Sunday, February 17, 2008

Building a Condo Fishroom Or How to Convert a 2 Bed + Den into a 2 Bed + Fishroom

In sharing the steps of my journey to creating the ultimate condo upgrade, I should first lay out a few starting points. I feel that the most vital step to construction is meeting the approval of one’s significant other. In this case my girlfriend was completely on board as she enjoys seeing my hobbies and interests manifest themselves fully.

Next, one has to consider planning the construction very carefully. I would say devising the perfect design constituted about 80% of the total time spent. This certainly is when you should be working out any future issues and measuring again and again and again... When considering your rack/stand designs, be sure to think in modules. Envision how much of fool you will look like if the whole setup has to be dismantled because you left yourself no options for future tear down. In my case 3 separate pieces are connected with lag bolts to make one extremely sturdy design. They are shown in the image on the right as ‘75G’, section B, and section A, representing a stand for a 75 gallon, a 39 inch long section, and a 36 inch long section.

Now, onto my story. I started out this whole endeavor with a den room that was already enclosed with frosted glass doors, installed by the previous owner. Aside from keeping fish, the only other consideration for the room was the need to have a vertical freezer in there to store extra food.


My first attempt at making this area a dedicated fish room came with the addition of a metal warehouse shelf that was not being used in my parent’s basement. The above left photo shows the early setup, complete with hap hazard design and poor uses of shelf space. Before I built the two sections of the rack, I constructed a basic stand for a 75 gallon tank. I will not go into too many details of it’s construction as I did not have the forethought to take many photos of it before it was finished.

The general engineering for the stand is the same as will be used for the racks. I describe this as, doubled up 2x4s (making 4x4s). One vertical 2x4 supports the horizontal 2x4s, the other keeps the pieces true and supports extra load. This stand has a footprint of 48 inch by 21 inch. It originally held a 75G which was home to my breeding pair of angels. This tank has since been converted into a mixed African cichlid tank, meaning the angels needed to be put back in my 90G planted tank.

The Modular Rack

The rack system was designed entirely out of 2x4s and ¾ inch ply for the shelves. This design is simple, cheap, and sturdy. This image shows the horizontal shelf supports resting in between a ‘discontinuous’ vertical 2x4, on top of an intact 8 foot long ‘face’ vertical (laying on the ground in this photo). The leftmost, outward facing module of the shelf unit had all 4 corners using this design (referred to as Section B in above diagram).

The rack segment that fills the corner between my 75G stand and the Section B, referred to as Section A, had a slightly different design. Because the shelves in Section A are not 100% utilized as far as space in which the face of a tank can be seen, I felt it necessary to move the continuous vertical 2x4 behind the discontinuous piece for the very back, inside corner. With all other corners being done in the same way as Section B, the finished design would appear as one harmonious unit. Once each unit was assembled using 2 ½ inch construction screws, I covered over any visible screw heads with Elmers Wood Fill and painted the visible sections with Rust-Oleum Painters Touch Multipurpose Latex Paint. This paint comes in gloss, semi-gloss and matte finishes. I chose to use both Black Gloss and Black Semi-gloss finishes . This wasn’t so much a style choice as an inability to buy enough of one type of paint at the time. I mostly used the glossy finish on the front facing horizontals and verticals, whereas the undersides of the ply shelves and all set back pieces were painted with semi-gloss. I am quite happy with the paint as it has stood up incredibly well to dings, water marks, and other fish room related insults.

The units were connected together using a total of 6 lag bolts, 2 per shelf, which were attached via holes in the front facing horizontals of section A and the side horizontals of Section B. The lag bolts held the sections together so tightly I could climb the unit and not pull it in any way despite my best attempts.

For electrical I used a central shop quality surge protected power bar mounted on the underside of one of the shelves in the back corner as a central power source for lights. Initially I ran sponge filters off of a central air pump to filter the tanks. This has changed slightly as some of the tanks have taken on more of a show quality nature as opposed to being purely functional.

Filtering methods should be carefully considered as I probably spent more than was necessary because I did not have a defined plan for each tank at the time of construction. To some extent this cannot be avoided as you may not have inhabitants already selected for each tank.

These final images of my condo fish room shows Section B holding 3 20 gallon long tanks, section A with 2 10s, and 3 5s, and a 75G mixed African cichlid tank. Some tanks are filtered with aquaclear power filters, others using sponges. The 20 gallon long tanks and one 10G are homes to my breeding colonies of dwarf shrimp (cherries, ghosts, and other assorted Neocardinia varieties). The second 10 gallon from the bottom is home to an Apistogramma cacatuoides, and the 5s hold a mixed bag of fancy guppies.

Overall this experience has been incredible, both because I have now expanded my total available gallonage beyond what was previously possible, and because I really enjoyed the construction.

If anyone has questions or comments do not hesitate to contact me on GTA Aquaria Forum username JamesG.

Some Fishroom Inhabitants

Peacock Gudgeon

- Neocardinia "sp green"?

- Ghost Shrimp larvae