Setting up Your First Aquarium

Setting up Your First Aquarium by Flickr

There is a wide range of sizes and shapes of aquariums as well as a choice of glass or acrylic aquariums, so how do you choose the best aquarium for your home and for the fish you intend to keep? We have put together a guide to help you to choose the perfect aquarium.

Where to Locate Your Aquarium?

The first thing to decide before you make a purchase is the location for your new aquarium. You must take account of the final weight of the aquarium when filled with water if you intend to place it on a shelf or table. A twenty gallon tank, once filled, will weigh about two hundred pounds! Do you need a stand or a specially designed cabinet?

Aquarium Size

Aquariums for the home come in a huge range of sizes from tiny glass bowls to huge five hundred gallon tanks. You will want an aquarium that is the right size for your home and for your fish. The first thing to consider is the location you intend for the aquarium. Measure the area to ensure the aquarium you choose will fit.

One thing to consider is that a bigger aquarium requires less maintenance. Small aquariums are much harder to keep the water balance correct, are easy to overcrowd and rotting food or vegetation can have an immediate affect on the health of the fish. A good size for a beginner is between twenty and thirty gallons. Decide how many fish you wish to keep. Very roughly you can keep one inch of fish to every gallon of water, but remember this is a rough estimate and a lot will depend on the type of fish and how well maintained the aquarium is. Always understock a tank rather than overstock!

The best way to choose the size of the tank is to purchase the biggest tank within your budget that will fit comfortably in the location you have chosen.

Aquarium Shapes

Since the introduction of acrylic aquarium, different shapes have been added to the traditional rectangular shape including cylinder, hexagon and round aquariums. There are also aquariums designed to be wall mounted and coffe table aquariums. Despite all these innovative designs the rectangular aquarium is still the best as the the area of water surface compared to the water volume is large which is important for allowing the exchange of gases with the air. Other shapes, with a smaller surface area compared to water volume, will often need more frequent water changes and more maintenance.

Do You Need a Glass or Acrylic Aquariums?

Both materials for aquariums have their advantages and disadvantages. The traditional glass aquarium is heavy and can spring leaks at the seams. Leaks are easy to fix however and usually only occur in an older aquarium. They are usually cheaper than acrylic aquariums. They only come in rectangular or square shapes.

The newer acrylic aquariums are lighter than glass and come in all sorts of innovative shapes. They rarely spring leaks as there are no seams. They are more expensive than glass aquariums but generally last longer. They are easy to scratch however so never clean with any kind of abrasive chemical or other chemicals which can fog the glass. Acrylic aquariums used to yellow with age but the newer materials stay clear throughout their lifetime.

There are a few basic pieces of aquarium equipment you need to include in your aquarium setup to make sure that your fish will thrive:


Filters are important to ensure the cleanliness of the water. A complete filtration system should have mechanical, chemical, and biological filtration. This way, not only visible dirt particles are removed but also other impurities such as toxins and odor are filtered out. You may achieve this by having one filter that performs all three functions. If you have a large tank, you will need at least two filters. Filters don’t need to be costly as there are inexpensive ones that are reliable and effective.


Another aquarium equipment you need to install are aquarium lights. These will replicate the lighting conditions in the natural habitat of the fish. Since the aquarium is often placed indoors, aquarium lights are the only means to simulate the 12 hours of daylight the fish need daily. This is so their behavioral cycles, like feeding and spawning, will remain normal. Note that insufficient lighting will cause poor growth, poor health, lessened coloration, and fish stress.


Fish are not capable of producing their own body heat, making them vulnerable to fluctuating temperature changes. As most aquarium fish come from tropical habitats, the water in the tank should be kept at above room temperature. For these reasons, it is important that you install a heater in your tank. Even as the temperature changes due to the weather or the passing of the seasons, your aquarium will maintain its ideal temperature with a heater.


While inexpensive, a thermometer is nevertheless an important aquarium equipment. A thermometer will provide you instant feedback for changes in temperature. There is a chance that temperature inside the aquarium is less than ideal. The thermometer will then tell you whether your heater is working properly or not.

Aquarium air pump

An air pump basically provides aeration inside your tank. This piece of aquarium equipment is needed since it increases water circulation to promote proper gas exchange. An air pump is also used to power aquarium equipment such as some types of filters and protein skimmers.


Lastly, you will need some aquarium ornaments. These pieces of aquarium equipment are not only decorative but are also there for practical reasons. They prevent fish from getting stressed by giving them a place to hide and rest.

In the case of aquarium plants, you have a choice between real and plastic. Most people prefer plastic plants since they don’t die and add to organic pollution. Live plants are also prone to being eaten and uprooted by the fish.