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Dan Gebben on Aquarium Stands

At Blue Zoo Aquatics, we like to give you the information you need to succeed in the hobby, and, when possible, we like to deliver that information from the primary source. In this case, we are pleased to bring you an interview about aquarium stands with Dan Gebben, co-founder of SteelAquariumStands.com. We thought it might be interesting to look a little deeper into an essential, but often overlooked, piece of aquarium equipment—the stand.


BZN: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us about aquarium stands. Many people spend a lot of time focused on choosing just the right aquarium when setting up a new system. I suspect you recommend that considering one’s stand is just as important. Why is that?


DAN: Yes it is, and there are three main points to consider. First, the stand is what is supporting everything, so you need to be sure that your stand will provide a flat, level and structurally stable base for your aquarium. The second consideration is if the aquarium’s filtration will be housed in the stand. Will there be enough room for the equipment you need, and will it be easy to install and maintain? Third, typically the visible area of your aquarium is slightly less than that of the stand and canopy. It may be just me, but a beautiful reef tank full of color and movement just doesn't look as good when sitting on two-by-four lumber wrapped in plywood.


BZN: Okay, so besides two-by-fours sheathed in plywood, what are the options an aquarist has when choosing an aquarium stand?


DAN: Options on the market are many—from off-the-shelf mass-produced stands in wood, particleboard or acrylic for smaller stands to custom stands. When it comes to custom stands, options are similar until you get to larger tanks of 200 gallons or more.


BZN: What about at SteelAquariumStands.com? What options do you offer?


DAN: We build everything to order, so options are many—from dimensions to species of wood for the cabinetry. We only use steel for the stand and canopy frames. Within the stands we offer both flat interior decks as well as drip pan decks. Canopies offer a few solutions when it comes to lighting and lids. Cabinetry can be from modern flat panels to traditional raised panels.


BZA: I can image what you mean when you say “drip pan deck,” but will you tell us a little more about the pros and cons of flat interior decks versus drip pan decks?    


DAN: The drip pan deck is great if your filtration is below the tank. It manages the inevitable spills that occur during maintenance and water changes, and if you install a sensor or even a small pump it can give you some time to deal with a leak in your filtration system. We install the flat decks typically when filtration will be remote, and the area below the tank just needs to be a clean area for storage. Drip pan decks are a little more expensive than the flat decks due to added material costs and build time.


BZN: As you no doubt are aware, one of the biggest problems with under tank filtration, especially in larger tanks, is providing proper ventilation. How do your stand designs take this into consideration?


DAN: The rear interior wall we typically install is a lightweight plastic material we call “gator board.”  This material is rigid enough to support small components like surge protectors but can be easily cut with a utility knife to allow for more ventilation or to install a fan.  We also leave a couple inches gap at the top of this board to allow for the warmer air to rise out of the interior cavity.


BZN: The name of the company is SteelAquariumStands.com, so obviously you put a lot of value in building a stand with steel. Why is steel, in your opinion, a better choice than wood? Are there any downsides to steel?


DAN: Steel provides the best strength and durability, and also allows the maximum available area below the tank for filtration components. Wood just does not perform as well and will tend to settle and break down. In addition you need a lot more wood to properly support an aquarium than you do steel. The only downside to steel is that it can rust. However, if welded and coated properly, this will not be an issue.


BZN: What is the largest stand you have built? Did you do the installation yourself?


DAN: The largest stand we have built so far was 17 feet long, five feet deep and 42 inches high. The canopy was twenty-four inches high, and it has raised panel cabinetry on all four sides. We delivered it to the client, however we did not install the aquarium.


BZN: How many gallons was the tank for which you built that very large stand?


DAN: A little over 2200 gallons.  


BZN: That’s a big tank. Give us a ballpark on price.


DAN: Stand, canopy and cabinetry for that project came in a little over $15,000.


BZN: Considering the size of the system, that seems a reasonable price relative to the rest of the components. How much on average would you say your stands cost relative to other stand options?


