8 Home Aquariums for Inspiration: Setup, Cost, Species & Tips

Written by Randy Martin

If you are looking for ideas and inspiration for your next home aquarium, or you want to find out the build process, cost and other helpful bits of knowledge on fish tanks—this list of aquariums will be a great guide for you.

I collaborated with several different fish keepers in the hobby to showcase their beautiful tanks. Ranging from large, extravagant, highly involved tanks—to very simple, small, more common setups; to give you a taste of different options.

Many thanks to all my friends and acquaintances in the aquarium community who contributed their time and energy to this post. They are passionate about their hobby and very willing to help others by spreading their knowledge and love for aquariums.

1. Planted aquascape – 29 gallon

29 gallon planted aquascape aquarium

This first tank is by Marcel from Germany. I think he did a great job, it’s a beautiful display. This tank was a lot of work and progress and is a fairly involved tank considering the soil, substrate, fertilizer and CO2. This picture was taken almost a year into growth and development.

Marcel used one bag of Aquasoil (9L) in addition to the sand to give the plants a nutrient rich substrate. He started the tank with a DIY CO2 kit with baking soda and citric acid and also a cheaper less strong LED (Nicrew) and eventually transitioned to a high end setup with pressurized CO2 and two Dennerle LEDs.

Liquid fertilizers were also used in this tank to help the plants grow.

Plants

Carpet: Monte Carlo and some HCC, Bucephalandras, Hygrphilia Penatefida and Christmas Moss on the rocks.

Background plants from left to right:

  • Rotala Macandra
  • Rotala Rotundifolia
  • Myriophyllum sp. “Roraima”
  • Pogostemon Erectus
  • Rotala Rotundifolia “orange juice” and “h’ra”
  • Ludwigia Palustres
Aquarium progress picture from day 110
Progress picture from day 110. Showing the final plant change before they fully grew in for the end result.

Animals

  • 15 Emperor tetras
  • 6 Corydoras
  • 6 Otocinclus
  • 5 Amano Shrimp
  • Countless Red Cherry Shrimp

Cost

Item Cost
TOTAL About 700€ or $790
Tank 40€
Filter 20€
Heater 20€
Lights 300€
CO2 Regulator 50€
CO2 Tank 70€
Animals 75€
Plants 100€+ high cost due to many plant changes
Stones 40€
Aquasoil & Sand 50€

2. Paludarium – Bonsai aquarium

This one is also from Marcel in Germany. This is his 2nd aquarium of the 3 he currently has right now.

Paludarium is when you combine both aquatic and terrestrial elements.

I love when aquariums have plants, wood, or in this case a tree, sticking out above the surface. This Fukien Tea Bonsai looks great.

Tank: DOOA Neo Glass Terra H23

Animals: Not many in this one since it’s a smaller size. 5 Pea Puffers and some shrimp.

Pea Puffers are a very cute fish btw, with lots of personality. Fun to keep!

Parts

Eheim Compact 300 pump, airline, airline 5-way connector, tube to connect the pump, super glue and cigarette filters (look it up on YouTube), lights, tank (60x30x18cm), filterfloss, filtermatt, gorilla plastic, ultrasonic mister.

Setup

Marcel gives details and instruction on his setup process for this aquarium: I Started by holding the Bonsai in a corner and placed rocks in a way that the Bonsai can kind of sit on. I made sure I could still pull out the Bonsai, since my pump goes under it. Then I built the rest of the rock hardscape.

For your build, use some glue with cig filters to keep it stable if needed. Fill big gaps with gorilla plastic and glue, under the waterline fill them with filterfloss/filtermatt so you get a small mattenfilter.

I setup the pump and attached the airline. Then I ran the airlines where I wanted them to pour out water on the rocks and I glued them with the cig filter.

Always sprinkle some sand on the glue so it looks nicer. Now at this stage you can set up the root structure, again with the cig filter and glue method.

After that I filled the tank to see where the water is running. I put the moss on the rocks to guide the water where I wanted it to go. You can plant other plants on the moss later. Also you can add some soil in small cracks and put plants there, or make small wabikusa balls.

Finally added substrate in the submersed part, I also added some very small slate at the bottom of the rocks. And added a ultrasonic mister under the Bonsai to.

Always make sure you still can remove the Bonsai before glueing something so you can reach your pump.

I tried to grow some stemplants in it but the light isn’t strong enough or the lack of CO2 didn’t let them grow very well so I changed it to more moss and low light plants.

