Easy First Tank Setup & Guide

iZaO Jnr
  • #1
Hey guys,

It's becoming obvious that many people are asking the same questions about their first tanks, and most of the time as a beginner, you are looking for a straight answer (as you would) that won't confuse you. So hopefully this will help those trying to setup their first tank!

For the purposes of this article, I'm assuming the reader knows about AND understands the nitrogen cycle. If not click on the words underlined and there is a brief lesson there!

First Tank Setup & Guide

When it comes to setting up a fish tank, there are numerous factors that come into play. Yes, fishkeeping is a hobby (lifestyle for those who are lucky enough ;D), but remember that you are dealing with another life/lives. By accepting the responsibility to take on keeping fish, or any general aquatic life, you are accepting the responsibility of another being's life!

Because many beginners end up (whatever the reason) with smaller tanks (generally a 10 - 20 gallon), this article will focus on the setup of a GENERIC basis that can be worked from thereon. The unfortunate truth for beginners is there is never ONE true answer to any question, just a guide. This is even further emphasized when it comes to stocking the tank you have. Yes, a zebra danio, according to it's size can fit in a 10gallon, but if you take into consideration it's activity levels, then NO, it very obviously can't fit into a 10g. Couple that with the fact that a zebra danio SHOULD be kept in a school... Can you already see why there is never a straight answer. I encourage anybody that is unsure about anything, to raise the question with the appropriate forum - that is why Fishlore is here!

The factors that need consideration to startup as tank are the following:

1) Tank Size - Of course your tank size will affect the amount, species and temperament of fish you can adopt. It is encouraged that beginners get a bigger tank rather than smaller. 20gallons is a good starting point, but 29gallons is ideal. The increased water volume in the larger tanks simply allows more time, and less effect if something were to go wrong in a bigger tank. Suppose there is a nitite spike, in a bigger tank, the more the water will dilute the nitrite, giving you a bigger time span to react accordingly.

2) Quarantine Tank - One of the most under-rated pieces of equipment one can have IMO. Many people, including fish-related books, mention that you can get away without one if you have a freshwater aquarium. I cannot disagree more! Do not risk the lives of your fish by not having one. A quarantine tank can follow the same basics as a normal tank setup. Here is a link to help:

Quarantine Tank Setup

3) Filtration - This is where the technical stuff comes into play. There are 3 things a filter does:
- Mechanical Filtration - The removal of visible debris from the water.
- Chemical Filtration - The removal of invisible unwanted substances from the water.
- Biological Filtration - This is the bacteria that grows in your filter that carries out the nitrogen cycle.
Filters operate in order to remove debris from your aquarium(Mechanical), filter out any harmful substances (Chemical), and carry out the nitrogen cycle (Biological).
When choosing a filter you need to look for the following:
- GPH (Gallons per Hour)
- Media Capacity (The amount of filtration media the filter can hold)
- Surface Disturbance (To give a greater surface area for gaseous exchange to take place, NB: An air pump bubbling air in the water does not "put" air into the water)

for HOB filters, you are looking at 8 - 10 times entire turnover of your tank. So if you have a 10 gallon tank, you want between 80 and 100 gallons per hour filtration. For any filters other than HOB you want 5 - 8 Minimum. Of course over-filtration is better, but don't overdo it.
Media Capacity
Obviously, the more the better, as it gives bacteria more volume to grow in, creating a safer stability of the nitrogen cycle in your tank.
Surface Disturbance
This can be very complicated, and as I said this article is for straight answers. So here it is. The more you disturb the surface of the water, the more oxygen there will be in your tank.

4) Heating - This is simple enough. A good idea is to have 3 - 4 Watts per Gallon of water. i.e a 100 gallon would do well with a 400W heater. There is a better and safer option would be to have 2 x 200W heaters there, and even better 4 x 100W heaters.
Lets suppose a heater fails, a 400W heater will either cook the water if it gets stuck in the "on" position, Whereas a 200W heater will take longer to do this, and a 100W heater will take forever. The more you break up your heating the better. Of course financial stability is more important than temperature stability so again, don't overdo what you cant!

5) Lighting - A fish tank, whether planted or not, needs lighting. The fish will be healthier as you are recreating their environment! It is important to have lighting. But for this article I will assume it is for a non-planted tank as planted tanks are a whole topic of their own!
The idea with lighting your tank is to be able to see your fish. Get something that is adequate, but not over the top. For a fish-only tank I would recommend between 0.5 - 1 Watts per gallon of water. Simple enough right?

