How To Set Up A Freshwater Aquarium

Fish tanks are extremely peaceful and everyone should have one in their home. As a keeper of seven personal aquariums, I can tell you it’s a lot easier than you think. For those who want to introduce a fish tank into their home, I have some great tips to make the aquarium set up process a simple and painless one. And it makes for a great family project!

Before you go and purchase anything, you need to choose the area where you wish to set up your aquarium as well as the freshwater fish you would like to keep in order to determine the correct tank size. (Medium tanks between 30 – 75 gallons are easier to maintain than smaller tanks. Large tanks are the easiest to maintain with the proper filtration.)

Ensure the area is well structured to hold the weight of the aquarium, near a power outlet, and away from any windows as sunlight will cause algae to grow. Once you have this all together you can go out and get shopping*.

Every aquarium set-up should include: 

  • Aquarium Tank
  • Filter
  • Heater (Wattage is generally 5 per gallon. 15 gallon tank = 75 watt heater.)
  • Air Pump
  • Fish
  • Gravel
  • Decor
  • Hood
  • Light
  • Net
  • Algae Brush
  • Aquatic Surge Protector
  • Background (optional)

Each one of these items is a necessity to keeping a clean and healthy aquarium.

Aquarium & Stand

Setting up your tank is pretty simple. Make sure your stand is secure and strong enough to hold the weight of the aquarium. Getting a fish tank stand from the store that is built for the size of your tank is recommended, although most of my tank stands are sturdy coffee tables.

Set the tank (rinse first) on top of your stand and plug your surge protector in. It’s good to have one made for an aquarium which is water resistant but a regular surge protector will suffice. (Aquatic surge protectors also have a great timing feature which is a perk if you can pick one up.) If you choose to have a background on your tank, go ahead and tape that on the outside of the back, facing in.

Most tank hoods have areas where you can hang the side of the filter and heater on (make sure everything is working.. but NEVER turn the filter on without being submerged in water. See manufacturer instructions). Once you have your filter, heater and air pump in place (not plugged in yet), you can start adding your decor and water.

*Note* Your tank should be set up at least one day before adding your fish.)

Decor & Water

Your air pump will be placed in an air stone or bubble wand, but there are some decor pieces you can attach the hose to in order to get more bubble action such as scuba divers, treasure chests and skeletons.

You can add just about any kind of decor you like, but make sure you rinse both gravel and any decor pieces well. Decor with holes are good for little fish to swim through. Fake and live plants make great decoration as well.

Fill your tank up 1/3 with water treated with dechlorinator, add your decor and gravel (a 2-3 inch layer is perfect or 1.5 pounds of gravel per gallon) then fill the rest with more dechlorinated water. You can also use tap water by adding freshwater aquarium salt and nutrients to your tank to treat the water which can then be tested with a test kit.

Average Balance Of A Freshwater Aquarium

  • PH level: 6.5-8.2
  • Chlorine: 0mg/L
  • Ammonia: 0.0 – 0.25mg/L
  • Nitrite: 0.0 – 0.5mg/L
  • Nitrate: 0 – 40mg/L
  • Hardness: 100 – 250mg/L
  • Alkalinity: 120 – 300mg/L
  • Temperature: 74 – 82 degrees fahrenheit

Fish Acclimation

As noted, your set up must be complete about a day before acclimating your fish. It’s also wise to let your heater run for that same length of time to get the water to the right temperature suited to your desired fish type.

Acclimating fish is probably the most tedious part of the whole process because the last thing you want is your fish to go into shock and die and releasing them right into your newly setup tank is the best way to stress them out. Instead, let the bagged fish float on top of the water for about 20 minutes to let the water temperatures match.

If you choose to have a large tank with many fish species, make sure they can all work together and you allow them to have adequate space. A good rule of thumb is allow for a gallon of water per 1 inch full grown fish. Though, try not to add more than three fish to the tank at a time.

Once the water has equalized and everything has been plugged in and running, you can release your fish into your new aquarium. With the final touch of placing your aquarium hood and light on top, you have successfully set up your new aquarium!

Check back for our next post on how to care for your aquarium with treatment guide included!


One Response to How To Set Up A Freshwater Aquarium

  1. […] my last aquatic post we went through the process of setting up a freshwater aquarium. Now that you have one up and running and your fish have had time to properly acclimate, you are […]

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