If you have done the proper planning for your new aquarium, you’ve already purchased, or otherwise acquired, everything you need to set it up, and have prepared a location in your home where your family and guests can get the most enjoyment from it. If you haven’t, you should do your research and planning, and then go out and get your equipment. Do not get your fish yet. Wait until your tank is set up and running correctly. If something goes wrong, you don’t want to have to worry about where your fish will live while you deal with the problem.
Okay, let’s get started. Whether you have a new or used tank, you should clean it thoroughly. Avoid soap and chemical cleaners, as they can leave a residue that could make your fish sick or even kill them. Use clean water and a sponge or brush manufactured specifically for aquarium use. Fill the tank and check for leaks. It’s much easier to deal with a leak now than after you’ve installed everything. Once you’ve determined that the tank is okay, drain it and let it dry.
Place your stand in the location you have selected. Make sure it is stable, sturdy, and level. It’s important that it be level, otherwise you could end up with a leaking or broken tank. Remember that you should locate the aquarium away from direct sunlight to avoid excess algae growth.
If you are using an under-gravel filter, rinse it, place it in the bottom of the tank, and connect the air hoses according to the instructions that you got with the filter. If you are using a different type of filter, skip to the next step.
If you have purchased a background, apply it to the outside of the tank now. Take your gravel, and wash it in a bucket. Remember the implications of commercial cleaners. Use clean water only. Drain the bucket when the gravel cleaning is complete.
Place the gravel in the bottom of the tank, approximately two inches deep. Spread it so that it is slightly deeper at the back of the tank, and slopes very gradually towards the front.
Assemble and set up your filter (unless you have already installed an under-gravel filter). Make sure to consult the manufacturer’s instructions for any pre-installation requirements. If you are using an air pump, install that now as well. If you are using a hanging heater, hang it near the
back of the tank, but in a place where it is easily accessible. If you have a submersible heater, install it in the tank according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Do not plug anything in yet. Attach or hang your thermometer, depending on which type you have.
Now it’s time to add the water. Take a clean dinner plate, and place it upside-down in the center of the tank. Fill a bucket with water, and carefully pour the water onto the top of the plate, thereby preventing the gravel from being disturbed. Fill the tank almost to the top.
An aquarium should look as natural as possible, both because it is more pleasing to the human eye, and because the behavior of the fish will be closer to what it would be in their natural habitat. Therefore, you should install some decorations in your aquarium, and now is the time to do that. Pet supply stores and fish stores stock a wide array of aquarium decorations. You should be sure to include plants, whether live or imitation. Live plants will give off oxygen into the water, but will also require some extra care, and will need to be removed if they die. For a beginner, realistic looking plastic plants are a good choice. Place the largest plants at the back of the tank, and the smaller ones at the front.
Place the hood and lights on top of the aquarium, and plug everything in. You should make sure that all electrical cords are positioned in such a way to have a “drip loop”, so that if water happens to run down on them, it drips onto the floor rather than into the electrical outlet.
Okay, we’re ready to perform a test. Make sure filters that need to be filled with water have been filled, and turn on the filters and/or air pumps. Verify that they are working correctly, and that the water is flowing at the rate expected. Turn on the lights, and make sure they are working. If the water is a little cloudy, don’t worry, it will soon clear. Adjust your thermometer according to the breeds of fish you are planning to keep. Your fish store can supply this information if you can’t find it elsewhere. Most freshwater tropical fish like a water temperature in the 75-80F range.
Assuming that no problems are found, you can let your equipment run. I know you’re anxious, but don’t run out and get fish yet. Your aquarium should run for about a week before you add any fish. Leave the lights on for about half the day during this period.