Thinking about getting a smaller tank instead of that 4-foot-long aquarium of your dreams? We’re here to give you the confidence you need to commit to the bigger option.
Nine times out of ten, nobody regrets getting a bigger tank than they originally planned. A larger tank is easier to maintain, find equipment for, and most importantly, allows more aquarium space for fish!
However, we also understand that a bigger tank means more expense.
Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about setting up and keeping a large home aquarium!
What Size Aquarium Should You Buy?
You’ve probably heard it: a bigger tank is better than a smaller tank. But why?
What size aquarium you should buy comes down to a few factors:
- Your long-term goal for the tank
- Room available for the tank
- The time that can be devoted to the tank
- Your budget
There are many species that can happily fit in a smaller aquarium, and you might not have the room, time, or budget to commit to a bigger tank right now.
The truth is that getting a larger tank from the start will often save you more time and money in the long run.
Think about how you see your fish tank a year from now. Is it filled with as many fish as possible? Or is it teeming with corals or live plants? You need to set a long-term goal for your aquarium so you can pick a sized tank that aligns with your vision.
Next, you need to think about the actual space you can allot to fit your tank in your home. Luckily, there are different-shaped tanks that make fitting a larger aquarium into a square rather than a rectangle that much easier. Every home enthusiast will always be limited on space, though.
Most importantly, you need to understand how much time you can actually give to your aquarium.
When mature, aquariums pretty much run themselves, though weekly or biweekly maintenance is usually necessary.
For more complex tanks, like a large reef tank, then you might need to spend a couple of hours on your tank every day.
While a larger tank doesn’t necessarily come with more maintenance than a small one, the time it takes to perform that maintenance might be more.
It is exciting to set up an aquarium, but remember that you need to keep up with maintaining it, too! That said, there are many aquarium services that offer home maintenance visits if you’re willing to cut into your budget.
Establishing a budget for your saltwater or freshwater aquarium is essential. Setting up an aquarium is expensive, especially for larger aquariums that require additional and more powerful equipment.
If you’re working with a tight budget, then it’s probably best to go with a simple nano aquarium that can steadily run with minimal equipment.
Once you’ve made a realistic list of what kind of tank you want as well as how much room, time, and expense you have for it, you’re ready to choose between a big and small tank.
Big vs. Small Aquarium
If we could, we would all have several hundred-gallon systems stocked to the brim with our favorite fish and invertebrates.
Unfortunately, very few have this opportunity. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have the tank of your dreams!
Admittedly, a big aquarium immediately catches the eye more so than a small one–those with an eye for detail might run over to the nano aquarium, though.
For reference, our idea of a large fish tank is a 40-gallon aquarium or more.
Types of Fish Tanks
Big fish tanks are big statement pieces. If you have a large tank, you can pretty much do anything you want with it if you plan it out correctly.
There are 4 main types of fish tanks you will need to choose from for your setup:
- Freshwater community tank (planted or not planted)
- Freshwater predatory tank
- Saltwater community tank (reef or fish only with live rock)
- Saltwater predatory tank
Freshwater Community Fish Tank
A freshwater community tank is one of the most popular choices of fish tank styles due to the possible selections of fish and plants. A large freshwater community system can house hundreds of schooling fish and several statement fish.
Many experienced hobbyists choose to set up a large aquarium with plenty of live plants to create a natural-looking ecosystem.
At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with setting up an unplanted freshwater tank that showcases the many beautiful schooling fish species available.
Freshwater Predatory Fish Tank
Monster fish need a monster tank. Larger tanks are the perfect home for big freshwater fish, including some river stingrays.
There are a few reasons why predatory fish need a larger aquarium than other species. First, monster fish grow to extreme sizes. Take their adult size into account in addition to the extra room they need to exercise, and you’re looking at a very large tank.
Next, monster fish need a large tank to help keep excess nutrients down; more water volume means more room for the dispersion of nutrients from leftover scraps of food and other fish waste.
