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With the current uncertainties going on in the world, everyone will undoubtably be looking at where they can save money. Aquariums could definitely be labelled an ‘energy vampire’, drawing considerable energy to run the various pumps, lights and heaters that are used to keep an aquarium running. But it doesn’t have to always be the way! In this article, we will discuss ways to still keep and maintain an aquarium at home but with energy efficiency at the forefront. 

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We will be using the following equipment: 

- 30cm cube (27L) 

- ONF Flat Nano+ LED Light (15w when running at 100%) 

- Small external/internal filter (4.5w) 

As this will be a room temperature aquarium we will not need a heater. If you’d rather go tropical, a 50w heater would be suitable to keep the water at the right temperature. This would obviously add energy costs to the running of the aquarium. 

As with any aquarium planning, some thought needs to be given as to which room the position the tank will be located. With an unheated aquarium, it is important to only locate it in a room that is relatively stable in temperature. Avoid rooms like kitchens, bathrooms, hallways & conservatories. These rooms can have huge temperature swings throughout the day and throughout the seasons. Temperature fluctuations will induce stress on the fish, leading to health issues long term. Ideal rooms for aquariums include living rooms, dining rooms and bedrooms which tend to be more temperature stable. Position the aquarium in an area of the room where it will not get direct sunlight from a window (which could cause temperature swings and algae problems) and away from high traffic areas which could startle the fish. 

When setting up a new aquarium, it’s important to always prepare the water and filter for the new inhabitants. Cycling an aquarium prior to addition of any livestock prevents water quality problems which can lead to fish stress and ill health. NT Labs Aquarium - Filter Starter contains a blend of beneficial bacteria that kick starts a new filter and helps prevent ammonia spikes in the water. Adding weekly for the first four weeks of an aquarium will speed up the natural cycling process and allow addition of livestock quicker than if left to naturally build up bacteria. 

Room temperature will vary throughout the year, but homes with central heating systems will typically keep rooms at a minimum temperature of 18-20°C even during winter. This will be the temperature we set as our minimum for the species in our aquarium. Species that prefer cooler water will generally tolerate higher temperatures during summer, as long as the oxygen saturation level is maintained in the water. Many cool water species live in fast flowing, oxygen rich rivers and streams so have a low tolerance for oxygen deficient water.

Taking into consideration that the aquarium is under 30L and unheated, the selection of animals we can stock this aquarium with is limited. The fish species need to be able to tolerate low water temperatures and not grow too large to be uncomfortable in the 30cm cube. For these reasons, we have chosen the following species: 

White Cloud Mountain Minnows (Tanichthys albonubes) x6 

These can be either the standard variety with a silvery body and red tail, or can be substituted for the ‘golden’ variety for a brighter fish. They are a gregarious species so need to be kept in good numbers to feel safe and happy. 6 is a good minimum number to constitute a group. Their maximum size of 4cm and placid nature makes them the ideal species for a smaller sized tank. Originating from the White Cloud Mountain in China, these fish are used to cool water and are happiest at temperatures between 18-20°C. 
Feed these small-mouthed fish a mini granule food such as NT Labs Pro-f Nano Tropical for optimum health and vigour. 
For an extra special touch, the classic white cloud minnows could be substituted for the rarely seen Vietnamese cardinal minnow (Tanichthys micagemmae). Their care is very similar to the usual species but generally stay smaller at 3cm. 

Variatus Platy (Xiphophorus variatus) x3 

A great alternative to the traditional platy fish that is comfortable in cooler water temperatures. Originating from Mexico, they prefer water between 20-26°C so will be fine for an unheated aquarium. Males stay smaller (at 5cm) whereas females grow larger (up to 7cm). To keep the fish small and populations down, we will only be adding 3 males to the aquarium. This will limit their potential size and also prevent this livebearing species from reproducing and overcrowding the aquarium. Males are easy to distinguish from females as they possess a pair of reproductive organs near their anal fin called gonopodiums. If in doubt, your local aquatic store should be able to easily sex them for you. Platy’s enjoy a diet with a high vegetable content so this should be offered in their diet regularly. Although not specifically marketed towards livebearing fish, NT Labs Pro-f Cichlid Green 33 is a great food for fish that need high levels of vegetation in their diet. 

Cherry Shrimp (Neocaridina davidi) x6 

A very popular species of freshwater shrimp that is now available in a range of colours, the cherry shrimp is a fantastic allrounder. They offer colour to the aquarium and perform a great job as clean up crew when it comes to algae and detritus control. Cherry shrimp, like many of the freshwater shrimp in the hobby, originate from Taiwan and are happy in a wide range of temperatures (20-30°C). They breed easily in the home aquarium so don’t be surprised to see plenty of small shrimplets hanging around in the gaps between the soil and the plant leaves. They are prone to being eaten by fish so tend to remain out of the way until they are big enough to not be considered food! 
Cherry shrimp can grow up to 4cm but as they are not a ‘pelagic’ animal (one that swims in open water) the size of the aquarium is of little concern. They are happy in aquariums down to 10L as long as the water quality can adequately be maintained. Whilst shrimp do get much of their nutrition from algae and other detritus, their diet should be supplemented with a fortified diet such as NT Labs Pro-f Shrimp Enhancer. This provides all the vitamins and minerals needed for general health and especially exoskeleton development. Being an invertebrate, shrimps must occasionally molt their hard shell exoskeleton and produce a new one. 

