10 Gallon Aquascape Build With $7 Worth of Home Depot Material

I recently completed a fun project.  I took my old, unused 10 gallon aquarium and built a volcano themed aquascape using about seven dollars worth of materials from Home Depot. Here’s how I did it.

tiki hut volcano 10 gallon
Hut not included


I had an existing empty 10 gallon Marineland aquarium setup from Petsmart that I tore down after establishing my main 60 gallon planted tank.

I had some issues with some of the occupants of the main tank not playing well with others, so I decided I would relocate them to the 10 gallon aquarium.  I still had everything, but the old setup was ugly with blue gravel and plastic plants.

I decided on redoing everything and decided on the following:

  • Sand substrate
  • Some kind of rock formation
  • Hide all equipment
  • Add some low light plants from main tank
  • Be extremely cheap
  • All materials must be aquarium safe

Here’s a little secret for you: Home Depot is an awesome source for stuff you pay way more for at pet stores.  You can get rocks, gravel, sand and assorted other things in the landscaping section for a fraction of what pet shops charge.

I headed off to my local Home Depot and picked up a bag of playground sand and a bag of lava rock, both were under $4 each and contained way more stuff than I’d need for my aquascape. I then set off to work.

The following pictures chronicle my adventure

1. Plan Layout


The first thing I did was figure out how I wanted the basic design of the rockwork to go.  I measured an area and marked it with tape so I didn’t scratch the aqarium up while I figured out what to do.

I used a bag of red lava rock, it’s on sale currently for $3.48 for a .5 cubic foot bag, which is about 22 pounds. Way more than enough for a 10 gallon tank. Also, be sure to rinse your rock before you use it, it’s messy.

2. Add Play Sand

10-gallon-aquascape-cheap-sand-bed1-300x168Next up, it’s time to put in the first layer of sand.  It’s important to lay down the sand bed before adding any rocks, this will protect the glass in the tank from scratches, or worse.

Here I used regular ol’ play sand like you can get for sandboxes.  It looks brown but when it’s underwater the color lightens up quite a bit.  You can get a 50 pound bag of the stuff for about $3.00 (around 1/10th the cost of “aquarium” sand). Pool filter sand which is white, or black blasting sand are also popular choices.

3. Build rock foundation


Now it’s time to start laying out the lava rock in the pattern from earlier.  I reccommend filling the base completely, even the spots that will be hollow for equipment.  This forms a more stable base to mount your rows on as you go.

I didn’t glue the individual rocks together in this first row, but that might add stability.

4. Hot glue additional rows of rock

10-gallon-aquascape-more-rowsNow, time for the fun to begin.  You’ll be building this sort of like a brick wall where you’ll be gluing a rock on top of the two rocks below. In other words, the center of the upper rock should be over the space where two rocks meet in the row below.  I also like to add glue in between the rocks for extra hold.

I actually used this project as an excuse to buy a fancy new dual temperature hot glue gun, which you can find on Amazon for about $13 Stanley Bostitch Glueshott Dual Melt High/Low Temperature Glue Gun (GR25).  I assume you have a hot glue gun, so it’s not included in the price of the build.  Note that you can also use epoxy putty to bind the rocks together, but I found the process to take too long.

And yes, both epoxy and hot glue are aquarium safe.

5. Keep building up your rows

10-gallon-aquascape-volcano-progressAs you can see in the picture, you’re going to have gaps.  Don’t sweat it too much now.  You can either glue small rocks to cover the holes when you’re finished, or if you want to add plants, you can attach them to the holes to grow over the gaps (Java ferns and moss work well for that).

The holes also help with circulation since I’ll be housing the filter intake behind the volcano.  Now would also be a good time to dry fit your equipment to make sure there’s enough clearance where needed.

6. Admire your work, add more sand


A couple of notes. I found I needed to use a whole lot of hot glue to get the porous lava rock to hold itself together.  That also meant there were a lot of glue blobs visible.  You can cover some of those with smaller rocks and/or plants if you choose, or just let nature handle it.  Stuff like algae will build up on that glue as the tank ages making the blobs harder to see.

At this point go ahead and add more sand to finish out the aquascape as you want.  I used the rocks to build a couple of tiers to have different levels of sand.  Also, for a more natural look add some groups of loose rocks.

7. Add equipment

10-gallon-cheap-aquascape-home-depot-hidden-heaterNow would be a good time to place your equipment and add any final touches.  you might notice the background is black in the above image.  You can spray paint the back of your tank (if you think of it before you start building).  Or, you can use the trash bag trick.

10-gallon-aquascape-trash-bag-backgroundCut a black trash bag to size and just tape it on the back.  If you want to get fancy, you can instead spread a thin film of Vaseline on the back glass, apply the trash bag and then smooth it out with with a credit card.  Since there’s a nice rock wall in the tank, the simple black background won’t get much attention.

8. Just add water

10-gallon-cheap-aquascape-fillingNow comes the fun part, fill that sucker up!  I used a small shallow plastic container into which I poured the water from a pitcher.  This minimizes the amount of sand that gets kicked up.  Once the water level got above the container’s top, I put a rock in there to keep it in place and continued to fill.

9. …and Wait

10-gallon-aquascape-cloudyYeah, sand is a little messy.  That picture above is after a day of letting things settle.  Originally you couldn’t see anything in there.

Resist the urge to run your filter right away, sand will destroy the impeller.  I actually cheated a little, I wrapped some sponge around the filter intake to prefilter the sand, so I got the tank to clear up in a few hours after starting the filter.

10. Add Livestock

shrimp-10-gal-by-rockFinally, after the water clears and you’ve cycled the tank (you did cycle it, right?) it’s time to add critters.  Mine became home to the small school of zebra danios that were terrorizing the other fish.  I also added a few ghost shrimp to keep the sand neat.

Thanks for sharing my journey with me, and I know that it might cost you more than 7 bucks if you don’t already have an aquarium laying around. But, if you don’t this is just the site you need to help  you find great deals on aquariums and other stuff 🙂