Perhaps the easiest decision to make, the one after actually deciding to keep marines, is the purchase of an aquarium. Well, it’s the very first need, the one to keep all the seawater together in one place!
So how to go about it – seems simple enough. Just go to the shop and get an aquarium that fits the space that has been designated for it.
Before the aquarist begins considering an aquarium purchase, it is necessary to have done some research into different marine systems (for example, fish only and reef tank) and come to a decision on which one is desired. Then a major consideration can take place, and that is running cost. It would be dreadful if the system had been set up over a period and the aquarist suddenly found him/herself faced with a frightening electricity bill.
When the system has been theoretically decided then the aquarist can list down some equipment requirements such as heaters and lighting. This is not wasting time as this knowledge will be required in due course anyway. There isn’t really a need to list all electrical equipment unless the aquarist wishes a near accurate calculation, just take into account the heating and lighting needs of the size of aquarium desired. Heating – and lighting on a reef aquarium if metal halide – are the big users of electricity. This is in a temperate area of course, in warmer areas a chiller could take the place of heaters and this is also quite hungry for electricity.
The calculation is simple – take the combined heater and lighting wattage (W) and divide it by 1000 (1000 is the normally used kilowatt which most electricity bills are based on). The result, probably a fraction, is the amount of electricity used in an hour. This is with the lights and heaters on all the time and of course they won’t be. So divide the answer by two. This will assume the heaters to be on half the time and also the lights. This again is not accurate, but for the purposes of this exercise is adequate as it is probably over estimated. However, remember there will be other equipment using electricity as well, though not as heavy in usage. For a day, multiply the answer by 24. For a week, multiply the last answer by 7 and so on. The cost is the number of kilowatts used including any fraction multiplied by the cost per kilowatt charged by the electricity supplier.
With this knowledge the aquarist will be either satisfied that the size of aquarium is economically acceptable or realize that it is too expensive. If the first, that’s great. If the second, all is not lost.
Downsize the aquarium is the obvious move, and this will reduce the heating and lighting requirements. If metal halides are to be used, then reducing the depth of the aquarium will mean that less powerful bulbs should be adequate, or that fluorescents could be used.
If metal halide lighting is a must because of what is to be kept (for example SPS corals) then running cost can be reduced by using a modern LED lighting system. These are now available as full arrays or as LED strip lights which look similar to fluorescents in physical size. These LED’s use much less electricity and the bulbs last far longer than fluorescents or metal halides. There are other advantages. Unfortunately, they are more expensive to purchase so though the ongoing running cost is considerably reduced the initial set-up cost is increased. Another lighting option is to use fluorescent T5 tubes and these are far less expensive than LED’s to purchase and cost less to run than metal halide bulbs. Again care must be taken as the depth of the aquarium matters, light will not penetrate as far as with metal halides.
It is really worth while checking the general running cost of a marine system before anything else, particularly in these days of increasing energy costs. Quite a few newcomers and more experienced aquarists have been unpleasantly surprised when the first electricity bill for the new or upgraded system arrives. Checking first avoids any nasty surprise.
Once the general running cost is checked and found to be acceptable then the aquarium size is known. Now an aquarium can be chosen.
Will it be acrylic or glass? I prefer glass as it doesn’t scratch so easily. Will it have a sump? Will it be in a cabinet? There is another question as well and that is what shape will it be?
Nowadays aquariums can be obtained in all sorts of sizes and shapes. There are the standard rectangular ones, square and round ones and those that fit into a corner as they are triangular. So if the space for the aquarium is ‘different’ there will be something suitable. Some aquarists even have ‘L’ shaped units to go around a corner though these are usually custom built on site. When choosing a shape, remember to consider the lights that are required – will they fit? Also will the intended lights have enough penetrating power for the depth of the aquarium, unless the livestock don’t require it?
Starting out with the design of a new system is exciting. Obtaining the aquarium is a first step and an easy one. Checking the guideline running cost is well worth while to avoid later unwelcome surprises or even shock. Cutting back on a newly set-up system is not going to enhance the aquarist’s enjoyment one bit.