Freshwater Aquarium Setup Complete Guideline

Well, so you have decided you want to setup a freshwater aquarium. You have gotten all excited, started telling all your friends . . . then one of them says “hey, I have an old tank in my attic and I’ll never use it, you want it”?

Want it!  Of course you want it!   Now here your are, standing in your kitchen staring at this new tank wondering  . . .  what now?

Well, here’s what . . . You will need to have a sturdy stand or counter top to set your aquarium on and choose a place out of direct sunlight and not in a high traffic zone.

Once you have that, take stock of what you do have in the way of aquarium equipment and head for the fish store for what you do not have, here is a quick checklist to get you started:


Substrate is usually sand, gravel or rock that you put on the bottom of your aquarium. It is an important part of your freshwater tank as it provides an area for beneficial bacterial to grow.

You will need around three inches on the bottom of your tank; the size, type and color will depend on your personal likes as well as the type of fish you intend to keep.


Ah, filtration . . . the heart and soul of the balanced aquarium. There are three forms of filtration we need to address in our aquarium setups that will have significant impacts on: a) the health of your fish and b) the time spent on maintenance.

Always buy filter as per your tank size and fish type if you have small sizes like 5-gallon aquarium you need a small filter if you have big size tanks like 55 gallons you need large size or two medium size filters.

A good filtration system can reduce your maintenance time by more than half, certainly an area of your setup you do not want to scrimp on. There are the three main types of filtration to consider:

  • Mechanical – the removal of larger, floating particles from the water – power filters work well for this
  • Biological – the nurturing of nitrifying bacteria colonies to aid in the breakdown of fish waste and excess food into harmless by-products – an under gravel filtration system is one example
  • Chemical – the use of carbon to help in reducing odors and removing dissolved wastes from the aquariums water – a carbon pad in the power filter meets this requirement.


Yes, your fish need to be kept warm. Unlike other warm-blooded animals, fish do not heat their own bodies; rather they rely on the temperature of the water to keep them warm.

The two types of heaters most commonly found in aquariums are immersible and submersible; there are other types but their application is more specialized and they typically cost more.

The size, referred to in wattage, you will need for your aquarium is dependent on the size of your tank, the temperature requirements of your fish and the ambient room temperature where your aquarium is located.

can read more specific information on by additional articles page, just follow the link at the bottom of this page.

Aquarium Lighting


Most freshwater aquariums will come with a cover (hood) that has built in light fixtures, and will most likely use a fluorescent or compact fluorescent bulb, although some still use the screw in bulbs.

For those that want to have heavily planted tanks (or coral reefs), there is a whole arena of options that we will not go into here; suffice it to say that you will want to research carefully when you’re ready to go down that road!

The fish species you choose for your tank will have some influence on the ‘brightness’ of your lighting, some fish prefer dimly lit tanks and others really do not care.

Once again it boils down to a compromise of the tank requirements and the owners preferences.  If you have a well lit room, you might not even want lights!

As to how long you should provide light to your aquarium, a good rule of thumb is 10-12 hours of lighting each day, 12+ if you have plants, reduce this schedule if you experience algae issues.

Water Testing for pH, Ammonia, Nitrite & Nitrate

Testing your water is the first defense against fish illness. Fish that are not stressed will be healthy and happy; the more stress you introduce to your aquarium, the more susceptible your aquatic charges become to injury and illness. Fish are just like children in school, when one gets sick, they all get sick!

Significant changes in water temperature and pH will introduce stress immediately. Poisonous buildups of ammonia and/or nitrate will not only cause stress, but can also cause permanent, if not fatal, damage to the respiratory system of your fish.

At a minimum, you should test for pH, Ammonia (especially in new tanks!), Nitrate and Nitrate. New tanks should test every day during the cycling period, established tanks can usually be set on weekly schedules. Keep a log book of all your readings so you can spot any abnormalities right away.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.