Monday, June 22, 2009

How to Move a Planted Aquarium Part 1: Planning

Moving an aquarium is a daunting task, but moving a fully planted aquarium is monumental. Although it may be a lot of work, it is entirely possible without ripping everything up and giving away your fish. How do I know? I've done it before, and I'm about to do it again. Yes...I'm a little bit crazy.

Last time I moved was in June 2006. Back then I had three aquariums, a 20 gallon long, a 10 gallon, and the largest, a 29 gallon tank. I only moved a few miles away, so it wasn't all that bad. The tanks were small enough to fit in the back seat of a car (even the 29 gallon) which made it much easier. The move went very well, and I don't think I lost a single fish.

I'm moving again on July 1st, and once again I've got to figure out how to move my planted aquariums. Since then I've upgraded to a 46 gallon bowfront (seen above, please excuse the iPhone photo, my camera is already packed!) and kept the 10 gallon. Both are heavily planted and happily inhabited by fish. The most important part of this whole process is the planning. Thinking through exactly how you are going to complete the move and issues that might come up will save you time, and possibly some lives.

How will I transport the fish and keep them alive? I tried this technique back in 2006 and it worked so well I'm doing it again. I have two large plastic tubs I bought at Target for about $10 each. I'll fill these up with tank water and some plant clippings to provide cover and rudimentary filtration/food for the short trip. Then I'll catch all the fish and put them into the tubs. Sounds easy right? Wrong. This is probably the hardest part of all.

How will I transport the tanks?
Well there's no way I can transport a fully filled 46 gallon tank that approaches 500lbs. That would be a disaster even for the smaller 10 gallon. So instead, I'm going to drain out as much water as I can from both tanks, putting enough into the fish tubs to keep them happy (but also not too much that I can't lift them). Here is where the Python comes in handy. I'm able to drain all but about 3/4 an inch above the substrate level, which has 2 benefits. First, it keeps the substrate wet which keeps colonies of beneficial bacteria alive, and second it makes the tank much lighter. To keep the plants from drying out, I'm planning on taping a garbage bag over the top (plastic wrap for the smaller tank) and using a spray-mister. The 46 gallon and stand definitely don't fit in my back seat, so they'll have to be moved the same day I move all my larger furniture, for which I've rented a cargo van.

What about the filters? Pressurized CO2? Right now I have two Eheim canister filters, one for each aquarium. I'll simply use the shut off valves provided and disconnect them, keeping them full of water for the move. This ensures the beneficial bacteria inside won't completely die out (as long as the move doesn't take too long).

For the pressurized CO2, I'm going to shut it off and disconnect the regulator before moving it. The most important thing is to properly secure the CO2 tank. I've heard plenty of horror stories of improperly secured CO2 tanks falling over and opening in a car.

Other important things to remember:

  • It's summer, so keeping everything out of the direct sun and cool is important. I wouldn't do this in winter, the changes in temperature may be too severe for fish and plants.
  • Lift the tanks slowly and evenly. Twisting or torquing the tanks excessively can lead to cracks.
  • Use plenty of padding when putting the tanks in a vehicle and drive carefully. Make sure to tie them up so they don't move around.
  • Figure out where you are putting your aquariums in your new place ahead of time. You don't want to have to repeat this process later! Consider the floor (can it support a large tank?) and also the proximity to a water source. You can buy a 100ft long Python, but it's much easier to use a 25ft or 50ft. Power outlets are also an important consideration.
  • Luckily, I have no stairs or tight corners to deal with, but if you do, make sure your tank will fit without having to upend it, or this method won't really work for you (horrible images of being showered with muddy substrate while trying to hold up a tank come to mind).
Supply List:

  • Large, sturdy plastic tubs with lids (like these)
  • Python
  • Towels to clean up the inevitable mess and pad the tank during the move
  • Fish net to catch the fish
  • Plastic garbage bag or plastic wrap (depending on the size of the tank)

Will everything go according to plan? Not likely, but it still helps to minimize the risk of something unexpected popping up mid-move.

The next part of this series will be documenting the move day prep and process (with pictures). Look for it once I get settled in at the new place!


  1. This article release is timed perfectly with my preparation to move in October! Hope all goes well for you.

  2. I moved my eight aquariums a few months ago. I elected to do a full teardown on all the tanks, even the smallest. The largest, a 50 gallon, was a heck of a job. I used airstones and airpumps in the 5 gal buckets, to keep the water moving (surface to air exchange of oxygen may be the only thing that raises the oxygen level in the tank, even if all the bubbler does is move the water, it's a good thing.). Sponge filters in the buckets (which have spent the preceding week running in your tank) also do a lot of biofiltering work.

    Also, I stopped feeding my fish 2 days before the move, so that the bioload (poop) is decreased during the move, when the biofilter itself will be decimated. I didn't feed them again until 2 days after the move. I lost a puffer fish in one of my brackish tanks, but all my freshwater tanks were just fine.

    Buy LOTS of buckets.


  3. I have moved my planted tanks many times. Your instructions so far are spot on!

    I use an old cooler instead of the tubs for the fish. It's worked well for me so far.

    I keep as much water as I can for the move. I use 5 gallon camping water containers for 'fresh' water that I let age for a week in the containers with the top off before the move. That way the fish get as much water from the current source and can acclimate to the new water with the water changes and top-offs.

    For long moves, a power inverter is most helpful. You can run air pumps, heaters, whatnot with the inverter.

    I seem to have to move my tanks mostly by myself. So the tanks get completely drained as deep into the substrate as I can. I keep several gallons of the water. I then move the tanks on 4 wheeled carts. I often times tank the tank off the stand, put the stand on the cart, and put the tank back on the cart - push it all the the vehicle, slide the tank off the stand into the vehicle.
    I then put a bunch of water back into the tank so the plants stay wet. I also put some paper towels down to keep the plants from drying out.

    Once there, drain the water again - usually this batch gets tossed as it's pretty punky by now. Move the tank to it's new home. Fill the tank with as much of the 'old' water as I can find. I tend to leave water from the cooler out of my tank on the theory that the fish seriously stressed and all them hormones, pheromones, pathogens, etc. are in that water.

    Refrigerator dollys are great for moving very large tanks - empty. Strap them to the dolly and off you go.


Popular Posts



Planted Aquarium Books