Why do we put up with... glassware?

Someone asked me the other day to write more posts to share my feelings about stuff that "bothers me about the hobby." Literally, asking me to bitch and moan and rant about something I dislike.

Yeah, after thinking on it a bit, I realized that this was a sort of "trap"- because asking me to complain about anything is almost guaranteed to piss someone off. As you know, I rarely hold back. I realized that there are some things in the hobby which leave me both flummoxed and laughing at the same time. 

One of these topics is why we as hobbyists tend to favor certain things which are simply atrocious. (okay, "atrocious" IMHO, anyways...I mean- you asked, right?)

I think we put up with a lot of bad stuff and practices just because it’s so popular or pervasive in the hobby. I'm not sure why this is, but it's something I think about a lot. The idea of using gear, following techniques, and working with certain fishes or plants- even though, deep down inside, I am willing to be that we're not really big fans of them- is just sort of...strange.

Someone asked me what I though the worst piece of gear is in the freshwater hobby! Well, there are likely a few...

However, let's focus on one item that you know that I personally despise: So-called "glassware" (you know, "Lily Pipes" and all that stuff) that is pervasive in the freshwater hobby. Basically, filter intakes and returns made of glass, used in aquariums. When they first emerged on the scene, they were a real step up from the green and brown translucent plastic ones that came with canister filters. They do have a certain aesthetic to them, I"ll freely admit.

Yet, the only thing they offer over the plastics is a different look.


And, like so many things in the hobby, when aesthetics win out over almost everything else, there are usually compromises. And when it comes to glassware, there are a bunch of compromises.

First off, sizing the damn things to get he correct one for your tank is a freaking mystery. You have to make sure that it fits the diameter of the hose you're using from your canister filter...Then, you need to figure out if the one you want will fit into your tank. This reminds me of a other thing I hate- deciding which of the many different sized packages of paper towels or toilet paper to purchase at the local Target to get the maximum value . ("So, this package says 8 rolls =12 full size roles , and has 300 ft of paper..."WTF?). 

LIke, why can't manufacturers simply say that this will fit the hose on your Eheim 2215, or whatever, and can fit into a tank with a depth of "X" inches/cm? Just make it less of a chore to simply purchase the awful thing. It's like you have to have "tribal knowledge " just to pay "bend-over" prices for the correct model of one of these stupid devices for your aquarium!

And, these so called "Lily Pipes" and intakes are rather fragile, tending to break during basic tasks, like simply removing them for cleaning and maintenance if you don't employ near surgical skills to remove them from the hose. And, being clear, they easily RECRUIT algae and organic discoloration, so the much-desired "aesthetics" are easily compromised by them simply being present in your tank, doing what they're intended to do. 

Now, sure, the advice is to carefully clean them as part of your regular maintenance. If you don't, you'll end up with a brown or green "Lily Pipe", which I suppose defeats the purpose of the thing, right?  I'll ask this only once, and I know it will result in a flurry of hate- but this is my opinion: Why in the hell do you add a product with only the most basic utilitarian function (I mean, it's a FILTER RETURN!) that is a) really expensive, and b) requires extra-careful handling and an extra level of dedicated maintenance?

Is the "aesthetic benefit" of glassware so important as to be worth all of this extra hassle, attention and care? It obviously is, to a lot of hobbyists who may or may not be brainwashed about them. (Great- I violated the first rule of good writing..."Never insult your audience" Well, f--- That. lol)

Personally, I'd rather spend time, money, and effort on stuff which actually matters, like- I dunno- the fishes, the hardscape materials, lighting, return pumps, or the aquarium itself, instead of a fragile piece of "art" with no discernible benefits over "conventional" plastic intake/output pipes, save aesthetics and "cachet." Now, there are also stainless versions of some of this hardware, and if you're just super obsessed with how your freakin' filter return looks, those at least don't discolor as readily as glass, and won't snap the minute you look at them wrong, huh?

