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A Guide on Setting up a Tropical Fish Tank

Brief description

This page fully explains how to set up a fish tank; If your question isn't answered below, you're welcome to ask at the bottom of this page! Similarly, you can share your experiences. However you should also visit following pages: How-to fish tank guide and What Accessories to Purchase for a Fish Tank (they will open in new tab/window) as these are closely related to this page.

Keeping fish is now a hobby that is enjoyed by millions of people all over the world and can be one of the most rewarding hobbies that there is. The key to success with keeping aquarium fish is getting it right from the start so the first steps towards setting up your tropical tank are crucial as getting it right before the tank is up and running reduces a lot of stress and heartache at a later date.

There is now a wealth of information on the internet and reference books available, most give reliable information about setting up a well presented aquarium but there are some less reliable, it will not take you long to realise the best information to use.

Using the correct steps for setting up your tank will mean that you get more enjoyment from the hobby and often means that you can get started with minimal expense as well. So where do we start when we have decided to enter the wonderful hobby of fish keeping?

Selecting the correct freshwater tropical tank to use

There are so many different sized tanks available to purchase, these will also come in different shapes as well so plan where you are going to site your tropical fish tank and measure the available space to house it, take into account that you will need a certain amount of room around the tank for maintenance once it is up and running. One of the biggest choices you have is whether to use a glass aquarium or acrylic. When I first started keeping fish there were only glass aquariums available, the new acrylic tanks are much lighter and stronger but they do scratch easily, take this into account when deciding which is best for you. Acrylic aquariums usually have rounded corners and more varying shapes but they are more expensive than glass aquariums, always work to your budget as paying out more for your tank can sometimes mean having less money to use for the equipment vital for running the tank.

Always purchase the largest tank that you can afford and can house correctly. Keeping a larger fish tank is easier to maintain than smaller tanks, the larger the water volume, the more stable your tank will be.

Once you have selected your tank it will need something to stand on. Most tanks on the markets nowadays are available with pre-built stands or cabinets. These are mostly purchased as flat packs where you have to construct them yourself. They are not difficult to build up but taking your time will ensure that they are connected correctly and will support your tank as they should. If you purchase your tank separately you still have the option of either constructing a cabinet yourself from wood or you can purchase iron stands that fulfill the same purpose. Iron stands will rust in time so be aware of this, wooden cabinets can also suffer from water damage so take care when handling your tank water or performing water changes. The main point to bear in mind is that the stand or cabinet must be strong enough to support the weight of the tank.

Equipment required for your tank

There is basic equipment that you must purchase to run your tank, these are not difficult to set up and selecting the right equipment for your needs is not a daunting task even though it may seem confusing to start with. If you have purchased a tank kit it should arrive with all of the equipment that you will need but often these are not of the best quality and may need upgrading for long term use. Here is a quick guide to help you out.

The heart of the tank is the filtration system, the fish depend on this to remove toxins from the water and there are basically 3 types available to use.

Under gravel filters (UGF’s) were one of the first filters available, they consist of a flat plate that sits on the bottom of the tank and by means of uplift tubes they drag the water through them to purify it.

Internal filters are used for smaller tank set ups and can be either electrically powered or driven by air pumps. They are capable of filtering tanks up to 30 gallons in water volume and contain sponges or media that host beneficial bacteria.

Larger tanks will require external filters, these are normally HOB’s ( Hang on Back, this means that they sit on the back of the tank and pull the water through via uplift tubes that are powered) or canister filters, these are connected to the tank via pipework and the filter housing sits in the cabinet. External filters can hold more filter media than the smaller filters and can handle larger water volumes.

Heaters also play a major part in keeping your fish happy, the tank must be kept at the required temperature for your fish. The heaters are basically an element inside a glass tube with an adjustable thermostat on top but there is a lot of choice out there. The golden rule is to purchase the best heater that you can afford, these need to be reliable and broken heaters can often overheat the tank resulting in fish mortalities. They are rated in watts and a good way of knowing which heater size you need is 2-4 watts are required to heat each gallon of water so a 50 watt heater is perfectly o.k. For tanks up to 25 gallons and so on.

Lighting is normally supplied with the tank but if not it is up to you to add a lighting unit. These are mostly available in fluorescent tube formats and are switched on for a set period of hours each day. On average most keepers will leave the lighting on for 8 hours but if you are adding live plants longer periods may be required. There are some quite expensive units to purchase but for the initial set up a standard unit will suffice and do the required job.

Substrate and decoration are the fun part of setting up your tank, there is so much choice for you to use. The substrate should be either gravel or sand, if using gravel opt for fine gravel with smooth surfaces as rough gravel can damage fish. The sand used should not be sharp as this can also inflict damage on the fish. Decoration can be either a natural look or fun, adding wood or rocks and live plants will give you a look that feels like a part of nature in your house whereas fun ornaments can be amusing to look at, the choice is yours.

One piece of equipment that must never be overlooked is a circuit breaker. The filter, lights and heater run on electricity, adding a circuit breaker will prevent any unexpected electrical shocks if the equipments short circuits.

We now have what we need to get the tank running so place your tank in the required position and add the equipment to it ( do not power any of the equipment until the tank is full of water). Add the substrate and décor, washing the gravel to remove any dust before using it, and partially fill the tank with water. Check that there are no leaks and then fill the tank to the required level. Power on the filter and heater and let the tank stand for 24 hours checking that the temperature is correct, if not adjust accordingly. Once satisfied that everything is working correctly you can start to cycle your tank ready for your fish.

Articles on cycling your tank can be found also on this site, this is a very important step in the process and must not be avoided before adding the fish.

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