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How to Set-Up Your New Aquarium

Getting Going with Your New Aquarium

(The First Tank Guide)

For the simplest setup, I would recommend that you purchase a fifteen, twenty, or twenty-nine gallon glass tank with an air driven under gravel filter, plastic top with a fluorescent light, one pound-per-gallon of aquarium gravel, an air pump and a hanging heater. To save a little money in initial setup, you can get an incandescent light rather than the fluorescent. If, on the other hand, you have some extra money, get a power head rather than the air pump and replace the hanging heater with a submersible model. For beginners I recommend a selection of plastic plants and plastic, resin, wood, ceramic or stone decorations available from most pet shops. Most pet stores will have setups similar to this at a discounted price (decorations not included). You will also need a stand which can support the weight of a tank (about 10 pounds per gallon of tank capacity). Larger tanks are much less work than smaller tanks or bowls, can hold many more fish, provide more stable water conditions and will generally lead to a much more pleasant experience with the fish keeping hobby. Small tanks and bowls will require a great deal of maintenance and more expert care to keep the tank stable and your fish healthy and happy.

Setting up your aquarium is easy, now that you have your equipment. Take the stand and put it someplace in your home where you will be able to enjoy your fish, and where you will be able to take care of them. You will also want to put it someplace where it will look nice for quite some time, since it is quite a bit of work to move the tank, and you should place the aquarium where it will not get direct sunlight (this will help control algae).
Place the tank on the stand, and make sure that there is solid contact between the tank and the stand. Warped surfaces can break the glass bottom of most fish tanks.
Check to see what kind of filter you have, if you have an Under Gravel Filter (UGF), you will need to place that next. The UGF goes on the bottom of the tank. Place the lift tubes in their sockets. For most smaller tanks one lift tube will be plenty if you are using a power head to run the filter. If you are using an air pump to run the filter, you will probably need two. Check the setup instructions on the filter container to see if you need to do anything else when setting up your filter; for example, plugging unused lift tube ports or attaching bubble walls. You want to leave the tops off of the lift tubes for now.
Thoroughly rinse the gravel and put it in the tank. Spread the gravel out so that you have a relatively even layer. You want the lowest point in the gravel to be near the front of the tank, so detritus will collect there, where you can see it to clean it out. Make sure that the gravel does not have many dips in it as it slopes to the back of the tank, to simplify your cleaning job.
If you have a filter other than a UGF which goes inside the tank, set it up and place it in the tank now. Thoroughly rinse everything with cool running tap water before you put it in the tank.
Now you can add the heater and water pumps (if necessary). If you have a hanging heater, hang it off the back, someplace where you can still see it. You want to be able to see it so you can tell when it is on. If you have a submersible heater, place it near the bottom of the tank (heat rises), and approximately horizontal. Find a location for your air pump. It should be placed above the water level, because water can drain back out through the air tube if the power goes off, damaging the pump, and maybe damaging other things. If you cannot place the air pump above the water line, you should probably check into getting some check-valves for the air line. You will probably also need a gang valve for the air line, which will let you run two lift tubes off of a single outlet air pump. Run a piece of air line from the air pump to the gang valve. Run another piece of air line from the gang valve to each of your lift tubes. Check the instructions for your filter to see exactly how to attach the air line to the air stones (this varies from model to model...). If you are not using a UGF, check to see if your filter needs an air pump attached, and how to attach one. If you are running your filter with a power head, rather than an air pump, place the power head on top of the lift tube following the instructions on the package. Make SURE that your pumps and heaters are all UNplugged. You can break your heater or air stones by having them running when you add water, and your power heads can easily overheat without water to cool them. At this point, your lift tubes should be closed off so that fish cannot get into them.
Now you should place your decorations in the tank and see what they will look like (more or less) without getting your hands wet and making a lot of mess. Remember that many ceramic or plastic decorations will trap air and either float or tip over as you put water in the tank. (Just a warning, so you won't be surprised when it happens.)
Once your decorations are in place, you will want to put the top on the tank. If you bought a kit from a pet shop, you should either have a glass top with a light strip, or an integrated plastic top. However it is made, the back section should be made of light weight plastic which you can cut to accommodate power cords, heaters, filters, and air lines. With a pair of scissors or a utility knife, carefully cut out notches as necessary for your setup.
At this point, you should be ready to add water. You can just pour water into the tank without treating it at this time, since you have no fish, plants, or biological filter to worry about. Just add treatment after you have the tank full. If you are just pouring the water in, you probably want to pour it over a rock or some other ornament to keep from digging a hole in the gravel. If you don't have an appropriate ornament, get a bowl or plate from your kitchen and use that. Once the tank is full, let it sit for an hour or so, to saturate your air stones and to equalize the heater temperature, then turn everything on. Wait a day or two before getting any fish, this way you can stabilize the temperature, make sure that nothing leaks, and insure that all of your equipment is working properly.

Once you have your aquarium equipment all set up, and you are sure that the equipment is operating correctly, and that the temperature is stable and set correctly, you are ready to introduce your first fish and begin the cycling process.

If you are just thinking about getting your first aquarium, you might want to start with some simple steps to a successful aquarium.

Check out these pages to help you get started with your first fish tank:

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Thank you! I never thought I would say it, but it seems that every question I've had has been answered to it's full extent."
December 11, 2008
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"Thanks very much for your advice Keith. The site is great and very informative!"
July 19, 2007
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