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 wonderful if an experienced aquarist could walk you through each step of the process? We share our top tips for creating the ideal home for your pet fish.
These instructions may seem complicated at times, but they will help beginners avoid many common pitfalls. As a former fish store owner, we know that success is essential for novice hobbyists. Fish keeping is more difficult if there are 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. Therefore, don’t rush this process by impulsively buying fish or prematurely ordering them online before the tank is ready.
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 should you do 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. If you plan to keep shy fish, find a quiet environment away from high traffic areas, flashing TV screens, or lighting that causes moving shadows. For easy water changes, ensure that the fish tank is close to an electrical outlet.
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. In the United States, certain pet store chains like Petco offer sales three to four times a year where cheap fish tanks are sold for $1 per gallon in size. 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 up with water, the rim can sink into the Styrofoam. This will cause cracking and push against the bottom panel.
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. You must ensure that the openings are tightly sealed to prevent fish and other invertebrates from escaping.
Acrylic lids are more costly and tend to droop into the water over time. It is difficult to make hinged flaps for fish feeding due to its flexibility. 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.
Although some fish species like the Japanese ricefish, goldfish, and white mountain minnows can handle colder temperatures, most freshwater pets prefer tropical climates 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.
A fish tank heater should produce approximately 5 watts per 1 gallon water. This is if you need to heat water to temperatures greater than 10 degrees above the ambient temperature. 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.
It’s better to get a heater that is the next larger than one that struggles to heat up. The good news is that heaters can be purchased in a similar price range regardless of the size or wattage. 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 harder to clean and maintain, and not necessarily the best. For people who have never had a fish tank, we recommend the hang-on-back filter (HOB). They are very easy to install and customize. Sponge filters are a very cost-effective and reliable alternative, but they can be a little confusing to set up for the first time by yourself and many people forget to add a check valve to prevent flooding. Find out which fish tank filter is best for you in our article.
HOB filters are often supplied with disposable cartridges. You can replace these with a coarse sponge pad, which can be rinsed and re-used over and 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. Substrate 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 facilities use chloramine to disinfect tapwater. It is deadly for fish and does not evaporate nearly as fast as chlorine. Make sure to get a water dechlorinator to keep your tap water safe. You fish need food. We recommend these high-quality fish food options. An aquarium water test kit is also very useful for determining if poor water quality is making the fish sick.
While all water conditioners do an adequate job of dechlorinating tap water, we like to use bottles that comes with a pump head for easy dosing without any 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. Put the heater and filter into the tank. Add decorations to disguise 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 fill the fish tank with 4 to 6 inches of water to help support the plant leaves while inserting the roots into the substrate.
1. Turn on the equipment after you have installed the lid and the light. Wait 30 minutes before turning it on. (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. To cure any disease, you might want to put all new fish in separate tanks. For information on quarantine aquariums, read this article.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do you set up a betta aquarium?
You can find our complete instructions here. –
How do you set up an aquarium for goldfish?
Check out 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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