Is there an alternative to this cumbersome hood?

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A reader finds her wooden tank hood too heavy but can't find a lightweight alternative, PFK expert Neale Monk offers advice.

To help cheer myself up after my husband died, I bought a 120cm tank complete with a wooden cabinet and hood. But, six months on, I’m finding the wooden hood really heavy. It’s cumbersome to open and close at feeding time, and as for when I want to do a water change, it’s a nightmare to lift it off on my own.

I would to buy a lightweight metal hood, like the ones we used to have back in the 1980s, if you remember them. But I’ve asked in various pet shops and I’ve also searched online but I’m getting nowhere. Any advice would be gratefully received. 

ALI COLLINS, VIA EMAIL

Neale replies: I do remember the lightweight metal hoods, and until very recently, I used one on a similar-sized tank in my classroom. I believe they were made of aluminium, which explains their lightness and durability, and the manufacturer that I remember making them is called Clear-Seal. However, a quick look on their website suggests that while the company is very much still in business, they do not seem to produce these hoods any longer. Nonetheless, if you search online for aluminium aquarium hoods, you should be able to find similar sorts of products.

However, before you do that, I think it’s worth considering why these hoods fell out of fashion. Compared with modern hoods, they were often designed to hold just a single lamp, usually a fluorescent tube. This wasn’t nearly enough light for plants to grow successfully. Sometimes, you could squeeze another tube into the hood, but bear in mind that these hoods lacked the watertight, built-in electrical connectors needed for the tubes. Instead, you had to somehow install a proper ‘Spaghetti Junction’ of wires, two for each tube, leading off to the ‘ballast’ units that powered the lights, one for each tube. So, even if the hood itself didn’t weigh much, by the time you factored in the wires and ballast, the whole thing was very heavy and cumbersome. That’s why some aquarists didn’t bother. They simply put a pane of glass on top of the tank and lay the fluorescent tubes on top – it didn’t look pretty, but did the job.

Now, you might opt for minimal lighting and eschew live plants completely, in which case an aluminium hood may well fit the bill. The flip side to that, however, is that in the absence of healthy, fast-growing plants, algae is much more likely to become a problem. Slow-growing plants that don’t need a lot of light, such as Java ferns and Anubias, just don’t grow quickly enough to suppress algae build-up, and in fact tend to get smothered by algae themselves over time.

One alternative that might work for you is called a pendant light. These are suspended over the tank, either from the ceiling or from a stand positioned behind the tank. The top of the tank is usually left open, which makes maintenance easy. Because air can move freely across the top of the tank, these tanks are particularly good if you want aquarium plants to grow above the waterline, or if you have a thing for healthy floating plants. 

The downside to pendant lighting is that it tends to be more expensive, not least of all because more light is wasted, as not all the light is directed into the aquarium. Another issue is that without a hood, evaporation tends to be faster, and you’ll need to top up with water on a regular basis. Some fish are ‘jumpy’ and will escape from open-topped tanks, especially species that live at the surface, including hatchetfish, bettas, and halfbeaks, but also kuhli loaches and spiny eels. On the other hand, most midwater fish, including most tetras and barbs, can do fine in such tanks.