Discussion in 'Tenji Aquarium Design + Build' started by Tenji, Jul 10, 2018.

Equipment : Choosing Your Display Aquarium

  1. Tenji

    Tenji Aquarium Design + Build R2R Supporter Gold Sponsor

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    Tenji is pleased to present a series of exclusive articles for Reef2Reef members. We will be delving into the various aspects of reef keeping, focusing on tried and true methods that can be implemented by aquarists of all levels.
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    Choosing your display aquarium is the most important equipment decision you will make. If the display fails, everything else is all for naught. The two basic material choices we have for aquariums under 500-gallons are glass or acrylic.


    Tenji installation in a private residence.

    Generally speaking, glass aquariums under 180-gallons will be me affordable than acrylic aquariums of the same size. Of course, there’s more than just cost to consider here. Acrylic tanks are much easier to scratch, but scratches can be removed. Glass tanks are significantly harder to scratch, but if they are, you’re pretty much stuck with it. Glass tanks are generally heavier than acrylic tanks which can be a logistical and structural concern once you reach larger volumes. There’s a rumor floating around that acrylic tanks are stronger than glass tanks, however, historically we have not found that to be true for aquariums under 500-gallons. We have seen tanks of both materials fail. Longevity ultimately comes down to the bonding process and thickness of the material used. A properly built glass tank will greatly outlast an improperly built acrylic aquarium.



    If you’re looking at a glass aquarium you’ll get into the age-old debate of regular glass versus starphire glass, or low-iron glass. While starphire is more clear than regular glass, it can scratch easier and costs quite a bit more. We’ve never seen a stunning reef aquarium and shunned it for not being starphire; a stunning tank is a stunning tank no matter the material. More often than not we’ll lean towards standard glass, especially for ½” or thinner material.



    No matter your choice, the thickness of the material should be your main concern. The thicker the material, the more surface area for bonding is available. Thus a 180-gallon aquarium built with 5/8” thick glass will be stronger and last longer than a 180-gallon aquarium built with ½” glass by the same manufacturer. Of course, the thicker the material the higher the cost. We highly recommend avoiding tanks built with the minimum recommended thickness.


    Hybrid aquarium from MRC.

    We’re faced with a few more options when it comes to bracing. Note that the purpose of trim is to protect the glass from chipping, and ourselves from getting cut (most glass is not beveled/polished under trim), and to prevent panes from bowing if material thickness is lacking. Most standard tanks are braced with molded plastic trim. Step-up from that and we begin to see acrylic, PVC, aluminum, and steel braces offered. My personal favorite is dubbed a hybrid aquarium, which is a glass tank that has CNC’d channels in a PVC bottom and acrylic top that the glass panes fit into. Not only do the one-piece top and bottoms provide phenomenal support, but the CNC’d channels lock the panes in place and allow silicone to bond to three sides of the panes. Rimless tanks are built with thicker material since there is no bracing, and glass edges are beveled or polished for safety and aesthetics, creating a higher price point than their braced counterparts.


    Commonly offered "reef ready" tank with ABS overflows without tops and undersized bulkhead holes.

    Finally, we get into the overflow and bulkhead choices. We greatly prefer acrylic overflows since we can choose colored acrylic to help hide the boxes against a matching background. Textured overflows, such as those made from ABS, require frequent cleaning to keep them looking good since a scraper won’t bring it back to life if neglected, although if you plan to let animals or coralline grow on it ABS might be preferred. Glass overflows generally leave some plumbing exposed, which causes our eyes to twitch. Most off-the-shelf reef ready tanks come with undersized bulkheads, and none of them allow for SCH80 bulkhead installation which should be standard for those in it for the long-haul. Furthermore, mass-produced tanks frequently miss simple things like having the overflow come up to the top to prevent trapping fish (see image below), or even including an overflow top to keep said fish in the tank.


    This wrasse was trapped between the screen top (not pictured) and overflow top.

    At the end of the day, structural integrity should be your number one concern. A seemingly cheap tank will likely be constructed of thin material that probably won’t end well long-term. We commonly hear to purchase the largest tank you can afford. We say cut that size in half, so you can get into a quality tank and have funds left for quality equipment. A well-built life-support system will cost the same, if not more, as your display aquarium.
     