Plants that grow best for me out of the water are:

  • Anubias
  • Bucephalandras
  • HCC
  • Monte Carlo
  • Hydrocotyle cf. Tripartita

Cost

Item Cost
TOTAL 343€ or $390
Tank 100€
Pump 20€
Heater 20€
Lights 20€
Bonsai 18€
Wood 30€
Animals 20€
Plants 40€
Stones 45€
Glue/Airlines etc 30€

Tips from Marcel

As you can see you can spend a very wide range of money for this hobby with all of them being potentially amazing to look at. Even my high end tank still has many cheap components. You can easily spend over 1000€ for a small tank if you want too. But on the other hand you can have a nice tank even for something like 100€.

My advice for new hobbiests would be to start with a medium sized tank like my 112L/29g and learn how stuff works. If you can get some second hand stuff then you can get into this great hobby for about 100-200€.

It’s not very time consuming—I spend a total of 2 hours per week on my three tanks, and after the initial costs you don’t have to spend much money at all.

You can reach Marcel on his reddit account at u/Atlantic90. He is open to answering questions or helping out with other people’s aquariums in any way he can.

3. Marine reef tank – 96 gallon cube

This reef tank was built by Hunter in Texas, a lover of the hobby who has been in it for a few years now. Reef tanks are an entirely different beast and not as common in home aquariums as freshwater tanks are. But they are stunning and fascinating. I really am impressed by this reef and all that it has going on. Hunter says it’s his pride and joy and that the hierarchy in his house goes like: 1. Wife 2. Aquarium 3. Everything else. Priorities—my man!

He spends at least an hour everyday messing around with his tank, not because he has to, but because he truly enjoys the hobby.

When an individual decides to start a reef tank, they don’t simply have a tank. They now have a dedicated hobby that is full of satisfaction and occasional misery.

—Hunter

When he got into the hobby he was shocked at the prices the equipment was going to cost. But he was able to find a deal on craigslist for the 96 gal cube tank and stand for $300 that someone who was getting out of the hobby had it sitting in their garage for awhile. The same setup brand new was going to cost around $1,100.

Then all he needed was a main pump, a sump, heater,  protein skimmer, power heads, lighting, and a bit of plumbing. All of this was purchased brand new to assure quality.

Item Cost
TOTAL $1,080
Sump $190
Protein Skimmer $220
Power heads (2) $120
Main pump & plumbing $70
Heater $40
Lighting – two AI prime HDs $440
Sump and protein skimmer for saltwater aquarium
Sump, protein skimmer, sits in the stand under the saltwater tank.

Protein skimmers are absolutely crucial in a successful reef system. This removes a lot of waste from the water and effectively keeps nitrates down between water changes. It basically foams into a catcher cup on top. Very similar to beach foam in the ocean. When foam rolls in with the waves, it’s a good indicator of waste/nitrate being expelled from the water. This device essentially does the same thing.

Animal/inhabitants

There are many things that can go along with a reef tank. Mushrooms, anemones, crustaceans, starfish, tropical fish, polyps.

Living rock was the first things added to this tank while it was being cycled. The rock naturally builds the bacteria load.

There are 2 main types of corals reefers typically collect. 1. Small Polyp Stony (SPS) and 2. Large Polyp Stoney (LPS). This tank is LPS dominant.

As I said in the beginning there is a lot going on in this reef system, here is a run down of all the inhabitants

Polyps / Zoas: Rasta, Blondies, Atomics, Acid, Gobstoppers, Rainbow Infusion, Asian Blues, Eagle Eyes, Captain Americas.

Torches (LPS): green, purple, gold hammers.

Mushrooms (main stock): Iron man, Teal, Strippers lips, Dip n’ dots, Elephant ear, Blue spot, Purple spot, Interstellar, St Thomas Red, Bullseye, Superman, Green Rhod, Orange yuma, green and orange Rics, Gold Spot, Lava lamp, Green hairy, and a few no names that I found. 

Anemones: Min max carpet, Red rock flower, Yellow rock flower, 7 Rainbow BTA, 2 Rose BTA, 1 Tx Sunrise BTA.

Fish/Crustaceans: Onyx clown pair, Flame Angel, Starry Blenny, Chromus, a few Damsels.

Fire shrimp, 2 Cleaner shrimp, multiple crabs, starfish and clean up crew (hermit crabs and snails).

Reef system showing tropical fish, corals, mushrooms etc.

The inhabitants in this tank is estimated around $4,000 on it’s own. But Hunter has a lot of collector coral in his tank and some of them are even extinct in the wild. So he says you can make a really beautiful reef system for a lot less, it’s all about the route you choose to go.

You can follow Hunter on his instagram @theyseemefishin, to see more pictures and some nice video of his reef.

