New Fish Checklist: How to Set Up a Fish Tank
If you’re starting a new aquarium, the amount of information on the internet can be overwhelming. Wouldn’t it be nice if an experienced aquarist could lead you step-by-step through the entire process? As we share our best practices, you will find the perfect home for your fish.
Although some instructions might seem a bit complicated, they are important to follow in order to avoid common pitfalls for beginners. After years of running a fish store, we find that it’s very important for new hobbyists to be successful right off the bat. People will eventually give up on fish keeping if they make too many mistakes.
How long does it take to get fish into a new tank?
Preparations for starting a new aquarium can take about one to two weeks for gathering the proper materials, installing the equipment, and starting the aquarium cycling process. Afterwards, the aquarium needs time to establish a healthy ecosystem, and your fish should go through quarantine to prevent the spread of any diseases. Do not rush to buy fish, or order them online too early.
Wait until the aquarium is fully installed and established with a healthy ecosystem before buying fish.
What is the cost to set up a fish tank?
Because fish are relatively inexpensive pets, many people assume that their aquariums and fish tank accessories will not cost much as well. If you plan on buying brand-new aquarium supplies, be prepared to spend around $200 or more.
Shopping List: What do you need before buying fish
Before you can decide how big of an aquarium to get, you must first find the ideal location for it. Fish tanks should be placed on a hard, entirely flat, waterproof surface or aquarium stand that can hold up its entire weight. If the aquarium is not on the ground floor, make sure the floor can also handle the weight. A freshwater tank filled with water, substrate, equipment, and decor can weigh more than 10 pounds per gallon of water.
To avoid any drastic temperature changes, don’t place the aquarium in direct sunlight, next to the air conditioning and heating vent, or in front of a constantly opening door that leads outside. You should avoid high traffic areas and flashing TV screens. Avoid lighting that creates shadows or lights that cause moving shadows. Furthermore, make sure the fish tank is near an electrical outlet to power your equipment and near a water source and drain for easy water changes.
Once you’ve decided on the final location, you can measure the available space and determine what size aquarium you can get. Many beginners choose a 10-gallon fish tank as their first aquarium, but in general, larger aquariums are preferred because a) more water volume helps to dilute the toxic waste chemicals produced from your fish’s poop and b) you can keep more fish without overcrowding them. Petco, a chain of pet shops in the United States, offers sales three to four times per year. These fish tanks can be purchased for as low as $1 per gallon. Rimless aquariums or tanks with low iron glass tend to be a lot more expensive, so we generally don’t recommend them to beginners.
Rimmed, glass aquariums are a favorite, cost-effective option for both beginners and veterans.
A question we frequently hear is whether you should choose a glass or acrylic aquarium because both have different pros and cons. Glass aquariums are usually cheaper, less susceptible to scratching, and often come with a rim that helps to level out any unevenness between the aquarium glass and the surface it stands on. Rimmed glass tanks must be firmly supported on all four corners, so do not place a Styrofoam or other pliable mat underneath it. If the tank is filled with water, the rim will sink into the Styrofoam, which will start pushing against the bottom panel and can lead to cracking.
Acrylic aquariums, on the other hand, are more expensive, but they are ideal for very large volume tanks because the bonded seams are much stronger and less likely to break. Acrylic aquariums are lighter and more resistant to temperature changes. Acrylic tanks (and rimless tanks) are designed to be supported on their entire bottom panel, so a Styrofoam or yoga mat can be used to help buffer against unevenness between the aquarium and the surface it stands on.
2. Aquarium Lid
Many people try to reduce costs by not getting an aquarium hood or top, but they don’t realize that a tank lid saves money in the long run by minimizing loss of heat and water through evaporation and protecting your fish from jumping out. These valuable benefits are why we do not recommend beginners to use rimless, lidless aquariums.
Glass lids are inexpensive and easy to read. A glass top often comes with a back plastic strip that can be modified to make holes for filtration, airline tubing, or electrical cords. Make sure the openings are very tight so that fish and invertebrates cannot escape.
Acrylic lids can be more expensive and will droop in the water. The flexibility of the material is especially inconvenient if you try to make a hinged flap for feeding fish and it becomes warped over time. Lexan polycarbonate sheets don’t absorb water as readily and are sometimes used for homemade aquarium lids, but they are still more expensive than glass.
While certain fish species (like goldfish, Japanese ricefish, and white cloud mountain minnows) can handle cooler temperatures, the majority of freshwater pet fish prefer warmer, tropical temperatures between 74-80degF. Therefore, if your home is lower than this range, you need to buy an aquarium heater to prevent your fish from getting sick. Plus, get a thermometer to help you determine if the aquarium heater is working properly or has been turned off.