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  2. Ranjib

    Ranjib Valuable Member R2R Supporter R2R Excellence Award Reef Squad Build Thread Contributor

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    Great article. Thank you for sharing
     
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  3. JBKReef

    JBKReef Well-Known Member R2R Supporter Build Thread Contributor

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    I'm toying with the idea of a large tank upgrade and these decisions are the ones that I do not know as much about. (Glass thickness, bracing)

    I know @Ryanbrs mentioned in the BRS 160 videos that the dimensions they chose for the BRS 160 were around the maximum for a rimless tank.

    Are there any formulas, guidelines, or maximum sizes available for each? I'm sure some of the larger manufacturers have this available but not sure if its up for grabs for the general public.
     
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  4. Ryanbrs

    Ryanbrs Active Member R2R Supporter Platinum Sponsor

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    I'd say it is more about the maximum the manufacturer is willing to do. Reef Savvy is on the safe side of things.

    IMHO, I'd get at least three quotes and ask how they would approach your desires. I'd try and push the limits a bit with the builder and see what their reaction is. If they are willing to do anything to make a sale I'd pass.
     
  5. larryl

    larryl Valuable Member

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    Great article, poor wrasse!
     
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  6. w2inc

    w2inc Member

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    The article had some good points and I really appreciate the author putting it together.

    I have had aquariums for 30 or more years, worked at pet shops for about 6, built a few customs and put together more than one dream tank for myself. I have a BFA in Visual arts and over 10 years in manufacturing. I almost never post on this site but I have gained so much from reading other peoples experiences that I feel like I need to contribute, so here it is.

    I think glass thickness related to seams failing is a valid concern but not something to go overboard with. In my time with aquariums the only seam failures I have witnessed are the 1/4 glued in center braces of an off the shelf 110 gallon 6 foot long tank we sold at a shop I worked at 25 years ago. I did a repair on a bottom seam on a 45 tall that just wasn't glued correctly. Have seen old tanks with dried up silicone fail, but I have seen them hold as well. I have seen plenty of glass break, but I have not seen many seam failures on professionally made tanks. When considering glass thickness, I would be more focused on strength of the glass than surface area of the seam. I have seen charts online about how thick glass should be for the height, but the only thing I have seen in print was in Adey and Loveland's first addition of "Dynamic Aquaria". I am sure it is in other places, but that is just the one I know of.

    Tank manufacturers that have been around forever have some standard sizes and glass thicknesses that have held up for 20 years or more. I realize a lot of people want to go custom, but the length hight proportion you see in the pre-made tanks has stood the test of time visually. There are some shapes and proportions that are just more aesthetically pleasing than others. Some box sizes that are easier to design in. Custom is awesome, but don't overlook what is in front of you. You will also save money going with a standard size tank. I personally love the 24x24x24 cube or 24x24x several other lengths.

    In my experience the height of the tank is really important. I want my main display to look great, be clean, and easy to clean. For me, easy to clean means being able to reach the bottom of the tank without pulling my shirt off. If you will be doing your own maintenance, be sure you can reach the bottom of your tank without getting your upper body wet. 24" high it pretty much the max for most people. I have owned and serviced tanks that are 30" or taller and there are times you just need to reach the bottom with your hand. I have ended up shirtless getting deodorant in the water and not able to look where I am reaching with water up to my cheek while trying to retrieve something I couldn't get with my grabber. Tall is awesome looking but the maintenance experience slowly wore out my love for tall tanks.

    Glass center braces are not a deal breaker for me but they are annoying. They are typically at least a foot wide and create a real obstacle when trying to catch a fish or place a rock that takes 2 hands. They block light and are an extra thing to clean around and to keep clean. The tanks with plastic or PVC center braces are easier to work with but will degrade with time and UV light. The up side to a center brace is that if you want a glass lid on your tank, you can get one in smaller lighter weight sections if you have center braces. I really enjoy my tanks that have euro bracing. I have also seen some cool ones with anodized aluminum frames that have thin extruded aluminum center braces. If I could be sure that the aluminum would stay out of my tank, I would probably want to try one out.

