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.
These instructions may seem complicated at times, but they will help beginners avoid many common pitfalls. After years of running a fish store, we find that it’s very important for new hobbyists to be successful right off the bat. 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.
How Much Does It 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 do you need 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 containing water, substrate, equipment and decor can be more than 10 pounds per gallons 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. 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 should be supported at all four corners. Do not place Styrofoam, or any other pliable mat under them. If the tank is filled with water, the rim will sink into the Styrofoam, which will start pushing against the bottom panel and can lead to cracking.
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 can be very affordable and are easy to see. A glass top often comes with a back plastic strip that can be modified to make holes for filtration, airline tubing, or electrical cords. Make sure the openings are very tight so that fish and invertebrates cannot escape.
Acrylic lids can be more expensive and will droop in the water. 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 is better to go with the next-larger heater than the one that is constantly struggling to raise the temperature. Fortunately, heaters cost relatively the same amount regardless of size or wattage level. 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.
If you’re a fish keeping beginner, don’t let the internet convince you to start with a canister filter. They are more difficult to clean and maintenance, and they’re not necessarily the “best” filter out there. 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 often come with disposable cartridges, so replace them with a coarse sponge pad that can be rinsed and reused over and over 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. Substrat 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
To disinfect tap water, many water treatment facilities now use chloramine, which is deadly to fish and does not evaporate as readily as chlorine. Make sure to get a water dechlorinator to keep your tap water safe. Of course, your fish need something to eat, so try some of our favorite, high-quality fish foods. 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. You can vacuum the substrate with this hose and use a bucket for any fish waste that has accumulated. Read this tutorial for directions on how to use one.
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. Place the filter and heater in the tank, and add decorations to hide 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. Install the lid and light, and wait 30 minutes before turning on the equipment. (The heater needs time to adjust 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.
Most 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?
See our step-by-step article.
You will love articles like these so sign up for our newsletter! We send you a weekly email that includes a summary of our most recent blog posts, your top products, and other information.