One of the ways I am looking to save money is do a fair amount of DIY work for my aquarium setup. A large portion of that work hinges on the ability to modify a less expensive tank.

It all comes down to preparing for a sump

If I didn’t want a sump or a reef tank, the aquarium setup would be much simpler. Simpler means it costs less. In fact, I could drive to petsmart and come home with a perfectly good large tank and start building a sump-less reef or freshwater tank.

But, being who I am, I don’t really do things half way. And since I don’t really want to spend a ridiculous amount of money on an aquarium, I have to do things myself.

The tank needs drain and return lines

In previous posts I talked about draining and returning water to/from sumps. I talked about a few different methods of draining water. These lines can be put over the back of the tank. Doing so represents some disadvantages. Among them is siphon based overflow risks. They tend to not look very nice hanging off the back of the tank. And surface skimming can be less effective.

Getting around those disadvantages requires some holes somewhere in the glass of the tank. Depending on your drain choices, that might be on the bottom or it might be on a side. Whatever side you choose it is essentially the same process.

Make sure the glass is not tempered

Tempered glass is heated and then rapidly cooled. This makes the glass far stronger and more resistant to stress. That is a highly desirable feature in a fish tank. It also allows thinner glass to support the same volume tanks of thicker regular glass. The down side is drilling tempered glass is not possible. Tempered glass will crack/shatter if you try to drill it. So don’t.

This does not mean you can’t have holes in tempered glass

The glass simply needs to be tempered after being drilled. As you can probably imagine, doing this yourself is not likely to be practical or cost effective. Lifetime Aquariums from Custom Aquariums will do this for you (at additional cost). However this is about reducing cost.

Be sure your tank is compatible

Tank manufacturers publish or will tell you which panels on a tank are tempered. If the panel you want a hole in is tempered, you are out of luck. Buy a different tank or use a different solution.

Custom aquariums put together a video showing how to successfully drill a hole in your own tank. They sell their own templates and drill bits as a kit to easily make holes for there H2Overflow and Siphon Stopper solutions. See the video at the end of this article for the full details. Or go here.

The short versionglass-aquarium-hole-cutting

Use a template to keep the drill steady and at the right location. Make sure the tank is level. Secure the template with clamps and use water as a coolant. Don’t push and go slowly. Drilling glass can take 4-6 minutes per 1/4 inch. Don’t rush.


Selecting the right tank can save quite a bit of money while giving you an optimum tank.


It’s more work for you to do. As if setting up a tank isn’t enough work without extra stuff. 😉

Will often void the manufacturer’s warranty (I believe it voids custom aquariums warranty as well).


I’m still working out the best way to save on cost. Being able to buy a tank from pet box store and retrofit is definitely one method. I would still prefer a tank delivered in working order but I can’t have everything.

Note: I really like that the video comes from custom aquariums. This company seems more interested in helping you build the right tank than making a quick buck.

See the detailed video below.