If you've just invested in a good-sized aquarium with all of the equipment you'll need to fill it, manage it, and keep your new fish happy and healthy, you may wonder if you need to shell out even more cash to purchase a special stand for your aquarium. While you will need to put the aquarium on top of something, the decision to buy a specialized aquarium stand will depend largely on your budget. Regardless of the tank size, it's important to have solid support based not only on the tank size but on the filled weight of the aquarium. The biggest error made by aquarium owners is underestimating the weight of the tank once it is filled with gravel substrate and water.
Aquarium Stand Options
An aquarium stand is a piece of furniture that's large and strong enough to support your aquarium and contains the equipment and supplies needed to care for your fish and tank. The size, shape, and materials used in the stand will depend on the size and quality of the tank, budget, and aesthetics. In essence, there are four options available:
- Repurpose: Use an existing or low-priced cabinet that's strong enough to support your aquarium.
- Purchase: Buy a dedicated aquarium stand at the price that's right for you.
- Customize: Have a custom stand designed and built for your space. It may be much pricier than a repurposed desk or cabinet, but it could be a better fit for your space and needs.
- DIY: Build your own stand. Use good cabinet-grade plywood—it's a standard material used for fish tank stands because of its strength and water resistance.
The actual weight of the aquarium will depend on the type of material used. Glass tanks are twice as heavy as acrylic tanks. An empty 20-gallon glass aquarium weighs over 25 pounds, while an acrylic tank weighs half that. Regardless of the material the tank is made of, the real problem comes into play when it is filled with substrate, decor, water, and fish.
Water Is Heavy
Water is a weighty material, adding over 8 pounds per gallon to your aquarium. In addition to the water, there's substrate for the bottom, which is also heavy. The weight of a 20-gallon glass tank soars from 25 pounds to well over 200 pounds when it is filled with water and gravel. Needless to say, that little bookcase against the wall is probably not a good candidate as an aquarium stand unless it's only a small tank.
Full Bottom Support
Weight is not the only issue when selecting a supporting structure for your aquarium. Different aquarium materials require different types of support that should be taken into account when choosing a stand. Acrylic has the advantage of being lighter weight, but because it is flexible it requires support along the entire bottom surface of the tank. Meanwhile, glass is heavier but will not buckle. For that reason, a glass tank only requires support on the outside edges of the aquarium. However, when working with a very large tank, full support is wise for any type of aquarium. When choosing a stand, keep these differences in mind and purchase the appropriate type of support.
Another safety factor to consider is the importance of the tank being level and supported evenly. If one edge of the tank overhangs the stand, or the entire tank is not level, additional stress will be focused on a specific seam. Over time the extra pressure can cause the seam to fail, resulting in leaks. Always ensure that the tank is level and that no portion of the tank overhangs the support.
In addition to the issue of weight and bottom support, consider the need to access equipment in and around the aquarium. If a shelf, desk, or bookcase is used, remember that you'll need some clearance space behind the tank for cords, filters, and other equipment. If a canister or other external equipment is used, there must be space for it close to the aquarium. A stand usually has space built-in below the aquarium that can be used to conceal equipment and store accessory items.
As a general rule of thumb, tanks under 20 gallons can be placed on a sturdy desk or a well-secured solid shelf. When setting up aquariums larger than that, it is advisable to consider a dedicated aquarium stand.