4. Low tech 10 gallon planted

10 gallon planted tank with a red female betta

Jumping down the scale to this low tech 10 gallon planted tank by Gunnar from Colorado. This is a simple setup compared to the previous tanks but still a pretty tank and I’m sure a lot of fun to work with.

Animals

Female Betta, 5 Dwarf Neon Rainbows, 2 Oto cats, 4 Amano shrimp, 2 Nerite snails.

Plants

Bacopa Caroliniana, Java Fern Trident, Amazon Sword Plant, Dwarf Hair grass, Hygrophila Corymbosa and Crypt Wendtii brown.

Setup

According to Gunnar:

Took about 2 hours for aquascaping the substrate, rocks, driftwood and plants. About a week and a half to cycle the tank. My tank started off with 5 baby girl bettas. When I was researching betta sororities it said 10 gallons would be enough but after this experience I don’t think I would house them in anything less than a 40 gallon. Only one is left now.

Aquariums have a large upfront cost but a low cost to maintain. If you want to have a planted tank find a light that says Full Spectrum or says it is specifically for aquarium plants. The Aqueon LEDs did not help my plants to grow and was much dimmer than my new Finnex Stingray.

The plants that I have had the most success with are the Amazon sword Plants and the Hygrophila. I have to trim the Hygrophila about every other week.

10 gallon low tech planted aquarium
Item Cost
TOTAL $370
Tank $10 (dollar per gallon sale)
CaribSea Eco Black Substrate $23
Aqua Clear 20 $26
Aqueon Aquarium Hood $38
Extra Aqueon LED $18
Betta Water Conditioner $4
Flourish Excel $8
Finnex Stingray LED light $45
Animals $60
Plants $70
Rocks $12
Driftwood $18
Aqueon Pro 50 Heater $25
Aquarium Vacuum $10

Tips from Gunnar

I used to use activated carbon for a clear aquarium but a planted aquarium will keep the water extremely clear as well.

Also fill your filter with varying sponges, a coarse sponge, medium coarse sponge and a fine filter pad with ceramic media on top. This will allow for your aquarium to grow lots of beneficial bacteria. Clean your sponges with your tank’s water. Cleaning the sponges with water from the tap will kill all that healthy bacteria.

5. Discus tank – 180 gallon

180 gallon aquarium with discus

Here is a freshwater Discus tank by Dave from Michigan. This is only a 3 month old tank and I’m sure it’s going to keep looking better and better as the plants progress.

The Discus and layout make this a very colorful and striking tank already. When I see a bunch of beautiful Discus together in pictures it almost looks fake, like it’s some painters vivid creation.

Fish: Stendker Discus (Cobalts, Pigeon blood red, Checkerboard, Blue diamond, Brilliant turq, Fire red). A bunch of Cories, Siamese Algae Eaters, and Bristlenose Plecos (I talk about Bristlenose Plecos in Types of Plecos that Stay Small).

Plants: Java Fern, Java fern narrow leaf, Bolbitis heudolitti, Red tiger lotus, Hygrophila, Anubias nana, Anubias nana petite, Anubias coffeefolia, Dwarf sag.

Tank: Aqueon 180 Gallon sitting on a Seapora Majesty Stand

Item Cost
TOTAL $6,145
Tank and Stand $1,500
2x 6ft beamswork led lights $300
2x Sun canister filters 525gph $200
2x 500w finnex heaters $100
Gla system w/ CO2 tank $400
Substrate, driftwood, rocks $150
15x Stendker Discus $3,000
15 Sterbai Cories $100
10 Bronze Cories $40
3 Bristlenose Plecos $30
3 Siamese Algae Eaters $25
Plants $300

Setup

According to Dave:

This tank idea started 1 year ago when I ordered 15 Stendker Discus from Discus-Hans. I purchased them as juveniles and grew them out in a 55 gallon tank with sponge filters. I did 90 percent water changes every other day. My water is very hard (20gph, 17kh, and 8ph) which is why I chose the Stendker Discus—they are bred to do well in a wide range of water parameters.

Three months ago I purchased this 180 gallon and started setting up the hardscape.

It’s been growing in for about 2 months with the plants. The lights are wrapped in window screen to reduce light intensity and the photoperiod is set at 6 hours. I plan to gradually increase the photoperiod to 8 hours over time.

My long term goal is to get the dwarf sag to carpet the sandy area and the Bolbitis to fill in the entire back portion of the tank.

A school of Stendker Discus

Tips from Dave

Don’t slack on water changes with discus! While growing them out I missed a water change for about 5 days and one of my discus got Popeye. I had to treat it for a bacterial infection. The discus ended up recovering. This just shows how important it is to keep up on the water quality, especially when the discus are in an overstocked grow out tank.

