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Why Bigger is Better with Beginner Tanks

Posted by Augusta Hosmer on

One of the funniest comment threads I've ever read came from a guy who said, "Everyone has a ratio of swimming water to urine they're comfortable with." The immediate reaction to his post was a unanimous "Absolutely not."
Then he explained it further: if someone pees in your hot tub, you’re climbing out and pissed off (Or, pissed on, maybe). On the flip side, we all know people and marine life urinate in the ocean. But no one goes running for the shore even knowing that.

So the guy made the claim again, this time to begrudging agreement: there is a ratio of urine to water everyone has silently established as acceptable. And it (hopefully) falls somewhere on the larger end. Though he obviously didn’t intend for the moral of his post to be “bigger aquariums are easier to deal with,” it illustrates the idea surprisingly well, and we’ll explain why.

It’s an idea we see all the time: “I’m new to the hobby. I’ll start small, maybe with a nano tank, and work my way up because a big tank is going to be harder work.” Part of that is true. Bigger tanks are more expensive (initially, anyway), harder to move, and harder to find space for. The equipment for them (lights, filters, stands, etc) is also more money up front. Once you get bigger than around 20 gallons, it’s sometimes harder to find kits or deals with equipment included, too. And if you’re just starting out, they can feel a lot more daunting than they actually are when you’re staring at 4 feet of glass box you don’t know what to do with.

That said, if you have the space and the budget, you can’t go wrong with a bigger tank. It will make your life so much easier in so many different ways.


Reason Number One: Bigger Tanks Don't Change as Quickly
The main reason larger tanks are more beginner friendly has to do with water concentration. Going back to our friend stirring the pot with his urine ratio, a tank with more water has parameters that will not change as quickly as a tank with less water. When the fish produce waste in a larger tank, it’s more dilute and you and your fish notice it less. Concentrations of harmful chemicals like ammonia from that waste or from other changes in the tank environment are significantly lower in a larger aquarium. Bringing the example home, you don’t think about the urine in the ocean like you do in a kiddie pool because the ocean's volume is so much larger and has no effect on you as a result (Apologies in advance if that’s all you’re going to be able to think about now when you take your next beach trip. You’re welcome for the fun fact you can use to mess with your friends, though).

Along similar lines, a bigger tank also has greater stability when it comes to temperature and pH. Temps/pH of larger volumes of water fluctuate far less quickly than smaller volumes. You can heat up a cup of water more quickly than you can a pool. So in the event of a heater problem, water chemistry change, or a loss of power, you have a bigger window to correct the issue.

A customer planted tank

A 55 gallon like this gorgeous tank from a Dustin's Fishtanks customer would be an awesome beginner project. You can get the same combo this guy did that's perfect for 29-55 gallons. Check it out!

Reason Number Two: Bigger Tanks Are Kinder To Well-Intentioned Rookies
Because of the above factors, a larger aquarium is much more forgiving of common beginner mistakes. If you overfeed in a bigger tank, for example, and excess food settles in the substrate and causes increased ammonia and lowered pH, it’s not going to put your fish at risk as much as a nano tank would. If a fish dies and you don’t notice it because there are a lot of other fish in the aquarium, the resulting ammonia spike won’t be as catastrophic if there’s more water to make that ammonia less concentrated. Or, if you test the water after you've added fish and realize, “Oof. Maybe I didn’t cycle this thing correctly like I thought I did,” all the resulting chemistry madness will have far less impact if there’s more water to act as a buffer. Additionally, with more space, if you’re not exactly sure what you can put in your tank as a beginner, you’re less likely to overstock your aquarium and create problems for yourself before you know better.


Reason Number Three: It Looks Fantastic and It's More Fun for You
Putting all the science aside, the most obvious advantage is you can put more cool stuff in a bigger tank. You have more room to get creative and experiment with design and aquascaping. You have more space for more plants and décor. And you also have space for more fish or bigger fish species (with the caveat that no matter how big your tank is, be careful not to overstock). Another bonus: a larger, well decorated tank can immediately transform an otherwise dull room.

Transformation photos from before plant growth and after plant growth in a planted aquarium

Just saying. It's a lot easier to do something this cool if you have more room. 


Reason Number Four: It Can Benefit Your Fish
A bigger environment usually means less stress for your fish in a variety of ways. If you have semi-aggressive species like gouramis or barbs, more space is advantageous because fish will be less territorial if everyone has their own room. More space generally leads to a fish's being able to display more natural behaviors which cuts down on stress, as well. Less stressed fish = longer living fish. We like that math.

Overall, if you can't get a big tank right away, we don't want to discourage anyone from getting into the hobby. You can absolutely make a smaller tank look amazing and work for you and your fish. A lot of the smaller kits are what got people hooked on aquariums, so we'd never look down on them. Just recognize up front that you'll need to be more observant and have less leeway for errors. Dustin's Fishtanks has plants and combos for tanks of all sizes. Check out some of the most popular HERE.


Keep an eye out for more awesome posts coming your way - we still have a big list of topics we want to cover. Got an idea you want on that list? Let us know, and tank on!


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