Blog: Lisa Melvin Interview About Aquariums in The Home

Aquafront founder Akil Gordon-Beckford was recently interviewed by KBB designer and editor of Revealed Magazine Lisa Melvin of Lisa Melvin Design about integrating aquariums into peoples homes.You can read the full conversation on http://lisamelvindesign.blogspot.co.uk/2014/01/aquariums-in-your-home-revealed.html

Lisa: Key Benefits—Your thoughts on why an aquarium within a living space can make a difference to your overall well being?
Akil: There is wealth of well documented evidence backed by scientific research that suggests there is a medical benefit for having an aquarium in your home or work environment. It’s well known that spending time around an aquarium can significantly reduce anxiety and stress levels which has a knock on effect with sleeping patterns, appetite and emotional state.

I believe that aquariums are windows for people to connect with nature and create a moment of being still within their mind and body. Living in the digital age has resulted in many of us being overwhelmed with information and data. We are expected to do more within 24 hours than ever before both professionally and socially. Taking frequent holidays or meditating through tai chi or yoga are great ways to relax, recharge batteries and realign you mind and body back to its natural rhythm. A beautifully designed aquarium can recreate that experience and give you that moment to be still and connect with nature.

Outside of that an aquarium is a great feature to aesthetically enhance any space. By adding light, colour and movement to the environment it creates a striking visual focal point. It is human nature to be drawn to beauty. This is why more often than not an aquarium is usually situated in an area of the home where people spend most of their time. 

Lisa: Are there any rooms in the house not suitable for an aquarium?
Akil: Not really! What I would say is that the design of the aquarium should be modified to meet the varying demands of different areas around the house. For example aquariums situated in walk through areas like a corridor or entrance hall should be built at a height off the floor that’s easily viewable at standing eye level. Aquariums situated in dining or lounge areas should be a built lower so easily viewable when seated. Aquariums built into bedrooms or quiet areas should be heavily sound proofed with quiet running equipment.   

Lisa: Room temperatures do Aquariums need to be in a consistent environment or is it all controlled within the module?
Akil: The ambient temperature of the room does not really matter as a well-built aquarium system will have equipment to control water temperature and cabinet humidity. Although I would try to avoid situating the aquarium too close to fire places and radiators.

Lisa: What happens if there is a prolonged power cut?
Akil: Prolonged power cuts are a problem for any aquarium, especially if you have very expensive fish or coral in your system that are reliant on stable water conditions. Generally speaking you have 3-6 hours after a power cut before fish start becoming stressed. There are measures you can take to avoid complete disaster, for example connecting essential equipment like pumps and heaters to a UPS battery or backup generator to buy you some time. This can all be managed through an aquarium computer system that will notify you via email or txt if a power cut occurs. Most back up power supplies will give you 12 - 48 hours depending on the size and type of your aquarium system. I would recommended this as an essential addition to any aquarium system for someone who travels frequently.     

Lisa: Your most elaborate install to date?
Akil: In terms of size the biggest tank I’ve done was a 1200 litre saltwater system built into the staircase of a basement conversion. The tanks irregular shape meant it had to be fabricated onsite along with the handmade cabinetry and ventilation system that ran through the ceiling and floor.

In terms of technology the integrated kitchen aquarium we put together for Poggenpohl was the most elaborate. We used state of the equipment with quiet low energy pumps and computer controlled LED lights that were programmed to simulate natural sunrise and sunsets. The whole aquarium system was managed by an integrated computer that monitored all the water parameters, controlled all the equipment, and auto fed the fish and coral. The showroom manager at Poggenpohl in St. Albans was able to interface with the aquarium computer and equipment using a tablet via a specialised app.   

Lisa: Maintenance - daily, weekly, yearly?
Akil: Daily
If set up properly the main things you should have to do daily is feed your fish. For those of you who want to just look at your aquarium you can install an auto feeder that will cover this for you.

Weekly
You may need to clean your glass once a week which can be done with a magnetic glass cleaner taking no longer than 5 - 10minutes (depending on aquarium size).

Generally speaking a partial water change and a clean out of the sand or gravel should be carried out once every two weeks. However this may vary depending on the number and type of fish you keep, the size of the aquarium, as well as the equipment included in your filtration system. For example some sensitive species of coral in saltwater systems would require weekly water changes. However by incorporating additional features to your filtration system, your aquarium will be able to run a lot more independently. 

Quarterly
A good clean out of equipment i.e. pumps, lights should be carried every two to three month to make sure they stay in good working order.

Yearly
I always recommend replacing sensitive or perishable equipment like sensors and thermostats each year. You may also want to replace some of the decoration inside the aquarium, to keep the display looking fresh.   