Which begs the question: Why there aren't  there alternatives? Like 3-D-printed versions of "Lily Pipes" and intakes, or even more durable ceramic, better-colored plastics, etc., is something I can't fully grasp. Are they that much pricier than glass? Sounds like a great market niche for some budding entrepreneur with the right skill set!

Meanwhile, year after year, people plunk down hard-earned cash (ranging from $40.00 to $90 or more!) on something which has a role that can easily be performed by a a $5.00 part (and has for decades). It's just bizarre. Often, these purchases are justified by praising their aesthetics and the "social media cachet" of using them. Meanwhile, many of these same hobbyists who worship in the "Temple of The Holy Glassware" will use shitty, underpowered, feature-impoverished LED lighting systems on their "high tech" planted tanks, just to save a few bucks, while employing $200 worth of return pipes from their filter! 

Yeah, it's a real head-scratcher. 

And what's the culprit? 

Perhaps it's because we see glassware in tanks everywhere. It's perverse in social media and elsewhere. Almost every highly-regarded 'scaper uses them in all of their tanks. Amano used them. The message is that It's what you're supposed to use. Now, look- I'm not blindly blaming social media or the late Mr. Amano- it's just the way stuff is shared nowadays leaves little in the way of alternatives in the minds of many. It's the underlying psychology that's the real culprit, IMHO.  

People want to belong.  And a piece of blown glass apparently satisfies this need. Yeah, now I'm speaking amateur psycho-babble to hate on glassware. What a dick I am...😳

Well, I actually do think it's a sort of "peer pressure" sort of thing; a desire to be in the "cool club." Use of "glassware" represents an adherence to a hobby movement, and is a statement that you (the hobbyist) are doing something that is inline with expectations of the movement. I've actually seen a few forum posts where people asked for a critique of their aquascape, and the main suggestion was to ditch the "ugly" filter intakes and outlets  in place of...glass pipes! 

That's what my British friends call a "face palm moment!" Like, really?

Now, hell- on some levels, I do get it. I mean, you have something that's "function first"- a necessary evil, if you will- so why not make an aesthetic improvement upon it to minimize the "ugliness?" I can't argue with that. I mean, enjoy the hobby the way you want, right? 

It's the inconsistency of the embrace of "aesthetics first" which baffles me.

I mean, you're totally okay with the return lines for the filter running out of the stand on the sides of the tank, in full view, right? That's somehow not an issue for you, but green plastic returns are? Now, I find it hard to believe that some manufacturer somewhere hasn't come out with a better-looking, yet still functional alternative? Manufacturers have figured out how to get heaters and UV into the canister filters themselves- you think that they can't come up with a better return or intake?

Are there alternatives to glassware that offer more function? I think so...Of course, big moves can share up the entire industry. Yet, what about "all in one" tanks, or tanks with better looking integrated external overflows and returns?  THAT would be the ultimate aesthetic game changer- no visible intakes and returns?

There must be someone out there with design/fabrication "chops" who can tackle this; or who thinks it's worth doing?

Show yourself, soon!

And the "glassware" still reigns supreme as the ultimate statement in sexy design for many...

Scarier yet, to me, is that I've noticed several newly-minted "crossover" freshwater "high-tech planted" aquarists wanting to build "reef tanks" and trying to figure out how they can adapt glassware to reef tank use. They're discussing these on "build thread" forums, sharing all sorts of machinations they're going through trying to adapt these shitty devices to their ideas for a "reef" tank. I mean, on the reef side, we do enough lame things without taking on more lousy hardware...Thankfully, many of the reef guys responding to these threads are gently and politely pushing back on the use of this inefficient crap for reefs.

Bless them.

Ouch! I'm being a real A-hole about this. Just bitching away about something that is not a real "problem" for the hobby...

But you asked. And I can go on and on. So, yeah, I'm being a total ass.

Yeah, I freely admit it.

