Questions To Ask Before You Start

By Kyle May
Post Reply
User avatar
Kyle May
Posts: 1512
Joined: Thu Nov 01, 2007 1:43 pm
Location: NothEast Ohio, USA

Questions To Ask Before You Start

Post by Kyle May »

I'll post a construction update very soon so that you can see some more photos of my progress.
It occurred to me today that I should broach the topic of things to think about prior to starting a project like this.
In essence, now that I'm over half way through, I now possess the knowledge that I needed prior to starting.
I know that I'm one of many who feel this way and, as you will see, respondents to this thread will probably be many.
I recently had a friend who was helping someone construct a room from scratch. He sent the constructor a list of all of the things to consider and his friend was astonished! I'll attempt to clue the beginner in on some of the things that will need to be defined prior to the start of construction.

#1 Level with yourself. Only you know your ability. You are also the only one who knows where your true interest in the hobby lies. For example, don't construct a fish room with really large tanks if your interests lie in very small fish. You must have a frank discussion with yourself and determine where your interests lie and then build your room to suit.
Sounds easy huh?

I thought I knew what I was doing and you see that I am completely redoing a room that I completed in 2008.
Although in 2008 I was specializing in dwarf cichlids and shell dwellers, (and I built my room to suit), in the back of my mind and in my past history of fish keeping, I always enjoyed Larger Centrals and South Americans. I could have saved myself a boat load of trouble had I leveled with myself back then and worked in some larger tanks.

Along this vein, you should decide what your goals are or what type of fish keeper you are.
Do you plan to breed? If so, think about the flow of your room for this purpose. Put your breeding tanks in close proximity to your fry station. This will save you steps while transferring fry from the breeding tanks to the grow out area.
Do you want to keep a certain type of species all in one area for aesthetic entire wall of shell dwellers, or a wall of peacocks, etc. Many similar types of fish can be kept in similar sized tanks.
Maybe you want to segment your room by where the species South American Area, A Central Area, An African Area...etc.

Personally mine is set up to breed. Not that breeding is my main concern, but this makes my room more flexible, while making it easy to handle a breeding population of fish. I mainly breed small Centrals, so I have a wall of 40 gallon tanks that are all drilled and plumbed into a drain system. These tanks all operate independently of one another so I don't have a central filter, nor the problems associated with a central filter. These tanks are all 3 steps away from a fry center. My fry center consists of 5 - 5.5 gallon tanks on a rack over 4-ten gallon tanks. So the fry are spawned in the 40 gallon tanks, are transferred to the 5.5 gal tanks for intensive feeding, then to the 10 gallon tanks for initial grow out, then to a rack of 20 gallon tanks 2 steps to the left of the fry rack for final grow out and display for sale. So spawning to bagging all take place within 3 or 4 steps of one another. Amazingly this led to an open floor plan which makes my room very comfortable. Many fish rooms I've visited feel damp and cramped. Mine is open, well lit, nicely dry, and it usually has soft jazz playing on the fish room'd like to say that's why the Centrals are so productive, but we all know that'd be stretching reason to the

POINT: Make your fish room work for you. Don't be afraid to build in some flexibility.

#2 Assess your abilities and your available cash. You cannot make money with a fish room. You can defray the costs of the operation of your hobby, but, and I repeat, you cannot make money with your fish room. If you are not able to do most of the construction yourself and do not have the money to pay for it, you may want to reassess your goals and/or scale back your project. You can save $$ by doing the work yourself, but don't tell your wife that you'll get the money you laid out for materials back as soon as your yellow labs start pumping out fry. Inevitably the price of yellow labs will plummet to the point that you can't give them away and you'll be stuck with 300 yellow lab fry eating up your remaining funds.
Figure the entire room is a loss and get on with it. Tell your wife you know 4 guys at work that drink up as much as you spend on your fish room each week...

If you are not handy with electricity, plumbing, and carpentry, then find a buddy who's into fish and carpentry and offer your labor for his. Most of the construction in my room is basic carpentry, wiring, and plumbing. I've done all of it myself with the aid of some friends for the heavy lifting. You can learn most any of these skills. In a past life I was a plumber for 6 yrs without attending 1 day of plumbing school. You can do it too, but don't do any job you don't feel comfortable with.