Lisa: How much to run an aquarium on a yearly basis?
Akil: As you can imagine the running costs of an aquarium vary depending on the size and type of the system.
If working from standard sizes of 1200mm (l) x 600mm (w) x 600mm (h) (medium) and
2400mm (l) x 600mm (w) 600mm (h) (large), you can expect to spend the following annually on running costs for food and supplements (approximately):

Medium Saltwater system - £880.00
Medium Freshwater system - £230.00

Large Saltwater system - £1418.00
Large Freshwater system - £340.00

Aftercare Support
If you wish to have your aquarium maintained by a professional company then expect to pay anything from £60 - £75 per service on a medium sized system and £85 - £100 per service on a large. Annual maintenance contracts can vary from £780 to £2600 depending on how often your aquarium needs servicing. Generally I advise my clients to invest in the right filtration and system set up at the initial stage so that there aquarium doesn’t require as much attention saving them money in the long term.

Lisa: How safe are the tanks - i.e. children kicking a ball at them someone stumbling in to it?
Akil: Generally speaking aquariums that are built into walls or structural features tend to be a lot safer than the stand alone aquariums you buy at the shop. A bespoke aquarium is designed and built for a specific purpose and location, meaning that safety considerations are accounted for during the initial planning. There are three main threats that an aquarium can pose on a property:

Water damage
Like any other glass structure aquariums are prone to cracks and breaks if hit hard enough with a blunt force. The most common cause for cracks or breaks of the aquarium glass is when moving furniture or the aquarium itself. As you can imagine an aquarium with a crack is a real safety hazard, as the pressure from the water when filled can force the glass to completely break, emptying the contents of the aquarium into the room. To avoid this you can double laminate the aquarium wall and base so that if a crack does occur on one of the panes of glass the other laminated sheet will hold the aquarium structure in place without any leakages. Acrylic is a popular alternative material to glass, especially for commercial displays. Aquarium grade acrylic is 17 times stronger than glass so can withstand extremely strong impact forces.

Fire damage
As we all know electricity and water do not mix! The potential risk of an electrical fire is a disaster waiting to happen if the right measures are not taken during design and installation. All electrical connection points for equipment such as lights, pumps etc. must be IP rated as splash or water proof. It’s also a good idea to supply the aquarium power via its own dedicated fuse board with multiple RCD switches in the event of an electrical failure or incident.

Structural Damage
I think it’s safe to say that a homeowner’s worst nightmare would be to see their aquarium suddenly fall through the ceiling onto the prized dining room table! Aquariums are heavy structures in relation to their footprint. Remember a litre of water weighs 1kg, so a 460 litre aquarium (standard medium size tank) will weigh anything from 500Kg to 550Kg. Most old or standard floor joists are not built to hold that amount weight in such a confined space. To prevent an expensive catastrophe either build your aquarium onto a solid stone floor at ground level or reinforce your floor and ceiling supports with steal RSJ’s.                 

Lisa: Affordability - How much is a typical installation?
Akil: The price of a bespoke aquarium can vary quite considerably depending on the size of the tank, the type of setup, cabinetry, and the level of technology incorporated into the system.  If going off the standard setup sizes previously mentioned you can expect to pay the following for a professional to design, install and setup your bespoke aquarium:

Medium (1200mm x 600mm x 600mm)
Freshwater £5,000.00 - £6,000.00
Marine £8000.00 - £9,000.00

Large (2400mm x 600mm x 600mm)
Freshwater £9,000.00 – £10,000.00
Marine £12,000.00 – £13,000.00

Adding live decorations like plants (in freshwater aquariums) and coral (in saltwater aquariums) can increase the cost of an installation project by 20%-30% 

Increasing the height of your tank can exponentially increase the material cost of the build. Taller tanks require thicker walls to compensate for the increased water pressure exerted. Clients often like the look of deeper tanks as it creates more of an immersive experience. Expect to add an additional 10% - 30% to the project cost for increasing the aquarium height from the standard by another 600mm.

Digital technology, advanced filtration and better quality equipment can create the aquarium of your dreams! A quiet running independent aquarium is ideally what we all want, but this comes at a cost. Upgrades in aquarium technology can add anything between 10% - 100% to your budget, so do your research! I often design aquariums to be future proof so clients can add non-essential elements to their system at a later date.

Lisa: How to choose the correct fish - learn how to upkeep the aquarium
Akil: I’m a great advocator for knowledge being something that is free?
I’m a big advocate of making informed decisions! It often saves money and lives in the short and long term.  Outside of speaking to a professional for advice I would recommend using online publications and forums for information and insights. The following sites are some that I have found useful and that I recommend to my clients if they want to learn more for themselves.

Publications
Advanced Aquarist
http://www.advancedaquarist.com/
Practical Fish Keeping
http://www.practicalfishkeeping.co.uk/

Forums
The Age Of Aquariums
http://www.aquahobby.com/age_of_aquariums.php
UK Aquatic Planting Society
http://www.ukaps.org/
Reef Central
http://www.reefcentral.com/
Ultimate Reef
http://www.ultimatereef.net/forums/index.php

Suppliers and Manufacturers
Aquafront
http://www.aquafront.co.uk/index.php
The Green Machine
http://www.thegreenmachineonline.com/
Aquaessentials
http://www.aquaessentials.co.uk/ 
D & D
http://www.theaquariumsolution.com/