Look, we get it. Really. Float tanks are expensive – especially for what can seem, from the outside, like a glorified bathtub with spa parts attached. It doesn’t take long to go from, “Why is this so expensive?” to “I’ll bet I could save money by making my own tank!” After you start mulling it over, you get excited. You could be offering something no one else does right now… because it’d be your own creation! How hard can it possibly be?
As experts in only thinking about half of the consequences of our actions (at best), we’d like to say, “Incredibly hard, actually!” We’ve been through this process, and after years of upgrading and replacing parts, our custom built open float tanks are only just recently operating the way we wanted them to from the beginning.
One of the issues is that float tanks require highly specialized components. However, with only a couple of limited exceptions, people don’t make parts designed for float tanks. Our industry has specific requirements for every aspect of our tanks, and getting even one of them wrong can screw up the whole system.
To illustrate my point, let’s take something fairly innocuous in a float system: relays.
Relays are electronic switches that are necessary for turning things off and on. In a float tank, you use relays for lights, transducers, heaters, pumps, and any other electronic system that runs intermittently. The problem is that standard relays make an audible “click” when they turn off or on.
You can’t have your float tank clicking every ten minutes when your heaters turn on and off. So, you research it. You find out that solid state relays are silent. You tear apart your tank and install these new ones, only to find out that “silent relays” really mean “super quiet relays you wouldn’t notice unless it was literally the only sound being made in the room.” So you research more, and have to tear out trial solid-state relays and install new ones several times until you find some that are quiet enough. You have to do this each time because the only way to properly test them is by floating in the tank with them installed.
How about big things, like the fiberglass tub? You can get one custom made, sure, but where do you place the inlets and outlets for the filtration system? We’ve seen the prototypes at manufacturer’s warehouses, and they always have dozens of holes for their filtration systems to find the optimal place for ideal flow and to properly skim the water.
There are dozens of things that you can’t really figure out without trial and error. Yeah, you can make educated guesses, but do you really want to count on making a prototype that’s going to work on the first try? That’s like planning to win your golf game by getting 18 consecutive holes-in-one. Each choice (or each potential mistake) will likely involve more labor, more money, and more effort than if you had just purchased a tank from a manufacturer.
If you’re running floats while trying to figure all this out, it’s going to hit your bottom line, too. What happens when you can’t deliver a consistent service, or can’t run floats at all, because you have to make modifications to your tank?
And what happens if something in your custom tank breaks and causes a leak that damages your float center? Well, since you built it yourself, you don’t have a warranty. You don’t have any sort of guarantee. You’re on the hook for all of the damages, and you’re back to square one. You don’t even have a float tank now. At least, when you buy a commercial tank, they have the expertise to repair all the different components. If something in your system goes wrong and you don’t know what it is or how to fix it, who can you turn to? Beyond just being helpful, manufacturers can be legally on the hook if something goes seriously wrong. They don’t want to be liable for damage or selling a defective product. Those things can end badly for them in a courtroom, so they also have a vested interest in making sure you have a product that isn’t going to do harm to your business.
Don’t believe us? You don’t have to. Here are some quotes from people who have gone through it themselves.
Kevin Johnson, the founder of the Zero Gravity Institute, got into manufacturing after opening his own center. Despite successfully manufacturing dozens of float tanks commercially, he still thinks that getting into this process was a huge challenge that he couldn’t have possibly anticipated.
“While it may look simple and straight forward, building a properly functioning floatation tank is one of the most difficult engineering challenges I have ever addressed.”
Jake Marty is our resident construction expert. He was the one most responsible for putting together our custom-built, open float tanks at Float On.
“We got in way over our heads. We had no idea when we first started out.”
Even Glenn Perry, the first commercial manufacturer, looks back at getting involved in building tanks and laughs at his arrogance back then.
“How hard could it be? We had no idea. We were so naive!”
We didn’t know any of this beforehand, and we stumbled headlong into the trap of building our own tanks. Was it every bit the nightmare laid out here? Absolutely. But it was also a labor of love. It took us hundreds of hours, loads of refunded floats, tens of thousands of dollars in parts, and Jake Marty literally bled to make those tanks. Even through all that, we love them. We’re not replacing them. It was a passion project for us, and they’re like our babies. Getting them into the world was a little rough, but being on the other side of it is an amazing feeling.
If you love to tinker and build things for yourself, then there are tons of resources for making your own tank. If you’re going to make it, though, make it for yourself. Have it in your home and create a space to make mistakes – mistakes that will be an absolutely necessary parts of the process. You can’t reasonably expect to run a float center full time while you work on R&D in one of your float rooms, and that’s what it needs to be considered: Research and Development.
Obviously, if you want to get into manufacturing, you have to start somewhere, but that somewhere isn’t a float center. You should treat float tank construction like a research experiment. Carefully control every variable, including the people getting into and out of the tank. There’s so much that can go wrong when you first start out that it can likely be considered negligence if something bad happens to a customer in a tank that you built yourself.
In a lot of ways, creating a custom float tank is a full time job… or several of them. Once you start down that path, you quickly realize exactly why float tanks are as expensive as they are. Whether you’re just starting out and balking at the costs of some float tanks, or have been in the industry a while and getting the itch to just do-it-yourself, I hope this has clarified a few things about these tanks and the process of creating them. If this is your true passion, then I’m sure not even a strongly worded blog post will be able to discourage you. If that’s the case, more than anything, be prepared for the inevitable time and money sink that comes from venturing down this path.
For everyone who’s found a renewed interest in shopping for pre-manufactured tanks, here’s our free Float Tank Comparison Guide, with units from every major float manufacturer.
Thanks for reading, and stay salty!