6)Substrate - This is not too important either. Just be sure to buy something that is INERT (won't release unknown substances into your water). Also research the fish you want to buy and find out their natural habitat and from there try your best to recreate it. This will only make the fish happier in the end. Again, research your fish. i.e a corydoras catfish prefers smaller rounder substrate because that way it won't hurt their barbels. That is the kind of thing you want to find out before you buy it.

7) Air Pump - Although this is often seen as necessary. It is NOT. Air pumps are used to either drive filters, or to aerate the water by disturbing the surface, or as a decorational item. The only guide here is to make sure that the airpump is capable of pumping down the entire water column of your tank. I.E a deeper tank will need a stronger air pump to resist the pressure of the water deeper down. Also be sure to either have a check valve, or have the air pump above the water line of the tank to prevent water from siphoning into the airpump and destroying it.

8) Decor - Here it is dependant on the fish you are keeping. African Cichlids prefer caves while angelfish prefer heavily planted. It is all dependant. Either way, be sure to provide adequate and many hiding places that will aid the fish in feeling secure. The more hiding places you have the more the fish seems to WANT to come out.

9) Hood - Make sure you have a hood for fish that are known to jump out of the water.

10) Addittional Equipment - I would personally recommend the following:

- An additional Heater
- Battery Powered Airpump
- Some Airline Tubing
- Couple of sponge filters
- Bucket, Hose and Towel
- 2 Nets
- A VARIETY of Food
- Extra Thermometer

11) Water Management - This is the biggest part of setting up. When placing any water into the tank, ensure that it has been treated appropriately. Dechlorinator etc. Also allow your tank to cycle before putting any fish in. Lastly, make sure you do water changes, and treat any new water that goes into the tank. A good guide is 20 - 25% water change once a week. Any other additional information (as the tank matures) you will find all over fishlore! Again please raise any questions you may have.

Hope this helps anybody looking for straight-forward answers to setting up a tank!

Good luck, enjoy and happy fishkeeping! ;D;D;D
  • #2
WOW! What a write up.. even I learned a bit
iZaO Jnr
  • Thread Starter
  • #3
Just aiming to get the basics out there. Many beginners are asking things such as "how many watts?" and the answer is never straight. It's the right answer given to them but it's not something that someone who is still trying to wrap their head around the basics needs to hear. They need an answer that they can write down and save!

Thanks BTW, and i'm glad it helped!
  • #4
Great job! Some people (like myself ) would benefit wih tutorials for more advanced tutorials i.e: lighting for plants, stocking theories, etc.

Just a thought, once again awesome job!
iZaO Jnr
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
Maybe I'll write something up about stocking theories. I've come across many actually... I'd prefer to do something about planted tanks but catsma already has that DOWN!!!

Thanks for the idea and thanks for the compliment
  • #6
Catsma has one about plants?
  • #7
Very nice write up.
Not to take away from your nicely written and information thread but
this info can be found on the home page and also in the beginners stickies.

Sadly, people don't take the time to read them or search for info before asking questions.

iZaO Jnr
  • Thread Starter
  • #8
I agree with you that the information does exist, but as you said many people don't take the time to search or LOOK for the info, hence why I thought i'd do something useful with some of my time on my day off

Hope it helped some people, if not, the sun will still rise tomorrow

@ MouldyCarrot - Catsma (Profile name of a member) has some great articles... Just check her signature
  • #10
Where were you 6 months ago?
iZaO Jnr
  • Thread Starter
  • #11
Thanks Lucy!

@ Rolling Hills - Exactly why I wrote this. Hoping it would help those who need it ;D
  • #12
Nice write up Ryan.

Many times I see overly complicated responses to those just starting out. They need a direct response to their questions.

And, many thanks for your compliments regarding the articles I've written. Like you, I too have plans for many more!
iZaO Jnr
  • Thread Starter
  • #13
Glad to hear it! There seems to be an unbelievable amount of information on the internet, but for some reason it's just not getting out to the right people at the right time for the right job/idea

That's what makes me even more glad that we have Fishlore!
  • #14
Thankyou very much!!!!! I think you just answered half of my questions!!!!
  • #15
wow I wish I would have had this years ago lol!

very informative.
  • #16
Thanks for the information.

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