Factoring in the weight of the aquarium, the water, sand and rockwork, an aquarium stand has to be built to keep the tank in position. What is shouldn’t do is rock back and forth when a person walks around the aquarium. It shouldn’t rack front to back or left to right when a person leans against it, either inadvertently or while working in the system.
The stands that often are available in fish stores are designed to hold the weight, but many appear to be flimsy to my eye. I’ve worked as a finish carpenter for a couple of years, and prior to that I was a framer of homes and did a number of remodels. When I build something, it’s built to last. Usually tearing it out is a real effort because my goal is to assure that it won’t fail at some point.
For those that live in earthquake-prone areas, the stand should be secured to a wall to prevent the system toppling. Do your research to see what the recommendations are, and plan accordingly.
My last stand was a wooden one, using a lot of 2x4s and 2x6s to support a 280g reef. The aquarium was glass, and probably weighed about 800lbs. Estimating the water weight at 2200 lbs (8 lbs per gallon), 350 lbs of sand, and 200 lbs of rock, the stand had to support around 4000 lbs or two tons of weight. The sump beneath held another 70g, and the sump probably weighed 100 lbs. That plus the other gear and plumbing would add around 800 lbs. Rounding off all the above to 5000 lbs, this had to be supported on a 6’ x 2.5’ or 15 square foot footprint. My house has a concrete foundation, meaning it could handle that weight without extra foundation work. The wooden stand was built into the wall, using the upright studs as the platforms “legs” along the front and right end. The back left corner was built with 5 vertical studs; it wasn’t pretty but it was functional. The platform was a series of 2x6s to fully support the aquarium, and a ¾” sheet of plywood was glued and screwed in place. Everything was carefully painted, sealed against potential water damage. The stand was designed to allow me to install a huge sump under the display tank, but I’d only have access to the sump from the back of the tank.
Over the years, my home’s foundation shifted and with it my aquarium would be nudged out of level. It was a visible issue as the waterline would gradually appear at the left end under the plastic trim. It may have even led to the seam failure of the 280g reef, I really don’t know. Throughout time, the tank would be level, then for a period of many weeks the left side lowered a ¼” to my annoyance. Whenever I really put my mind to correcting the area in question, the house shifted back and the problem resolved itself. When I had to tear out the wooden stand, it was rock solid. It took my son and me a couple of hours to dismantle it and remove it. The stand was plenty strong, but the foundation wasn’t consistent year in and year out. At some point, it might require a foundation company to come out and install giant springs under the slab to keep everything perfectly equal. Unless I get a home in space like I saw on The Jetsons cartoon as a kid.
For my 29g reef, I built a nice furniture-grade stand using ¾” Birch plywood. It was 40” tall. The feet were adjustable, which came in handy. Where carpeting is secured to the floor along the walls, tack strips are used. When the stand was placed up against the wall, the feet rested on the strips making them higher in the back than they were in the front and the stand leaned forward. Adjusting the feet in the front of the stand allowed me to level the aquarium and avoid any wobble.
The 55g reef came with its own stand, something provided by the manufacturer of the aquarium. It did its job, but it wasn’t as strong as I would have liked. The wood was plywood, meaning that if it were to get wet, it wouldn’t weaken like it might had it been made with MDF or particle board. A well-sealed board can withstand water for a while, but eventually water will permeate the sealer and get into the wood, and decay will commence.
I didn’t like this stand because it was too short, requiring a person to bend down to view the livestock.
Something to think about: I like stands that are bigger than the display tank because if you center it on top, you have a shelf wrapped around the tank to put things down, like a test kit, some fish food, or your favorite beverage. By installing a bigger stand, you have room for a larger sump. And later if you decide to upgrade aquariums, if you built the stand to the right predetermined size, all you do is swap out the display tanks and do some plumbing, and you'll be back to business in no time. For example, a 55g is usually 48" long. With a 60" long stand, you've not only created a 6" shelf at each end, but you've got space for a big sump even with the lumber that makes up the stand itself. If the stand is 20" to 24" front to back, a 55g fits now, and a 90g to 120g later.
When planning my newest reef, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind about the type of stand I was going to use: I wanted a welded steel stand that was powder coated to protect it from rusting. I talked to Marineland about this decision, because they only warranty their tanks if you purchase their stand. I asked if they offered steel stands, which they do not. My follow up question was if they farmed that work out to anyone that would allow me to have a warranty, but they do not. With that in mind, I decided the stand I wanted outweighed the luxury of a tank warranty. In the 14 years I’ve been in this hobby, I’ve only had one tank leak and none of them were ever under warranty. For me, having a rock solid stand makes the lack of a warranty an acceptable risk. Let’s hope I was right.
