How to Plan for a Freshwater Aquarium

Things to consider when planning a freshwater aquarium. The tank, filters, gravel, plants, fish and more.

There are millions of people around the world who keep freshwater fish as pets. Aquariums that house our little pets can be found in a variety of shapes and sizes that range from several hundred gallons to a couple of quarts of water. Fish are kept in our homes, offices, and just about everyplace else. Watching fish gracefully swim along seems to evoke a sense of serenity in us. It is said that having fish is good for Chi. Man has kept fish as pets since the days of the Roman Empire, when people kept Sea Barbels in marble bowls. In the 14th century, the Chinese began to keep Gold Fish as indoor aquatic pets.

Today’s aquarium is a far cry from the marble bowl used by the Romans. Beautifully crafted tanks and stands, high-tech filtration systems, powerful oxygenation systems and the utter myriad of decorations available, make today’s aquarium a crystal clear window into the beauty and grace that can only be found under water.

Setting up a freshwater aquarium is not a difficult thing but it does require some planning and some patience. Also, it can be as cheap or as expensive as you want. While planning your new freshwater aquarium, consider that you will need all or most of the following;

Aquarium tank and stand

Water filter(s)

Air pump

Air line



Fish net

Aquarium vacuum






Select Location

Before you go buy your new freshwater aquarium, you need to know where it’s going to go. The tanks location may have a big influence on the tank size and style to be used. If for instance, you want a larger tank but lack the wall space for a long tank, you may opt for an octagonal style, which is narrower but higher, taking less wall space. It could also be that you have a weight concern. Water weighs roughly 10 pounds per gallon. Add to that water the weight of the tank, stand and gravel and a small 20-gallon tank can weigh in at nearly 250 pounds. You may need to consider a smaller tank or another location for the aquarium if you are concerned about the weight load.

Another consideration when selecting the location of your freshwater aquarium is its exposure to sunlight. If the tank gets direct sunlight from a window, you may have problems with algae growth in your tank as well as some unwanted bacterial growth. Also, the direct sunlight will cause fluctuations in water temperature, which many fish don’t tolerate well.

Select the tank and stand

Tanks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most common aquariums in America are the long, narrow tanks, normally 10, 20 and 50 gallon sizes. Another popular, if less common aquarium, are the hexagon styles. These are taller tanks that can still hold a lot of fish but take up less room than the long tanks do. These tanks are available in sizes both large and small as well. There are some other styles that are less common. If your looking for a unique aquarium, many can be found at pet stores and online aquarium supply stores.

When looking at an aquarium you want to make sure the workmanship is good. Check the interior of the tank, paying special attention to the caulking joints. They should be smooth and firmly attached to the glass. Also check the glass itself for imperfections, chips and such. Also check for a warranty just incase there is something wrong with the tank when you get it home.

The stand for the tank is really important. One very popular tank style today is the wrought iron stand. There are 2 downsides to these types of stands. First, they are completely open, which means all of the cords and hoses to your tank will be visible, as well as they provide no storage space for aquarium equipment and supplies. Secondly, normally these tanks sit on 4 legs. This means the entire weight of the aquarium is distributed to 4 small points on the floor, which may not be advisable in some circumstances.

Another style of tank stand that has been coming into favor is the wood stand. Wood stands provide a sturdy and attractive base for your aquarium and are enclosed. Therefore they provide cover for your cords and hoses as well as handy storage for your aquarium materials. Also, wood stands normally sit on a solid base, which evenly distributes the weight of the aquarium across a large area, minimizing stress on the floor below.

Filter System

The next thing to buy is the water filter. Don’t underestimate the importance of this part of your aquarium. Without proper filtration, toxins can build up in the water and create a very uncomfortable if not dangerous environment for your fish. To get the best possible filtration for your tank requires mechanical filtration, chemical filtration and biological filtration. Mechanical filtration is the process of removing the solid from the water such as fish waste and plant debris by using floss or sponge screens. Next, chemical filtration removes ammonia and other harmful chemicals from the water. This is normally accomplished via activated carbon. Finally, biological filtration is the last and probably most important filtration type. This is accomplished by the use of beneficial bacteria to break down the waste in the tank. Optimally you would want a filter(s) that would adequately accomplish all three filtration types. This may require more than one filter system, depending on what you buy.

