Is Owning a Fish Tank Expensive


In this article we will go over what drives the initial and recurring costs of owning a fish tank and then give you average costs based on tank sizes and type.

Owning a fish tank can be as affordable or as expensive as you make it. In general, the costs can be broken down into the initial cost of the tank, substrate, air bubbler, water filter, water testing kit, fish, plants and decorations. Recurring maintenance costs such as replacement water filters, testing and treatment chemicals are part of the fish tank expenses beyond initial setup costs.

Here are some of the key considerations that can impact the cost of owning a fish tank:

Tank Size: The larger the tank, the more expensive it tends to be. Smaller tanks are generally more affordable upfront, but they may require more maintenance per gallon of water.

Equipment: The cost of equipment such as filters, heaters, lighting, and air pumps can vary depending on the quality and brand. High-end equipment can be more expensive, but it may also be more energy-efficient and durable in the long run.

Fish Species: Some fish species are more expensive to purchase than others. Rare or exotic fish can be quite pricey, while common varieties are more affordable.

Decorations: Decorative items such as gravel, rocks, plants, and ornaments can add to the cost of setting up and maintaining a fish tank.

Fish Food: The cost of fish food depends on the type of fish you have and their dietary needs. Some fish may require specialized or more expensive foods. A common mistake is overfeeding your fish. To reduce the cost of food, ensure there is no food left after five to 10 minutes of initial feeding. If there is uneaten food, cut back on the volume of food you give your fish at each feeding.

Energy Costs: Running a fish tank requires electricity to power equipment like heaters, filters, and lighting, which can contribute to your utility bill. Utilizing LED aquarium lighting rather than halogen can significantly reduce the power costs.

Healthcare: In some cases, you might need to invest in medication or treatments for fish if they become ill. The best practice is to own an additional quarantine tank to isolate your sick fish from your aquarium while they recovery from illness.

Water Conditioners and Test Kits: You’ll need products to condition the water and test its parameters regularly, which can add to ongoing costs.

Maintenance: Regular maintenance, such as water changes, filter cleaning, and replacing filter media, requires some ongoing expenses. In general, the daily maintenance is as follows:

  • Count your fish tank occupants.
  • Ensure all pumps, filters, and lights are working properly.
  • Remove excess food from the tank.
  • Top off the tank with clean treated water.
  • Check the water’s temperature.
  • Observe fish for signs of sickness or unusual behavior. If sickness is evident, test the water immediately.

The following is a general list of maintenance supplies needed when you first set up your fish tank.

Cleaning Supplies: Cleaning supplies are often an overlooked expense when considering the cost of owning a fish tank. The following is a general list of supplies needed to clean your fish tank during regular maintenance cycles:

  • Algae scrub pad
  • Aquarium Gloves
  • Fish net
  • Razor blade (plastic blade for acrylic tanks)
  • Water siphon (gravel vacuum)
  • Filter brush
  • Sponge
  • Bamboo toothbrush
  • Filter media
  • 3 Buckets (for aquarium use only, bucket no. 1 is for fish, bucket no. 2 is for live plants, bucket no. 3 is for water changes and cleaning artificial plants, rocks, decorations and equipment))
  • Paper towels
  • Bleach (unscented and without any other added chemicals)
  • Glass cleaner (for aquariums)
  • Chlorine remover (aquarium water conditioner)

Frequency of Maintenance: Avoid cleaning everything in the aquarium at the same time. Beneficial bacteria are essential to the health of your tank, cleaning of colony-rich areas, such as the filter and the substrate, should be staggered. If the bacterial colonies are disturbed too much, it can disrupt the nitrogen cycle enough to cause a spike in ammonia and nitrite which will lead to higher costs to return the tank to a healthy condition.

Initial Setup: Setting up a fish tank for the first time can be more expensive due to the need to purchase all the necessary equipment and decorations.

It’s important to budget for both the initial setup costs and ongoing expenses when considering owning a fish tank. Additionally, proper maintenance and care of your fish tank can help reduce long-term costs and keep your fish healthy.

The cost of owning a fish tank can vary widely depending on your choices and preferences, but it is possible to maintain a fish tank on a budget by making thoughtful choices and being mindful of ongoing expenses. Learn more about the easiest beginner aquarium to maintain in the article Which Fish Tank is Easiest to Maintain.

We will break down the average costs of the most popular low maintenance fish tanks. Let’s start with the smallest fish tank and work our way up.

