Freshwater Aquarium Setup - Fish Tank Setup
This freshwater aquarium setup article explains how to set up a basic freshwater fish tank. We'll start with a short list of the equipment you'll need and then give you a step by step guide on setting up or starting your first freshwater fish tank.
Equipment checklist of items you will need:
- Aquarium - or get a kit. Here is a decent kit: Marina LED Aquarium Kit
- Aquarium gravel
- Aquarium filter
- Replacement filter media for the brand/type of filter you have
- Other decorations (such as fake plants or real plants)
- Master aquarium test kit to test water parameters and monitor the infamous aquarium nitrogen cycle
- Fish food - NLS is great fish food
- Aquarium vacuum
- Fish net
- Aquarium Glass Scrubber
- 5-gallon bucket
- Pasta strainer
Freshwater Aquarium Setup
STEP 1: Realize the responsibility involved.
Once a week, or at most once every two weeks, you will need to perform some kind of maintenance on the tank. Most of the time you will be performing water changes. You will also have to feed your fish at least once a day. Setting up and running a fish tank does cost money. There are recurring expenses such as replacing filter media, buying food, etc. Check out the Freshwater vs. Saltwater Aquarium page to get an idea of the setup costs involved. If you are up to the challenge, please proceed!
STEP 2: Decide on an aquarium size.
It's a good idea to have in mind what kind of freshwater aquarium fish you want to keep in your freshwater aquarium setup before you purchase an aquarium. Some fish only grow to be an inch or two, whereas other types of tropical fish can grow 12 or 13 inches or more in length! Knowing what kind of fish you want will help you decide the size of the tank they will need. If this is your first time with an aquarium, it may be a good idea to start with a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium setup for now and stock it with some smaller and hardier species.
To get your creative juices flowing, research freshwater aquarium setup ideas by checking out the Freshwater Aquarium Builds forum to see how members have set up their aquariums.
STEP 3: Decide on the aquarium's location.
Place your freshwater aquarium setup in an area where the light and temperature of the tank won't be affected by external sources such as windows and heater vents. Sunlight that enters the room through an unshaded window could affect the temperature of your tank. This could also lead to green algae problems for your tank down the road. You will want to place your aquarium on a stand that will be able to hold its total weight. You also want to be sure that the floor is able to support the total weight of the aquarium and stand. A good rule of thumb for determining the total weight of a full aquarium is 10 pounds per gallon of water. For example, a 55-gallon tank will weigh approximately 550 pounds when filled with water!
STEP 4: Buy your aquarium and equipment.
Now is a good time to decide on the type of aquarium filter you will want to use. You will also need to purchase a heater capable of heating the freshwater aquarium setup size you have. The Cobalt Neo-Therm Heaters are a popular choice for heaters these days. Buy the gravel, plants, a power strip and other decorations. A good rule of thumb for the amount of gravel that you will need is 1 to 1.5 pounds of gravel per gallon of water. I'd recommend getting more natural looking river type gravel versus the neon colored gravel you see in stores. The natural gravel will look nicer long term.
Another consideration is whether or not you want to make it a planted freshwater aquarium setup. If so, you will want to invest in some higher output lighting than what normally comes with all in one freshwater aquarium kits.
STEP 5: Set up your aquarium and stand.
Wash out your tank with water only! Do not use soap or detergents. Soap residue left behind will be harmful for your tropical fish. If you are going to use an under gravel filter (not recommended) now would be the time to set it up as well.
STEP 6: Wash Gravel, plants and decorations.
Be sure to wash the gravel thoroughly before adding it to your tank. An easy way to do this is to put some of the rocks in a pasta strainer and wash them out in your bath tub. Then place the clean gravel in a clean 5-gallon bucket for transport to the aquarium. After adding the gravel you can place your plants and decorations.
STEP 7: Add water to the aquarium.
To avoid messing up your gravel and plants, you can place a plate or saucer in the middle of your aquarium and direct the water flow onto the plate. Use room temperature water when filling. To remove the chlorine and chloramine, use something like Tetra AquaSafe for Aquariums. Don't completely fill up the aquarium until you are sure of the layout of your decorations. Otherwise, when you place your arm in to move stuff around water is going to spill over. Doh!
STEP 8: Set up equipment.
