How to move your aquarium when moving house

How to move the aquarium in a house move?

There are several items that we recommend you reserve for the task. These are the following:

  • one or two nets
  • fish bags
  • Rubber bands
  • An insulated styrofoam fish carrier bag
  • dechlorinator
  • Containers to transport water
  • Containers to transport decoration
  • battery powered air pump
  • A plastic measuring jug
  • Bubble wrap / old towels / old blankets
  • Water analysis kits

Whenever possible, it is best to set aside a separate day to move your aquarium. Moving it on the same day you’re moving all your other possessions will be too stressful for you and your fish. As soon as you arrive, all of your attention should be focused on getting the tank installed in your new home as quickly as possible.

The day before you plan to move your tank, make sure you don’t feed your fish.

You’ll need to unplug your aquarium heater about half an hour before you start dismantling the tank; this will give the heater time to cool down and minimize the risk of cracking (which will happen if it is removed from the water while it is hot).

The first job will be to remove all decoration from the tank and aquarium plants. It’s wise to check for cracks in any ornaments you may have, as some fish may be seeking refuge there.

Gently lift the ornament just above the water level, and most fish will just swim away, never shake the ornaments. (If they don’t want to move from their hiding place, your only option will be to place the ornament inside a large fish bag filled 1/3 with water from your aquarium, and try to seal as much air as possible with a rubber band).

Then, you should stack all the remaining decorations inside waterproof containers, such as plastic buckets or boxes. Keep in mind that rocks can be very heavy, so it may be worthwhile to spread the load across multiple containers.

Aquarium plants should be placed inside plastic fish bags and sealed with rubber bands to prevent drying out.

Remove the fish from the aquarium

At this point, you could start catching your fish. However, this task will be much easier if you remove (and save) some of the water from your aquarium first, as there will be less room for the fish to swim around and avoid your nets.

We suggest you start a siphon with a length of hose in a plastic container taking care to avoid fish. The size of your tank will determine how many containers you may need.

You should try to save as much water from your tank as possible, to avoid big changes in water conditions that can stress your fish. For catching fish, it is advisable to remove about 3/4 of the volume of water from the tank before starting. You should prepare your fish bags by filling them 1/3 full with aquarium water.

The rest of the space will be filled with air (air contains much more oxygen than water). Whenever possible most fish should be packed separately as some species exude toxins when stressed and this could kill the other fish.

Other species of fish can have very sharp spines that can accidentally injure other fish when they are transported in the same bag. Some species can be downright aggressive towards others in confined spaces.

As a general exception to this rule, many of the peaceful tetra fish species and livebearing species will be well-packed in groups of their own kind. But marine fish and tropical fish, such as loaches, catfish, sharks, dwarf puffer fish, cichlids, etc., should always be placed in individual bags.

Now it’s time for the actual catching of the fish. You will find that slow movements are much more effective than frantic ones. If you have a particularly large aquarium, you will find larger nets much more effective, and two nets are usually better than one!

If you have someone there to help you, they can gently “herd” the fish into your net with their net. When lifting the fish out of the water to put it in the bag, be sure to cover the net with your other hand, as the fish may jump out. Once the fish is in the bag, try to trap as much air in the bag as possible and seal the top with a rubber band. (Approximately 2/3 air is ideal.)

Do not blow into the bag to inflate it, as breathing will deplete it of oxygen. In many stores, they always “double bag” fish when they are caught for people. You might want to try this as well, as it not only eliminates corners that fish get caught in, but also insulates and keeps fish safe in the unlikely event that one of the bags breaks.

Once your first bag is tied with a rubber band, gently and slowly flip it over and slide the bag into another, also tying it with a rubber band. You can then transfer the bag to an insulated Styrofoam fish box.

As soon as you have caught all your fish and they are safely bagged and in the Styrofoam box, close the lid so the fish are in the dark as quickly as possible (this helps reduce stress).

Remove the equipment from the aquarium

Next, you will need to remove the rest of the equipment, such as heaters, filters, pumps, etc.

The aquarium filter itself should be kept moist to preserve as many beneficial bacteria as possible. The best way is to pack the filter media in fish bags partially filled with aquarium water, similar to how fish are packed.

If the trip is longer than an hour, it is advisable to use a battery powered air pump to create a flow of oxygen into the filter media bag to keep beneficial bacteria alive. Filter media should not be exposed to extreme temperatures, so pack in a sensible location.

Warmers should be wrapped carefully to prevent breakage (warmer glass is very delicate and you may not know where the closest aquatic center is to your new location in case of an emergency).

Drain any remaining water from the tank into its water containers, as you’ll want to conserve it to avoid the need for large water changes elsewhere (particularly important for areas of different water chemistry).

Next, you’ll need to remove most of the aquarium substrate (such as sand, gravel, etc.) and place it in plastic buckets. Again, this soaked substrate will be extremely heavy, so pack it into multiple containers to spread out the load.

A new plastic measuring jug (without detergent) or a child’s plastic play scoop are particularly useful for this task. Don’t be tempted to wash the filter or gravel, as this will remove or kill helpful bacteria.

Then you will need to pack everything in your vehicle for the trip. Wrap the aquarium in bubble wrap, old towels, or blankets to help protect it. Make sure he’s in a safe position where he can’t move around too much; you definitely don’t want it to fly forward in case it suddenly has to break.

Assembling the tank in the new home

In your new home, unpacking the aquarium should be a priority. Set the tank back in place and replace the substrate. Refill with the old aquarium water that you have stored in the plastic containers. Reassemble your filters, heaters, pumps, etc. and turn them back on.

You should only replace part of the decoration at this stage, as you don’t want to delay the return of the fish too long. The water has also probably gotten a little cloudy, so you won’t necessarily be able to see exactly where you’re putting things.

Make sure your plants are kept sealed in the moist fish bags, they should be fine in there for a day or so until you have a chance to plant the tank properly.

As long as you’ve given the fish a place to hide when they return home, then that’s fine. The actual ‘ aquascaping ‘ should be saved for another day when the fish have had time to settle back down; he priority now will be to acclimatize the fish.

You will need to add the fish as you normally would after purchasing it from a store. Let the bags float on the surface for 45 minutes, mixing in a little water from your aquarium every 10 minutes.

Aquarium lighting should be turned off during this time and for some time afterward to minimize the stress placed on the fish. After this time, gently release the fish, making sure to keep the lights off for a few more hours, no matter how tempting it is to want to see your fish in its new home.

You can then fill the tank with non-chlorinated tap water or reverse osmosis water and hopefully this will only be the equivalent of a small partial water change as you should have been able to conserve most of the existing water.

Do not feed the fish on that day as it has likely lost some of the bacteria in its filter and may not be able to cope with the waste products produced. After all the drama of moving the aquarium, the trick is yet to come!

For about a month after the outage, the filter will reset and you will need to closely monitor the ammonia and nitrite levels in the tank with the use of a water testing kit. You should only feed them if the levels are at zero and feed them every other day for the first two weeks after shedding.

You should be prepared to do small additional water changes if necessary and do not overfeed or add any new fish to the tank during this time.

If you plan ahead and follow our guidelines, moving an aquarium is not an impossible task. If you need more information, do not hesitate to contact your local store.

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