A 150-gallon saltwater reef aquarium was installed in place of a wall in Steve Deasey's Dublin kitchen. This isn't Deasey's first aquarium, though. Before he moved into this custom-built home in 2007, he owned a smaller saltwater tank at his former home.

From Deasey's large aquarium to a 2,000-gallon shark tank installed in a southern Delaware County home, there seems to be a fish frenzy going on in Central Ohio. According to Mark Eakins, owner of Dublin-based Aquamark Aquariums for 19 years, the popularity of home aquariums has "gone through a boom." Jeff Hanson, owner of Accent on Aquariums in the Grandview area, agrees. He custom designs and installs aquariums of all sizes, including some as large as small rooms.

Deasey's large tank is readily visible from anywhere in the home's kitchen and great room area, offering different vantage points depending on where the viewer stands. Adjacent to the tank, a carpeted stairway goes to the finished lower level, also offering unique viewing opportunities as one descends.

Deasey calls his tank "an indulgement." But, he says, "It adds something. I enjoy watching the fish swim and move around."

Meanwhile, a Bexley resident who was recently widowed is enjoying her first aquarium-a 110-gallon, cylindrically shaped model that stands tall in the sitting area of her lavish kitchen. The woman is surprised how much she looks forward to returning home to see her fish. She also is shocked to see how much others like watching them, too.

"Everybody enjoys it, grandchildren and guests alike," she says, smiling. "If you watch long enough, you learn fish have different personalities . . . some hide in the greenery, some float, some get aggressive. They are a wonderful break from the fast world."

Freshwater versussaltwater aquariums

Hanson says a vibrant aquarium requires more than clean water and some fish. "Maintenance is key to any healthy aquarium. The long-term health of the living creatures in an aquarium is heavily reliant on maintaining the requisite water quality," he says.

Freshwater aquariums are easier to maintain because their filtration systems are much simpler than those required for saltwater tanks, says Hanson. Freshwater inhabitants live in a mixture of tap water and chemicals that remove chlorine and other harmful materials. Conversely, saltwater tanks demand far more complex filtration systems to replicate the ocean water that inhabitants require. Not surprisingly, those intricate filtration systems cost more than those in freshwater aquariums.

Not only are filtration systems of freshwater tanks far simpler than their saltwater counterparts, feeding fish is easier, too. In fact, freshwater tanks can be completely automated, from lights to feeding. It's even possible to schedule water changes via a timing mechanism, says Hanson.

Saltwater tanks can support automation for everything but feeding. "The best food for saltwater (fish) is frozen and prepared," adds Hanson. Each type of water creature has its own individual dietary needs, but if the owner of a saltwater tank is in a pinch, "they can all eat the same thing but not long-term," he says.

Another major difference between fresh and saltwater aquariums is what can thrive inside them, since some must live in saltwater while others can only survive in freshwater.

The saltwater shark tank that Eakins recently completed includes two three-foot, black tip sharks that will grow to five feet long. They will soon be joined by a bonnet head shark, a smaller version of a hammerhead. According to Eakins, over 75 other varieties of sea life from around the world co-exist in that aquarium.

Certainly that tank is far more the exception than the norm when it comes to large home aquariums. The average of what Hanson designs and installs in clients' houses ranges between 200 to 600 gallons, he says.

Another salt and freshwater difference is that green plants thrive only in freshwater, while coral and reef are partial to saltwater.

The vivid and varied colors of the different coral and reef in his saltwater aquarium are a primary reason Deasey favors the saltwater tank. However, for Beth and Don Maxwell, whose 92-gallon freshwater aquarium is their first foray into sea life, the lushness of the green plants adorning their tank is exactly why they chose that type.

Aquarium costs

It's common sense that the variables of each custom-made aquarium contribute to the cost including the tank's design, materials in it, the filtration system and the sea life that inhabits it.

Additionally, Deasey hires Hanson to come to his home at least twice monthly to test his aquarium's water and maintain its various parts. He estimates spending approximately $4,000 annually to keep his tank in top shape, including the fish food. However, when fish and other sea life die, which occurred this past January when a fungus developed for unknown reasons, he spends more money to replace what has been lost. "There is mortality," he adds.

Don Maxwell, of Powell, had always wanted an aquarium, something larger than the goldfish bowls he owned as a child. However, as time passed, his hope for such a tank diminished. Imagine his surprise when, for his 70th birthday in 2002, his wife gave him his wish-the opportunity to fulfill his longtime vision for an aquarium. She contacted Hanson to be certain he could handle the job and then Don worked directly with the aquarium advisor. The freshwater corner tank in the Maxwells' foyer is the result of their collaboration.

Beth Maxwell reports that the custom-built tank cost around $5,000 for everything, including the aquarium's cabinetry, installation, fish and greenery. Maintenance averages $100 to $150 per month. She advises anyone thinking about an aquarium to "research costs and installation fees before consulting a professional."

From a professional's standpoint, the would-be aquarium owner should be aware of the complexities associated with installing the tank, says Hanson. "It depends on whether a home is (being) custom-built so we can work alongside architects, interior decorators and plumbers. If the house is already built, we work within the confines of the home's bones and do what's necessary to install the most beautiful and healthy aquarium in a place where it will be enjoyed most," he adds.

Deasey is emphatic when he offers advice about home aquariums. "Find someone reliable and knowledgeable," he says. "Don't do it yourself unless you're extremely knowledgeable. You make a huge investment in the fish and equipment and if you don't manage it properly, they will die."

The Bexley grandmother agrees. "The secret is that [the aquarium] must be kept clean," she says. And, she notes, it's important to own fish that get along.

While Don Maxwell agrees it's important to hire a professional to properly care for an aquarium, he doesn't necessarily think that's the first step. "Think about where you want to have it," he says. "Then contact a professional."

Tami Kamin-Meyer is a Columbus area freelance writer.