Why Are Glass Aquariums so Expensive?

Marie is an aquarium aficionado and loves taking care of her turtles and frogs.

Why is it that a 10-gallon tank can be $10 or $15, a 20-gallon tank is around $40, and a 30-gallon tank is $70+ (at the lowest prices available)? If an aquarium is $10 for 10 gallons, shouldn't the 20-gallon tank be $20, and so forth? (Please note that prices for aquariums have gone up since this article was originally written.)

I have read these questions before on various forums, and the usual response is something along the lines of, "If you can't afford the aquarium, you can't afford the animal; choose a different hobby." Well, that does not answer the question, and it is a legit one. Why do some people get worked up when pet owners talk about animal expenses? It doesn't mean the person doesn't love their animal if they want things cheaper.

How Do You Explain the Pricing?

For a long time, I wondered this myself. Why does the price triple and quadruple, and so on, as the gallons increase? Why can't I find a 75-gallon tank for less than $130? Why do five glass sheets glued together cost so much? It is just glass.

Well, glass is not that cheap to begin with, at least not compared to plastic (excluding acrylic, which I will get to in a moment). Taking a natural element like sand and melting it between 1,099° F and 1,501° F takes a lot of energy, and in some factories they must keep glass in liquid form for lengths at a time.

Two Main Reasons

Okay, but that does not explain the unbalance of price as they get bigger. Well, there are two reasons why the price sky-rockets as the gallons increase: thickness and material.


The bigger the tank, the more water that glass has to hold. Water is pretty heavy, and it is asking a lot for five glass sheets to stick together without succumbing to the pressure. So, in some cases, the glass has to be thicker. The photos above show the difference of thickness between 10 gallons. This explains why the price more than just doubles; the manufacturers have to also compensate for the thickness and not just the length and width of the sheets.


Types of Glass

Sometimes, the glass just being thicker isn't enough. There are two common types of aquarium glass: tempered and plate glass.

  • Tempered (toughened) glass was melted and cooled quickly, resulting in stronger glass that can hold more gallons. The downside to this glass is if it ever cracks, it shatters, so no drilling. This glass is vulnerable at the edges, but otherwise it holds up well for larger tanks.
  • Plate glass (flat glass, sheet glass) cannot hold as much water, but it certainly suffices for the smaller aquariums. This material can be drilled and cracked without shattering.

Tempered glass is more expensive than plate glass, and so that is why bigger aquariums jump in price; they're made of the strong stuff, tempered.


Some small aquariums are not even made of glass, like how a typical 5-gallon fish tank can be made of cheap plastic, resulting in an even cheaper alternative. And then there is a plastic called acrylic that is stronger than tempered glass and way more expensive, too.


Acrylic resembles glass, but it is stronger, lighter, and can be bent during manufacturing so it comes in different shapes and not just the standard five-sheet rectangle like most aquariums. Although acrylic fish tanks can come in all sizes, the extremely big tanks, like 200 gallons, would more than likely be acrylic because they can withstand such weight more than tempered glass.

Thicker Walls and Better Materials Lead to Higher Prices

And so this is why aquariums can be and usually are pricey. When comparing two aquariums and wondering why one is more expensive than the other, it is not just the size that plays a factor. Large aquariums are thicker and made of more expensive material than smaller tanks in order to withstand the pressure.

mariekbloch (author) on May 17, 2018:

If they seem like the same price, it may be because reptile tanks have additions to them that make them more expensive, like a screen top, lamp heads with special UVB bulbs, and sliding doors. But a simple aquarium could be used for aquatic animals and reptiles.

MrInsomniac on May 12, 2018:

If so why are reptile tanks that don't need to worry about water pressure, have the same price as the ones that do?

mariekbloch (author) on September 27, 2016:

I actually don't like bow fronts, only straight glass. Mainly because it distorts what the fish can see. Thanks for commenting.

Edward Belli on September 23, 2016:

I agree that a glass aquarium is very expensive, especially for bow front aquarium.

John on August 09, 2015:

Its a racket. All industries are essentially rackets. They price things according to what sells and the most they can make for it. Capitalism does not work in such a fashion that something costs x dollars and they add 20% for profit. It's more like it costs $10, but they can sell it for $150, so they sell it for $150 rather than $20 (and still make a 50% margin, and still pay great wages and benefits). It's all about the rich getting even richer.

elephant on April 04, 2012:

ok, good

makes sense


How long will fish tank last?

Sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office and weekend trips to the zoo aren’t enough for you anymore it’s time for you to have your own fish tank. Aquariums are expensive though, so you want to be sure it’s worth the investment. You find yourself asking: “how long will my new fish tank last?”

