how to set up your Freshwater Aquarium

How to set up your Freshwater Aquarium

By reefspecialty, March 17, 2015

Freshwater fish keeping is the most common among the other types of fish keeping as it involves comparatively less maintenance to other type of fish keeping. It’s an immense pleasure and complete relaxation, when we see the colorful aquatic life swimming in our home-sweet-home. The little pet that swim inside the aquarium and which follows our fingers through the glass and eats the food we feed it, are indeed awesome. There is a strong belief not only among aquarists but also to a common man that fishes give us good luck. So let’s have good luck and we are here to guide the beginners.

Things needed to set up the aquarium

  1. Tank with the stand
  2. Gravel or substrate
  3. Filter or Airline tubing
  4. Live plants and decorations
  5. Heater and cooler
  6. Test kit
  7. Lid with lighting
  8. Thermometer
  9. Glass scrubber
  10. Fish net, fish food and of course the’ fish’ that you adore J

Step 1:  Determine the Location and the Size of the tank

Choosing the proper location in your home is the prime most important step, involved to retain a healthy tank. Places that are exposed to direct sunlight and inconsistent temperature must be avoided. Placing the tank near window or heater vents will increase the growth of the algae. In turn this will increase maintenance.

For the beginners, it is better to choose a 20 or 25 gallon tank than smaller ones. It’s mostly misunderstood that smaller tanks like 10 gallons are easier to maintain. But the truth is, it requires frequent maintenance and it becomes dirty quite often. A 55 gallon tank is the standard size that allows you to have a variety of fish and plants. However the size purely depends on what fish you wish to have in it.
Freshwater Aquarium Tank
Choosing a stand is as important as choosing a tank. Always go for a stand that comes along with the tank. If you wish to buy a stand separately, always choose a sturdy one. We often underestimate the weight of the tank. The thumb rule to determine the full weight of the aquarium is; 10 pounds per gallon of water. For ex., a 20 gallon tank will weigh approximately 200 pounds when it is filled completely.

Once the tank size and stand is finalized, go and grab it and do not procrastinate and do not forget to clean the tank with warm water with the use of glass scrubber if needed. Don’t use soaps or detergents. Maintain a 5 inch gap between the wall and the tank, to provide room for the filter –a nuances out of experience. Also place it in a firm floor, avoid placing on a carpet or unleveled surface.

Step 2: Choose the apt Filter and Heater


There are many types of filter available in which power filters are most popular because it’s easy to maintain. Another type of common filter is under gravel filters. It is not recommended for beginners and for people who wish to use sand or fine substrates. The under gravel filter will get clogged if the substrate is not maintained properly. When you choose a power filter, you need to choose the right ‘gph’ for your tank’s capacity. Here the thumb rule goes as –5 gallons of water per hour. Example, if you have a 20 gallon tank, you need a filter with 100gph, only then it will circulate right amount of water for your tank. Follow the installation method provided with the filter, each filter will have different instructions. Under gravel filters are placed under the substrate and power filters are hung on the back of the tank. Don’t turn on your filter before filling your tank completely with water.
how to set up your Freshwater Aquarium
Even Fishes like the stable and comfort temperature on their environment as we like. So the thumb rule is 3 to 5 watts of heat per gallon of water. Most of the heaters come with preset thermostat temperature that range from 70 to 80 °F. This is the acceptable temperature range for the most of fishes. We cannot expect all our little pets to accept the acceptable range, so it’s better to go with a heater which has an adjustable thermostat temperature. Assemble the heater and fix it with the use of suction cups provided with it. Placing the heater near the inlet of the filter is a good idea as it helps the water to heat up evenly. Attach the thermometer in a visible place which helps you monitor the temperature effortlessly.

Step 3: Add Substrate, Plants, Decorations and Water


There are different types of gravel available in the stores, choose the one that satisfies your taste. Substrate is important not only to add beauty to the tank but also to keep a healthy aquarium environment. It comforts fish to feel like home. The thumb rule to choose the amount of substrate is 1 to 1.5 pounds of substrate per gallon of water or 2 to 3 inches from the bottom of the tank. If you wish to have invertebrates in your tank, then go with the sand as these creatures burrow inside the sand.

Before you spread the substrate in your tank, wash it thoroughly with warm water. Don’t use soaps or detergent. Warm water is enough to clean the fine dust from the substrate, use any type of strainer to make the job easier. Spread the substrate slowly and evenly with your fingers.

Now it is time to add water. Place a plate in the middle of your tank, to avoid substrate displacement while pouring water. Use the room temperature de-chlorinated (use a de-chlorinator) water and fill the tank with 2 to 3 inches of water. You can also use bacterial catalyst to raise the growth of good bacteria.  Allow it to rest for 20 minutes, this phase is important to check for the leaks.