DAN: Because we build everything to order, we will never compete pricewise with mass-produced stands, which are available for many smaller aquariums. Once you get above 150 gallons, or want something custom and furniture quality, our pricing is very competitive especially considering the options, quality and customization we offer.


BZN: Anyone who has operated a reef tank with a sump knows how critical good access can be to the inner workings of the system. What have you done with your stands to insure the best possible access to the sump and other critical equipment?


DAN: Using steel typically gives you significantly more room to work with. The big advantage to the stand systems we build is in the way the cabinetry and the stand are connected. As you can see in the video on our website, all of the cabinetry panels can be easily removed providing access to the entire interior of the stand. This is also a huge advantage when installing the sump and other filtration equipment, as well as the tank it self.


BZN: In terms of space, many saltwater—especially reef-ready—lighting systems take up more space than freshwater systems. Talk with us a little about canopies for saltwater tanks and the challenges of working with different lighting systems (e.g., LED, halides, moonlights, etc.).


DAN: We offer a few solutions here. We offer a lid, which, on smaller aquariums using lightweight fixtures, can support the lighting being attached directly to it. This way when the lid is tilted up the lights are out of the way for maintenance or feeding. Our most popular solution is to build rails into the canopy frame, which can run front to back or side to side. On the rails we provide sliding attachment points. This system can support very heavy lighting systems and still allow you to slide the lights out of the way either from the top of the canopy or from the sides with the cabinetry removed. A third option we are now offering on systems without canopies are stainless steel light trees, which are connected to the stand. We are seeing this option also grow in popularity.


BZN: Your stands are welded airtight. Why is this important? Is this the industry standard or something unique to your stands?


DAN: This is very important to keep the steel from rusting from the inside out. It is one of those things we did not see out there when we started, and I still see stands with open tubes being sold today.


BZN: You coat your stands with epoxy, right? Why is this important?


DAN: Yes, we use a two part marine epoxy, which is designed to perform in a saltwater environment. We like it because it is very durable and resistant to rust. 


BZN: What is your background and the company history?


DAN: We have been in the industry for eight years starting in installation and maintenance. In the last three years, we have focused on just building stands, canopies and cabinetry, and related components.


BZN: Ah…so your installation background is one of the reasons you say on the site that “All of our steel aquarium stands, canopies and cabinetry are designed with a great understanding of how aquariums are installed and maintained.”


DAN: Yes. When we started building stands and canopies, it was because we really didn’t like what was out in the market. You either had really strong steel stands that didn’t look very nice, or really beautiful wood cabinetry that was not very strong or stable. In addition, like you said, we didn’t feel that anyone was coming at the problem with installation or maintenance in mind. Basically we just didn’t feel anyone was looking at the stands, canopies and cabinetry as a part of the complete aquarium.


BZN: Okay, last question—and it is a very basic one we get asked a lot by new aquarists. What advice do you have for aquarists in terms of where to situate the aquarium inside one's home?


DAN: A level and stable piece of floor, and if you have a place where you can run remote filtration to a garage or basement, or install a floor drain, that would be ideal.


BZN: Obviously weight is a huge issue, given how much a fully operational aquarium weighs. How much, on average, would you say a steel stand and canopy weigh relative to a wood stand and canopy?


DAN: For small aquariums steel stands will typically weigh more than a wood stand. However, once you are up over 150 gallons, steel becomes the lighter material assuming the wood stand is using enough lumber to properly support the tank.


BZN: What about the canopy weight?


DAN: Our steel canopies use a lighter gauge steel and are comparable to all wood canopies.


BZN: Great. We really appreciate you taking the time to talk with us about aquarium stands. If people want to get in touch with you, how can they do that? Also, where are you based, and do you do installs all over the country?


DAN: They can contact us through our website at www.SteelAquariumStands.com or via email at info@steelaquariumstands.com. We are based in Long Beach, California. We have not done complete installs in a few years, but we have shipped all over the country.


BZN: Thanks, Dan. I suspect you’ll be hearing from some Blue Zoo News readers. 

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