    I have used acrylic tanks and love the lightweight and versatility. They make great sumps and backup tanks. I would never use one as a main display. They are just too easy to scratch and acrylic has a shelf life. The seams will craze, material will get brittle and if it was laser cut, flame polished, welded with too much solvent or heated incorrectly it will react badly to alcohol, uv light and who knows what else. If you have a custom acrylic tank built, be sure it is by an aquarium builder that has been in business more than 10 years. Many acrylic fabricators spend all of their time with signs and displays and don't have experience with seams that need to hold water pressure over the long haul.

    My experience with low iron glass was good in the beginning, but it is easy to scratch and certain algae were able to etch their way onto the surface of it. I ended up having to replace the front pane of my low iron tank with normal glass after I had neglected it for a couple months. I will always use standard plate glass in the future. I avoid tempered glass just because it can't be drilled. It has other pros and cons but not being able to drill it is a dealbreaker for me.

    Octagonal, cut off corners, L shapes, bubble and bow fronts all have their cool attributes but also have their visual distortions. If alternative shapes are attractive to you, be sure to see them when they are full of water before you commit to one. Some shapes (like the inside of an L shape) create really large blind spots when they are full of water.

    The article has
    some good points about overflows. I agree with them on all points. Almost all of my tanks have overflows and prefer to have them in the corners. I really like the tanks with a double back wall or the ones that use the back wall as an overflow. I have a tank by Red Sea with a design similar to that but I have not had it for long. I would like to hear some feedback about those designs from people who have them.

    I hope this
    doesn't read like I am the end all authority on display tanks, it wasn't my intention, I just wanted to share some of my experiences with anyone that may be looking to set up their dream tank.
     
  7. Tenji

    Tenji Aquarium Design + Build R2R Supporter Gold Sponsor

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    Great additions, everyone!

    At Tenji, we use our combined 100-years of experience in the public aquarium, museum, residential, and commercial sectors to wade through the plethora of manufacturers. Oftentimes aquarium failures do not see the light of day due to settlements, however, we catch wind of them helping us choose the best manufacturers for our customers' long-term.
     
  8. Vivid Creative Aquatics

    Vivid Creative Aquatics Upgrade Your Flow! R2R Supporter Platinum Sponsor Toys For Kids Sponsor

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    Thanks for the great article and offering some of your insight into choosing a display tank.

    100% agree about the size of the bulkhead holes offered in many of the "off the shelf" aquariums. What is your opinion on this - why do they under size them? Does it cost more to drill bigger holes or is it structural issue with that requires thicker glass?
     
  9. dantimdad

    dantimdad Active Member Build Thread Contributor

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    W2inc

    It's amazing how much my experiences align with yours .I could not agree more.

    Been in this game for over 30 years and I swear by plain old float glass aquariums.
     
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  10. w2inc

    w2inc Member

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    All holes within an inch of each other should be the same cost to drill. I guess my question is why you would need schedule 80, a higher pressure rating on your drain line. I am probably missing something about the story. They do have a thicker wall and are physically stronger, but I have not seen a schedule 80 version of a bulkhead with the thicker flange I prefer.

    My experience has been with tanks under 300 gallons and outdoor ponds, but I haven't had troubles with the black CPR and Lifeguard bulkhead fittings. I have had trouble with plumbing specific (not aquarium) bulkhead fittings. I believe the narrow flange on plumbing fittings puts undue strain on the drilled glass. I have had them crack thinner walled glass tanks. I occasionally use them on acrylic tanks, but plumbing specific bulkheads generally cost more and are not a physically attractive option to me so I have not got a lot of experience with them.

    Maybe someone can offer some experience with bulkhead fittings?
     
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  11. dantimdad

    dantimdad Active Member Build Thread Contributor

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    Agreed. The cost difference in bits is marginal. I don't use schedule 80 because the flanges aren't wide enough. Been using ebay bulkhead fittings 4/$11 for years and never once broke or stripped one.

    The only reason I use schedule 80 plumbing fittings is because the true union ball valves I buy are gray and I want the fitting to match. LOL.
     
  12. Tenji

    Tenji Aquarium Design + Build R2R Supporter Gold Sponsor

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    We prefer SCH80 fittings as they're significantly more robust than their SCH 40 and ABS counterparts. Some SCH40 bulkheads are pretty comparable, however, the industry standard is ABS which leaves something to be desired long-term. SCH80 bulkheads can be wrenched down during installation, and they have thicker longer lasting gaskets.
     
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