How to Set Up a Freshwater Aquarium – Step by Step

Setting up a new aquarium is exciting and fun. However, understanding the responsibilities involved and proper planning is necessary to have a successful long lasting aquarium. Before making any purchases, it is advisable to have a good plan of your aquarium setup. Understanding what you want and what is available is very important.

Step 1: Choose Type of Fish

First, decide on what type of fish you would like to keep. Different fish have different requirements and levels of care involved. For example, exotic fish can be very difficult to keep and may have specific requirements that are quite difficult to maintain for a beginner aquarist. For a first aquarium setup, choosing a hardy fish is a smart choice. Forgiving of a wide range of water parameters and poorer water qualities, a hardy fish will be much easier to maintain.  In fact, there are many hardy fish that are just as colorful and attractive as exotic species. The following is a list of one of the hardiest species of freshwater aquarium fish that are widely available in the market today:

·         Zebra Danios

·         Rainbowfish

·         Guppies

·         Corydoras

·         Mollies

·         Platies

·         Tiger Barbs

·         White Cloud Mountain Minnows

·         Bettas

If you decide to include multiple species of fish in your aquarium, keep in mind that not all fish are compatible with each other. Larger or naturally aggressive fish can prey on smaller or more timid vulnerable fish. For example, Tiger Barbs can be aggressive and chase other fish and nip on their fins. However, Tiger Barbs are known to be less aggressive when kept in a group of 5 or more. Thus, provided adequate space, Tiger Barbs can in fact be a great addition to a community tank. Bettas are generally peaceful fish but are known to be extremely aggressive towards other male Bettas. Thus, no more than 1 male Betta should be kept in the same aquarium. However, keeping multiple female Bettas in the same environment poses no aggression issues. When adding Bettas to a community tank, avoid adding other fin nippers to avoid damage to the Betta’s long fins. Each species has different characteristics so understanding their individual compatibilities and characteristics are important.

Step 2: Choose Equipment

After choosing the type of fish you would like to keep, you can continue planning your aquarium setup accordingly. The recommended fish in the list above are not only hardy but happen to be quite small as well. Thus, a standard 10 gallon aquarium will be enough to house a few of these fish. The rule of thumb is to allow 1 gallon per every inch of fish. Keep in mind that fish grow rather quickly, so plan according to the adult size of the fish being purchased. There are many types of aquarium in many different sizes available in the market today. Many aquarists end up wishing for a larger aquarium so choose the larger aquarium if you are stuck between two tanks. A larger tank can not only hold more fish, but it is also easier to manage the quality of a larger volume of water since it is more stable. For example, in a small volume of water a fluctuation in temperature can be very rapid. However, in a larger volume of water, the change in temperature will be more gradual and cause less stress for the fish. After deciding on the size and type of aquarium, you can now choose the equipment for the aquarium accordingly. Keep in mind that live fish should not be purchased at the same time as the equipment. Only purchase live fish after your setup is complete and your aquarium is ready to welcome them.

Components for Basic Aquarium Setup:

·         Aquarium Tank

·         Lid

·         Aquarium Light

·         Aquarium Filter

·         Aquarium Heater

·         Gravel

·         Decorations

Additional Equipment:

·         Fish Net

·         Bucket

·         Aquarium Glass Scrubber

·         Aquarium Vacuum

·         Aquarium Thermometer

·         Water Conditioner

·         Water Test Kit

Step 3: Setup

Before handling any aquarium equipment, make sure that your hands and anything that is going to come in contact with the equipment are free of contaminants that may harm your fish. Keep in mind that soap residue is harmful to your fish as well, so rinsing thoroughly is important. With clean hands, wash the aquarium and its components thoroughly as well.  The aquarium should be set up in a suitable location for the fish and the viewer. It is important to decide where to place your aquarium before starting your setup as it is difficult to move an aquarium once it is filled with water. After situating the tank in a suitable location, add the gravel and decorations. Next, add the water into the tank. Placing a plate on the gravel and gently pouring water on the plate will prevent disturbing the gravel. If your water needs to be treated, add the water treatment and be sure to mix it well throughout the tank. Next, add the filtration system, heater, lighting system, and cover. Let the aquarium run for a few hours and check to be sure if there is no leakage or any other malfunction.

Step 4: Cycling the Aquarium

The aquarium is an artificial habitat that must be biologically balanced in order to sustain living fish successfully. Even with the correct water parameters in the initial setup, this can quickly change with the waste produced by the fish. Thus, beneficial bacteria must be allowed to grow for the aquarium to be able to properly establish a biological filter. By introducing a small amount of fish, the nitrogen cycle can be started with the ammonia produced by the fish waste. For a fishless cycle, you can add pure ammonia. Pure ammonia can be found in hardware stores. During the cycling process, do not overfeed and be sure to carry out your water changes and water tests. Maintain the ammonia level below 0.25 in the aquarium. It is important not to overload the system in order to allow the bacteria to catch up with the cycle. It takes two to four weeks for the biological filter to establish. There are products available that introduce beneficial bacteria for a faster cycling process as well.

Step 5: Adding Fish

Only add a few fish every ten to fourteen days. Introducing a full capacity of fish at once will overthrow the nitrogen cycle very quickly. Before adding the fish into an aquarium, let the bag float in the aquarium water for 15 minutes so the fish can gradually acclimate to the temperature in the new environment. Reducing any amount of sudden stress is the key to survival of the fish. Avoid feeding fish on the first day since they will be stressed. Allow the fish to get acquainted to the new environment with the least amount of stress to the fish as possible. If you suspect the fish in the aquarium to harass the newly acclimating fish, feeding the existing fish prior to adding the new fish can be beneficial.

Step 5: Maintaining your Tank

Regular maintenance is necessary to provide a healthy environment for your fish. Weekly 25% water change will help maintain water quality. Regularly testing water quality and nitrate levels is also important.

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