How do you beat the high cost of keeping fish? Seems like every time you turn around you have to buy something! Fortunately, there are many ways to cut down on the little costs that make up our hobby. This month, the DIY project is going to come from a ground-floor perspective. Just because new tanks are expensive, it doesn’t mean that you have to start out with a new one in order to have healthy fish! I am always looking at the want ads and the nickel shopper for a good deal on tanks. The truth is that many people buy their tanks in a weak moment and end up losing $60 or more and then give up! The tank then goes to the storage shed or the garage only to sit there, in the way, for several years until it is given away or sold at a yard sale. I have only purchased two new tanks in my entire career as a cichlidiot! Both of those were kits, and only one of those had decent equipment with it. When you buy like that, you get stuck with whatever they throw in, kind of like a white elephant gift. Since then I have wised up and have found many a good deal , many for less than a dollar a gallon with all of the accessories thrown in!

The things to look for when buying a used tank are fairly simple:

  • Don’t buy a tank with broken glass! If someone is willing to give you a tank with one broken pane and you are up to repairing it, then great – but don’t spend money on a broken one.
  • Don’t buy tanks with chipped corners. Glass can and will run from a chip. That is not to say that you can’t get by with a chip, but don’t pay good money just to wake up one morning to a wet living room full of dead fish and broken glass! If you do have a tank with a chip, take some emery cloth and buff all of the edges of the chip so that it cannot run. – Never spend more than a dollar a gallon. I can buy a brand new tank for about a buck a gallon, so why would I purchase a used one for the same price? I try to keep the price at around $.50 to $.75 per gallon. Nice thing is, when buying a used tank you get all of the accessories that you would have had to pay extra for had you bought it at the store!
  • Avoid bare tanks. When you have to spend money on lighting, filtration, UGF, and a heater, you are going to be out some serious money. Most people who have a tank have the accessories. The only tanks that I have seen without any are tanks that were used for snakes or hamsters or some other small animal. I bought three tanks from a fellow with all of the accessories, and as I was leaving he asked me if I wanted a canister filter. He gave me a Magnum 350 Deluxe with all of the parts in working order for free!

When you get the tank home, take a long, careful look at the condition of the silicone! Make sure, after wiping it out, that the silicone is not brittle and turning yellow.

  • If the silicone is questionable, take the time to scrape out the old silicone and replace it. When you do this, be sure to take out all of the old silicone. Old silicone will not bond well with the new and there is always the possibility of a leak. I bought a nice tank and spent a whole lot of time scraping out the old silicone and replacing it, but I neglected to replace the silicone holding the center brace. I got up one morning to find the brace hanging down in the tank and the front glass bowing out almost two inches! Take your time and do it all.
  • Wipe down every area that is going to be caulked with a 25% vinegar solution and dry.
  • I use GE-brand window and door silicone that I get at the local building supply. It’s cheap and it’s the same stuff that you buy at the LFS for a lot more money. Do not use the stuff labeled for kitchens and baths! It contains mould inhibitors that will kill your fish!
  • Take some masking tape (I use the blue kind for painters) and mask both sides of every corner about 3/8″ out from the corner. This will help you get real nice, professional-looking corners. If you don’t, it won’t affect the strength but it will not look as nice.
  • Put the caulk in all of the joints in a continuous bead. Dampen your finger in a bowl of water and smooth the bead to a neat, concave surface. Wipe your finger on a rag or paper towel regularly and keep it moist, and you will make some real nice-looking joints!
  • As soon as you are done smoothing out the beads, carefully remove the masking tape. Do not touch up the silicone again or you will probably have a mess on your hands.
  • Finally, test your tank outdoors. Don’t take a chance and have to replace the carpet or hardwood floor because you were impatient! Buy a piece of Styrofoam at the local building supply and cut it out to match the bottom of your new tank. Set your tank on this, fill it up all the way, and leave it for a couple of days if possible. The Styrofoam will take up any difference in the surface that you set the tank on and not create undue stress on the tank.

Keep your eyes open! Who knows what treasure is out there to be found? You may just come home with that tank you have been dreaming about but just couldn’t afford. Now you can spend those extra dollars on fish instead of spending everything on a tank only to have it sit empty until you can afford to buy some fish to put in it! Good luck and happy fish keeping!

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