An adjustable heater is preferred because it allows you to change the water temperature for keeping different species or treating sick fish.
If you require water temperature to reach 10 degrees F above ambient, and you want to keep the tank’s lid from evaporating cooling, you should consider a fish tank heater that produces approximately 5W heat per 1 Gallon of water. For example, if you have a 5-gallon betta fish aquarium that meets those conditions, you could get a 25W heater. You will need to get a 50W heater if the same betta aquarium is kept in an office or school classroom that has lots of air conditioning.
In general, it’s safer to err on the side of getting a heater that’s the next size up than a weaker one that constantly struggles to raise the temperature. Fortunately, heaters cost relatively the same amount regardless of size or wattage level. Also, if you own a bigger aquarium that requires 200W of heat, for example, it’s a better to purchase two 100W heaters (rather than one 200W heater). This way, if one heater goes out, the second heater will continue to heat the aquarium. For more help on choosing the right aquarium heater, read the full article.
Don’t let the internet convince fish-keeping beginners to get started with canister filters. They are more difficult to clean and maintenance, and they’re not necessarily the “best” filter out there. We typically recommend a hang-on-back (HOB) filter for people who have never kept a fish tank before. They are simple to install, highly customizable, and easy to clean every month. Although sponge filters are an affordable and reliable option, they can be difficult to set up the first time. Many people also forget to install a check valve to prevent water from rushing into their tanks. You can read more about which fish tank filter suits you here.
HOB filters often come with disposable cartridges, so replace them with a coarse sponge pad that can be rinsed and reused over and over again.
For those who keep live aquatic plants, lighting is a major concern. If you have no aquarium plants, you can use a fish tank kit that already comes with a light or choose an appropriately sized aquarium hood with a built-in light. If you are growing aquarium plants, install an LED planted tank light with a power outlet timer to keep algae growth under control. For more help, learn about how to pick the best planted aquarium light.
6. Substrat and Decorations
Substrat is the material that covers the bottom of your fish tank. Some of the most common options include aquarium gravel, sand, and plant substrate. The substrate, rocks, driftwood, and aquarium decorations can sometimes be covered in dust particles, so rinse them in water to avoid getting cloudy water. Avoid using soap or other cleaning products to clean your aquarium decorations. The residue could be dangerous for fish.
Aquarium backgrounds are great to use because they hide all the tangled wires and tubing from view and prevent the fish from seeing any scary shadows on the wall behind them.
You can buy a fish tank background from the pet store, cut out a sheet of black trash bag or colored poster board, or paint directly on the rear panel of the tank. We prefer darker colors like black (rather than blue) because fish and plants stand out well against a dark background and algae isn’t as noticeable.
7. Other Aquarium Accessories
Many water treatment plants now use chloramine to disinfect tap water. This is a deadly chemical that kills fish and doesn’t evaporate as quickly as chlorine. To make tap water safe for fish, you should also consider purchasing a water dechlorinator. Your fish require food, so we recommend some high-quality fish foods. An aquarium water test kit is also very useful for determining if poor water quality is making the fish sick.
All water conditioners can do a good job dechlorinating tapwater, but we prefer to use bottles with a pump head so that it is easy to douse without measuring.
An aquarium siphon is a must-have if you want to save a significant amount of time with tank maintenance. You can vacuum the substrate with this hose and use a bucket for any fish waste that has accumulated. This tutorial will show you how to use it.
How can you start a freshwater aquarium for beginners?
1. Set up the aquarium stand or clean the counter space where the tank will go. 2. Rinse out any dust from the aquarium and accessories, and install the tank background. 3. Put the tank on the aquarium stand, and pour in the substrate. 4. Place the filter and heater in the tank, and add decorations to hide the equipment. 5. Fill the aquarium with room temperature water and dose the dechlorinator. 6. Plant the aquarium plants. This guide will show you how to set up an aquarium with live plants.
Partially pour water into the fish tank to support the plants leaves and insert roots into the substrate.
1. After installing the light and lid, wait for 30 minutes before you turn on the equipment. (The heater requires time to adjust to the water temperature.) 2. Give 24 hours for everything to be in order and make sure there are no leaks. 3. Start cycling the aquarium (e.g. These instructions will help you to grow beneficial bacteria and/or plants in an aquarium that is safe for fish. 4. Once the aquarium has a healthy ecosystem that can process fish waste, gradually start adding fish. Consider putting all new fish in a separate quarantine tank first to cure them of any diseases before they enter the main tank. For information on quarantine aquariums, read this article.
Most Frequently Asked Questions
How do you set up a betta aquarium?
Please refer to our detailed instructions. –
How do you set up an aquarium for goldfish?
Read our fancy goldfish care guide. –
How do I set up a planted aquarium?
Take a look at our step by step article.
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