Step-by-Step Aquarium Installation
by Ruby Bayan
The ideal freshwater aquarium setup is housed in the best tank and adequately oxygenated by sufficient aerators, conditioned by effective filters, illuminated by appropriate lighting, sustained by efficient heaters, and enhanced by aesthetically designed décor. How to put them all together to work harmoniously may seem like a Herculean task but with a few simple steps to follow, installing a new aquarium is just one of the many fulfilling adventures in tropical fish keeping.
Before heading out to the aquarist store to buy everything you need for your new hobby, plan out the installation on paper. This will save you the trouble of having to redo or return equipment and tank inhabitants when things don’t quite come together. These are the steps to take before anything else:
Decide on the size of the tank and its location. It’s best to get the biggest tank you can afford because communities are easier to establish in large aquariums. Remember, though, that a large tank will also require a sturdy stand, and appropriately sized lighting, filtration, aeration, and heating equipment. The ideal location is where you have elbowroom for maintenance and access to water, and which is not too near direct sunlight or a heat source.
- Decide on the types of equipment you will use. With the many available models of filters, aerators, heaters, and lights, you have a wide array to choose from.
- Decide on what types of fish you want to keep. Do enough research on the different requirements of the various species of tropical fish, and from there, plan out your landscape.
- Choose the substrate and decorations you will use. You can include live (or plastic) plants, rocks, slates, driftwood, colored stones, pots, non-toxic figurines, and tank backgrounds. It will help if you can draw a landscape design as a guide.
- Ask a friend or family member to help you install your aquarium. Remember that water conditioning ideally takes about a week, so, don’t expect to introduce fishes into the setup the same day you install the tank.
You can purchase your tank, equipment, and decorations on the same day. Buy your plants and fishes a few days after you’ve set up the tank so that the water will have stabilized, in terms of composition and temperature, and be just right for its new inhabitants. Here are the initial installation steps:
- Clear the area where the tank will be placed. Position the baseboard or Styrofoam pads and place the tank on it, making sure the tank is absolutely level. Remember that once the tank is set up, it is not advisable, if not impossible, to nudge or push it about.
- If you are using an under-gravel filter, assemble the parts as directed and position it on the floor of the tank. Under-gravel filters are most effective if they cover the entire floor of the aquarium.
- Wash all décor under clean running water. Rocks, shells, and driftwood may need to be scrubbed to remove dirt and unwanted deposits. Wood should be pre-soaked; otherwise, it will float.
- If you are using large rocks that need to sit firmly at the bottom of the tank, position them directly on the under-gravel filter. Then pour the pre-washed substrate to cover the filter plates. Slope the substrate a little so that the contour is slightly lower towards the front.
- Arrange other large decorative items as desired. Be sure that none of the décor leans on the tank walls.
- Install the aeration and heating systems. Organize the tubing and wiring so that they can be easily concealed, convenient to manage, and safe from accidents.
- Carefully fill the tank with water. So as not to disturb the substrate and décor too much, put a saucer on the substrate to control the water flow.
- Turn on all the equipment to check if everything is working properly as expected. If you’re using plastic plants, you can put them in at this time. Let the setup stabilize for a couple of days.
Your initial setup will have become stable after a few days -- it’s then ready to receive the flora and fauna.
When you purchase your live plants, some of them will be sold in clusters or bunches. Separate them so that they can be planted individually for better growth and proliferation. Remember to wash them under clean running water to remove unwanted debris or parasites. Remove dead and bruised leaves and roots.
Referring to your landscape design, position your plants to your heart’s delight. Start by planting the tall ones at the sides and at the back ends of the tank. Use smaller, rosette-type plants as foreground accents.
Don’t worry if after finishing your landscaping the water will be a bit murky – the filtration system will fix this for you in no time.
Assemble the overhead lighting hood, position it properly, and turn it on. It’s best to give the plants and the new ecosystem a little time, like a day or two, to establish a healthy environment before introducing the fish.
When the set-up is ready for its swimming inhabitants, that’s the time to purchase the fish. Remember to introduce a few fishes at a time. Bringing in a whole community of assorted species all at one time will only lead to chaos and severe stress.
Allow the fish to acclimate to the tank’s water temperature by keeping them inside the plastic bag they were transported in. Float the unopened bag on the water surface for about an hour. Then open the bag, and gently net the fish from the bag into the tank. Try not to pour the water from the plastic bag into the tank to minimize contamination.
Introduce other community members a few at a time, when the current inhabitants have become comfortable in their new home.
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