Install your heater but don't plug it in until thermostat in the heater has adjusted to the water temperature. This usually takes about 15 minutes or so. Hook up your filter and any other equipment you have, then top off the aquarium water in your freshwater aquarium setup to just under the hood lip. Place your hood and tank light on the aquarium and then check your power cords to be sure that they are free of water. I would also recommend using a drip loop on all of the power cords to be extra cautious. For more information on safety, read this great article on aquarium electrical safety. Plug all of the equipment into a power strip and then "turn on" the aquarium.
STEP 9. Wait, wait, wait and then wait some more.
I know, you want to add some fish. But, in order to do this right you must wait until your aquarium has cycled before adding any fish. There are ways of speeding up this process. Check out the nitrogen cycle page to learn more about starting the nitrogen cycle and how to speed it up. If you must use fish to cycle, try to get a hardier species like the zebra danio or cherry barb. You may notice your fish tank cycle kicking in gear if you start to get some cloudy aquarium water after a few days.
STEP 10. Add tropical fish.
Only add one or two fish at a time. Adding a couple fish at a time gives your filtration system the time needed to take on the increased biological load that the new fish introduce. When you bring the fish home let the bag float in the tank for about 15 minutes so that the fish can become acclimated to the temperature and pH of the aquarium water. After 5 minutes of floating the bag you should add some of the aquarium water to the bag so that the fish can become acclimated to the pH level in the aquarium. This will help reduce the amount of stress imposed on the fish. Stressed fish often leads to dead or diseased fish! Don't feed your fish on the first day. They probably wouldn't eat any food on the first day anyway. Let them get acquainted with their new home.
If you're interested in some good and hardy first fish, please read the Good First Tropical Fish article.
STEP 11. Get ready for regular maintenance.
Be prepared to spend some time once every week or two to clean your tank. Performing regular water changes will reduce the nitrate levels and keep your tropical fish happy and healthy.
As you can see, the steps for how to set up a fish tank are not that complex and hopefully you now have your aquarium setup and running! Have fun, take care of and enjoy your fish!
There are many ways to set up a freshwater aquarium. Here is a quick video showing another way to set up a tank.
Freshwater Aquarium Setup Comments, Tips and Questions
|From: Julie Stafford - Cloudy Aquarium Water|
We have had a tank for about a month with fish in it. The water all of a sudden turned cloudy last night and has continued that way today. Is this a normal transition process of newer tanks or is it a problem?
|Cloudy aquarium water in a newly established tank could be attributed to a few different factors:
If we had to guess as to what is currently causing your cloudy water it would probably be the bacterial bloom since you mentioned that your tank is only a month old. Get an aquarium water test kit and monitor your water parameters throughout the nitrogen cycle.
I just wanted to say thank you for this website. We are very new to this fish thing (got the tank, got it cycling... no fish yet on the advise of LFS) but it's nice to read up as much info as we can before we actually get some fish!
|From: Visitor - Adding Schooling Fish|
We would like to add a group of schooling fish, 6 or more to our 100 gallon tank. I've read they should be of same size & age to school. How does this work with the "Add only two fish at a time rule"?
|Well, that's not really a rule, but a guideline to go by. The reason for slowly stocking your tank is so that you give your aquarium's biological filter time to catch up with the increased bio load that the new fish introduce to the tank. Having a 100 gallon tank, you should be fine adding a small group (6) of schooling fish such as neon tetras, or glowlight tetras or any of the other smaller sized schooling fish. This is assuming your tank is not overstocked and you have compatible tank mates for smaller fish.|
|From: William - Fish Overcrowding Question|
I just got started this past month and have taken my time and I believe gotten things right. I started with a 10 gallon tank and now that I have chosen what types of fish to stock... the smaller varieties, I was needing to know at what point does one stop adding new fish? What's optimum for not overcrowding. I poked around the net and haven't found any real answer. Is there a gallon to small fish ratio or something I can use as a guideline?
Many places will tell you the 1 inch of fish per 1 gallon of water rule, but this rule or guideline is ridiculous. Would a 10 inch pleco be ok in a 10 gallon tank? Of course not. A better rule of thumb would be 1 inch of fish for every 3 or 4 gallons of water (this is a freshwater guideline only, saltwater fish need even more water) with even more water volume per inch being better.
It really comes down to how often you will be performing water changes. Be realistic with yourself. Are you really going to stick with regular water changes every couple of days in an overstocked tank, week in and week out? If you answer no to this question then you definitely need to go very light on the stocking levels in your fish tank.
You're really limited with what you can do successfully in a 10 gallon tank and urge you to resist the temptation to overcrowd your fishes. One last thing, always use the future adult size of the fish when determining the potential stocking levels for your fish tank.
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