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How To Quiet A Noisy Aquarium
An aquarium represents a small, enclosed segment of the great ocean, a raging river, or a tidal pool teeming with life. It’s like taking a cube out of the underwater environment and incorporating it to enjoy all its complexity without limit while you can breathe!
And understanding that the underwater environment is quiet (actually very noisy, but we perceive it as silent), the last thing we want on our display is a noisy aquarium. Or aquariums. I say this because we currently have 4 active aquariums in our apartment.
We are surrounded by life. Fish, plants and a big crazy Peaches & Cream tabby cat. And after twenty years of refueling, big and small, and everywhere in between, I finally answered the problem that had been bothering me since the beginning: “Why is my tank so noisy?!”
What is causing the noise?
We’ll get to the big answer in a moment. First, here is a list of things to look for that are likely to be causing your noise problem.
Air equals noise: Air stones and air tubes all add a beautiful effect to the underwater environment. They also give power to decorations that require the pressure of bubbles to work. A small treasure chest with a hinged lid needs a certain amount of air to function properly. But overload it, and the unnecessary bubbles that pop on the surface create a constant, loud noise.
Current equals noise: Second to air movement, we like lots of water movement (simulated natural currents) in our tanks. Fish need it to grow and be happy. We have a Guppy tank where you could almost paint a tread wheel on the side of the tank with a grease pencil. Fish swim against the current, diving and rising at the same time. They like the current. But add Powerheads and go beyond tank size and you have noise issues.
Equipment equals Noise: Pumps, filters, shafts, even water pipes can cause noise. Sometimes the noise is too much. Most pumps have a built-in silencer. But if you overcome it during the custom installation of the system, the vibration hum will soon be noticeable. And not in a good way. Equally important, the surface you attach items to or just sit on can just as easily be the culprit.
Furniture equals noise: I have built all my aquarium stands and structural installations. As soon as I peeled off one of the tops with plywood, I noticed a terrible hum. The rubber feet of the air pump transferred the vibration through the plywood cover, and the built-in lower part became an echo chamber. Relocating the air pump to a larger space on the cabinet solved the problem.
Design equals noise: And finally, even your design can be a big, noisy culprit. Air moving over rocks, currents and eddies around fixtures and decorations, even pump inlet and outlet placement are all part of the aquarium’s noise reduction formula.
What can I do?
Tone It Down: The quietest aquarium would be a simple bowl of water. No air movement, no current. Just a tank of water sitting quietly.
If you use multiple air pumps, especially small ones with a single outlet, choose a larger pump with multiple outlets. The rule of thumb – the pump should supply all the air needs of the aquarium. Not only is there a noise generator, but larger pumps also dampen the sound better.
And if the pump is more than a few years old, throw it away. Even if it still works. Old parts, especially tires, are probably the main source of noise. The now hard rubber feet do not dampen the sound. They might even add to it.
And use the valves to determine the amount of air to the accessories. That little air stone with a single line coming from the pump is a serious noise problem. And it will look just as good with half as much air going through it. Maybe even better.
Hear the effect: Most feeders you buy to add to your tank have some sort of adjustment feature. Place your ear next to the amperage and watch it quiet down as you adjust the output. It could be a quantity problem or simply a direction problem. It may even vibrate against the tank or rocks. Adjust as needed.
Adjust the air line valves in the same way. Place your ear on the surface of the water and listen as you control the flow. Once you find the right level of silence, see how it affects the look. Then make small adjustments to achieve a sweet spot between look and sound.
Design with noise in mind: It’s easier to set up a silent tank, then try to get one. Do you remember the bowl of water as we sat in silence? Keep this in mind when adding accessories or planning the placement of necessary equipment. This brings us to the big problem I have solved after 20 years of aquarism.
Not everything works together
I love the Bubble Wands on the back of my tanks. They are practically invisible, yet emit large amounts of bubbles. I like oxygen tanks, so I like a lot of air movement. This will swirl the food in the tank and help the currents to keep the fish happy.
But due to space and budget constraints, I’ve always relied on saddle canister filters, not the canister type. The saddle filter can only be placed in so many places, and thus the inlets can only sit in so many places in the tank.
The noise from my filters has always driven me crazy. They were by far the noisiest filters out of all my friends. And lately my other tanks too. That’s when I realized the problem.
My wife set up the other three tanks and is not as big a fan of Bubble Wands as I am. His filters were silent, their flow as strong as mine.
Yet my filter sounded like the impeller was coming apart. I pulled the whole system out, checked all the parts and made sure everything went together easily. As always in the past, my filter was cracked.
That’s when I realized. I pulled the airline to the Bubble Wands and the noise stopped. The air coming out of the rods passed into the inlet pipe of the filter. He tried to fill the filter with water. It couldn’t be because the wands filled it with air.
So the filter will forever sound like the filter when it first starts up and self-loads. Problem found! Now to solve it. I didn’t want to part with Bubble Wands.
I took a straw (clean and new) and cut it in half. Then I sliced the pieces lengthwise to make an opening. I wrapped the straw over the Bubble Wand, under the filter inlet. It left a slight gap where the air escaped, so I placed the second straw on top of the first so that the gap was 180 degrees opposite the first. Problem solved, the air has stopped in this area.
And no bubbles get to the filter inlet. I even saw a slight increase in water flow through the filter which means better filtration.
Less can be better
In this case, I’ve found that just because the accessories really give me the look I want in my “natural” setting, some things just don’t work with others. You can modify them. The lesson, however, is that not all accessories are best for the aquarium and fish. And especially your ears.
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