When reading build threads or when visiting others I always look at the stand beneath the tank. I’ve seen some scary stuff over the years, but I’ve also seen some amazing stands that are really works of art. Last year, the local fish store nearest to my home moved locations and in doing so, began to get steel stands welded for all the displays. Looking them over carefully, I knew I’d found my next stand builder. Going through the store, I ordered a custom-made stand for the 400g. Since my circumstances were a little complex, I was able to get the welder to visit briefly to discuss my plans on site. Listing my goals and desires, we agreed upon a price and he quickly got started.
Stand height is important. Many stands are built too low, while others are too tall. Here’s a little factoid to remember: doorknobs in homes are installed 36” off the floor. When determining how tall a stand should be, looking at a stationary reference like a doorknob can help immensely. If you really can’t make up your mind, affix some shipping paper to the wall where the tank will be set up and sketch everything up in life-size drawings. Using a marker or some blue masking tape, tape off where the tank will be, as well as the sump. Try to get a feel for looking into the aquarium as well as working on it. Will you be viewing your tank primarily when standing or while seated? If the latter, will a protein skimmer fit inside a short stand? Will the collection cup still be accessible and removable? If you are like me and enjoy standing in front of your tank, do you accept the fact that you will need a chair or step ladder every time you have to work in the tank? Think ahead, and plan it out accordingly.
Originally the steel stand was ordered at 40” tall. The entire stand was going to be constructed with 2” steel square tubing, including the perimeter of the base. A sheet of ¾” plywood would be installed on top of the tubing, then ¾” of pink foam on top of that for the sump. 3 ½” of the 40” was immediately taken out of that total, and 2” from the top rails next. This left a total vertical height of 34 ½”, less the thickness of the base of the sump. Would a protein skimmer work in 34” for a tank this size? After more thought, did I really want my tank on a 40” stand? I began to add up all the inches: the bottom trim is 2.5” tall, then the deep sand bed above that at 3”. Would the substrate surface of the reef at 45” be enjoyable? The aquarium itself is 30” tall. The room is 8’ tall. A 40” stand plus a 30” aquarium added up to 70” of the 96” available, with 26” of head space above for lighting and a rolling lightrack. Hmmm.
Finally, I made two changes. I decided the sump needed to fit within the stand’s perimeter instead of on it, gaining back 2 ¾”. The stand would be better at 38” tall, gaining two more inches of space over the aquarium for the Lumenbright pendants and rolling track. With the sump inside the stand on a sheet of ¾” foam, there would be almost 37” of vertical space. The top rail uses 2”, so 35” remains. The Euroreef skimmer is 30” tall, the Skimmer Swabbie adds two more inches, and the entire thing sits on a tiny stand in the sump, only enough for the Eheim pumps to fit properly on its body. Removing the collection cup would still be possible, and the space above the collection cup was enough that it wouldn’t get sprayed with foamy skimmate when the unit suddenly erupts as they tend to do from time to time.
One more request was made of the welder. I wanted a full-length removable walkboard incorporated into the stand. It needed to fit in the front or the back of the aquarium’s stand, support my weight when working in the tank, and only be long enough where it wouldn’t come in contact with the wall inside the fishroom. This is where thinking ahead comes into play because that wall didn’t even exist when I was placing my order. I told him it where that wall would be, and that the wall would be 4.5” thick once sheetrocked. We agreed to make the walkboard 6” shorter from each end.
Using the blueprints from Marineland, I was able to specify the exact size of the stand that would include the plastic trim wrapped around the base of the aquarium. The stand was ordered: 85 ¼” long, 36” wide, and 38” tall. When the aquarium arrived, it was built perfectly and matched the stand precisely.
A steel stand is very heavy, depending on the gauge of the steel. It took four people to move it into place. With clean welds, it is a rock solid platform for an aquarium. If the welder isn’t good at his job, any joint is prone to failure, so take a hard look at his previous work before commissioning his services. You may opt to add gussets to the stand to prevent racking. Gussets are small triangles of material in the corners to keep a 90 degree corner 90 degrees at all times. If the entire project is precisely welded, leveling it is a dream because every point is true and straight. If you wish, request that adjustable feet be welded at the corners to assist with leveling on site. I opted not to do this because of my fear that the 5000+ lbs would somehow strips the threads over time. My fears may be unfounded, but I chose to use composite shims to fill the gap instead.
The cost of a steel powdercoated stand varies, but suffice it to say it will cost a lot more than lumber and screws. My stand cost $850, but another company bid the same job for hundreds more than that. The sleek modern look is worth every penny. The space beneath the tank is wonderful, with full access via all four sides to do anything from plumbing to general maintenance. I have zero regrets and wouldn’t change a single thing about its design or construction, other than the ability to slide the walkboard in and out a little more easily. The powder coating added a fraction more thickness to the rails, making them a little too snug to slide into their holders.
If you like space to work, more headroom to tinker in the sump, plenty of strength to support your aquarium, and enjoy the clean lines of a steel stand, I highly recommend it.
- Wooden Stand example on ReefAddicts: http://www.reefaddicts.com/entry.php...learning-curve
- The building of the wooden stand for the 280g: http://www.melevsreef.com/days127.html