How long will a fish tank last? A properly maintained and filled fish-tank can last for decades. People oftentimes use the same glass fish tank continuously for over 40 years. Owners have the option of choosing between glass and acrylic tanks. Glass fish tanks typically last longer than acrylic, but each can last for decades if properly cared for.

Now you know that buying a fish tank will provide you enjoyment for years to come.

But what else do you need to know before you make your purchase? Here’s some more information.

Traditional Braced Aquariums

The oldest style of aquariums, braced aquariums have the little plastic shell on the top and usually the bottom portion of the aquarium. While being an eye store the plastic strip can offer a few benefits. The largest is hiding the water line. As we noted above rimless aquariums show the water line. If you are not the best with routine aquarium maintenance this will be an eye sore. Not so with a braced aquarium. The water line will be completely hidden from view. On top of that you will be able to have a larger tank as the braced aquariums can support larger weight loads of water. Generally tanks past 300 gallons will use the plastic brace method. If having a hood or lid to your aquarium is a must then braced aquariums should be your choice.

In the end choosing a rimless aquarium or a braced aquarium is really just personal preference and the type of reef tank experience you want to create. What type of aquarium do you have?

Ryan Gripp

Ryan Gripp founded Reef Builders in 2006. He writes about technology, industry and other associated news relating to saltwater fish tanks. He went to Depaul University and has been keeping reef tanks for over 15 years.

Lifetime Aquariums® Material Options

Our Lifetime Aquarium® system allows you to choose from a variety of materials for any panel. Here is an overview of the material choices.

Standard Clarity 1/2" Glass

Most aquariums 300 gallons and under come standard with 1/2" glass for the front, back, sides, and bottom. This is commonly accepted in the industry as adequate thickness for aquariums this size with plenty of additional safety factor to account for drilled holes for overflows and return fittings. Individual requirements may vary depending on the circumstances of each setup.

3/4" Standard Clarity Glass

3/4" Glass is typically used for larger aquariums greater than 300 gallons, (there are some exceptions to this rule based on engineered specifications, our recommendations are listed in the aquarium pricing charts). 3/4" glass upgrade may also make sense for smaller tanks in high traffic areas where additional precautions are desired or if an unusually large quantity of holes are drilled in the glass. Another solution to add strength without adding the additional weight of 3/4" glass is to get tempered 1/2" glass. Many of our 3/4" glass aquariums can be made with 1/2" tempered glass instead. Please call for details.

Tempered Glass (Available 1/2" or 3/4")

Tempering glass can add 5-10 times the strength to the glass panel. The tempering process super-heats the panel, then cools it down rapidly. During this process, the exterior of the glass cools at a quicker rate than the interior of the glass. This difference in cooling rates creates tension, or "loading" of the molecules, making the glass very, very strong. At CustomAquariums.com, we have a full glass fabrication capability and would be happy to drill whatever holes you need and do any other fabrication within our ability for a reasonable extra charge prior to tempering. Tempering does add to the lead time (usually 2-4 weeks) because we have to send the panel off to be tempered per order due to the fact tempering has to be done post fabrication. Once the panel is tempered, it cannot be modified later.

Ultra-Clear Glass (Available 1/2" or 3/4", tempered or non- tempered)

Ultra-clear glass has about the same strength as regular clarity of the same thickness. The difference is the ultra-clear has a lower iron content that gives it an exceptionally clear look. This option is a very nice feature but does cost a bit more money. Our system gives you the flexibility to upgrade as many or few panels as you desire depending on the placement, configuration, and budget of your tank.

Anodized Marine Grade Aluminum vs. Plastic Frame

Anodized Aluminum Frame Plastic Frame
Advantages Disadvantages Advantages Disadvantages
Much stronger More expensive Less expensive Flexible, weak
More silicone, stronger joint Less silicone, weaker joint
Won't turn brittle Can turn brittle
Custom sizes possible Fewer custom sizes

Stronger, Longer Lasting for a Similar Price

Our Lifetime Aquarium® system is manufactured with a marine grade anodized aluminum frame. The aluminum frame provides a much more durable, rigid solution than plastic. The fact that it is anodized also creates a hardened surface that will not rust, corrode, or oxidize. This is the same material ocean rated boats and ocean view skyscraper windows are made out of. As a further piece of mind, no part of the aluminum is submerged in the tank as the entire submerged interior is glass and silicone. The aluminum frame is considerably more expensive to manufacture than a mass-produced injection molded frame, however with our direct to consumer business model, we are still competitive with plastic rim tanks in price by cutting out the multiple distribution markups that most other companies have.

Stronger Joints with More Silicone

The profile of our aluminum frame not only allows for more rigidity than a plastic frame, it creates areas to apply more silicone with a better bond. Particularly for large aquariums with large spans this will significantly increase the strength and long-term durability of the aquarium. Our proprietary frame design makes large, build to order aquariums possible at the same time making them stronger than the competition.

