Aquarium fish is fun to have. Learning how to set up a fish tank is the first step toward enjoying your fish keeping hobby. Proper aquarium setup is extremely important and it must not be overlooked. We all know most fish do not live long after being sold from the shops. This sad truth is largely because many home aquarium setup are not correct. Research must be done before getting started. Getting into the fish keeping hobby should not be a decision made on the spot in the pet shop that you will buy and bring some fish home right away.
Before getting any fish, you must first set up a fish tank.
To have a proper aquarium setup, you must first have a clear plan of what you want. You must have a clear picture of the amount of responsibilities involved in taking care of one or more fish tanks.
Step I. Plans for Set up a Fish Aquarium
You must answer many of such very important questions during the planning stage. Your planning should be closely tied to your available budget, time, as well as space at home. Fish keeping is not too expensive, but it also cost more than most people might think. It involves many absolutely necessary types of equipment if you want your fish live longer than just a few weeks or a few months.
Step II. Equipment for Aquarium Setup
To set up a basic fish tank correctly, some of the equipment and supplies are absolutely necessary.
A. Mandatory Aquarium Equipment and Supplies for setting up an aquarium
1. A proper-sized fish tank
As for the fish tank size, it is the bigger, the better. If the tank is too small, you will have a hard time to keep it clean. More water means more stable water. More room means less stressed fish. We don’t recommend anything smaller than a 5-gallon tank even if you only plan to get just one small Betta fish. I personally started with a 40-gallon fish tank.
2. An Aquarium Filter System
In an aquarium, a filter system is a must. No fish can survive for long in a closed system if there is no filter. This is because the filter system is required for aquarium nitrogen cycle.
3. An Aquarium Heater
If you plan to get tropical fish, you will have to have an aquarium heater. Tropical fish can’t survive in water temperature that is too. Usually 76~80F (or 24~26C) is required for tropical fish. Even if you live in a fairly warm place, do not skip the aquarium heater. Fish needs a stable water temperature.
4. A Thermometer Independent from the Aquarium Heater
Due to the fact most aquarium heaters are not accurate, even the same model heaters from a good brand might result in different water temperature at the same setting. You need to read the actual temperature from a thermometer to adjust the heater setting accordingly.
5. Aquarium Water Conditioner
Tap water has chlorine in it, and it can kill the fish. An aquarium water conditioner can neutralize chlorine and make the tap water safe for fish. The aquarium water conditioner is a must-have item if you plan to use tap water for your aquarium. SeaChem Prime is my personal favorite water conditioner.
6. Fish food
Don’t go cheap on it. A bottle of good brand high quality fish food can go a long way contributing to the health and even the colors of aquarium fish.
B: Other Equipment and Supplies for Aquarium setup
The equipment and supplies mentioned above are just the bare minimal of what you need in order to set up a basic fish tank where fish can actually survive. Although it does not require a lot to set up a basic fish tank, setting up a more complete aquarium involves more. There are also things you need in order to maintain the fish tank properly. They are:
The “bubbles” are needed to create surface movement in order to increase gas exchange between the water and the air. You may skip this part if your aquarium filter system can already create a lot of surface movements by itself.
8. An Aquarium Stand
If you do not have a piece of strong enough and leveled surface furniture, you will need an aquarium stand. Keep in mind that water is extremely heavy. A small 10-gallon fish tank can hold as much as 90Ibs of water. Along with the tank itself, gravel, decorations, and other equipment, it can be well over 100Ibs. Choosing a good aquarium stand can not only keep your fish tank safe, but it can also become a beautiful piece of decorative object for the aquarium and your room.
9. Canopy For The Fish Tank
A lot of fish will jump. If the fish tank is not covered, fish might just jump to death. While this might or might not happen, it is better safe than sorry. Water also evaporates faster without the tank being covered up by a canopy. A canopy can also keep the fish tank water temperature more stable.
10. Aquarium Decoration
Decorations are not just for your eyes only. Many species of fish will not feel safe and comfortable in an empty fish tank. When they do not feel safe, they are stressed. Stressed fish are easier to catch diseases and become sick or even die. Some hiding places created by the decorations can make them feel safe and thus not stressed. You can use artificial caves, artificial plants, driftwood, etc. or real plants if you want a planted aquarium.
You may use anything as long as they are made for aquariums in the first place. (Please note some non- aquarium plastic plants are known to poison the fish.)
