Creating a saltwater system is really no more than a series of "things to do". Initially, it will be time consuming, but the effort will be well worth while. Feel free to take your time and enjoy the whole experience. A properly set up and maintained tank is truly a joy. There is nothing like being able to turn off the T.V. and watch a number of beautiful tropical fish swimming lazily through and around coral and rocks in crystal clear water. When it's snowing outside and the temperatures are so cold that spit turns to ice before it hits the ground, it is very pleasant to gaze into your tank and imagine yourself snorkeling through the warm waters of Hawaii, seeing sights beyond imagination, first hand. Trust me: Travel agents thrive on people in the northern tier that have aquariums.
First, you have to figure out where you will place your new aquarium. Although not impossible, it is a giant pain to move several hundred pounds of water, coral and fish, even a few inches. Make sure that direct sunlight will not shine on it, especially in the hot summer months. You will probably want to place the tank where it can be easily seen and enjoyed from the sitting areas in the room. A number of people make their aquarium the primary focal point of the living room and the television secondary. Some people are concerned about the effect the weight of a tank and water will have on the floor structure in the room.. Even a larger tank (55 gal.) weighs about the same as two adult men. So, if you don't feel comfortable with two of your heftier friends standing next to each other in the middle of your living room floor, place the tank against a "bearing wall" (usually an outer wall). That's the strongest part of the floor. Next, measure areas that will allow for the tank. Remember to keep in mind that you will need sufficient space or access around the tank for cleaning/maintenance and to take into consideration where your electrical outlets are.
Second, you will want to shop around for a tank, lighting and what type of stand you want to display your aquarium on. Take your measurement notes with you and look for something that will fit what you have the space for. Don't make your decision at the first store you come to. Check several stores to see what they have to offer, tank and price wise, before making the final decision. Generally speaking, saltwater fish do much better in a larger tank, say 55 gal. or so. The "norm" for a 55 gallon tank is about four feet wide by about 16'' deep.
If you prefer to shop by the Internet, you'll find Top 1 to 50 Gallon Aquariums and Top Mini/Nano Aquarium Kits a good place to start. There are a number of new and innovative aquarium designs on the market. There are corner tanks, coffee table tanks and hexagon tanks. I even saw a series of tanks that were connected by acrylic tubes that allowed the fish to swim from one tank to another, sort of like the gerbil mazes that you see in pet shops. Some people even install their tanks "inside" the wall. Impressive, but make sure that you really want to make the long term commitment before you start making structural changes to your home. If you are renting your home, check with your landlord before spending any money on an aquarium and its components. We have a "No Pets in the House" clause in our lease, so we don't currently have a tank in the house. However, we do have a total of 2,500 gallons in various systems outside, which our landlord gave an O.K. on. Go figure.
Aquariums today are being constructed with one of two basic materials: Glass or acrylic. Acrylics are stronger, but the surface has a tendency to scratch if you are not careful. Glass is less expensive, but it is more prone to breakage and cracking as well as being much heavier. If you are one of a number of the consummate "Do It Yourselfers", (so are we) we will be covering construction of DIY Glass Tanks in a future column.