Low Budget Fish Room

by Fredrik Hagblom - The Cichlid Gallery

This is not really a guide in "how to create a perfect fish room" since all I did was throw a bunch of tanks into a room in a reasonably organized manner, but I thought it might inspire someone to go ahead and do it even if they really cant afford it. If you feel you need a fish room and you have some money to spend, then that's fine and you might be able to go ahead and fulfil your dream. But what if you DON'T have money? Well, of course you still need a fish room and there's no reason to wait until your economic situation is better. If you want a fish room now then I believe you should set up, at least a smaller one right now. Later, when you actually can afford it you might have lost your interest just because you didn't "dig in" enough back then. Personally, if I had some money to spend I would spend it on cichlids but with a house and kids and all, fish kind of comes last in our families economic strategy.

You are broke but of course you need a fish room

The best way to build a fish room is of course to first select a space, then construct the racks, build your own customized tanks to fit your space, carefully plan and hide all electric installations and get a big compressor to run all your tank filters through air hoses. You should also have an automatic or at least semiautomatic water changing system. Now that's all perfect and I hope I will have a setup like that one day but it does not mean that we who cant afford setting it up like that should go on just dreaming about it. This is how I got going.

It started in an apartment

We used to live in a two bedroom apartment in the centre of the town of Malmö in Sweden. It had really nice oak floors and was pretty spacious. The building also was a very solid construction. I started up with two 250 litre tanks and two 47 litre fry tanks in this apartment and I was really happy about it. I didn't ask the landlord if it was OK since I was afraid he might say no. It didn't take long before I felt that 250 litres was too small for Tropheus and I found an old scratched second hand 375 litres that I had a friend help me carry up the stairs while my wife was still at work. When she got home we had our first argument about the amount of tanks in our lives and I'm sure many of you know how that is.

A good way to keep filling your home up with tanks and still have a good relation to your wife is to encourage her projects and show interest in what she wants to do. Being quite good at this I have always been able to slip in a few tanks each year, at least.

The second 375 came a few months later and then the 420 and a few 100 litre grow out tanks. Now I was up to five large tanks and 4 small in a normal living room and even I started understanding that this is starting to be a problem. I was at the time beginning to look for some type of basement room to rent but this was also about the time when we started to seriously consider moving to a house with a garden and some more space for the kids. And yes, the place we moved to had a small basement room that wasn't going to be used for anything special. A new heating system had been installed and this was were the old heater for the house had been.

What needed to be done?

The room had a drain in the floor and a tap of cold water. I made a sketch of the room's layout on a piece of paper and started to place imaginary tanks and racks in it. Very soon I understood that this was pretty far from an ideal room for this purpose, but there was really nothing to choose from so it had to work. The largest parts of the floor was painted with heavy duty paint but were the old oil tank had been placed, the floor was lower and the cement was unprotected. This is where the water would end up instead of in the drain if there was a leak, obviously not so good. I checked on how much it would cost to fill it up with cement but it was too much. I finally decided to cover that part of the floor with waterproof carpet, the type you might use in a bathroom.

The tanks

I found a metal rack that was 2 meters long and used to hold a large sink. It was very stable and fit perfectly into the western wall of the room. On this I placed a 375, a 250 and a bunch of smaller tanks. The two 250 litre tanks were placed on their original stands in a few pretty impossible corners of the room. The 420 fit perfectly into one corner and the other 375 had to sit outside in the hallway.

At this point I started to place ads on web pages and newspapers wanting to buy ugly, scratched, broken, leaking fish tanks in southern Sweden and I got a few answers. Finally I found a breeder in Gothenburg who wanted to sell an iron rack of eight eighty litre tanks for just 100 dollars and I went up to pick it up. The racks were rusty and the plastic outsides of the tanks were all cracked, they were scratched and repaired several times. There were holes drilled for automatic water changing but they were covered again, but none of the tanks leaked and they all had a large built in filter compartment and filter sponge was included. They were perfect for me. The tanks just barely fitted in my station wagon and the iron rack had to be strapped to the top of it. Back home the iron rack fitted quite well along the southern wall of the room and everything was repainted white and now it gave a somewhat cleaner impression. Placing ads on the internet

This guy called and had seen one of my ads. He had a 250 with a broken bottom for a very small sum of money and I picked that up as well. The bottom glass was cracked all the way from side to side in two places and I kind of saw it as a challenge to fix it. I cut of all the silicone but without separating the glass plates. I covered the whole bottom with a thin layer of silicone and placed a couple of old thin pieces of glass that I had lying around on top of the cracks. I then resealed all the plates and filled it up. It looks awful but still holds the water.

You will spill

One thing that you can't avoid in a fish room is to spill. You will spill and you will probably spill allot. I was used to having my tanks in a living room on wooden floors so I have a good routine on how to change allot of water without spilling, but wow is it wonderful to be able to spill! Now I spill all over the place and my water changes are really a mess. However I make a habit of drying all tanks and racks with a towel and mopping the floor daily, but when I'm working in there there's water all over the place.

Water and electricity

Water and electricity is an important issue of a fish room. The idea is to not have any electrical outlets on the floor or low on the walls since this sooner or later results in water running down the cord and into the socket. Bare in mind that you will have at least two and sometimes four electrical cables running from each tank so it is advisable to have all connections in the ceiling or high up on the walls. You need to separate the pumps power heads and heaters that need to be turned on all the time from the lights that should be connected to a timer. In a case like mine were each tank has its own canopy this takes a little "wiring", however it pays off. I have a light from each tank connected to a main socket with a timer and then power heads, air pumps and heaters connected to a different outlet.


Heaters are often not used at all in fish rooms. The normal way to do it is to heat the whole room. However if you try to seal the room as much as possible the lights and a few heaters seem to heat up the whole room and then you don't need to put separate heaters in all tanks. For instance in my rack of eight 80 litter tanks I only need a heater in the two bottom ones for all eight tanks to reach an acceptable temperature.

Sit comfortably

A good shelf or cabinet for foods are good and a freezer is a plus. A good sink for filter maintenance and cleaning of tools and small tanks are good. I have that right next door in the laundry room. Last of all you need a good stereo and a comfortable chair and you're all set. It really is a pity I sometimes need to crawl out of this room.

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