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How To Quiet A Noisy Aquarium
An aquarium represents a small, contained part of a large ocean, raging river, or tidal pool teeming with life. It’s like taking a cube from the underwater world, and putting it inside so we can enjoy all its complexities without limit, while still being able to breathe!
And considering that the underwater environment is quiet (it’s actually quite noisy, but we think it’s quiet), the last thing we want in our display is a noisy aquarium. Or aquariums. I say that because we currently have 4 active aquariums installed in our apartment.
We are surrounded by life. Fish, plants and a big, crazy cat, Peaches & Cream Tabby. And after twenty-something years of tanks big and small and everywhere in between, I finally have the answer to the problem that has puzzled me from the beginning – “Why is my tank so noisy?”
What causes noise?
We will get to the big answer soon. First, here’s a bulleted list of things to look for that might be your sound problem.
Air as Sound: Air bubbles and air tubes all add beautiful effects to your underwater environment. They also add strength to those ornaments that require pressure from bubbles to function. A small treasure chest with a hinged lid needs a certain amount of air to function properly. But load it too much, and all the extra waves coming out of the surface will create a continuous, high-pitched sound.
Current Equals Noise: Second to air movement, we like water movement (simulated natural currents) in our tanks. Fish need it to grow, and to have fun. We have a Guppy tank where you could almost paint a stick on the side of the tank with an oil pen. The fish swim against the mud, falling and rising in unison. They love it now. But add Powerheads, and increase tank size, and you’ll have volume issues.
Sound Equal Devices: Pumps, filters, hoses, even plumbing can make noise. Sometimes too much noise. Most pumps have built in dead sound. But if you screw it up while setting up your system, vibrational dryness will appear very quickly. And not in a good way. Just as importantly, the surface that you put things on, or just sit on, can easily become the culprit.
Furniture Equals Sound: I have built all my aquarium stands and structures. As soon as I skinned one’s head with plywood, I noticed a terrible sound. The air pump’s rubber feet transmitted the vibration through the plywood skin, and the open interior interior became an echo chamber. Placing the air pump in a more prominent location on the cabinet solved the problem.
Design Equals Noise: And finally, even your design can be a big culprit, noise. Air flowing over rocks, currents and sediments around equipment and decorations, even the placement of your pump’s inlet and outlet are all part of the noise reduction formula in the aquarium.
What can I do?
Tone It Down: The quietest aquarium will be a simple bowl of water. No air movement, no flow. Just a water container sitting in silence.
If you use multiple air pumps, especially small ones with one port, choose a larger pump with multiple ports. Rule of thumb – the pump should supply all your aeration needs for that one aquarium. Not only do you then have one sounder, bigger pumps have better sound deadening.
And if your pump is more than a few years old, trash it. Although it still works. Old parts, especially rubber ones, are probably your main source of noise. The now stiff rubber feet do nothing to sound dead. They might as well add it.
And use gang valves to determine the amount of air going to your equipment. That little air stone that comes in a single line from the pump is a big noise problem. And it will look just as good with half that volume of air going through it. Maybe even better.
Listen to The Effect: Most of the power tools you buy to add to your tank have some adjustment feature. Place your ear next to the current that creates the power head, and listen for it to quiet down as you adjust the gate. It could be a volume issue, or just a direction issue. It may even vibrate against tanks, or rocks. Adjust it as needed.
Adjust your gang valves on the air lines the same way. Place your ear on the surface of the water, and listen as you adjust the flow. Once you find an appropriate level of silence, look at the effect it has on the appearance. Then make small adjustments to achieve a happy medium of look versus sound.
Sound-Aware Design: It’s easier to set up a silent tank, then try to get one. Remember the bowl of water, sitting still? Keep that in mind when you’re adding accessories or planning the placement of your necessary equipment. Which brings us to the big problem I solved after 20 years of aquariums.
Not everything works together
I like Bubble Wands behind my tanks. They are virtually invisible, yet emit a large amount of bubbles. I like oxygen tanks, so I like air movement a lot. It circulates the food in the tank, and helps with mud to keep the fish happy.
But due to space and budget limitations, I’ve always relied on saddle tank filters, not the canister type. There are only so many places you can place the chain filter, and thus, there are only so many places the logs can sit in the tank.
The sound of my filters has always made me cringe. They were the loudest filters out of all my friends. And finally, my other tanks. That’s when I realized the problem.
My wife installed three more tanks, and is not as big a fan of Bubble Wands as I am. Her pulse was silent, their flow as strong as mine.
But my filter still sounded like a fan coming apart. I had pulled the entire system, checked all the parts, and made sure everything went back together easily. As always happened before, my filter blew.
That’s when I realized it. I pulled the trigger on the Bubble Wands and the sound stopped. The airflow was going through the trees, and into my filter’s intake pipe. The filter was trying to fill with water. It could not because the trees filled it with air.
Therefore, the filter will always sound and prime itself as the filter did when it first started. Problem found! Now, to solve it. I didn’t want to get rid of my Bubble Flowers.
I took a drinking glass (clean and fresh) and cut it in half. I then sliced the piece lengthwise to create an opening. I put the cap on the Bubble Bag, under the filter inlet. That left a slight opening for air to escape, so I placed the second canister on top of the first, 180 degrees to the first. The problem was solved, the weather stopped in that area.
And no bubbles reach the filter inlet. I even noticed a small increase in water flow through the filter, which means better filtration.
Less might be better
In this case I’ve found that just because the accessories really give me the look I want in their ‘natural’ environment, some things don’t work with others. You can change them. But the lesson is that not all accessories in your tank are the best for your tank, and your fish. And especially, your ears.
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