Setting Up a Freshwater Aquarium

Keeping an aquarium in your house can be fun and rewarding, it just takes a little work and patience. Like any pet or home project it is important to start off on the right foot and following simple rules in order to be successful. This brief article will cover the basics of setting up an aquarium in your home. 

Items/Supplies Needed:

  • Aquarium
  • Aquarium Stand*
  • Substrate/Gravel
  • Decorations/Plants
  • Dechlorinator/Water Conditioner
  • Fish Food
  • Heater
  • Filter
  • Air Pump. tubing, and air stones
  • Aquarium Syphon
  • Algae Scraping Pads
  • Digital Thermometer
  • Water Testing Kit


Selecting Your Aquarium:

Aquariums can be constructed out of glass or acrylic (plastic) and can come in a large variety of shapes and sizes. As a general rule you want to choose an aquarium that is wider than it is tall. Wider aquariums will have more water surface area which will help oxygenate the water better, allowing your tank to comfortably house more fish. Taller aquariums are also harder to clean.

When it comes to choosing which size aquarium to buy most first time aquarium keepers make the mistake of starting off too small. Tiny desktop tanks, those measuring less than 10 gallons, are actually harder to take care of than larger ones. This is because when you have a small water volume it doesn't take much of something bad (i.e. waste in the water or temperature fluctuations) to make things go really bad. Larger aquariums have more water which will act as a buffer. This will give you far more time to address problems and fix mistakes. We recommend starting with at least a 10 gallon tank, but don't be afraid to go larger. Tanks don't really get harder to care for until you're looking at above 40-50 gallons in size. The only difference is you'll just need different sized equipment. 


Choosing the Correct Location for Your Aquarium:

You might be surprised that more goes into deciding where to put your new aquarium than just where you think it will look nice in your home or office. The first thing to consider is what you are going to put it on. Are you going to use an aquarium stand or use existing furniture in your house? Whatever you choose take into account the weight of a full aquarium. Water weighs about 8.3 lbs per gallon. Add in the weight of the tank, substrate (gravel), decor, and fish and you're look at about 10-15 pounds per gallon of aquarium. A 20 gallon aquarium can weigh over 200 lbs and a 100 gallon aquarium over 1000 lbs. Not only should you consider if the furniture you choose to put this on can hold it, consider the floor as well. For smaller aquariums most buildings can handle the weight, but with larger aquariums it is a good idea to determine if your floor can safely carry the weight. 

Avoid placing your aquarium in front of a window or in a location which receives lots of direct sunlight. Too much sunlight can cause dramatic temperature fluctuations in your tank and will cause horrible algae blooms that will make your tank look dirty and drive you up the wall. 

We also recommend that aquariums not be placed in kitchens or dining room. Pretty much don't place it anywhere where people will be eating. Fish poop in their water, this is just the reality of being a fish. You don't want fish poop contaminated water getting into your food!

Finally, we don't recommend placing aquariums in bedrooms of small children or people who are immunocompromised. Fish can carry bacteria that can make people with immature or compromised immune systems sick. Young children aren't good about washing their hands before handling food or placing fingers into their mouths either. While a fish tank might sound like a great idea for a nightlight, having the tank light on all day and night will only cause lots of algae to grow and throw off your fishs' natural daily light cycle. 


Selecting Substrate for your New Aquarium:

Now it's time to choose what type of substrate you'd like to have on the bottom of your aquarium. This is going to depend on your personal preferences as well as the needs to the type of fish you are looking to keep. Some fish aren't as picky as others about the substrate they need and are fine with stardard aquarium pea gravel. On the other hand, fish such as African cichlids, need gravel that is high in calcium known as argonate to help regulate the pH of their tank. Typically you'll want to pick a substrate that comes in pieces between 1/6 - 1/3 of an inch in diameter. Other substrate options exist, some which are specialized for the type of fish or if you're looking into doing a planted aquarium. 

Decorations and Plants:



It's important to choose a filter that is an approprate size for your aquarium. Generally most filters are going to be rated by the manufacturer letting you know which size tank they are recommended for. This is a general guide. Filtration needs and demands are going to vary at times depending on the type and number of fish you are keeping. In general, you will want a filter that provides mechanical, biological, and chemical filtration for your aquarium. For more information on filtration, visit our Aquarium Filtration page for more information. 



Adding Water:


Controlling Your Water Temperature:


Selecting and Adding Fish: