The main advantage of building your own tank is that you can tailor it to fit exactly where you want it. We will not attempt to go into the details of how to make an aquarium, but will briefly describe the most common options. See Moe (1982, 1992), Hunnam et al., (1989), and Dewey (1986) for more detailed descriptions of tank construction techniques.
The most common and easiest to construct are all-glass aquariums using silicone adhesive caulk as a sealant. Be sure that you buy a
brand that is safe for aquariums; if it doesn't say so on the package, don't use it! In addition, brands of silicone do vary with respect to their colour, clarity, and adhesive powers. In North America, clear silicones are the most common type used, but in Europe some tank manufacturers use a special black silicone that affords a really different look. When purchasing pre-cut glass, have the edges ground to reduce their sharpness, primarily to avoid injury when constructing the tank. Have any holes cut before you assemble the tank. This will save headaches later, by avoiding a return trip to the glass cutter with a completely assembled tank for drilling.
Most aquarists simply buy a commercially-made glass aquarium from their pet dealer, since these aquariums are usually the most readily available and least expensive option. There are numerous manufacturers that supply tanks nationally and locally, and some pet shops even build their own aquariums. When buying a glass aquarium, observe the quality of the workmanship and construction. The joints should be clear, with very few bubbles. The pieces of glass should fit evenly at all joints so that no piece sticks out beyond the others. Large aquariums and tall ones have top braces installed to prevent bowing of the glass, and some large custom aquariums also have bottom strips of glass inside, to provide additional bracing and prevent leaks from the bottom joints. Aquariums made from tempered glass resist bowing and can be made of thinner glass, so they are lighter and cheaper than aquariums made from non-tempered, plate glass. Tempered glass cannot be drilled, however, so it is unsuitable for special modifications.
Another option is acrylic. Acrylic is difficult to glue properly, requiring special solvents, a knowledge of the unique characteristics of the particular type (or batch) of acrylic used, and special equipment to cut the material properly. It's best to leave the construction to the manufacturers who have the expertise and proper equipment to make strong joints that will not come apart or leak. Acrylic tanks are more expensive than glass, but many aquarists prefer their appearance and the ease with which drilling and custom modifications can be done. Acrylic acts as a thermal insulator, and maintains temperature about 20% more effectively than glass. Furthermore, while some exotic custom shapes can be made with glass, acrylic offers even more possibilities. Acrylic tanks have a greater clarity than glass tanks (they are colourless, while glass is slightly green), and are lighter, weighing less than half as much as glass, but they do tend to scratch easily and are
more difficult to clean properly than glass tanks. The interior surface can become scratched due to the difficulty of removing algae. For this reason it is our opinion that while acrylic tanks are aesthetically nice, they are better for fish-only aquariums than reef aquariums because reef aquariums encourage more growth of algae on the viewing windows. To make matters worse, coralline algae have an affinity for plastics, including acrylic. The coralline algae in particular create a problem because the calcium they deposit will scratch the acrylic when you try to remove them to keep the viewing window clear.
Fiberglass tanks are commonly used in research institutions and commercial aquaculture operations. They are basically fiberglass tubs with one large glass or acrylic window bonded or secured with a seal. One advantage is that plumbing holes can be incorporated with relative ease, and another is that the tank is fairly light-weight, yet strong.
Wooden tanks have been popular among freshwater aquarists for years. They are relatively easy to make and, if well constructed, can last a long time. They are easy to drill should you require drainage or return holes. Drawbacks include their heavy weight and possibly cost. Small wood tanks can cost more than similar sized all-glass aquariums. For really large exhibits though, they are cost effective.
Concrete tanks are used by public aquariums for really big displays, typically with thick acr\ lie sheets for the viewing windows. Aquaculture facilities also use concrete to make long, raceway style aquariums. Concrete is not typically used for home aquariums, but it is a good material for making really big tanks when weight is of no concern. It is not the material of choice for building an aquarium that you plan to move someday. If you wish to use concrete to build that giant aquarium of your dreams, we suggest that you contact several public aquariums about the best materials and construction techniques.
As in conventional marine aquariums, filtration in reef aquariums consists of three main types: mechanical, biological and chemical. However, there are differences in the way they are incorporated and utilized in a reef tank. Mechanical filtration is usually accomplished by an inert filter pad or floss, but may also be accomplished passively through settling. Biological filtration is provided by a trickle filter and/or living rock and substrates, and
chemical filtration may consist of various gadgets and substrates used to remove specific dissolved chemicals from the water.
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