11. Gravel or other types of substrate
A bare bottom tank might stress some fish. If the tank is covered with gravel or other types of substrate, it not only creates a more natural look, it also makes the fish feel safer, and make your fish tank look more beautiful. As for planted aquariums, they must have the correct types of substrate in order to help the plants thrive. My favorite type of plant substrate is eco-complete.
12. Fish net
Don’t try to catch the fish with your hands, or with any other unprofessional objects. Fish net is necessary for transferring fish without hurting them.
13. 5-gallon bucket(s)
Weekly partial water change requires you to remove some of the water from your aquarium, and then replenish it with new clean water. It is easy to do so if you have multiple water buckets, one for saving the new water, one for removing the old water from the tank. More buckets might be needed depending on your tank size.
14. Aquarium Vacuum
Taking the water out, removing fish waste and other debris at the bottom of the fish tank are easy tasks if you have an aquarium vacuum. The vacuum should be used every time you do a water change. Removing the water from an aquarium by using aquarium vacuum is also one of the least disturbing ways for the fish. Keep in mind you want to stress them as little as possible.
15. Algae Scraper
This is for cleaning the sides of the glass. Do not stress yourself trying to use your hand or other objects to clean the inside of your tank. Algae scraper is made for this very purpose. Not to mention that some of other objects might scratch the glass.
16. Aquarium Lights
While the fish might not need lights, you, the fish keeper, certainly need it in order to observe the fish. As for planted aquariums, they must have special lights for the plants to survive.
17. Automatic Timer
You should also know the lights must not be on 24/7. Excessive period of lights can cause algae boom, as well as messing with the natural resting schedule of the fish. (Yes, fish needs rest too). An automatic timer can be handy for you to set the lights to turn on and off by itself at certain time every day.
18. More Different Types of Fish Food
While fish can live on a single type of staple fish food such as pellets or flakes, it is the best to feed them a variety of fish food to ensure a more balanced diet for optimized health and enhanced colors. You can do this by having more than one type of pellets or flakes, as well as having one or two treats such as bloodworm or brine shrimp. Treats like bloodworm and brine shrimp should not be fed too frequently. Once a week should be enough.
While the group B items (#7 ~ 18) listed above are not absolutely needed, they certainly make your aquarium more complete, easier to maintain. The following item is even less “absolutely necessary,” but it is also nice to have if you want to go “pro.”
C: Go Pro for aquarium fish keeping
19. An Aquarium Water Test Kit
Things can go wrong with the aquarium water. We must keep close eyes on things such as ammonia, nitrite, nitrate, PH, etc. Whenever there is something wrong with the fish, we want to know the cause as quick as possible. Checking the water quality is the very first step, and it is easy to proceed if we have a water test kit on hand. API Master Kit is the most commonly used aquarium water test kit.
A water test kit is actually a must to have item if you are going to do a fishless cycling to prepare the tank for self-sustained aquarium nitrogen cycle.
Important Note: Some people might go for a whole package of Starter Kit. Not all of these fish starter kits have all the necessary equipment or supplies for even a basic aquarium setup. Some of them might not have a filter, while others might lack a heater. It is up to you to pay attention to what items a kit contains, and stock up the lacking items accordingly.
Step III. Steps for Aquarium setup
After you have all the necessary equipment and supplies, the next big step is to set the aquarium up. There is certainly more than just one way to set up an aquarium. The following are the basics:
Step 1: Place the fish tank at a safe and ideal location.
Step 2: Fill the tank with the washed gravel or other substrate of your choice.
Step 3: Put a plate on the substrate and fill the tank up to 1/3 to half with tap water from a water bucket. The plate will help ensure that water will not make a mess of the substrate on its way down.
Step 4: Install the heater and thermometer. They should be on the opposite sides in the tank.
Step 5: Add the decorations.
Step 6: Install the filter system and the air pump if you have it.
Step 7: Fill the rest of the tank up with water.
Step 8: Add aquarium water conditioner to get rid of chlorine in the tap water.
Step 9: Add the cover and the lights if you have them.
Step 10: Turn everything on and make sure everything is working properly.
Setting up a fish tank is the easy part. It requires your patience afterward. Please do not add any fish until the fish tank is properly cycled. Once the tank is cycled, and fish are added, there will still be more work to do. Daily feeding is necessary, but never overfeed. Weekly maintenance with partial water change and substrate vacuuming is also necessary in order to keep the whole aquarium system healthy.