Cut and Pasted from the Morning Call news paper of July 3, 2005 

Home decor in a fish tank

Special to The Morning Call

More homeowners are up to something fishy these days.

They are setting up cool-looking, oversized aquariums and making them the focal point of the rooms where they spend lots of time.

Standard rectangular tanks or round goldfish bowls are out; in are aquariums built into walls or hung to look like large flat-screen TVs.

''There are a lot of people today with some pretty amazing tanks in their homes,'' says Craig Flyzik, manager of American Aquarium & Pet Supply in Orefield.

Flyzik includes himself in that group. Flyzik has three tanks in his Coaldale home: a 37-gallon mini-reef, a 55-gallon and a 180-gallon filled with African cichlids, which are some of the most colorful fish found in freshwater aquariums.

Lisa Bauber, owner of Tanks 2 U in Moore Township, has seen aquariums balloon along with her business.

''When I first started 10 years ago, everyone was buying 20-gallon tanks,'' she says. ''Now it's more like 55- to 100-gallon tanks that are most popular.''

David Bishop of Slatington, owner of KissYourFish.com, installs and maintains aquariums and ponds in Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He finds the average size aquarium ranges from 90 to 200 gallons. Some of his clients have custom tanks that are 800 gallons or more.

Not only are people into bigger tanks, they also are spending more on them.

Some homeowners invest several thousand dollars for the tank and filtration system. Then they spend several hundred to several thousand to stock them with livestock fish and plants and for accessories.

The labor to install the tank is even more. Bishop charges from $150 to $3,000 for installations. ''The price for the labor depends on the size of the aquarium, where it's going, and the accessibility to that location,'' he says.

Maintenance, which consists of cleaning the tank and checking that everything works properly, is extra. For that, Bishop charges from $50 to $300 a month. That typically includes one in-home or business visit a month, but possibly more, if needed.

Jon Kenyon, 30, who has a 90-gallon reef aquarium in his Germansville home, says if his wife kept track of how much he has spent on it in the four years he has had it, ''she probably would kill me.'' He figures his set-up cost him between $3,000 and $4,000 and that's with his installing the aquarium in their basement wall himself.

Aquariums are not just a trend among higher-end homes. It's all price ranges and types of homes.

''One day I'm installing an aquarium in a $50,000 home in the Lehigh Valley and the next I'm in a $10 million home in New Jersey,'' Bishop says.

Bishop has worked in new construction as well as historic homes. ''I'm doing an aquatic turtle habit a zoo quality exhibit for an addition to a 200-year-old home in Bethlehem,'' he says.

Many tank choices available

Bishop says most people call him wanting a custom-built tank. However, he says, manufacturers make so many shapes and sizes today, most people can find one to fit their needs and save thousands of dollars. Still, he takes great pride in that no two of his aquarium designs are ever the same.

Most people, he says, want their aquariums to look like they are part of the house. If it is a newly built house, he typically will install the tank during construction. ''I can work with the contractors and have one built in,'' Bishop says.

Statistics from the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association confirm that aquarium ownership is riding a wave of popularity

Over the past decade, 1994-2004, the number of U.S. households that own freshwater fish has increased from 9.4 million to 13.9 million a nearly 50 percent increase. Saltwater fish ownership also has increased from 600,000 in 1994 to 800,000 last year a more than 30 percent increase.

Retailers suggest a number of reasons for the growth, including TV home shows, the Internet, improved technology and transportation, and childhood nostalgia.

Home decorating shows on cable television often help set trends, and several have featured decorator aquariums.

Bishop, who has been in the aquarium business for 20 years, notices more homeowners wanting higher-end, quality products and quality woodwork around the aquarium after shows featuring such installations air. ''I get an awful lot of requests for intricate designs since HGTV,'' he says.

''There's a lot of pet business in general on TV 24 hours a day, seven days a week,'' agrees Mike Winzer, owner of Angels R Us in Allentown, ''and I think that has a lot to do with the popularity of aquariums.''

Movies such as Disney's ''Finding Nemo'' also helped push the hobby, Bauber says.

Lots of Internet info

The Internet, too, has made fish owners out of more people, retailers agree. The incredible amount of information on the Web makes it easy for people to learn how to set up and maintain aquariums. Also, pet owners learn about different fish available for their aquariums.

Kenyon often visits Web sites and chat rooms for people who keep reef aquariums. He has enhanced his coral collection by trading with people he has met online.

Aquariums also are easier than ever to maintain, Flyzik says. ''The technology is far advanced compared to what it was 10 years ago. Pumps have come a long way. Your filtration systems have come a long way and so have your heaters, all of which makes keeping animals easier than it was in the past.''

Transportation also has improved, which makes it easier for exotic fish to make their way around the world, Flyzik says. Years ago the fish had to be shipped in stages from where they were harvested. Now there are more direct flights and a plethora of over-night delivery services that get the fish to the East Coast faster and thus healthier, he explains.

Nostalgia is yet another reason for the growing interest in aquariums.

Bauber believes most people who have aquariums are like her: ''I got interested as a child through my parents. Everybody I've associated with has done it as a child. It goes full circle. If even you haven't had it for a portion of your life, when you get older and have children, you get it for them.''

Kenyon's interest was sparked by his father. ''My dad kept them a lot when I was a kid, only he did fresh water,'' he says. ''After I got my own place, I wanted my own aquarium, too.''

To your health

Some people also may be looking for the health benefits.

A growing body of scientific research also shows that pets as a whole are good for people, and fish in particular can help alleviate stress, says Tierra Griffiths, a spokeswoman for the American Pet Products association. ''Having an aquarium in your home can be relaxing and provide healing benefits,'' she says.

One of the reasons Kenyon likes his aquarium is ''it's relaxing.''

Bishop, who can't remember a day he didn't have an aquarium, finds most of his clients are baby boomers in their mid-30s to early 50s. ''I have a ton of young kids that call me, too,'' he says. ''But they just can't afford it.''

Beth W. Orenstein is a freelance writer.