How to Setup a Freshwater Aquarium

Step by step directions on setting up a freshwater aquarium

Freshwater aquariums serve as a decorative accent in our homes and offices and offer a sense of peace and tranquility as well as some degree of entertainment. They are easy pets to maintain, they don’t shed or make noise. Fish don’t require attention, though they will respond to you if you spend time with them. For these reasons and the fact that they require little space, makes them a good pet choice.

Setting up a freshwater aquarium isn’t really difficult but it will take some time and you will probably get wet. You won’t need much to install the aquarium either, but here is a list of some things you may need:

A level

Some leveling wedges

A hammer

A garden hose or something to carry water in

A drinking cup


Step One – Install the tank base and tank

On a sturdy surface, put the base in place and then using a level, make sure that the base is indeed level both side-to-side and front to back. If it isn’t, use leveling wedges by placing one or more under the area of the base that is lowest. Don’t use more than 2 or 3. If the surface is too far out of level, you should consider a new location for the aquarium.

With the stand in place and level, install the tank by centering it on the top of the stand.

Step Two – Underground filter and gravel

If you are using an underground filter, this will need to be installed next. Place the floor panels on the bottom of the tank. Now connect the long tubes to the floor panels. If air lines are attached under the fill line, attach those now as well.

The gravel you purchased should be thoroughly washed before being used in your freshwater aquarium. Use a kitchen colander and wash the gravel in the sink with warm water. Do Not use soap. With the gravel rinsed clean, pour it into the tank The gravel will get moved around when your filling the tank so there is no point in trying to arrange the gravel, so just let it fall where it may.

Step Three – Filling the tank

The fastest and driest method to fill your tank is with a garden hose. If you have this option, just drop the hose in and turn on the spigot. If can’t use a garden hose, you will need to fill it by bucket full. Don’t use anything you have had cleaning chemicals in. A pitcher or large pot works well. Be ready to mop up water from drips and spills that will occur in route between your faucet and the tank.

After the tank has about 10 gallons in it, recheck your aquarium for level. If the tank is not level, level it as explained in Step one. If the tank is level, continue filling until the tank is ¾ full.

Step Four – Arranging and decorating

With the tank ¾ full of water, you can now safely arrange and decorate without fear of disturbing anything when you finish filling the tank and by doing it now, you may get a little less wet. Arrange gravel on the bottom so that it is fairly smooth and uniform. Create small mounds of gravel in areas you plan to put plants or other features that will need to be anchored in the gravel. If you are using an air stone, these usually go in the back of the tank, behind everything else, so install that next. It may come with suction cups or may need to be buried in the gravel.

Next come the decorations and the plants. Make sure that all decorations have been washed in warm water before being put in the tank. Start at the back of the tank with the tallest items and work forward. If you have decorations that require an air line, make sure to hide the line under the gravel. The main thing here is to please yourself. This is your aquarium and you are the creator of any kind of aquatic world you desire. So if it looks good to you, then it’s good. When you are done decorating, finish filling the tank. Do so gently and your decorations should be safe.

Step Five – Installing filter(s)

The filters are the heart of your freshwater aquarium. Their proper operation is critical to the health of your fish. The most common type of filter is a box filter. It uses a floss screen and an activated carbon screen to filter the water. These filters hang from the side of the tank with a suction tube situated below the water. To install this filter, simply hang it on the side of the tank with the siphon tube in the water, plug it in and remove the lid. Now, with a drinking cup, take water from the tank and pour it in the filter to prime it. Once it is fully primed it will become quiet and a steady stream of water will be running from it back into the tank.

Another type of filter, the Bio-wheel, is a favorite among freshwater aquarium owners for is superior ability for bacterial filtration. The bio-wheel installs essentially the same as the box filter. One difference is the install of the bio-wheels themselves, which simply slip into slot in the filter. However, take care not to touch these paper-like filters with your bare hands as you could contaminate the good bacteria on the wheel.

Step Six – Finishing touches

With the tank full and the pumps running, it times for the last few details. Drop in or attach your thermometer and also install your heater. Attach all your hoses to your air pump. This is when you should add your de-chlorinator to the water as well. The amount depends on the size of our tank, so read the directions for the exact amount to use.

Step Seven – Wait

The tank is by no means ready for fish right after setting it up. The first day or two after setting up the aquarium, it will likely be cloudy. This is normal due to over oxygenation of the water, debris and other elements, all of which will eventually disburse, leaving clean clear water. You will want to wait at least 2 or 3 days after setup before you bring fish into the tank. Some experts even suggest waiting as much as a week to ensure a stable environment.

Step Eight – The fish

Your new freshwater aquarium is all set up now. You have admired it for days and your dieing to get some fish in it. Ok, it’s time to put fish in. The first fish you should introduce to your tank should be the heartiest. Since no real bio-system has been established in the tank yet, these first pioneers will be establishing it.

Fish should be floated before putting them in your tank. Do this by taking the bag that they cam from the pet store in and laying it on top of the tank water, allowing them to “float”. Do this for about 20 to 40 minutes to allow the water temperature in the bag to equalize with the tank water. When ready, use a pair of scissors and cut open the bag and pour into the tank. After a bit you can feed the fish, but they may or may not eat right away, depending on their stress level.

On a personal note about aquariums, I have a 50-gallon aquarium, which has not been cleaned in 2 years and remains crystal clear with no fatalities in nearly as long. My assertion for the pristine condition of my aquarium is our filtration system. I use an underground filter, a box filter and a bio-wheel filter. By using this system, along with algae eating inhabitants and not overcrowding, a balance is maintained that has no need for my intervention.

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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Posted on Nov 23, 2010