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Size Matters - Choosing The Right Tank Size

Choosing the proper tank size for your aquarium will prevent frustration down the road. Learn the factors involved that could influence your decision when choosing the right size aquarium.


If you are new to the aquarium hobby, you may be tempted to think that when it comes to deciding on tank size, a 5 gallon tank is easier to maintain than a 30 gallon tank. This assumption is wrong and it is one that many novice aquarists make when they start out. It is not uncommon for a beginning aquarist to choose a 10 gallon tank as their starter tank because they feel like they should ease into the hobby when, in fact, a 30 gallon tank is just as easy (or perhaps easier) to maintain. Do not make a decision about which tank you will buy based on how "easy" you think it will be to maintain. When it comes to selecting the right size aquarium, there are a variety of factors to consider and you should not rush your decision.

Available Space

aquarium xs_8620756One of the most obvious factors that should be considered before purchasing an aquarium is the amount of available space you have in your home. If you live in a studio apartment it may not be practical for you to keep a 50 gallon tank, for example. In addition to the actual space you have available, the right location for your tank will be in a relatively low-traffic area where people and objects will be unlikely to bump into it and knock it over. The space you choose for your tank should also be easily accessible to make maintenance easier. An aquarium may seem like the perfect way to fill that empty nook in your home but you may regret the decision to put your fish tank there the first time you have to clean it.


discus 000001915432xsmallWhile it is true that larger tanks are easier to maintain than smaller tanks, that is not to say that all novice aquarists should go out and buy a 75 gallon aquarium. Maintaining a tank of this size could require more than one filter or even a sump system that may be more of a challenge than a novice aquarist is willing to take on. If you have several years of experience in the aquarium hobby and are looking to move to the next level or plan to start keeping bigger fish, a large tank may be the right choice for you. For the average beginner in this hobby, however, a tank size around 25 to 30 gallons is ideal. A tank this size is not so large that the size becomes a challenge and it is just large enough that the water volume provides a buffer against the mistakes that a novice is likely to make in regards to the water parameters. In a small tank, a drop in pH or an increase in ammonia could have devastating consequences but these dangers decrease in severity with higher water volumes.

Type of Fish

angelfish xs_12704079Another obvious factor in determining which size fish tank is right for you is the type and number of fish you intend to keep. It is often recommended that novice aquarists stock their tank using the principle of one inch of fish per gallon of water. However, this is a very general rule at best and can be misleading if taken literally. If you plan to follow this rule, take the adult size of your fish into consideration rather than the size they are when you purchase them. Also, you must realize that certain species of fish require more room than other species, even though they may be of similar size. Smaller community fish can generally be kept in tanks 30 gallons or less in capacity, but some fish like Oscars and Cichlids, require at least 50 gallons. Before you purchase a tank, research the type of fish you want to keep to see what tank size they prefer. When researching, keep in mind that some fish have preferences not only for tank size but also for tank shape. Species with tall fins like Angelfish, for example, may prefer tanks that are taller than they are wide.

Tank Maintenance

girl xs_6338985Maintenance time for most aquariums can be reduced if the aquarium is set up properly, so this should not be a large concern when considering what size tank to get. A properly sized filter will remove most of the waste and toxins from your tank water and you will need to replace the filter media once a month regardless what size tank you have. Performing weekly 10 - 20% water changes is recommended in order to keep the water quality in your tank high. If you have a large tank, this process could take longer than it might in a smaller tank. However, larger water volumes will dilute toxins more than a smaller volume so spikes in pH and changes in water chemistry are less likely to become deadly in larger tanks. As long as you allow your tank to cycle properly before stocking it with fish and you keep your filter running and maintained, you should not have to spend much time cleaning algae off the glass or tank decorations. Again, the size of your tank should not significantly affect the growth rate of algae.

Other Considerations

gourami xs_12826617While space, experience, fish and maintenance are the main factors you should take into consideration when selecting a fish tank, there are other things that may influence your decision. As you move from smaller to larger tanks, you will notice a considerable increase in price. If you want a sizeable tank but do not have a lot of money to spend, consider purchasing an aquarium starter kit that includes some of the equipment and tank decorations in order to save money. It is also a good idea to think ahead when selecting your tank. If you are a beginner to this hobby but want to give yourself room for growth, select a tank slightly larger than the average starter tank. For example, if you are starting out with small community fish like Guppies and Swordtails, but hope to move on to Gouramis in the future, select a tank size in the 30 gallon range rather than a 20 gallon.




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