What do I do with a 240 gallon fish tank?
November 18, 2007 7:14 PM   Subscribe

What do I do with a 240 gallon saltwater aquarium?

My wife and I will be moving to a new house in a month. Said house looks great, and there's a massive 240 gallon fish tank in the living room wall. It actually looks really nice, but it's pretty dirty and gross so we asked the current owners to empty it and have it professionally cleaned.

Questions arise in trying to plan for the future of this thing. I have no idea what realistic options for us look like.

A little about us: neither of us really care enough to put much into tank maintenance. We just want it to look pretty and have swimming things in it. Yes, we will love the fish.

So I have a few questions that I'm hoping some of you know the answers to:

1. Once professionally cleaned, can the tank be used for freshwater fish?
2. Freshwater vs. saltwater - overall, which is the easiest to maintain? By easy I mean not having to do a lot of stuff and still pass inspection.
3. How much do you think the fish people charge to come out to your house, clean up the fish poo, and do their thing with the fish tank?
4. How often do they need to come?
5. Starting with an empty240 gallon tank, how much should I expect to put into it just to get it fish-ready (gravel, plants, the little treasure chests that blow bubbles, etc.? Just ballpark.

Thanks in advance for any advice to help us through this fish situation.
posted by yehaskel to Pets & Animals (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There's a small amount of salt in even the freshest freshwater lake or stream, so you can use it for freshwater fish so long as the salinity is low enough. Boat stores here where I am on the coast sell cheap salinity meters. Below 500 ppm of various salts is typically considered "good enough" (ie, similar to tap water.)
posted by TeatimeGrommit at 7:23 PM on November 18, 2007

A freshwater tank would take less work, if you were doing the work yourself. I have never had a tank of that size (my largest was 55 gallon), and just thinking of the work it took me to maintain several smaller tanks, I would think you'd want a professional to maintain such a large tank.

Saltwater tanks are sort of like chemistry experiments. You can't just put in water and throw in some fish. You have to get everything just right, chemically. The fish in saltwater tanks tend to be more expensive, so you don't want to mess it up. Generally, I believe you start with hardier fish that help to balance the water somehow, before you can move on to adding more sensitive (and prettier) fish.

Freshwater fish would be easier to care for, depending on what you get. If you have any kind of large fish that eats other fish, keeping the tank clean would start to be a ton of work. Keeping it disease-free when adding feeder fish can be a chore. It depends on how much work you want to do, but I would still suggest a professional even for freshwater, for a tank of this size. Unless you find the work rewarding.
posted by veronitron at 7:31 PM on November 18, 2007

How about a terrarium? I have to believe that a little dirt is easier to care for than a lot of water, particularly for a built-in.
posted by SPrintF at 7:39 PM on November 18, 2007

Wow that's a big tank. I worked for Petsmart all through high school (almost 10 years ago) and spent quite a bit of that time working with in the fish department. While I took my job seriously and really enjoyed tending the small critters the majority of people there are part timers who are only there for a paycheck and don't really take the time to learn about anything other than the basics.

I would recommend finding an independent fish shop and go in during non-peak hours and speaking with the people working there. The people working in those shops typically know quite a bit more about setting up tanks of that size and could recommend a professional service. I'm sure there's plenty of them in Austin or any other larger city.
posted by Octoparrot at 7:42 PM on November 18, 2007

Give it too me. Really, I want to get into the 180+ gallon tank part of the hobby, and a 240 would be nice.

Okay, for real, if you're going to have a tank that size, stick with saltwater. It IS more work to maintain, but its so much more worth it. Check out reefcentral.com's tank of the month for how amazing they can look: http://reefkeeping.com/issues/2007-11/totm/index.php

Cost for maintenance depends on where you are and people to do it. In Milwaukee, I've seen it range from $25/hr to $50/hr. Places like Chicago start at $50/hr. The time it takes to maintain depends on the complexity of the system, the expertise of the person maintaining it, and the amount of work you're willing to do. If you're willing to do some minor work, then you can have someone come out less often and they'll take less time when they're there.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 7:53 PM on November 18, 2007

Forgo fish? Maybe lizards, or a snake? Use it as a terrarium? I have been really good at killing poor fishies, so that's what I would do (the terrarium).
posted by kellyblah at 8:18 PM on November 18, 2007

Best answer: 1. Of course.
2. Freshwater
3. As much as a grounds crew. $40-80 I imagine.
4. Every 2-4 weeks I'd hope.
5. Gravel, at one pound gravel per 5 gal water, will cost $100-200. You'll need a big canister filter, at least $150-200. Lighting, if not already included, will cost that much again. Seeding it with plants will cost maybe another $100.

