Resource Center Menu
Freshwater vs. Saltwater Aquariums: Calculating the Cost of Maintenance

Freshwater vs. Saltwater Aquariums: Calculating the Cost of Maintenance

While it’s generally acknowledged that set-up costs for a freshwater aquarium are lower than set-up costs for a saltwater aquarium, you might be wondering about maintenance costs for both types of aquariums. Will you save money in the long run by keeping freshwater fish? Or are costs the same when it comes to maintaining one type versus the other? Let’s look at some potential expenses:

Expense: Fish nutrition

Fish nutrition varies widely—from flakes and pellets to sticks and granules, frozen and freeze dried—some of which are divided into “freshwater” and “saltwater” varieties. You need to shop for fish food based on the dietary types of your fish, whether they are carnivorous, herbivorous, or omnivorous. As a result, the cost of feeding aquarium fish depends more on the particular diet of the individual fish, and less on whether the fish is a freshwater or saltwater variety. The precise cost of nutrition per month will vary depending upon the size, type of food and number of fish in your aquarium.

Expense: Lighting and heating

Although the monthly increase to your electric bill will likely be minimal, you will incur some additional expense if you incorporate lights and heaters into your aquarium. With certain aquarium set-ups, lights and heaters are must-haves—however, the electrical cost will be dependent on the type of lighting system and wattage of the heater you choose for your aquarium. If you choose to keep cold water species that thrive in cooler water—such as goldfish—you can save a bit of money on your utility bills by opting out of heat for your aquarium.

Replacement bulbs represent another regular expense that is incurred when maintaining a tank with lights. The annual cost isn’t significant, but is noteworthy.

Expense: Supplies and equipment

When maintaining any aquarium—saltwater or freshwater—you will occasionally need to purchase replacement supplies, such as water conditioners or replacement décor. Replacement filters are a must for any aquarium with a filter system. Additionally, saltwater aquariums require the purchase of salt or prepackaged ocean water.

Expense: Testing kits

Part of your aquarium maintenance program will include the ongoing purchase and use of test kits to monitor the pH, ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, and other levels in your aquarium. While a few tests are freshwater- or saltwater-specific, many of the tests are conducted on both types of aquariums, and thus there isn’t a cost advantage for one set-up over the other.

So while saltwater aquariums may require a bit more of an investment for the initial set-up, the maintenance costs really don’t vary significantly between freshwater or saltwater aquariums. Choose the set-up that suits your preferences and enjoy your fish!