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From: (Joshua Levy)
Date: Fri, 30 Jul 1993 00:56:22 GMT
Newsgroups: rec.aquaria
Subject: Proto-FAQ: Setting Up A Small Fish Room

Setting Up A Small Fish Room

Rev. 0.1 7/10/93


This is the Summary of information gathered on how to build a Small Fish Room.

It is designed to be a FAQ some day. Please send all feed back to, so I can improve it. I'm already planning on providing more specific instructions in how to build stands, and more info on air pumps, but I'll need your suggestions on other parts which need to be extended, changed, or improved.

Table of contents


This posting gives information on setting up a small fish room of 10-30 fresh water tanks (total of 100-300 gallons). Many of the ideas found here will help with big single tank set ups, or larger multi tank set ups, but the target audience is people setting up their first fish room, and a pretty small one. I have gathered from the net far more information than I can stuff into one FAQ, and am working on a pamphlet or mini-book, which will be more complete and detailed.

Other Sources Of Information

The FAMA book FOR WHAT ITS WORTH VOL #1 edited by ___ ___ contains lots of good information on multi tanks set ups in general. Well worth the $11 it costs.

The other rec.aquarium FAQs, the postings on "The Monster" tank, and other postings which are named in the specific sections they pertain to.

Catalogs from various mail order supply places.


There was widespread agreement that the back bone of the lighting system should be 4 foot, 2 tube fluorecent fixtures (AKA "shop lights"). These are cheap, flexiable, and widely available. Four foot fluorecent tubes are the most cost effective, no matter what type of tube you end up putting in. You can always add metal halide or VHO lights later.

(Refer to the plant FAQ for information on what sort of light to use.)


This FAQ assumes you want "industrial" stands. Ones that hold lots of tanks, are not too expensive, and don't need to look great. Also, since it assumes you're using shop lights, your stands should be either 4, 8, or 12 feet long.

Loading and Sizing

The exact rules about how much weight floors can support are compilcated, and different at different times and places. Most home and appartment floors can support two "layers" of tanks. Some can support three, but you should check your local building codes. This will give you a basic constraint on height. The size of each shelf is dependent on the size tanks you plan to put on it. There is a posting which contains a list of common tanks sizes and their exterior dimentions. Get it. Also, remember that you might want to put some tanks "thin side out", for raising fry, or other purposes where more water is more important than more viewing space.


Most commercial racks are 3 feet wide, but they could be put next to each other to make 9 foot or 12 foot racks. In general "heavy duty" metal racks are not strong enough to hold much water. Commercial racks with shelves of 3/4 inch particle board will hold tanks, but will sag after some months, or a year or two. No one on rec.aquaria reported good long term experiances with bought racks.


The most common construction was used 2x4s with 3/4 inch plywood shelves.

If you are going to build this sort of stand, remember that lumber comes in 8 foot lengths, while plywood comes in 4 food by 8 foot sheets (standard). Also a 2x4 is not 2 inches by 4 inches! Those numbers are before finishing. When you buy 2x4s, they are 1.5 inches by 3.5 inches.

Another common construction was cinder block and plank; the planks being 2x12s or two 4x4s or a 3/4 inch plywood sheet, cut into strips.

Example of 2x4 construction: If you make the shelving 8 feed wide and 16 inches deep, you can cut three shelves out of one sheet of plywood. Make a frame out of 2x4s for each shelf. Use 11 more 6 foot 2x4s for verticle bracing. Four of the verticle braces should go on the ends (two per); an additional four braces front and back (near the corners); one brace in the middle of the front, and two braces on the back. Sort of like this (top view):

     X                   X                   X                   X
   X|                                                             |X
    |                                                             |
   X|                                                             |X
     X                             X                             X
You'll end up using 17 lengths of 8 foot 2x4. This stand will hold 8 10 gallon tanks, or 16 5 gallon tanks "thin side out", but that will get very crowded. If you buy a second sheet of plywood, you can make it each shelf 18 or 24 inches wide, and have plywood for a top.


With filtering the first question is central vs. distributed.

Central filtering can cut down the maintenance time considerably. You only need to clean and take care of one big filter instead of one, two, or three dozen filters. Also, it allows you to use a more complex filter, and have all your tanks benefit from it. But, it has down sides, as well. It forces all your tanks to have the same water chemistry, and it means that diseases can spread to all your tanks very quickly.

If you go with a central filter, you need to choose a big filter, a water pump to drive it, a pipe system to feed it, and drilled tanks.

(See the filter FAQ about choosing a big filter, in the future this posting should be supplimented with more information on high end filters.)

(See a seperate posting about choosing a water pump.)

The solution for piping water is the the same as for piping air: PVC. It is cheap, easy to work with and common. PVC is typically sold in 20 foot lengths for less than a dollar. (It is cheaper than 1/4 inch air line.) There are many books on home plumbing which cover working with PVC. It involves epoxy, but you can rapid prototype by friction fitting the parts, and then epoxy it when you're sure it is what you want.

(See a seperate posting by Howard Rebel about drilling tanks.)

Even if you use a distributed filtering system, you may want to have a central air pump. This is actually the most common set up: one big air pump driving one or more filter(s) in each tank. You have your choice of UGF, box filter, or sponge filters.

(Refer to the filtering FAQ for information on what sorts of filters to use for individual tanks.)

For a central air pump, you have three choices: a big normal pump, an air compressor, or an air blower. A big, normal pump is something like a Supra IV. This pump is about $50 mail order, quiet, and can drive 30 tanks. An air compressor is designed to provide relatively little air at high pressure, while an air blower is designed to provide relatively large amounts of air at low pressure. Pressure is measured in PSI (pounds per square inch, while amount of air is measured in CFM (cubic feed per minute). Many mail order places have a selection of compressors and blowers for $100 - $300 dollars. Wet Thumb Aquatics is particularly good. Some common air pumps and their stats are listed below:

|     Name     | max PSI | max CFM | Cost | Notes
|   Supra IV   |   16    |   2.2   |  50  | Aquarists agree: very quiet
Cost is approximate mail order, in U.S. dollars. Max CFM is achieved against no back pressure, and under max pressure, almost no air is actually moved.

Air compressors and blowers are used for many purposes, and are available from various industrial suppliers and mail order places, in addition to aquarium supply houses. You should avoid pumps which require oil, both because they require regular maintenance, and because they often require a filter after the pump to ensure there is no oil in the air.


Heating is pretty simple. If you have a central filter, you can heat that with a "fireplug" type heater, or several large heaters. If you do not have a central filter you can either heat the room, or heat each tank with its own heater. From a cost point of view, heating each tank will always be cheaper (less waste), if your house heat is electric, or if you use a stand alown electric heater. No one knows the exact economics if you can heat the room with gas or oil.


You may want to install a ground fault interupt plug in your fish wall. (GFIs are discussed in more detail in the Electric FAQ.)

Most circuits can carry at least 15 amps of power. A small fish room will not require more than this, so you should not worry about blowing breakers from pulling to much power. Of course you can always blow a breaker by shorting.


Your fish room floor should be covered with something, especially if you are using a carpeted spare bedroom. Plywood can be used to help distribute the weight of the tanks, while water proof plastic can be used to minimize water damage from spills. A combination is probably best.
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