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.
There are multiple types of glass that might be used in fish tanks. Plastic and acrylic tanks are also available. Learn more about the material options below.
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 you can't drill it. 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 better 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: