevent you from having to do an expensive upgrade down the road.

Final Thoughts on How to Choose an Aquarium

We hope this has simplified your understanding of how to choose an aquarium. With the right approach, you are sure to find an aquarium that will fit your needs. If you have any particular questions or are interested in a specific recommendation for your space, please contact our customer support team.

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