Custom Sizes

Our proprietary patent pending aluminum frame system not only adds strength and durability, but allows us to custom build to order virtually any size and still maintain commercial grade strength and a professional look. Most other custom glass enclosures out there are made with a euro-frame design, which basically means it is pieced together with large chunks of reinforcement glass, and lots of unsightly silicone. If you are interested in a "euro" style custom aquarium, be sure to examine close-up pictures of the frame. The aesthetics are something to be desired and because of all the additional glass involved they are quite a bit heavier.

Plastic Framed Tops - Inherent Risk of Failure

Most commercially available mass-produced aquariums are made with injection molded plastic tops. Although these usually will last quite some time without a problem, eventually like anything else made of plastic it can become brittle, particularly when exposed to UV light. As we explained in the Acrylic vs. Glass comparison, plastic is porous and will absorb moisture. This combined with exposure to UV light will create a situation where over an extended period of time, an aquarium top can fail and lead to a total failure of the aquarium. This is far less probable with our reinforced aluminum frame.

Plastic Frames – Center Brace Failure Can Be Disastrous. This WILL NOT Happen with an Aluminum Frame!

One of the most common calls we receive on a daily basis is a customer calling because they have a well-established, built in the wall aquarium for 15-20 years, then one day it spontaneously fails, which is nothing less than a complete emergency situation. There is water all over their home destroying property, and they have well established, valuable, and beautiful fish/corals that are not only something you are proud of and emotionally attached to but are irreplaceable without a lot of time, money, and effort. This is almost always due to the failure of the center brace. Not only is the center brace the most vulnerable to someone accidentally putting weight on it when servicing it, it is also usually the weakest part of the aquarium because it has the most amount of force exerted on the weakest structure. Over time the plastic becomes brittle, as ALL plastic eventually becomes brittle (just like acrylic aquariums and sumps). UV light over time breaks it down and dries it out and over time will make it weaker and weaker. Over the long run with the enormous amounts of pressure involved with larger reef tanks it is only a matter of time and you may be vulnerable to a catastrophic failure. The damaging UV light can come from being near a window, or even from the lights in your tank.

Our Lifetime Aquariums® have marine grade anodized aluminum center supports that are reinforced with a secondary aluminum bracket and riveted for extra strength. No longer is the center bracket a long term failure risk. Our anodized, marine grade aluminum frames will never turn brittle and crack like a plastic frame. And, because we are factory direct, there is no trade off. You will find our aluminum framed Lifetime Aquariums® to be competitive with just about any other plastic framed aquarium on the market for about the same price, delivered to your door.

We have many testimonials from customers all over the country, who have reached out to us to say “Help, my aquarium exploded, I have live established corals, and nobody can make a tank to fit in the space in my wall!” With our Lifetime Aquarium® system we can not only make virtually any size aquarium with the appropriate thickness glass, custom holes, and tempering if need be, but if the customer had used an aluminum frame aquarium in the first place they would never be in this situation.

"I sent a request into the customer service asking about my tank that had just developed a crack in the top brace. Seeing as it was a holiday, I did not expect to hear from anyone on the same day, but to my surprise I had a response within the hour. While the answer to my question was not what I was hoping to hear, I was very pleased with the quick response and the honest advise given. I will be sure to visit Custom Aquariums in the future for all of my aquatic needs!! I am very satisfied with the service that I received!"

Glass Lids


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Glass lids are generally the most durable, effective, and versatile types of covers. They fit snugly to prevent evaporation, they're easy to clean, and they're more durable than plastic. Glass covers tend to be a bit more expensive than plastic hoods, but they are well worth the additional expense.

When purchasing a glass lid, make sure it comes with a back strip that allows you to make custom cutouts for adding a filter and other accessories. These are typically vinyl and can be cut with scissors or a utility knife.

Most glass lids consist of two glass panes connected in the middle by a plastic hinge. Typically they do not include lighting. Adding lighting requires a separate strip-light or another type of fixture that is compatible with the glass cover.


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The part that covers the part that typically covers the lighting fixture, is the hood. It may also incorporate a plastic lid to cover the top of the aquarium. The single hood that covers the aquarium and houses a light usually is less expensive than a separate lid and lighting unit.

Plastic lids come with a few drawbacks. They generally do not fit as tightly as glass lids, therefore allowing more evaporation of the tank water. Plastic lids also tend to become brittle over time and are not as durable as glass.

When purchasing a hood, pay close attention to the quality and specifications of the light fixture. Cheaper hoods often have low-quality lights. Make sure you are getting the light wattage and type you require before purchasing a hood.

Watch the video: Acrylic Vs. Low Iron Glass Vs. Regular Glass Aquarium

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