An aquarium represents a small, contained segment of the great ocean, a raging river, or a tidal pool teaming with life. It’s like taking a cube of the underwater environment, and containing it so that we can unlimitedly enjoy all of its complexities, while still being able to breath!
And understanding that the underwater environment is silent (actually it’s very noisy, but we perceive it to be silent), the last thing we want in our display is a noisy aquarium. Or aquariums. I say that as we currently have 4 active aquariums set up in our apartment.
We are surrounded by life. Fish, plants, and a big, crazy, Peaches & Cream Tabby cat. And after twenty some years of tanks, large and small and everywhere in between, I finally answered the problem that perplexed me since the beginning – “Why is my tank so noisy?!”
What causes the noise?
We’ll get to the big answer in a moment. First, here’s a bullet list of things to look for that could possibly be your noise problem.
Air Equals Noise: Air stones and air tubes all give beautiful effects to your underwater environment. They also add power to those ornaments that require the pressure from bubbles to function. The little treasure chest with the hinged lid needs a certain amount of air to function properly. But overload it, and all the excess bubbles popping at the surface will create constant, loud noise.
Current Equals Noise: Second to air movement, we like a lot of water movement (simulated natural currents) in our tanks. Fish need it for growth, and fro pleasure. We have one Guppy tank where you could almost paint a treadwheel on the side of the tank in grease pencil. The fish swim against the current, diving and rising in unison. They love the current. But add Powerheads, and overpower the size of the tank, and you’ll have noise problems.
Equipment Equals Noise: Pumps, filters, sumps, even plumbing can all yield noise. Sometimes too much noise. Most pumps have built in sound deadening. But if you defeat it when custom installing your system, the vibrational hum will very soon be noticeable. And not in a good way. Just as important, the surface you have the items secured to, or merely sitting on, can as easily be the culprit.
Furniture Equals Noise: I’ve built all my aquarium stands, and structural built ins. As soon as I skinned the top of one with plywood, I noticed a horrendous buzz. The air pump’s rubber feet was transferring the vibration through the plywood skin, and the open underside of the built-in was becoming an echo chamber. Placing the air pump in a more substantial place on the cabinet solved the problem.
Design Equals Noise: And finally, even your design can be a big, noise culprit. Air moving over rocks, currents and eddy’s going around fixtures and decorations, even the placement of your pump’s intake and output all go into the formula for noise abatement in an aquarium.
What can I do?
Tone It Down: The quietest aquarium would be a simple bowl of water. No air movement, no currents. Just a container of water sitting in silence.
If you are using multiple air pumps, especially the small ones with a single outlet, opt for a bigger pump with multiple outlets. The rule of thumb – the pump should supply all your air needs for that one aquarium. Not only do you only then have one noise maker, the bigger pumps have better sound deadening.
And if your pump is more than a few years old, trash it. Even if it’s still functioning. The old parts, especially the rubber ones are probably your chief source of noise. The now hard rubber feet, are doing nothing to deaden sound. They may even be adding to it.
And use gang valves to specify the air volume going to your accessories. That little air stone with a single line coming to it from the pump is a major noise issue. And it will look just as nice with half that air volume going through it. Maybe even better.
Listen To The Effect: Most power accessories you purchase to add to your tank have some adjustment feature to them. Get your ear down next to the current the powerhead is creating, and listen as it quiets when you adjust the outlet. It may be a volume issue, or simply a direction issue. It may even be vibrating against the tank, or rocks. Adjust it as necessary.
Adjust your gang valves on your air lines the same way. Put your ear to the surface of the water, and listen while you adjust the flow. When you find a suitable level of quiet, look at the effect it has on the appearance. Then make small adjustments to reach a happy medium of appearance versus noise.
Design With Consideration Of Noise: It’s easier to set up a quiet tank, then try to achieve one afterwards. Remember the bowl of water, sitting silently? Keep that in mind as you add accessories or plan 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 love Bubble Wands at the back of my tanks. They are virtually invisible, yet put out great amounts of bubbles. I like oxygenated tanks, so I like a lot of air movement. That rotates the food in the tank, and helps with currents for the fish to be happy in.
But because of 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 saddle filter, and thus, only so many places the inlets can sit in the tank.
The noise from my filters have always drove me nuts. They have been, by far the noisiest filters of all my friends. And recently, my other tanks. That’s when I figured out the problem.
My wife set up the three other tanks, and isn’t as huge a fan of Bubble Wands as I am. Her filters were silent, their flow every bit as powerful as mine.
Yet my filter sounded like the impeller was coming apart. I had pulled the whole system, checked all the parts, and made sure everything went back together easily. As had always happened in the past, my filter rattled away.
That’s when I figured it out. I pulled the airline to the Bubble Wands and the noise stopped. The airflow from the wands was going past, and into my filter inlet tube. The filter was trying to fill with water. It couldn’t because the wands were filling it with air.
And so, the filter would forever sound like the filter when it first starts, and self primes. Problem found! Now, to solve it. I didn’t want to get rid of my Bubble Wands.
I took a drinking straw (clean and new) and cut it in half. Then I sliced the pieces lengthwise, to create an opening. I wrapped the straw over the Bubble Wand, under the filter inlet. It left a slight opening that air escaped from, so I positioned the second straw over the first, with the slit 180 degrees opposite the first. Problem solved, air stopped in that area.
And no bubbles getting to the filter inlet. I even saw a slight increase in water flow through the filter, which means better filtration.
Less may be better
In this case I found that just because accessories really give me the look I want in my ‘natural’ environment, certain things don’t work with others. You can modify them. But the lesson is that not all accessories in your tank are best for the tank, and your fish. And especially, your ears.