Miscellaneous equipment

An air pump is a must for proper oxygenation of the water. Put an air stone on the end of an air hose connected to the air pump and you will have zillions of tiny bubbles that will provide needed oxygen to your fish. Also, certain filter systems rely on an air pump to operate and even some tank decorations use the air from the pump. Make sure when you get your air pump that you consider all the things that will run off of it and if it will provide the desired effect. A pump that is too small for tasks at hand will produce poor oxygenation and may reduce the effectiveness of filters connected to it.

A heater is another component that is very important to the health of your tank. Most freshwater fish are tropical in nature and thusly prefer warmer waters. Indoor ambient temperature in a home is normally cooler than fish like. Keep a water heater in the tank and preset it to the desired warmth and it will keep your tank a steady even temperature. To make sure the water is staying within the desired range, you should also get a thermometer. Most popular are the type that float in the tank and the newer type, which is attached to the outside of the tank glass. Either will do the trick. Next is an aquarium vacuum. This is nothing more than a clear plastic tube with some clear hose attached. But as simple as it may be, it will make cleaning your tank a breeze. Another must is a fish net. Make sure it is plenty big enough to hold your fish.

And what aquarium would be complete without gravel? Only use aquarium gravel in your tank. It comes in a variety of colors from white to brown to black. Tank gravel even comes in bright fluorescent colors. You will want enough gravel to cover the bottom of your tank to a depth of 2 to 3 inches.

Plants and Decorations

Plants can go a long way in helping to keep a healthy environment for your fish. Plants remove nitrites, which are a byproduct of the waste treatment process and toxic to the fish. Plants will also provide cover for smaller and baby fish. If you opt for real plants in your freshwater aquarium, be prepared to replace them every so often, as the fish will have a tendency to nibble on the leaves until they are gone. Fake plants, though providing no benefit to the tanks biology, do still offer small fish a refuge and are certainly easier to maintain than a real plant.

Aquarium decorations and accessories are so varied that the tanks décor possibilities are nearly endless. Of course we all have seen the sunken ships, the humorous signs and the treasure chest that pops open to reveal its contents. But decorations go way past that today. There are rubberized and resin based materials being used to mold aquarium decorations that have allowed for a nearly limitless selection. Newest to the scene are aquarium spotlights. Small LEDs that are used to highlight features in your tank, much the same way you use outdoor lighting on your home.

When selecting tank decorations, always use those intended for aquarium use. Introducing decorations not intended for aquarium use can have a devastating if not deadly effect on your fish. Man made materials could contain solvents and other toxins that can leech into the water, poisoning your fish. Natural materials could introduce algae, bacteria and parasites that could harm your fish or affect the tanks balance. Even items that have been thoroughly cleaned, man-made or natural are not recommended for use in a freshwater aquarium.


Freshwater fish are available in huge variety. But, all fish are not created equal, so plan for the kind of fish you will be putting in your new freshwater aquarium. One trait of fish that definitely needs consideration is the their disposition. Some fish are pacifists who have a live and let live way of life. Others however are extremely territorial or aggressive fish that will pick a fight with the first unlucky fin to swim by. A balance of aggressive and non-aggressive fish can be reached. Ask your pet supplier which fish do well with one another.

Also consider the fish population you plan to keep in your tank and their size. As a general rule of thumb, most aquarium owners subscribe to the “fish inch” rule. That is, one inch of fish per 1 gallon of water less 10% (amount of water displaced by gravel). Thusly a 10-gallon aquarium could hold nine 1-inch fish or three 3-inch fish or one 9-inch fish. Also, when populating your tank, don’t put all the fish in at one time. You should begin with only 25%-30% of the fish you plan to keep and don’t add more for another 2 weeks. This gives the tank time to recover from the new waste load created by your fish.

Once you have planned out your new freshwater aquarium, you are ready to go buy your equipment and get your tank set up. If you need more information on how to setup your aquarium properly, visit another article here entitled “How to setup a new freshwater aquarium”.

About Ron Warner

I have never been satisfied with things as they are. Yes I suffer from the "Grass is Greener Syndrome". I have been a ditch digger and the GM of a mortgage company. I have worked as a fry cook, Branch Manager for a major Stock Brokerage firm, a roofer, a car salesman, an IT Network Admin, a landscaper, a radio DJ and the list goes on. 30 years of exposure to such a variety of professions and vocations has given me a wealth of knowledge and a unique insight of the world around us. My family and I have enjoyed the savings I have experienced by being able to do many things for myself rather than needing to hire someone else to do the job. True, some may refer to me as a job hopper. But how many computer geeks can roof their house? What does a car salesman know about investing? Know any Stock Brokers who can change a water heater? Yeah, I did not think so. Yes, Life has been good so far.



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