#3 Have a written plan. Make an initial plan that includes everything you want in your ultimate fish room. Be detail oriented. A 20 gallon high tank is basically 24" long, but if you put a tape to one of them, you'll find that they are actually closer to 24.5 inches long. Don't build a rack designed to fit four, 24 inch tanks that is 8 feet long for example. The rack would need to be at least 98 inches long. Don't find out too late that you've not measured correctly. Also give yourself some lee way to be off. Being generous with your racking will allow you to remove a tank without disturbing the others. It'll allow you some flexibility in your game plan.

Once you have a written plan or diagram of your basic tank layout, then offer it to a friend to play devils advocate.
A second set of eyes may see something you have missed. Once you have the basic layout, then go back over the plan and add in the extra's that will make your fish room more than just some wooden shelves with tanks on them. Diagram in your drains, extra plugs that need wired for heaters, filters, and lights. Add in your water service if you are installing an automatic water change system.

Wiring: Make sure your wiring plan has roughly double the amount of outlets you think you'll need. My tanks have a separate circuit for heaters only. One switch in my main panel shuts off all the heaters in my fish room. I have one circuit that operates all lights in the room. One time operates all lighting. I have 4 plug outlets for each tank to accommodate filters and any other necessary item I might need to plug in.This is not overkill. I've actually wished I had added more plugs. My fish room has 11 circuits that service these 45+ tanks.

Drains: Make your drains at least 1.5" or larger to handle multiple tanks draining at once. If you don't put in a auto water change system, put in a drain system that includes some utility drains on your racks so that you don't have to have hoses running about to trip over. PVC pipe is so cheap and easy to use that this is a no brainer.

Lighting: Think about using compact fluorescent lighting. It can save you 1/2 of the power you use and provide the same amount or more light than traditional lighting. Everytime I upgrade, I use the most energy efficient light I can find. It has truly made an impact on the electric bill.

Diagramming these items in advance will reveal any roadblocks that may occur when trying to balance water, electricity, and drainage. You may notice that you'll have to build the room in stages to avoid running into space issues. I build my racks first, then add electrical outlets, then drainage, and then the air system.
Pre-planning allows you to do the work in stages and avoids the overwhelming feeling that I got when I tried to do all things at once. I have a friend who had to talk me off the ledge more than once during my remodel because I bit off more than I could chew. Pre-planning takes alot of the complexity out of the project and allows you to block out tasks.
I even drew plans up for each stand so that I could check the dimensions of the stand against the dimensions of the room and the dimensions of the actual tanks. Buying a project calculator will help you be more accurate in your plans and I suggest you purchase one if possible. I've saved myself a ton of money by exposing problems before I started cutting wood and buying materials.

#4 Add in some fun. As I mentioned earlier I put a stereo in my fishroom.....a fairly nice executive type stereo. I spend tons of time in my room and I am a huge lover of it made sense to me to put in a stereo. I have a cd collection in the room as well. So what's your thing? Do you like to watch sports on tv? Work a tv into your plan. Have it wired into your cable system so you can stay in touch with the game while you do water changes. I'm adding a tv next to my stereo as an upgrade this winter so I won't miss the NFL playoffs. Maybe you want to watch curling or soccer. Point is, if you make your fish room a fun place to be, you'll want to be down there more often and this benefits you and your fish. does anyone know where I can get a mini fridge for my Molson EX?......

Once you've assessed what type of room you want, assessed your abilities, and have a written plan, you'll find that building the perfect fish room is just a matter of completing a list of simple tasks.

If you've already built your fish room and have any pearls of wisdom or a funny story, please submit it here. I'd love to hear your tale of fish room woe, or your tale of fish room victory.


Kyle May
Sept 2009
Kyle May
Ohio Cichlid Association
Northern Ohio, USA
Dan Woodland
CichlidRoom Expert
Posts: 3048
Joined: Wed Mar 01, 2006 9:49 am

Re: Questions To Ask Before You Start

Post by Dan Woodland »

Well done Kyle. Thanks for sharing your thought process and ideas.

In my fish room I ran nearly 500 feet of wire supplying 112 outlets! I should have installed more! :lol:
Post Reply

Return to “A Frugal Aquarists Ultimate Fish Room”