Might as well go saltwater and start slow. You can have every aquarist's dream tank.
posted by cowbellemoo at 8:19 PM on November 18, 2007

If you want much less maintenance and worry (and expense) stick with freshwater. I like saltwater tanks but "chemistry experiment" is exactly how to describe it. I would do cichlids, they are freshwater fish but they are just as colorful as salwater ones and they are extremely social and active. With a tank that large you would see a lot of their natural behavior and could have multiple schools of different species interacting in their niches (I once kept a small tank of one species of 'shelldwellers' that built and lived in little shell cities, it was awesome).

Cichlid Forums has a lot info on them.

Another freshwater thing (with more maintenance but really cool) you might want to look at is Discus.

I would only do saltwater if you're going to pay someone else to maintain it or you think you will enjoy all the upkeep.
posted by bradbane at 10:02 PM on November 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

Terrarium - or even just an enclosed sort of glass plant box - would be the easiest, but don't diss the idea of a fishtank out of hand.

In my experience, saltwater tanks can actually be easier to maintain than freshwater. More care / longer to set up, certainly, but once that's done and they've found their balance point they'll run with less maintenance - particularly if lightly loaded (which should be easy in a tank that size!). Freshwater tanks never seem to reach that point (for me at least; they're always requiring some fiddling), and because there's less interesting non-fishy things to put in there you tend to overstock (which leads to more work to maintain).

You don't need lots of difficult fish and/or corals to have a nice setup. Something with lots of 'live rock', lots of simpler invertebrates like corallimorphs, one or two specimens of the hardier soft corals, and maybe a handful of small and hardy fish e.g. small gobies, would look a treat and require minimal maintenance. With biological filtration only, something like that would run with no more than a 10% water change every couple of months, plus maybe the odd mineral supplement.
posted by Pinback at 10:05 PM on November 18, 2007

I don't know if you saw, but there was some good info in this recent AskMe thread.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 7:53 AM on November 19, 2007

Response by poster: Thank, y'all.

I think I have decided to:

1. talk to Local Fish Store.
2. probably stick with freshwater and if I *really* love the little buggers, move to salt.
3. try to petition my wife for the terrarium idea (sounds very cool).

Anyone here in Austin want a fish job?
posted by yehaskel at 3:37 PM on November 19, 2007

cowbellmoo recommended a canister filter, but if the tank doesn't already have a filter, I would look into getting a biowheel filter. for a 240 gallon tank, you would need 3 Emperor 400 filters.

with proper filtration, you don't need a lot of gravel, just enough to cover the bottom of the tank so it looks nice. the tank will be easier to clean with less gravel.

Also, the air pump for bubbles won't be necessary as the biowheel filters will provide enough aeration. Unless like the look of bubbles, then by all means, go ahead and get yourself that treasure chest full of bubbles.

also, as a novice, you'll want to start with plastic plants. the lighting and substrate requirements for real plants is almost as complicated as saltwater tanks.

I'd also recommend you research the types of fish you're getting. don't try to mix goldfish (cold water fish) with Angel fish ( tropical ). if you decide to go tropical instead of cold water, you have more fish types to pick from, but you again have to make sure you're not putting a very agressive fish in with more docile or community oriented fish.

If you'd like a podcast with more details, i'd recommend Pet Fish Talk, they have a good special on setting up a new aquarium.
posted by jrishel at 5:06 PM on November 20, 2007

I'd steer away from discus if you are new to running a water circus. I read a scale where discus were 7 on a difficulty scale of 1 to 10. They are beautiful fish, though, and of course you are hiring someone to look after them.
I've had an aquarium for a few months with clown loaches and zebra danios - relatively easy fish to maintain. I would also recommend researching different fish and trying the plastic plants ahead of real plants.

I am very interested in seeing photographs once you have this up and running. I'd vote for a mefi aquarium club.
posted by philfromhavelock at 7:49 PM on November 20, 2007

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