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Where to Put Your Aquarium

by TFH Magazine on March 16, 2012 at 7:15 am

Carefully evaluate the location where you want to put an aquarium before putting it there. Photograph by Leslie R. Morris.

By Leslie R. Morris

After 10 years of experience with my 55-gallon aquarium, I have learned two lessons. Lesson 1: Do not buy an aquarium that is deeper than your arm is long. Lesson 2: Except for a piano, an aquarium is the heaviest object in your home. Even new refrigerators are not very heavy compared to an aquarium.

Since water weighs about 8.35 pounds per gallon, a 55-gallon aquarium weighs 459 pounds plus the glass, rocks, and the stand. It is well over 500 pounds, or a quarter of a ton. A 125-gallon aquarium weighs over a half ton—more than 1,000 pounds.

Homes and apartments, as I learned to my dismay, are not built to support the load of a typical larger aquarium.

Builders call the dirt on which the house rests the “grade.” If your house has no basement, and the builder pours the cement floor on the dirt, it is “on grade.” If there is a basement that has a cement floor, that floor is “below grade.” If your aquarium rests on the flooring that rests on the cement, you need not worry about its weight.

When you place the aquarium on a wooden floor that is laid on wooden joists, you must be careful.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Usually, builders place stairs against a wall. My condominium’s stairs were built with railings placed on both sides. I placed the aquarium against the stairs. It was aesthetically pleasing, it did not sacrifice too much space in the room and it offered easy access to the top and back of the aquarium from the steps through the railings. However, in a few months, I noticed that the stairs were pulling loose from the floor above; I did not realize that the aquarium was the cause, but it finally dawned on me. A steel jack, installed in the basement below the center of the aquarium, solved the problem.

Where Should You Install an Aquarium?

The best place to install an aquarium is on the cement floor in the basement. Equally good is the cement first floor if you have no basement.

A house is a big wooden box that is usually designed and built by carpenters— not engineers. The strongest areas are the corners. The weakest areas are the centers of the rooms. Windows and doors subtract from a wall’s strength. Place your aquarium in a corner. If not in a corner, place it against a wall. Often, there is a steel beam in the basement equidistant from two outside walls. Site your aquarium on the floor above the beam. I wanted to place my aquarium the long way above the beam. My significant other did not want the aquarium cutting the room in half, so it straddles the beam. Every few months I check the ceiling above the aquarium to check for any separation of the walls from the ceiling. If I see any, I will install a couple of jacks in the basement.

If you use an engineer or an engineer to build your new home, tell them about the aquarium and they will build in the necessary supports.

Never Install an Aquarium Here?

I met someone who wanted to install an aquarium at the edge of the loft overlooking the living room. It is a great concept, but unless there is a steel beam supporting the edge of the loft, I predict failure.


I recently saw an ad for a large, round aquarium designed for the center of a room. It scared me. If you install an aquarium in the center of a room, install one or two jacks in the basement directly under the aquarium. Floor jacks retail for about $35.00.

The second floor of a home is a chancy place for a larger aquarium. If it is against the outside wall, it is probably okay. Apartment buildings are usually built stronger than homes. Beware of the teenager who wants several tanks in his bedroom.


Since moving an aquarium even a few feet, requires that you empty the tank and completely restart of the biological cycle, consider the initial placement of your aquarium. You do not want to relocate it.

Check the floor below for supporting beams.

Consider placing supporting jacks in the basement under the aquarium.

Monthly, check walls and ceilings for signs of separation or sagging.

Before installing your third large aquarium, consult an engineer or an architect.

Posted in TFH Extras by TFH Magazine on March 16th, 2012 at 7:15 am.

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