Plants and Decorations

There are wide variety of live plants and decorations available in the stores. Choose the live plant according to the type of fish you wish to have in your aquarium. Live plants create a healthy environment for certain type of fishes. When it comes to decoration, you can choose driftwood, artificial plants, stones and other decorations specially designed for freshwater aquarium.

Wash all the plants and decorations with warm water before fixing them to the substrate. Make use of fishing line to fasten the plants and tie it to driftwood or a stone. Recheck and position the decorations, background plants, foreground plants before you fill up the tank completely with water. Changing the position of plants and decorations in the later stage will create a mess.

Fill in the rest of the tank with water leaving a gap of 1 inch under the rim. Cover the hood and the tank light; ensure that the cords are free of water. Follow all the safety measures before you turn on the equipment’s.

Start the filter with a filled in reservoir and check for the sound. The filter should not produce noise, it should run quietly. Monitor the movement of circulating water and the change in temperature. Wait for 2 hours to check the difference in temperature and leaks.

Step 4: Fishless cycle

Fishless cycle is very important for a new tank and the beginners. This reduces the loss of fish, and it increases the growth of good bacteria needed for the tank and the fish. During the fishless cycle we need to check the pH, Nitrite, Nitrate and Ammonia levels with the use of test kit.
Start the fishless cycle with the help of ammonia. The bacteria consume the ammonia and convert it into nitrite. Wait for a couple of days for the second group of bacteria to convert nitrite into nitrate. During the entire fishless cycle it is important to provide sufficient amount of ammonia and to have a constant check of the ammonia and nitrite levels. The numbers spike up and then lower to 0 ppm. This proves that we have completed the nitrogen cycle. To remove the nitrate from the water it is better to change 70 percent of water. Continue to change 15 to 20 percent of water on a daily basis to check the ammonia and nitrite levels; this is important for the new tank.

Use the freshwater pH testing kit to test and adjust the pH level of your water. For fresh water fish the level should be within 6.5 to 7.5. Do this testing whenever you perform a water change.

Step 5: Add fish

Once the fishless cycle is completed effectively, you can start adding your favorite fish. Do a good research before buying any aquatic creatures. For the beginners, Guppies and Mollies are a good choice of fish.  Fishes vary for beginners, intermediate and expert aquarists; check the compatibility chart before buying any two different types of fishes. If the fish is stressed, the color of the fish will fade out and will in turn lead to death. Also be aware of the size of the adult fish, don’t underestimate the size of the baby fish. Don’t add all your favorite fishes together; add 2 or 3 at a time and not more than that. The filter will not be able to balance the sudden increase of the biological load produced by the fish.

After buying the fishes from the store, remove the maximum amount of store water and add the fish to your tank. Allow the fishes to get accustomed to the new environment and then after 10 to 15 days you can add another set of fishes. If you feel any difference in a particular fish, quarantine it with the help of fish net and try to reduce its stress. After adding a new fish to your tank, keep checking the ammonia and nitrate levels. Select the right fish food, for the variety of fishes you have chosen. And remember to feed them once a day.

So now, you have a beautiful aquarium in your home. Remember maintenance is more important than setting up an aquarium. A successful aquarium needs a lot of patience and real interest for the aquatic life.

Tips and Precautions

  • Do a lot of research before choosing the equipment and the aquatic creatures.
  • Live plants helps to keep the tank clean, it lessens the maintenance cycle.
  • A fluorescent light bulb produces less heat and displays the color of the fish and the aquarium better when compared to other lights.
  • Check the type of water in your locality. ‘Hard’ or’ soft’ water makes a difference to the fish. Choose the fish that suits your locality water for the long life of your fish.
  • Some people tap the tank glass for fun; it will irritate or annoy the fishes.
  • Regularly check the ammonia, nitrate and pH levels of your tank.
  • Use a breeder box, if you choose to have predatory fishes in your tank and also to quarantine an unhappy fish.
  • Freshwater aquarium does not demand a chiller. The freshwater is capable of holding the dissolved oxygen which is desired for a healthy fish. Sometimes your locality temperature affects the water temperature. In that case, you will be in need of a chiller along with a heater to maintain the desired temperature. Drop-in water chiller and inline water chiller are the two types of chiller. In Drop-in water chiller the coils are placed inside the tank and it does not require any plumbing. In inline water chiller the water is pumped out and the chilled water comes to the tank, this type of chiller is kept away from the tank.
  • When you buy a new fish, avoid buying fishes with blemishes or any other defects in it.
  • If you are going to use a large tank, you will be in need of compression pad to keep beneath the tank.
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