Be aware that predatory fish are often sold as juveniles, which can cause some confusion about their true adult size.
Saltwater Community Fish Tank
From the start, most hobbyists choose to get a larger aquarium for marine fish.
This is because most saltwater species are moderately aggressive fish that need their own space in the tank. In addition, saltwater fish are larger than most freshwater species.
Many saltwater hobbyists eventually try their luck at keeping corals in a reef tank. Surprisingly, corals can take up a decent amount of space in an aquarium, leading to overcrowding and chemical warfare.
Saltwater Predatory Fish Tank
Saltwater predatory tanks are some of the largest setups, featuring large and active fish that need plenty of room to swim and for waste to disperse.
In reality, most freshwater predatory fish are larger than their saltwater counterparts. However, most predatory marine fish naturally live in open water with plenty of room to swim, meaning that they need a large aquarium setup despite their relatively smaller size.
Once you’ve decided what kind of fish you want to keep in your aquarium, you need to think about the space inside and outside of your aquarium.
On the inside, space will affect how often you need to clean your aquarium. For the most part, it’s true that a larger fish tank requires less maintenance due to the ratio of fish waste to water volume.
This means that nutrient levels stay lower as there is more dilution, leading to fewer necessary water changes. This doesn’t mean that water changes aren’t needed, though!
The other benefits of having space include, well, having space! Many beginner hobbyists regret their decision to set up a smaller tank after they find out they can’t keep certain species or hit their limit of fish early on.
Having a larger fish tank not only allows for beginner’s mistakes regarding water chemistry but also allows for growth.
A fish tank should be seen as a long-term commitment, not just something you break down and set back up every time you hit a bump in the road.
There are also outside benefits to having a larger aquarium. One, a beautiful setup will instantly bring life and movement to any room.
Second, you’ll have more room for external equipment, which is especially helpful when dealing with elaborate filtration systems, like those needed for reefs.
The only problem is that larger pieces of equipment often lead to higher noise levels, though this can easily be fixed with some baffling.
As mentioned before, more water volume allows for more mistakes when it comes to water chemistry.
The more water you have to dilute excess or harmful nutrients, the less those harmful nutrients can affect fish and invertebrates.
This is also true for water temperature where warm water takes longer to cool off if a piece of equipment fails.
Water quality stability is the main reason why fish experts suggest bigger aquariums to new hobbyists: they’re much easier to control than small tanks that are more susceptible to fluctuating parameters.
Last, but not least, it’s important to look at expense differences between setting up and maintaining a small tank versus a large tank.
In the short term, a larger tank is more expensive to set up than a smaller one. Bigger aquarium dimensions mean more materials are used, which increases costs.
Bigger and more powerful pieces of equipment are also needed for bigger aquariums, which are costly to buy and also costly to maintain.
For example, a large aquarium filter is expensive to buy and needs to have the media changed just as frequently as that of a small tank. However, the amount of media needed is that much more.
That isn’t to say that a small tank is always cheaper than a big tank. A lot can go wrong in a small tank due to instability.
And for whatever reason, smaller pumps and connected equipment can be nearly the same average price as, if not more, than their larger counterparts.
In the long run, a bigger aquarium is usually cheaper to maintain due to the level of stability that can be reached.
However, take other expenses, like the annual energy consumption cost, into account as well. Nano tanks need a lot of tinkering and specialized equipment that can become costly over time.
It’s also important to note that smaller aquariums evaporate more quickly over time, which can become especially expensive for saltwater hobbyists that need to spend additional money on a salt mix and reverse osmosis water.
Setting Up a Large Aquarium: Ways to Save Money
No matter if you’re setting up a small or large aquarium, this hobby can be expensive. Here are a few tips for saving money along the way to balance between price and quality!
Now more than ever, it’s easy to exchange and purchase livestock and equipment from fellow hobbyists through online marketplaces and forums.
You can save tons of money buying aquarium decor and equipment secondhand as opposed to new, especially in the way of live rock and driftwood.
