How to Organize Your Aquarium Equipment by Jose Serrano, MarineDepot.com Reef Squad
How many times has water fallen on the power strip you plug your aquarium supplies into? How often do you unplug the wrong piece of equipment because you have no idea which plug it is? Are your cables so intertwined they resemble braids of hair or worse, tangled into a veritable bird's nest?
Don't worry: you are not alone.
As your interest in the aquarium hobby grows, so often does the clutter inside your aquarium cabinet. Keeping your gear organized is one of the easiest ways to prevent stress when it comes time for tank upkeep. The less time you spend struggling with the scenarios described above, the more time you'll have for things you actually enjoy. A good aquarium keeper performs regular tank maintenance; a smart aquarium keeper doesn't spend a lot of time doing it.
Opening the doors to a well-organized aquarium stand is like breathing a breath of fresh air. There are enormous advantages to being able to see all your equipment, monitoring devices, plumbing and cords at a glance. The likelihood you will be able to spot any issues in your filtration system increases exponentially when you have an uninterrupted visual field. In short, being in tune with your tank makes tank tune-ups much easier.
In this article, we are going to share a few of the tips and tricks we use to stay organized. This is all pretty basic stuff: labeling equipment, tying up cords, mounting power strips… but together they can make all the difference in the world. We're also going to give you some ideas you can use to make the most out of the limited space underneath your aquarium.
Label Your Cords
While performing aquarium maintenance, unplugging equipment is commonplace. Replacing your aquarium light bulbs? Unplugging your light fixture is Safety 101! Is your pump caked with gunk? It's time to pull that baby out and give it a good scrubbing.
Unfortunately, once your power strip is packed with plugs, it can be difficult to determine which plug is which. Pulling random plugs isn't the best strategy, but the trial-and-error approach is the method most often used by disorganized hobbyists.
Stop needlessly unplugging your heater and start labeling your plugs. Here are a few ideas on how to get 'er done:
- Place your label near the end of the plug. This way all your labels are neatly arranged in one area: where you need them most.
- Blow the dust off your Brother P-touch (or similar label-making device) and print out some handsome labels for your lights, pumps and other equipment. With uniformly sized labels and fonts, your tabulated surge bar will please even the most obsessive aquarium keeper.
- Take a cue from Dell and other computer manufacturers and color code your plugs. Heck, even the RCA cables on your standard-definition TV are color-coded (red, yellow and white).
- Your labels don't have to be fancy. Grab a Sharpie and write on leftover bread clips, drafting tape or encapsulate some Post-its with Scotch tape.
- You can also buy some cool cord labels from your favorite office supply store and save your ingenuity for one of our other organization tips.
Eureka! Now when you want to turn off your return pump, you won't have to play a guessing game. Arrange your plugs so the ones you disconnect most are closest to you, length of cords permitting.
Tie Your Cords
Oh what fun it is to untangle an endless string of holiday lights every December. This seasonable torture is tolerable since you only have to do it once each year. Unless, of course, you are an unorganized aquarist. Then you get to deal with this joy on a regular basis! If you're tired of untying knots in all your cords, it's time to tie up those cables. Here's how:
- One of the easiest ways to tidy up those extra feet of cord is by looping and cinching it with a rubber band. Just take some from your office—they'll never notice. Disclaimer: MarineDepot.com is not responsible if you are terminated for stealing rubber bands from your employer.
- Grab some electrical tape from your toolbox and stretch it around excess cord to form a neat bundle. It will hold cord securely until the day you no longer want it to. If/when that day ever comes, the tape will usually come off clean without leaving a sticky residue. There are color-coded variations, in addition to classic black, which can come in handy since electrical tape is easy to write on.
- Plastic zip ties are a natural choice. Many of us already have them around and, these days, they are available in a variety of colors.
- Velcro cable ties are another option. They are available in a kaleidoscope of colors and will give your tangled cords a clean look. Whereas plastic cable zip ties are semi-permanent, Velcro ties can be readjusted, removed and reused at a moment's notice.
Hide your cords
So now you've got your cords labeled and tied. How can you possibly get more organized?
One trick we learned by doing aquarium expos like Reef-A-Palooza is that hiding cords really makes the back of an aquarium look a lot cleaner. We use spiral wrap to organize multiple wires into one neat bundle. One of the reasons we do this is because people like to walk 360° around the tanks we have on display. Seeing a bunch of wires dangling down is off-putting, not to mention dangerous. Spiral wire wraps are flexible and have slits to breakout cables to re-route to other equipment and/or plug them into a power strip. They also give your cables an added layer of protection from gnawing pets and crawling infants.
If they could to do it over, many aquarists would not push their aquarium and stand flush against a wall. Working in close quarters makes aquarium maintenance difficult, plus a lot of tanks nowadays have transparent filter baskets so you can create a refugium in the back chamber (JBJ Nano Cubes, Innovative Marine aquariums and Oceanic BioCubes, for example). If you want to leave a little space behind your tank without having a bunch of wire clutter, spiral wrap is cool way to go about it. We use a spool of the stuff, but you can also buy it by the foot. It's sold in a lot of different colors (black, white, gray, etc.), so it's easy to find some that will match your home or office décor.