However, IMHO, a stupid idea is still a stupid idea, regardless of which side of the "salinity line" you work in. And I think that glassware is stupid. And what's worse is that I don't have a really great alternative- I admit. Other than to simply boycott stupid glassware and encourage others to do the same, lol. 

I guess I'm heaping on the hate on glassware because it represents ( in my twisted mind) some form of willing conformity and allegiance to something which provides only a superficial "advantage" over what's already out there. That, to me- the  "conformity" part- is a big problem to me. It stifles originality and progress; creates dogma.

"Wow, Fellman, it's just a fucking piece of glass! You're way overboard on this!"

Well, sure, on a pragmatic level, it is just a piece of glass But it's also a sort of "Metaphorical shackle" in my estimation. The blind reverence and lack of demand for something better from the industry forces a weird sort of conformity, in my mind at least. We kind of get what we deserve, right?

I probably simply "don't get it." Maybe it's 'cause I'm just bitter, having broken a lot of these over the years (a couple actually intentionally, I admit!) and simply hating them. However, I do like the sort of "mental exercise" I can get by looking long and hard (and in an admittedly biased fashion, no doubt) at something which I find somehow problematic in the hobby, contemplating why it exists, and at least thinking a bit on possible alternatives, practical or otherwise.

Sure, we could likely do without my vitriol when contemplating such ideas, but it never hurts to be a bit critical; to question why stuff is the way it is.

So, yeah, in the end, this "first world problem" (in my head, at least) of "glassware" is likely a bit silly, but it does show a little light on the "how's and why's" of the aquarium hobby.

My advice too you: Don't be afraid to question, consider alternatives, and create demand fo them if they don't exist- and to not simply accept everything that is taken as "the way" in the hobby.

Stay bold. Stay creative. Stay defiant. Stay observant. Stay engaged...

And Stay Wet.


Scott Fellman

Tannin Aquatics 








Scott Fellman
Scott Fellman


3 Responses

Scotrt Fellman
Scotrt Fellman

March 25, 2022

Hey there!

Are you sure that you’ve read about or understand our philosophy on botanical-method aquairums? I’m not convinced … I have to admit, most of what we talk about is the FUNCTION that botanicals impart to our systems. There is a true aesthetic components, but our main mission is what we call “Functional aesthetics” (the stuff looks cool, but it is really about fostering gan ecology within the tank.) We literally have dozens of articles about this philosophy, and very little one pure aesthetics alone.

Please do review our many blogs and podcasts…And I don’t believe I’ve ever mentioned that we recommend or use reverse osmosis water to “decrease the risk of bacterial blooms…” Like, huh? If I did, it was certain ly in error…we’ve been talking about them for years and I can’t recall that as a justification for an RO/DI unit…We recommend RO/DI to create “malleable” conditions for pH manipulations…to remove excess minerals which inhibit this ability. “Bacterial blooms” are not something that we think about all that much.

And, yes, I absolutely DO hate glassware, for the reasons which I mention!

So, yeah, that’s my opinion! But please do peruse our many blogs/podcasts further so you can get a real understanding ding of our philosophies! Thanks for stopping by!



March 24, 2022

I meant water acidifying rather then softening. My apologies because I know a lot of ppl make that mistake.


March 24, 2022

Not going to lie, it amuses me that the owner of a website that sells products he freely admits are used MOSTLY for aesthetic reasons… (while IAL have research behind them nothing else does)

…and that due to their water softening properties AND their release of carbohydrates into the water meaning the tank needs more maintenance… (again not a bad thing but no one can make a blackwater Walstad Tank)

That also recognises that black water tanks really should have reverse osmosis water to decrease the risk of bacterial bloom even with said maintenance (which adds ongoing costs)

Has so much againest a product that is purely aesthetic, increases maintenance and has ongoing costs (in the form of replacing broken parts).

The only thing that applies to Lilypipes that doesn’t apply to your own products is the sizing issue. Obviously anything that provides tint, with FEW EXCEPTIONS will fit into anything but the smallest of tanks.

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