Starting a New Hobby? Why Are Aquariums So Expensive?

Last Updated on January 7, 2022 by cmoarz

Why do fish tanks cost so much? That was the first thing I asked when I started getting involved in the hobby, And it’s probably the first thing you thought of too.

However, after doing some research, I have come up with the following reasons that aquariums are so expensive. I’ve outlined some alternatives to those of you who want to get into the hobby but want to do so with a budget as well.

Let’s get started!

What Makes Aquariums So Expensive

What makes aquariums so expensive? Specifically glass aquariums? There are actually a lot of factors that go into aquarium prices.

The first factor is the sheer difficulty of making a glass tank.

The process itself is actually quite simple on its own, however, Because glass aquariums are expected to hold so much weight in water they need to be done correctly.

If even a single air bubble exists in the silicone joint of an aquarium, somewhere down the line the aquarium could explode.

It could be a month, it could be 3 years, But eventually, it will give out.

That makes it a very difficult process to do well, and that means it costs money.

Some people think the tools required for making a glass aquarium are also expensive, But actually their much simpler in terms of expense and use than they are if you want plexiglass (which I will get into soon).

For an aquarium, you pretty much only need a glass cutter, a wooden frame (for setting), and silicone.

These things aren’t very expensive. Neither is the glass – As we make many aquariums and other products out of glass, the production capabilities are already there so the overhead isn’t too pricey.

The biggest factor in the cost of a glass aquarium is actually the weight and delicacy of the tank itself.

Tanks get made in certain parts of the world need to be shipped all over the place.

Tanks are heavy and the heavier something is, the more it costs to ship.

The second factor is actually getting those tanks to you!

Tanks are glass, and if you’ve ever ordered anything made of glass online you know how often they can end up at your doorstep broken.

So even if you buy your aquarium at a local fish store or Walmart, they still had to get everything shipped to them and take on any losses from damage which increases the price substantially.

Are There Alternatives?

There are several alternatives available to glass tanks, but not all of them are going to save you money.

For example, A acrylic/plexiglass aquarium is actually going to cost you MORE than a glass tank because of the specific tools needed for bending and cutting these materials.

Acrylic also needs to be welded together as silicone won’t stick to acrylic as it sticks to the glass.

Production is also more complicated than glass because it simply doesn’t exist en-mass as glass does. This brings up the price significantly. It costs a lot of money to produce acrylic tanks vs glass tanks and we are nowhere near getting the bulk cost down on these.

Another alternative that might save you money that people often overlook is wood.

A wood aquarium? That sounds like a myth! But it’s true! you can make or buy wooden aquariums that only use glass or acrylic for front or side windows (usually glass).

Wood is cheaper (or used to be anyway), and it’s structurally much stronger than glass or acrylic. Using special coatings you can make it entirely waterproof.

Here’s an example of a large wooden aquarium The king of DIY did on his channel. You can watch his step-by-step video here if you are interested in making your own wooden tank.

Wood aquariums can also be much larger or much smaller than the example above. They work incredibly well and if done right can save you a few bucks.

Buying On The Secondary Market

One place that aquariums have always been nice and cheap is the secondary market.

Buying used aquariums may save you money instead of buying something brand new.

They won’t have all the shipping and handling prices attached to them, and most of the time people are trying to get rid of their tanks as cheaply as possible so they can get some of their space back.

While not every tank is going to be in the best of condition, you can find some real cheap gems in the secondary market.

Don’t forget that amphibian tanks can also be used as fish tanks. They are effectively the same thing just rebranded. All you have to really do is make sure all the joints are firm and in good condition.

The seal itself can always be redone in about 30 minutes of work, the joining on the other hand is much harder to replace and will require you to take the entire tank apart, clean up all the silicone with acetone, and then rejoint it perfectly with no air bubbles.

That’s usually not worth doing for most people, so always inspect the jointing. if it looks bad, pass on the tank.

Other Expenses That Make the Hobby Expensive

It’s not just the tank itself that makes this an expensive hobby. While you can always widdle down the cost as much as possible, some things are always going to be bloating up the costs.

Such examples are water usage, Salt (if you’re using a saltwater tank), filtration, plants, substrate, the fish themselves, all their foods, cleaning equipment such as vacumes. Sump pumps, decorations, nets, lights, heaters, electricity for those heaters, etc.

The list goes on and on.

All of these things combined turn the aquarium hobby into a fairly expensive one, but the good news is that for most people it’s a fun and enjoyable hobby.

And you can always widdle all of the costs down as much as possible, even if it takes you months to get them all nice and low.

Not everyone has a face-melting budget to work with when starting out, so do your best and hopefully you can piece together a nice and functional aquarium that doesn’t break the bank.

Time Investment

Bonus section for those of you who haven’t considered it. The hobby is time-demanding. You have to spend a lot of time with your tank in order to really make sure everything is in good shape and that there are no problems.

This means checking the water conditions every day, cleaning the glass/acrylic constantly, making sure all food has been eaten up by their recipients (fish). When your fish get sick they often require special medicine or treatments and many times those things take lots of time to perform.

There’s also the fact that you have to do regular water changes, and depending on the size of your tank you might be doing this once a week or more!

This can be especially stressful if you work full-time as well as have a family with children. It’s not always easy to find time for everything in your daily life, but if you want a successful tank you must take the time to care for it.

And that’s why, out of everything on this list, The time investment is the most expensive part of the hobby in my opinion.


Owner of and also owner of actual Aquarium Gravel believe it or not! ;). Setting up beautiful aquarium sceneries and habitats since I was very young. Enjoy!