How to Setup a Freshwater Aquarium: A Beginners Guide to Fish Tanks

Owning your own aquarium is great fun, and I have been maintaining my own with love for many years! There’s over 60 million of us aquarists worldwide, and if this is a hobby you’re interested in, its worth a little time to learn what its all about before you start.

So whats an aquarium?

In the simplest terms, its a transparent container where you can keep, nurture, observe and enjoy live fish.

The goldfish bowl with a single fish in it counts, but what most people mean when they talk about aquariums is a large fish tank (usually rectangular) with several different types of fish and aquatic plants living in balance with each other.

There are two basic types of aquarium environment freshwater and saltwater.

Freshwater aquariums are definitely easier for people who are new to the hobby, as the saltwater (or marine) tanks take a great deal of attention and skill to keep the fish alive. So your next step is probably to find out what types of fish you like.

If you’re lucky, you have fishy friends you can ask questions of, but even a trip to your local pet store or specialty fish store will get you lots of good advice from the sales clerks.Tell them youre a beginner, and that you want to look at freshwater fish, and they will give you lots of choices!

  1. Finding the one fish that calls out to you will tell you what temperature your tank needs to be, and starting with one species is probably simplest.
  2. Next, I’d get a good book about basic aquarium care, and read it before you get started!
  3. Then, start collecting your tank and equipment. You’ll want to look for a sturdy aquarium that’s big enough to give you room to add fish as your experience grows. Practical home fish tanks range from about 11 liters (3 U.S. gallons) up to about one cubic meter (300 U.S. gallons) in size.
  4. You’ll need gravel, or another substrate, for the bottom of the tank.
  5. You’ll need a filtration system, to remove waste and phosphates from the water, and a heater or cooler mechanism to keep the water temperature right.
  6. You may need an air pump to oxygenate the water, depending on your tank setup. Also ask about a small chemical kit for measuring and correcting the pH balance in the water.
  7. You’ll want to investigate the plants, rocks, and other aquarium furniture that goes into the tank.

Choose carefully, because the wrong materials can be harmful or even poisonous to your fish!

Get your tank set up, and make sure that the water temperature and pH balance is correct BEFORE you go back to the store to get your fish! If you’ve done everything correctly, your fish will be healthy and happy, and you’ll have a fascinating new hobby to learn and love!

Selecting an Aquarium

There are hundreds of models of aquariums on the market. Not only do they come in all shapes and sizes, but many places offer tanks as large show pieces of furniture. You can get anything from a coffee table aquarium to one that is custom made to fit in your wall.


What kind of fish do you want to own?

A good example is if you want to own an oscar. An adult oscar can grow to be 12 inches. The size of the fish should be taken into account when selecting your tank.

You should also take into account how many fish you want to have. Never over crowd your aquarium, not only is it unfair to the fish, but you will probably end up with a lot of trouble with your ammonia and nitrite levels.


You are going to have to decide how much you want to spend on your new aquarium. When planning out a budget consider the equipment that you will need and the price of fish. There will also be a small ongoing monetary commitment to both food and replacement parts.


Before bringing an aquarium home, carefully figure out exactly where the tank is going to be set up. Ensure that you have a proper stand that will support the weight of the tank and be sure that it is not in direct sunlight or drafty areas.

Glass or Acrylic

Glass can crack, chip or break, however, it does not scratch as easily as acrylic.

Systemised Tank

These tanks usually come with both the heater and filter system built right in. If you are looking at purchasing one of these tanks, be sure to find out where you can get replacement parts and accessories that might be required. Systemised tanks are great for beginning tank owners because basically all you have to do to set them up is add water, cycle and add fish.

Aquarium Kits

These are great for beginning tank owners. Most kits usually have both a heater and a filter which are the right size for your tank. They usually contain a few other small pieces of equipment. It is important to take a good look at the contents of the kit, as there may be a few things that you need which are not included.

Bare or Basic Tank

You can purchase just the tank and usually a canopy. Buying this way offers you more choice in what kind of equipment you purchase and how much you spend, allowing you more control as a customer. The type of filter and heater is not pre-selected so be careful with your choice, make sure that they will do the job correctly. You do not want to buy a filter that is either undersized or really oversized for your tank. By purchasing a tank this way there is not going to be any unwanted or unneeded equipment. For instance, you might not need a heater if you are planning to keep a fish that prefers colder water temperatures.

Leave a Comment