A Primer on General Aquarium Design

Measuring Tape

When you're designing a large-scale custom aquarium system, a number of issues should be relatively simple.  Before we delve into the details, let's take a look at some of the broader general concepts.

General Design Goals

You have to design a system that will accomplish specific goals.  The first, and most obvious goal is to provide an adequate artificial habitat for you fish, plants, and invertebrates.  Less obvious, but equally important design goals are that the system be reliable, fault tolerant, and cost effective.  Failure to plan for a reliable, fault tolerant, cost effective system will likely result in a system that is failure and disease prone, subject to catastrophic failures during power outages or other events, and which costs more than it needs to.

Designing For Reliability

The major characteristic of a reliable system is that the system components do no fail to meet specification on a consistent basis.  There is the expectation that a reliable system will perform day in and day out in an expected manner.  Several ways to accomplish this goal are as follows:

Designing For Fault Tolerance

Fault tolerance allows a system to continue to operate if a failure occurs, or to at least prevent catastrophic failure if a system fault occurs.  Fault tolerance must be planned for the failure of components within the system, and for external effects, such as power failures, happening outside the system.  While fault tolerance can increase the system cost, it can prevent the occurrence or minimize the effects of failures that could wipe out the tank population.  A few examples of fault tolerant design are as follows:

Designing For Cost Effectiveness

The temptation in design is to oversize everything, but not only is this ineffective or possibly ill-advised in some instances, it adds unnecessary expense.  Many of the "rules of thumb" that are commonly in vogue end up oversizing components and adding excess costs.  It is far better to make as accurate a calculation of your requirements as possible and meeting those requirements, than to heavily oversize those requirements "in order to be safe."  In many instances where this is done, the additional expense of meeting these overstated requirements comes at the cost of implementing fault tolerance or other important design goals.  In other instances, by using the most effective configuration of components we can reduce the system requirements themselves and have a more efficient system.  Here are some ways to improve system cost effectiveness:

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