New Fish Checklist: how to Set up A Fish Tank

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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? As we share our best practices, you will find the perfect home for your fish.

Although some instructions might seem a bit complicated, they are important to follow in order to avoid common pitfalls for beginners. We have learned that new hobbyists need to succeed right away after years of managing a fish shop. The more mistakes that are made, the more likely people will give up on fish keeping entirely.

How Long Do You Have to Wait to Put Fish in 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?

1. Aquarium

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. You should avoid high traffic areas and flashing TV screens. Avoid lighting that creates shadows or lights that cause moving shadows. You should also ensure the fish tank is located near an outlet for powering your equipment, and close to a water source and drain so that you can easily change their water.

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 should be supported at all four corners. Do not place Styrofoam, or any other pliable mat under them. 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. This material’s flexibility is particularly problematic if you want to make a hinged lid for feeding fish. It can become warped over time. 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.

3. Heater

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.

If you require water temperature to reach 10 degrees F above ambient, and you want to keep the tank’s lid from evaporating cooling, you should consider a fish tank heater that produces approximately 5W heat per 1 Gallon of water. 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.

In general, it’s safer to err on the side of getting a heater that’s the next size up than a weaker one that constantly struggles to raise the temperature. Heated heaters are relatively inexpensive regardless of their 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.

4. Filter

A canister filter is not the best choice for beginners in fishkeeping. They are harder to clean and maintain, and not necessarily the best. We typically recommend a hang-on-back (HOB) filter for people who have never kept a fish tank before. They are simple to install, highly customizable, and easy to clean every month. Although sponge filters are an affordable and reliable option, they can be difficult to set up the first time. Many people also forget to install a check valve to prevent water from rushing into their tanks. Find out which fish tank filter is best for you in our article.

HOB filters come often with disposable cartridges.

5. Lighting

Lighting is mostly a concern for those who are keeping live aquatic plants. 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 refers to the substrate that is placed on the bottom or 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. Because fish and plants are more visible against dark backgrounds, we prefer black to blue.

7. Other Aquarium Accessories

Many water treatment plants now use chloramine to disinfect tap water. This is a deadly chemical that kills fish and doesn’t evaporate as quickly as chlorine. To make tap water safe for fish, you should also consider purchasing a water dechlorinator. 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.

Although all water conditioners do a decent job of dechlorinating tapwater we prefer bottles with a pumphead for quick dosing and no measuring.

An aquarium siphon is a must-have if you want to save a significant amount of time with tank maintenance. Use this simple length of hose with a bucket to vacuum the substrate and remove fish waste that has collected over time. 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 pour water into the fish tank to support the plants leaves and insert roots into the substrate.

1. Install the lid and light, and wait 30 minutes before turning on the equipment. (The heater takes time to adjust to the temperature of the water. 2. You should wait 24 hours before you test everything to ensure that 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. Consider putting all new fish in a separate quarantine tank first to cure them of any diseases before they enter the main tank. For information on quarantine aquariums, read this article.

Most Frequently Asked Questions

How do you set up a betta aquarium?

See our detailed 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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