One of the best fish tank objects to buy used is an aquarium stand. New aquarium stands are very expensive and somewhat difficult to come by. If you can find a used stand or another piece of reliable furniture, it is strongly recommended to buy used over new.
There is a caveat to this, though. We still recommend buying the actual aquarium new. This is because purchasing a used aquarium can be risky.
Even a hairline fracture that passes a leak test can prove to be disastrous in the following months; while this can still happen with a brand-new aquarium, the chances are much less likely.
Avoid all-in-one aquarium kits
While shopping for your new aquarium, avoid easy, all-in-one bundles that combine an aquarium with other pieces of equipment. This equipment is often underpowered and below-average quality and will need to be upgraded in the near future.
Instead, determine the final budget price that you want to spend on your aquarium. Purchase all items separately, unless you find those exact items on sale in a packaged bundle.
Buy expensive equipment
To go along with avoiding aquarium bundles, avoid cheap equipment altogether.
It can be very tempting to get just the bare minimum you need to get your fish tank started, but you should plan for the system you eventually want to have.
If your goal is a high-tech setup, then buy high-tech equipment. Buying cheaper stand-in equipment only takes away from your overall budget and can make the transition from low-tech to high-tech more challenging.
This is especially true if you want to start a planted aquarium or reef tank. Our recommendation is to purchase everything you need for your future tank.
Surprise, you don’t need to have plants or corals in your tank before you start running more expensive equipment!
Instead, already having the equipment will make the transition to a more complex system that much easier.
Buy quality food
All the other points on this list seem obvious, but how does buying better quality fish food cut down on costs?
Many fish foods are packaged in colorful designs with guarantees of a happy and healthy fish. If this is true, then why do your fish beg you for food every time you pass the tank?
While you may just have a hungry fish, the more likely answer is that your fish aren’t receiving the full nutritional value that they need.
Many aquarium foods are full of fillers that are either difficult to digest or too quick to be digested. Either of these cases can lead to an ever-hungry or even sick fish.
Buying better quality food will help your fish get more nutrients in fewer feedings while leading to fewer illnesses and overall better health.
Better quality food will also help lessen the number of water changes that need to be done due to less waste entering the aquarium, further cutting down on costs.
Does Tank Size Affect Fish Size?
We’re sure you’ve heard that a fish will only grow to the size of its tank. This longtime myth has been the excuse resellers and hobbyists use to justify putting a big fish into a small tank for decades.
It’s not entirely their fault, though. The relationship between a fish’s size and its environment was poorly studied, and the results definitely looked as if they proved this theory right.
In most cases, a fish will experience stunted growth in order to fit in its tank, even if it’s a large species. However, this might not be for the reason you think.
Believe it or not, most fish will keep growing as long as their environmental conditions allow, like food availability, quality of diet, breeding opportunities, and general quality of life. This results in oversized individuals of even the smallest types of fish.
In the aquarium, the main reason why your fish might experience stunted growth is stress. While some fish get sick when they’re stressed, others face more internal problems.
Stress can cause fish to become stunted as more bodily resources are allotted to stress management than growth. This can be the result of inadequate swimming space, poor water quality, or other aggressive fish in the tank.
However, other factors that can lead to stunted growth can include boredom and lack of breeding opportunities. Even the most isolated fish need to interact with their surroundings and other fish from time to time.
If you’re keeping an undersized school or a solitary fish, then they might be lonely. At the same time, if your tank is thriving, fish might feel limited by their breeding choices available.
All of these reasons can result in some diminished growth. Make sure to research the size of tank your fish requires and consider the tank mates you would like to add in the future.
You don’t need a giant aquarium to have the fish tank of your dreams, but it’s definitely better to have more space than not enough. A bigger fish tank increases stability while offering many opportunities for featuring different fish. These aquariums can be more expensive to set up but are generally easier and cheaper to maintain in the long run.
If you have any questions about which size fish tank is best for you, how to fill your big fish tank, or if you’re upgrading from a nano tank, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below!