  • Betta Fish Tank (2.5 to 5 gallons): Betta fish are hardy and don’t require a large tank. They can thrive in a smaller, filtered tank with a heater. Regular water changes and monitoring water parameters are still important.
    • Initial tank cost: $50 to $100
    • Initial substrate, plant, and fish cost: $30 to $60
    • Initial air bubbler cost: $8 to $50
    • Initial water filtration cost: $20 to $30
    • Initial water heater cost: $10 to $20
    • Initial lighting cost: $10 to $50
    • Initial water conditioner cost: $5 to $10
    • Initial water test kit cost: $10 to $40
    • Fish tank decorations cost: $10 to $30
    • Average recuring maintenance costs per month (replacement filters and chemicals): $7 to $15
      • Average Summary Costs are Low=$160 and High=$405
  • Nano Reef Tank (10 to 20 gallons): If you’re interested in saltwater fish, a small nano reef tank with live rock and corals can be relatively easy to maintain. These tanks often have simple filtration systems and require regular testing of water parameters.
    • Initial tank cost: $30 to $300
    • Initial substrate, plant, coral and fish cost: $70 to $300
    • Initial air bubbler cost: $20 to $60
    • Initial water filtration cost: $30 to $50
    • Initial water heater cost: $10 to $30
    • Initial lighting cost: $60 to $150
    • Initial water conditioner cost: $5 to $10
    • Initial water test kit and salinity refractometer cost: $50 to $130
    • Fish tank decorations cost: $10 to $30
    • Average recuring maintenance costs per month (replacement filters and chemicals): $7 to $15

Average Summary Costs are Low=$282 and High=$875

  • Coldwater Tank (20 gallons or more): You can keep more small schooling fish like tetras, zebra danios and platies than the one inch of fish per gallon rule dictates if your filtration is good, you aren’t overfeeding, and you are consistent with your water changes.

As you calculate the number of fish you can add to your tank consider that as fish length increases, body volume and waste production increase exponentially. For example, a 2-inch fish may have three or four times the mass and waste production of a 1-inch fish.

  • Initial tank cost: $60 to $300
    • Initial substrate, plant, and fish cost: $30 to $60
    • Initial air bubbler cost: $8 to $50
    • Initial water filtration cost: $20 to $30
    • Initial water heater cost: $10 to $20
    • Initial lighting cost: $10 to $50 (some tanks include lighting)
    • Initial water conditioner cost: $5 to $10
    • Initial water test kit cost: $10 to $40
    • Fish tank decorations cost: $10 to $30
    • Average recuring maintenance costs per month (replacement filters and chemicals): $7 to $15

Average Summary Costs are Low=$170 and High=$605

  • Tropical Freshwater Community Tank (20 gallons or more): A well-planned community tank with a variety of compatible freshwater tropical fish can be relatively easy to maintain. Tropical fish are diverse and colorful additions to your perfect home aquarium. Adequate filtration, a heater, and regular water changes are necessary.
    • Initial tank cost: $60 to $300
    • Initial substrate, plant, and fish cost: $40 to $100
    • Initial air bubbler cost: $8 to $50
    • Initial water filtration cost: $20 to $30
    • Initial water heater cost: $10 to $20
    • Initial lighting cost: $10 to $50 (some tanks include lighting)
    • Initial water conditioner cost: $5 to $10
    • Initial water test kit cost: $10 to $40
    • Fish tank decorations cost: $10 to $30
    • Average recuring maintenance costs per month (replacement filters and chemicals): $7 to $15

Average Summary Costs are Low=$180 and High=$645

  • Low-Tech Planted Tank (10 to 20 gallons): A planted tank with low-light, low-tech plants can be easy to maintain compared to high-tech setups. Live plants can help stabilize water parameters and reduce the need for frequent water changes.
    • Initial tank cost: $60 to $300
    • Initial plant substrate and plant cost: $40 to $80
    • Initial air bubbler cost: $8 to $50
    • Initial water filtration cost: $20 to $30
    • Initial water heater cost: $10 to $20
    • Initial lighting cost: $20 to $150
    • Initial water conditioner cost: $5 to $10
    • Initial water test kit cost: $10 to $40
    • Planted tank decorations cost: $10 to $30
    • Average recuring maintenance costs per month (replacement filters and chemicals): $7 to $15

Average Summary Costs are Low=$190 and High=$725

Please note that these are estimates, and the actual cost may vary depending on your location, the brand of equipment you choose, and other factors.

Is a Freshwater Fish Tank or Saltwater Fish Tank Less Expensive?

Freshwater fish tanks are generally less complex than saltwater fish tanks requiring less time, less expertise and less expensive to maintain.

Do Fish Tanks Raise Electric Bill?

Owning a fish tank will raise your electric bill. The amount of electricity consumed by a fish tank depends on the size of the tank, the type of equipment you have, and the cost of electricity in your region. It’s difficult to determine an exact amount but in general, you can expect to pay anywhere around $25 for a small 10-gallon tank, $50 for a medium 30-gallon tank and $100 for a large 55-gallon tank per year.

Are Fish Tanks Expensive to Maintain?

The cost of maintaining a fish tank depends on the size of the tank, the type of fish you have, and the equipment you use. We have found the initial maintenance material setup costs and replacement materials for a freshwater fish tank averages between $200 to $500 per year. This includes the cost of food, water testing kits and chemicals, filter cartridge replacements, lighting and replacement decor.

The cost of initial maintenance material setup costs and replacement of testing, treatment and cleaning materials for a saltwater fish tank is typically higher, ranging from around $500 to $900 per year.

Keep in mind these are estimates based on our experience and the actual cost may vary depending on your specific setup and local prices. You can reduce the cost of maintaining your fish tank by choosing low-maintenance fish species, using energy-efficient equipment, and performing regular maintenance tasks such as cleaning the tank and changing the water.

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