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Freshwater Aquarium Setup

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This freshwater aquarium setup article explains how to set up a basic freshwater fish tank. We'll start with a short list of the equipment you'll need and then give you a step by step guide on setting up or starting your first freshwater fish tank.

Equipment you will need:
Aquarium gravel
Aquarium filter
Replacement filter media
Other decorations (such as fake or real plants)
Aquarium test kits to test water parameters and monitor the infamous aquarium nitrogen cycle
Fish food
Aquarium vacuum
Fish net
Aquarium Glass Scrubber

STEP 1: Realize the responsibility involved

Learning how to set up a fish tank is not all that difficult, but there are some steps you should follow for a freshwater aquarium setup. First, you must realize a few things about an aquarium setup. A tropical fish tank is just like having a dog or a cat when it comes to the amount of effort on your part. In order to have a successful freshwater tropical fish tank you will have to work at it. Once a week, or at most once every two weeks, you will need to perform some kind of maintenance on the tank. Most of the time you will be performing water changes. You will also have to feed your fish at least once a day. Setting up and running a fish tank does cost money. There are recurring expenses such as replacing filter media, buying food, etc.

STEP 2: Decide on an aquarium size

It's a good idea to have in mind what kind of fish you want to keep in your freshwater aquarium setup before you purchase an aquarium. Some fish only grow to be an inch or two, whereas other types of tropical fish can grow 12 or 13 inches or more in length! Knowing what kind of fish you want will help you decide the size of the tank they will need. If this is your first time with an aquarium, it may be a good idea to start with a 10 or 20 gallon aquarium setup for now and stock it with some smaller and hardier species.

STEP 3: Decide on the aquarium's location

Place your freshwater aquarium setup in an area where the light and temperature of the tank won't be affected by external sources such as windows and heater vents. Sunlight that enters the room through an unshaded window could affect the temperature of your tank. This could also lead to green algae problems for your tank down the road. You will want to place your aquarium on a stand that will be able to hold its total weight. You also want to be sure that the floor is able to support the total weight of the aquarium and stand. A good rule of thumb for determining the total weight of a full aquarium is 10 pounds per gallon of water. For example, a 55-gallon tank will weigh approximately 550 pounds when filled with water!

STEP 4: Buy your aquarium and equipment

Now is a good time to decide on the type of aquarium filter you will want to use. You will also need to purchase a heater capable of heating the freshwater aquarium setup size you have. Buy the gravel, plants, a power strip and other decorations. A good rule of thumb for the amount of gravel that you will need is 1 to 1.5 pounds of gravel per gallon of water.

STEP 5: Set up your aquarium and stand

Wash out your tank with water only! Do not use soap or detergents. Soap residue left behind will be harmful for your tropical fish. If you are going to use an under gravel filter (not recommended) now would be the time to set it up as well.

STEP 6: Wash Gravel, plants and decorations

Be sure to wash the gravel thoroughly before adding it to your tank. An easy way to do this is to put some of the rocks in a pasta strainer and wash them out in your bath tub. Then place the clean gravel in a clean 5-gallon bucket for transport to the aquarium. After adding the gravel you can place your plants and decorations.

STEP 7: Add water to the aquarium

To avoid messing up your gravel and plants, you can place a plate or saucer in the middle of your aquarium and direct the water flow onto the plate. Use room temperature water when filling. To remove the chlorine and chloramine, use something like Tetra AquaSafe for Aquariums. Don't completely fill up the aquarium until you are sure of the layout of your decorations. Otherwise, when you place your arm in to move stuff around water is going to spill over. Doh!

STEP 8: Set up equipment

Install your heater but don't plug it in until the thermostat in the heater has adjusted to the water temperature. This usually takes about 15 minutes or so. Hook up your filter and any other equipment you have, then top off the aquarium water in your freshwater aquarium setup to just under the hood lip. Place your hood and tank light on the aquarium and then check your power cords to be sure that they are free of water. I would also recommend using a drip loop on all of the power cords to be extra cautious. For more information on safety, read this great article on aquarium electrical safety. Plug all of the equipment into a power strip and then "turn on" the aquarium.

STEP 9: Wait, wait, wait and then wait some more

I know, you want to add some fish. But, in order to do this right you must wait until your aquarium has cycled before adding any fish. There are ways of speeding up this process. Check out the nitrogen cycle page to learn more about starting the nitrogen cycle and how to speed it up. If you must use fish to cycle, try to get a hardier species like the zebra danio or cherry barb. You may notice your fish tank cycle kicking in gear if you start to get some white cloudy aquarium water after a few days.

STEP 10: Add tropical fish

Only add one or two fish at a time. Adding a couple fish at a time gives your filtration system the time needed to take on the increased biological load that the new fish introduce. When you bring the fish home let the bag float in the tank for about 15 minutes so that the fish can become acclimated to the temperature and pH of the aquarium water. After 5 minutes of floating the bag you should add some of the aquarium water to the bag so that the fish can become acclimated to the pH level in the aquarium. This will help reduce the amount of stress imposed on the fish. Stressed fish often leads to dead or diseased fish! Don't feed your fish on the first day. They probably wouldn't eat any food on the first day anyway. Let them get acquainted with their new home.

STEP 11: Get ready for regular maintenance

Be prepared to spend some time once every week or two to clean your tank. Performing regular water changes will reduce the nitrate levels and keep your tropical fish happy and healthy.

As you can see, the steps for how to set up a fish tank are not that complex and hopefully you now have your aquarium setup and running! Have fun, take care of and enjoy your fish!

Freshwater Aquarium Setup Tips:

Cloudy Aquarium Water:
Cloudy aquarium water in a newly established tank could be attributed to a few different factors:

Overfeeding - try to feed your fish very tiny amounts and only give them as much as they can consume within a minute or two.

Bacterial Bloom - If your cloudy aquarium water is a cloudy white or gray you may be experiencing a bacterial bloom. This bacteria is talked about on the aquarium nitrogen cycle page. The aquarium nitrogen cycle is an essential cycle that you should definitely know about. Please read the article.

Completely replacing filter media - if you change out all of the filter media when you perform your tank maintenance you are removing most of the beneficial bacteria mentioned above and may be causing your tank to go through a mini-cycle. Try to swap out only half of the filter media during maintenance. Power filters sometimes come with two filter slots just for this purpose.

Water Changes - if you recently did a water change sometimes the water coming out of the tap can be cloudy. To avoid this (and some other potential problems, such as pH swings) it can be a good idea to let your water age a day or two before using it in your water change.

If we had to guess as to what is currently causing your cloudy water it would probably be the bacterial bloom since you mentioned that your tank is only a month old. Get an aquarium water test kit and monitor your water parameters throughout the nitrogen cycle.

Fish Overcrowding:
Many places will tell you the 1 inch of fish per 1 gallon of water rule, but this rule or guideline is ridiculous. Would a 10 inch pleco be ok in a 10 gallon tank? Of course not. A better rule of thumb would be 1 inch of fish for every 3 or 4 gallons of water (this is a freshwater guideline only, saltwater fish need even more water) with even more water volume per inch being better.
It really comes down to how often you will be performing water changes. Be realistic with yourself. Are you really going to stick with regular water changes every couple of days in an overstocked tank, week in and week out? If you answer no to this question then you definitely need to go very light on the stocking levels in your fish tank.
You're really limited with what you can do successfully in a 10 gallon tank and urge you to resist the temptation to overcrowd your fishes. One last thing, always use the future adult size of the fish when determining the potential stocking levels for your fish tank.

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