While the actual maintenance of a fish tank is relatively low, the initial set up cost can be prohibitive. You can go with an initial set up that is cheap, but I personally think that it is better to spend a little bit more for a better set up. In the long run, it will save you money in parts and replacement fish.
The first order of business is to decide where you want to put your tank. This is important because you don’t want to put the tank in direct sunlight or you will end up with a tank full of algae or parboiled fish. You will also want to be sure of your location because moving the tank after it is set up IS NOT a good idea.
The gravel that will cover the bottom of the tank is heavy on its own, add an additional inch or so of water that you will be unable to remove from the bottom of the tank and the weight will double. If you try to move a tank that has gravel in the bottom of it you can break the seal that is along the sides and bottom, or crack the glass.
And believe me when I tell you from personal experience that waking up at two in the morning to a leaking tank is not the best way to wake up at all!! Not to mention that scooping out wet, dirty gravel is not a pleasant job, to say the least. Put your fish tank in a room that you spend the majority of your time. Fish can be entertaining and very relaxing to watch. I once had an Oscar that would do all sorts of entertaining things to get and keep my attention.
The next thing to do is to decide on the size of your tank. The size of your tank will dictate to a certain degree the kind of fish you can get. Obviously a two or five gallon set up will not work for fish that will grow very large or are big to begin with and will only get bigger. Some fish will grow only as big as their tank will let them and others will continue to grow no matter how small their tank is.
I saw a bottom feeder once that had been kept in a two-gallon round tank. Not only could this poor guy not swim at all, but his tail was permanently pointing up because he had outgrown his tank and his owner “never noticed he was like that”. You will want to get the largest tank you can afford. That way you will not be going out every six months to buy a new tank for your fish that won’t stop outgrowing his tank.
I prefer glass tanks to acrylic. Acrylic tanks are lighter and will not break but they scratch very easily and the scratches are next to impossible to remove. You also have to be very careful about cleaning them and you have to use a special cleaner on them.
Your next step is research. You need to decide what kind of fish you want. You can buy a book on freshwater fish or you can look in the library. You want to be sure that the fish you buy are compatible with each other. There is nothing more heartbreaking then trying to explain to your six years old why her fish were eaten. Also, some fish are more aggressive than others. You do not want to buy a fish that will bully all the others to the point that the other fish will hide in the corner.
Do you want a community tank with a variety of pretty fish or do you want to go with one breed of fancy fish in the hopes that they will breed? If you want to breed I suggest that you get a couple of different setups with a couple of different size tanks under your belt before you try this. Breeding fish is not always easy and can be time consuming and expensive. So be sure you feel confident in your knowledge first.
You will also want to do some research on various equipment and “deals” that pet stores offer. A lot of pet stores with offer “combo” deals for tank set ups. There is nothing wrong with this per say. I have found that your “deals” usually consist of tank, hood, light and the cheapest equipment found on the market all thrown together.
Like I stated earlier, cheap equipment will only cost you more further down the road. If you find a tank combo that appeals to you try negotiating a better deal. Haggle with the sales person or manager. If they want your business bad enough they will accommodate you in what ever you want. Be a knowledgeable customer! Know what brands are best and what you want. Don’t settle for anything less.
The basic equipment I feel you will need for a decent tank set up are as follows: tank, stand, hood, florescent light, under gravel filter, side or canister filter if you are going with a tank of 40 gallons or more, at least one air pump, air line tubing, check valves, air stones, heater, thermometer, gravel, gravel cleaner, bacteria, water conditioner and fish food.
I will now explain the basic equipment. I have already explained tank size and make. Your tank stand is just as important as your tank. The stand will hold your tank, gravel, water and fish. It will need to be sturdy and well built. You can buy the stand at the pet store or you can make your own. Just be sure that it is well made, solid, level and will not wobble. I have made fish stands with solid two by fours, concrete blocks and Styrofoam.
The hood is the piece of plastic that sits on the top and holds the florescent light that your tank will receive. It will also prevent your fish from jumping out and will reduce the amount of dirt, dust and water evaporation.
The under gravel filter is a sheet of plastic that fits on the bottom of your tank. It has small slots on it and tubes of plastic that fit on the sides and back. Hooked into a filter and run by your air pump, it draws water through the slots, up through the tubes of plastic, and into the filter to be cleaned and recycled. The air pump provides air circulation for your tank.
The airline tubing brings the air from the pump to the tank and the check valves prevent the water from backwashing into your pump and shorting it out. The air stones diffuse the air that comes from your pump. It adds more oxygen to your tank. The filters do just what they suggest, they filter the impurities from your water. The larger your tank is the more filtration you will need. Anything under a forty five-gallon tank will do fine with a side filter.
For anything over that should be set up with a canister filter. The heater keeps your water at a constant temperature. Which is necessary for the health of your tank. Fish are used to warm water and if the water is not kept at a constant temperature your fish run a higher risk of disease. The thermometer will tell you what the temperature of your water is.
As far as gravel goes any color will do. I prefer to use the natural colored gravel: it tends to run a little cheaper. But if you have a color scheme in mind, then by all means go with any color gravel you want. A good rule of thumb is one pound of gravel for every gallon of water.
So a twenty-gallon tank will take twenty pounds of gravel, a fifty-gallon tank will take fifty pounds of gravel. You will want to rinse your gravel very well for it will be dusty. I put some in a large bucket and run it under a garden hose. I will also scoop it around with my hands to be sure to remove as much dust as possible. Drain as much water from the bucket as you can before adding it to the tank.
Alright, you have your tank set up where you want it and it is on a sturdy stand. You have rinsed your gravel, now what?? Well, first thing is to assemble you’re under gravel filter and place it in your tank. Carefully add your gravel to your tank and spread it evenly around. Hook up your filters and air pumps, airline tubing, check valves, and air stones.
Hang your heater, thermometer, and add any decorations or plants to the gravel. Slowly fill your tank with water until it is about three-quarters of the way full. Add your bacteria to the tank. This is important because this will break down the ammonia that your fish will produce. Add the water conditioner.
This will remove any chlorine that is in the water. Chlorine will kill your fish. This will also add what is called a slime coat to your fish. This will prevent your fish from getting certain diseases and parasites. Turn on your heater and set it between 82-85 degrees Fahrenheit. This is a general mid-range temperature for all fish. Adjust it accordingly for the fish you want to purchase.
Plug in your air pump and turn on your filters. I recommend that your allow your tank to cycle or run for at least twenty four hours, although others suggest cycling for as long as a month. This will allow the bacteria a chance to grow, the dust to be cycled out through the filters and the water in the tank to reach the optimum temperature. Do not fill the tank completely to the top.
Now comes the fun part. Purchasing the fish. Try to refrain from buying all of your fish at once. If you put too many fish in all at once, then your fish could die from the toxicity of the water. Your fish will be producing ammonia but the bacteria will be unable to break it down, thus killing your fish.
More then likely you will be bringing your fish home in a plastic bag filled with water and air. Allow your fish to float in the bag while in your tank for about 15-20 minutes to allow them to acclimate to the temperature of your tank water.
Feed them sparingly for the first few days and separate any fish that look diseased. Finish filling your tank after you have purchased all of your fish. Clean your gravel with a gravel cleaner once every two weeks. Change the filters once a month. Sit back and enjoy your new fish tank!