Mount Your Power Strips
When you're working on your aquarium or sump, spilling or splashing water out is inevitable. Leaving your power strip lying on the ground or at the bottom of your aquarium stand is asking for trouble. We recommend mounting your power strip as high as possible to keep water from getting inside and causing a short. Grab your cordless screwdriver and a couple of screws and permanently position your power strip in a safe and handy spot to avoid a potentially dangerous situation. It will make your life easier, your tank safer and will serve as a neat central power station for your equipment.
It probably goes without saying. But since you're here, we'll go ahead and say it anyway: the best way to set up an aquarium system is to plan it all in advance (we have a cool wish list feature that will allow you to keep track of various builds). Find out the dimensions of everything you plan to place inside and outside of the tank, including underneath in your aquarium stand. Don't find out the hard way about the consequences of not measuring in advance. We have a unique perspective on this since we are fortunate enough to interact with aquarium hobbyists every day. The classic scenario is buying a piece of equipment, like a protein skimmer, and discovering it will not fit inside your cabinet or sump. There is nothing worse than having a new toy at home you can't play with.
Every inch of space inside your aquarium cabinet is precious. Inches become even more crucial when you are trying to house aquarium equipment with a refugium or other bio filters in your sump. Taking measurements of everything you intend to place inside your sump—heater, pump, filter sock, protein skimmer and other components—to make sure they fit is one of the best pieces of advice we can offer. When you don't plan your under-tank configuration in advance, problems are bound to happen, if not immediately, than certainly down the road. This will prevent you from taking shortcuts, making compromises and buying equipment you don't need (or will have to replace down the road).
Use Space Wisely
You should only keep stuff inside your stand that you use regularly. Too often aquarium cabinets become cluttered with trace elements, feeding tools, measuring cups and spare parts. All this disorder takes up space that could be used for that sump setup you've been dreaming about. Besides, rummaging through a hodgepodge of items makes it difficult to work and find what you need.
Keep only the additives and supplements you dose daily in your cabinet. Store probe holder and bottles you use irregularly elsewhere to free up space. Having elbow room to pull a particular plug without having to remove or rearrange the contents of your cabinet is a huge plus. You're less likely to spill stuff and won't feel overwhelmed by all of this aquarium paraphernalia in your face.
Aquarium Stand DIY
Small modifications to your aquarium stand can make a big difference. We look at prefabricated aquarium stands as an open canvas to get creative with. Outfitting your aquarium cabinet with additional shelves can give you extra real estate for storing food and additives. Picture the TV trope of a guy with a coat full of contraband. Now imagine opening your cabinet door and seeing a couple of extra shelves placed on the inside of the cabinet door for holding small items. Another space saving technique is to screw in small hooks to hang stuff from like a net, rag or tweezers. These are inexpensive projects that can be completed in minutes, not hours, and you don't have to be very handy, either. The same sorts of utility racks and shelves companies design for kitchen cabinets, bathroom vanities and bedroom closets could easily be repurposed for aquarium use. Be creative!
Inside Your Aquarium
Cabinets aren't the only areas that get cluttered. One of our favorite in-tank (or in-sump) accessories are probe holders. The Eshopps Magnetic Probe Holder can hold your pH and/or ORP probes as well as outlet tubing from a calcium reactor. Frag racks are a cool way to keep coral off the sandbed and prevent them from getting knocked over by a wayward turbo snail. The largest size we carry holds up to 15 frag plugs. Some tuck neatly into a corner and attach to your aquarium glass or acrylic via suction cup. Others, like the Frag Cave, blend right into your aquascape.
A couple of all-purpose items we use to help us organize are double-sided tape and Velcro. Using Velcro to stick an aquarium controller to a stand is a popular mounting option. We actually have a Digital Aquatics ReefKeeper Lite here in the office mounted that way. Velcro is nice because you can easily remove the controller to fiddle with it. We carry a Velcro-like product from 3M that can be used to hold probes, sensors and other loose items in place.
Mounting a small light inside your aquarium stand is a huge help. Nothing fancy, just something small that can illuminate the area underneath your tank while you're working. It's definitely better than using your smartphone as a flashlight or sticking an actual flashlight in your mouth like a cigar to keep both hands free. There are some very cool, very inexpensive lights available for closets, drawers and cupboards that can be used inside an aquarium stand. These battery-operated lights are activated by a magnet, so they'll only turn on when you open your cabinet door.
Aquarium hobbyists spend a lot of time planning and maintaining the aquascape inside their aquarium, meticulously arranging live rock and coral (or driftwood and plants for freshwater hobbyists) to create ideal living conditions for their wet pets. We recommend giving the area outside your aquarium as much consideration as you do the inside. You can create ideal living conditions for yourself as well with careful planning and attention to detail.
Please leave a comment below and share some ways you keep your own aquarium organized. Your tips and tricks help inspire us and other readers!