Amano Shrimp (Caridina multidentata) x3 

Another shrimp species that is perfect for small, unheated planted tanks is the amano shrimp. Whilst less colourful than the cherry shrimp and it’s relatives, the amano shrimp makes up for it in personality and work ethic! They also grow larger (up to 7cm) and do not reproduce in freshwater environments, so if a shrimp infestation is not desirable, these can provide years worth of algae cleaning services without multiplying to plague-like numbers! On the whole they are a peaceful species, but large, mature specimens can be quite inquisitive with new aquarium arrivals and pick on their slime coat, so keep an eye on any new fish added to a tank with mature amano shrimp. Their care is very similar to what we have already described for the cherry shrimp, being on the whole a very hardy, useful species that is happy in temperate water conditions. 

Apple Snail (Pomacea spp.) x1

The recently re-introduced apple snail is another perfect addition to our unheated aquarium. Having been absent from aquarium stores for the best part of a decade, Brexit has allowed most of the UK to have the ban lifted and they can once again be imported and sold in aquatic stores. They are a great clean up crew animal for keeping algae down on glass and other flat surfaces (rocks etc) and won’t overpopulate the tank (if keeping an eye out for pink eggs on the aquarium lid)! They can grow large, with some species up to 15cm, but this is unusual and most aquarium inhabitants only get to 4-5cm. Apple snails prefer temperatures between 21-27°C but many hobbyists have found they seemingly do fine in unheated indoor aquariums which may reach ~18°C. Keep an eye on pH and GH in aquariums with apple snails, as water that is too acidic will have an impact on their shell health. Soft water (low in calcium and magnesium) will also lead to poor shell development as they absorb these minerals from their environment. 

View our guide to keeping Apple Snails by clicking here.


Luckily, when it comes to choosing plants for an unheated aquarium, there is more choice than the animal selections. Many aquarium plants are fine in temperatures between 18-20°C, with only the truly tropical species being unavailable. Many of the easy care, slower growing plants that are commonly used in tropical tanks including java fern (Microsorum), anubias and many of the popular moss (Taxiphyllum) species will also be at home in cooler water. For the true aquascaped look, a carpeting plant to cover the substrate will be needed. Both dwarf hair grass (Eleocharis) and micro sword grass (Lilaeopsis) are both great options that thrive in cool water. With the high intensity, multi spectrum output of the ONF Flat Nano+, light levels will not be an issue for high growth carpeting plants such as these. 

For luscious plant growth, good light is not enough on its own. They must also be nourished! There are a range of options for providing plants with the nutrition they need for sustained, healthy growth. For root nourishment, a high quality aquarium soil should be used as the base substrate in the aquarium. Many of these originate from Japan and are small dark brown pelleted beads of soil that provide excellent nutrition to plants via their roots. The only thing to be wary of with aquarium soils is their effect on pH, slightly acidifying and softening the water and their general life expectancy of 2-3 years before it will need replacing. 

For complete plant nourishment, liquid supplements are required. NT Labs Aquarium - Plant Boost provides macro and micro nutrients that are absorbed from the water by plants, thereby replenishing the nutrients to allow excellent growth. For accelerated growth, this can be partnered with NT Labs Aquarium - Liquid CO2 Boost for an easy to use carbon source for plants to use during photosynthesis. Increasing CO2 levels increases plant growth and nutrient uptake, fighting off algae causing nutrients such as nitrate and phosphate. Both of these supplements are designed to be used daily or every other day. As this aquarium holds 27L without displacement, we will dose it as if it was 25L which is one pump of each liquid each day.

As with any aquarium, a maintenance routine needs to be established. For this small 27L aquarium, a daily and weekly schedule should be enough to maintain a happy and healthy aquarium. 

Daily maintenance: 

Weekly Maintenance 

  • Carry out a 25-30% water change on the aquarium, using a small gravel vacuum to remove any detritus that may have accumulated on the substrate and plants. It’s best not to disturb the carpeting plants too much if they have successfully taken to the substrate. 
  • Remove the internal filter’s sponge or media and clean in water taken from the aquarium. NEVER clean filter media with untreated tap water as the chlorine and chloramine will kill any beneficial bacteria that has built up in the filter. 
  • Clean the inside of the aquarium glass with a suitable glass safe pad to remove any biofilm and algae build up that the shrimps and snails have been unable to keep on top of. 
  • Prepare the new replacement water by adding NT Labs Aquarium - Tap Water Safe and mix thoroughly before adding the fresh water to the aquarium. 
  • On water change day do a double dose of plant fertilisers to restore levels to pre-water change levels. This ensures continuous nutrients are available for the plants. 
  • Once all maintenance is complete clean the outside of the aquarium glass with a fish-safe glass cleaner and micro-fibre cloth. If using a glass lid, this may also need cleaning to remove and dust build up to prevent light loss.

Working out the long term running costs of an aquarium can be a tricky exercise (and one some hobbyists may wish to avoid!). Based on a cost of electricity at £0.28 per kWh, the equipment used in this 30cm cube aquarium should cost per year: 

ONF Flat Nano+ - if running at 100% power at 15w would cost approximately £12 / year (taking in to consideration a 12 hour light cycle with a simulated sunrise/sunset and 6 hours of 100% light output per day). 

- Internal/external filter running 24/7 at 4.5w, would cost approximately £11 / year. 

- Cost of food and chemicals is difficult to determine but for a small aquarium with low inhabitant numbers this would probably not amount to much per year. 

In uncertain and anxious times, it’s important to consider all outgoings and to determine which may be unnecessary. Hopefully this article has highlighted that our hobby can still be achieved, even on a budget that is focused on low ongoing costs.

Tagged in: Indoor

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