Also, since water changes are so important, make them easy on yourself. I used a 25ft pool filter hose to siphon the water directly into my sump pump. I then used a python water changer to fill the tank. The total process took about 2 mins to drain the tank and 15 min to fill.

6. Ornamental 40 gallon

40 gallon fish tank with traditional japanese buildings for ornaments

For me it’s rare that a tank with ornaments can look well done, but this tank by Josh from Wales, U.K. looks very nice. The Japanese style structures look great along with the white sand.

Animals

2 Electric blue acara, 12 tiger barbs of mixed colors, 2 bamboo shrimp, 2 bristlenose plecos, 1 blue panaque pleco, 2 German blue rams, 5 black ruby barbs, 6 peppered corys + unknown amount of babies

Cost

On this setup the aquarium itself and the fish were the most expensive factors. Josh is using a Fluval 406 filter but he got it used for cheap. altogether it’s roughly a $560 setup. That includes the cost of the decorations, wood and plants.

Tips from Josh

Facebook market place is always full of people who don’t know what they’re selling (due to a relative passing away or people buying houses with tanks already in there etc) and you can get really good bargains on there.

I’d also say there is no need to worry about cycling anymore as the chemicals we have now are so advanced. Using the seachem range such as stability and prime you can cycle any size tank in about 3 days now. Obviously do vigorous testing first to be sure.

Also the NT Labs test kit is better than the API one!

7. Hardscape – Neolamprologus multifasciatus “species only”

Aquarium with Neolamprologus Multifaciatus. Lots of large snail shells resting in the bottom of the tank.

This next aquarium by Steve from Kentucky, is probably the most unique tank I have listed here. And it’s actually a very simple build.

It is a complete hardscape, there are no plants in the aquarium. And it is a “species only” tank, meaning there is only one animal species kept in a tank by itself.

In this case the species is Neolamprologus Multifasciatus. That is the scientific name, and apparently it has no nickname to refer to it more easily. But it is a cichlid—probably the smallest cichlid there is.

In the wild it’s found where empty snail shells collect. It gets very territorial over these and uses them for breeding, as the female lays the eggs inside the shells. And here Steve provides plenty of shells for his colony.

Neolamprologus multifasciatus cichlid

What really attracts me to this tank is the use of the single light source creating a beautiful display with lots of dark areas. It gives me an almost prehistoric type feel, or something even alien.

About the tank

It’s a 40 gallon tank running a cascade 1000 filter. The sand is just cheap pool filter sand. The Seiryu rock was probably the most expensive factor, which Steve picked up from ebay for around $100. The light and heater were used parts he had from other projects.

Tips from Steve

This is probably my 20th tank build so I have learned a lot along the way. One protip is toss your carbon and replace that with filter pad bought in bulk from amazon as well as non flame retardant quilt batting, and buy “safe” to condition your water with.

You really can have a decent cheap setup that is easy to maintain if you do a little research and planning.

8. Custom built aquarium – Angel fish

Custom built aquarium with halfway cut out glass and plants growing up above the surface of the water.

Here is a custom build by Tyler in Missouri. When I first looked at it I thought the water level was only half way filled, but no that is actually the top of the aquarium glass. The glass doesn’t go all the way up, allowing access and also for the plants to grow out above the water surface. A really cool effect.

Tyler spent a summer building the tank and over the past few years has invested about a $1,000 into the project, which includes the build, gear, fish, plants etc. So not too bad.

Home aquarium in build phase, no water or decorations added yet.
During the build phase as the aquarium is shaping up.

About the tank

It took a summer to build the tank, with many attempts at resealing the aquarium.

The front is an 8ft sheet of glass that Tyler had cut by a local shower glass cutting business. The rest is marine grade wood with pond armor on the inside, then sealed with silicon at all seams. 

The substrate is black diamond coarse blasting abrasive. And all the wood (branches) featured in the tank is locally sourced.

Blue angel fish swimming in front of aquarium wood and black substrate

Plants

Anubias, Pothos, Val, and a few others I can’t identify.

Animals

5 blue zebra angels, 14 Congo tetras, African ghost knife, 4 clown loaches, numerous small loach species and plenty of small plecostomus varieties.

Blue zebra angel freshwater fish swimming in a home aquarium
Blue zebra angel

Filtration in the tank isn’t finished yet but as of right now it’s running off several canister filters, and several large sponge filters, with plans to add a sump system.

Conclusion

Hopefully you saw something here that will inspire you and help you as you venture out to create your new aquarium. Once again thanks to all my friends that helped out.

Good luck to everyone in your next build!

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