Custom-Built Glass Aquariums

When I was growing up, one of the glass aquariums that we had around the house had a metal frame that held the glass panes in place.

To make the aquarium waterproof, window pane putty was used to seal the glass against the metal frame. Bear in mind that this was the late 60’s and all glass aquariums held together only with silicone had yet to make an appearance.

Ah, the good ol’ days!

A Glass Or Acrylic Aquarium | Which Should You Get?

As I mentioned in an earlier article, I’m not too keen on acrylic aquariums. But acrylic definitely has strength advantages over glass aquariums when it comes to very long or very wide tanks — think an 8′ x 3′ x 3′, 538 gallon monster or a 4′ x 4′ x 2′ cube.

So unless I was setting up a particularly large aquarium, or building an unusually shaped tank, I would go with a glass aquarium every time.

Glass Aquariums Are More Resistant To Scratches

seamless glass aquarium

A Seamless Glass Aquarium

Glass aquariums can be cleaned very easily using a metal scraper. Even a single-sided razor blade can be used for getting at the tough coralline and green algae that are so common in our saltwater tanks.

I won’t say that glass is impossible to scratch, because that would not be true. But I will say that glass can handle a good scraping with a reasonable amount of elbow grease. Try any kind of metal scraper of blade on your acrylic aquarium and no matter how gently you use it, you will be left with hundreds of fine, but very visible, scratches.

Glass Thicknesses And Types Of Glass

As mentioned on our Ready-Made Aquariums page, the three main glass thicknesses used in saltwater aquariums construction are 10mm, 12mm and 15mm.

For very large tanks, 19mm glass is also available for that extra margin of safety.

Your tank builder will recommend the glass thickness to use in your tank build but I always like to choose a glass that is one thickness more than what is recommended, just for peace of mind.

starphire glass samples

Samples of Starphire glass at an LFS

A good tank builder will always use float glass over tempered glass for aquarium construction. Tempered glass can shatter into a thousand pieces if enough stress is exerted on it and extra care must be taken when drilling it for overflows and plumbing.

These days, many tank builders are also offering high optic, low-iron glass that is exceptionally clear and doesn’t have the familiar green-tint of regular glass. Available under the brand name ‘Starphire’, high optic glass is usually used only on the front viewing panel of the aquarium, although if budget allows, it may also used for the side glass panels of the aquarium as well.

It should also be noted however, that high optic glass scratches more easily than float glass, so extra care must be taken when cleaning it.

Silicone Sealants For Glass Aquariums

Well-built glass aquariums can last for 20 years or more.

And the the main reason why glass tanks develop leaks is because the wrong silicone sealant was used to build the tank. Some types of silicone are meant for weather-proofing purposes only, and are not formulated to be strong enough to hold an aquarium together for the long term.

custom built aquarium

Custom-Built Marine Aquarium

Some silicones also have mold and mildew-inhibiting chemicals which could be potentially dangerous to livestock.

As of this writing, Momentive RTV103 and RTV108 are two silicones formulated for aquarium building. As specifications can change, I would recommend checking with the manufacturer directly if you are researching using silicones for your new aquarium.

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