Setting up an aquarium is the most exciting part of the aquarium hobby. Hopefully you have considered the types of animals you want to care for and how much money you are willing to spend, which will determine the type of system you will assemble. You should have researched the different types aquariums, stands, lights, hoods, filters, etc. and have decided what you need. It may take you time to gather everything you need. Make a list - on paper or computer - to help you remember everything you need. Talk to your local fish store and see what you can get from them. A local store can be invaluable in helping you get advice and materials you will need. You may need to go online to find some equipment. Once you have bought all of your components, you will need to read instructions on each component. Get to know the equipment BEFORE you install it. Then you will begin the assembly of your aquarium.
Equipment to Start a New Aquarium
aquarium, stand, light fixtures, bulbs, hood, filter, pumps, hoses, media, protein skimmer, salt mix, hydrometer, thermometer, heater (if needed), live sand and rock
You will need to do the following:
There are many helpful links on this site to help you with adding fish and invertebrates, water quality testing, and livestock natural history. Use them or a good textbook and keep yourself on track. Good luck!
- Put together skimmers, pumps, light fixtures, hoods, stands, etc. Be sure that you understand everything before you begin final assembly
- Place the stand where it will be. Check it is level. If not, level the stand by leveling the base at the floor, not the top where it contacts the aquarium. Place a piece of foam on the stand top to place the aquarium onto. Put the aquarium on the foam and stand, and check level. If it is not level, remove and level. Once the tank is placed and level, you should begin assembly of the filter and hood. You will not put any gravel or rock into the tank at this time. You will be adding water slowly to make sure the tank has no leaks. Hook up the filter and tighten all fittings. Be sure that before you fill the tank, no water can leak.
- Fill the tank with fresh water. Once the tank is full, turn on the filter and check its operation. If you have one, hook up the protein skimmer and turn it on. If it is working correctly, put on the hood and light fixture and turn on the lights. Let the aquarium sit with water for one day, filter running for 24 hours and tank running a normal photoperiod.
- Check for leaks, everywhere. Look at fittings, filter seals, aquarium seams, and the floor. If there are no leaks, proceed on. Empty the aquarium, filter, and other parts. If there was a leak, get the parts replaced. If not, proceed on!
- Mix your saltwater. Large heavy duty trash cans that are new and clean work great for this. If they are on wheels its an added bonus. Mixing saltwater takes some time. A power head in the water helps immensely to circulate and mix the salt. Keep the can clean - you will need it again and again and again and again. You will need about 1.4 pounds of salt mix per gallon of water to produce a specific gravity of 1.024 (approximately). Don't bother checking salinity until at least several hours have passed. Let the water stand in the container with a pump circulating it.
- Prepare your aquarium. If you have a background for the back wall, apply it now. It will likely adhere to the outside of the back wall. You can paint it also. After you have the back wall prepared, you are ready to begin filling.
- Pump the water or bucket it from the mixing container to the aquarium. Don't fill to the top - you still have to add your aquascaping material and sand. Once you are within several inches of top, stop filling and save the extra saltwater for a water change. Start up the pumps, filters, and skimmer (if you have one) and let the water circulate.
- Add the sand to the aquarium. If it is "live" sand, do not rinse it. If it is "dead" sand, you should rinse it with tap water until it rinses clear. Stir it around while rinsing to be sure you get most of the dust out. This is best done outside where you can let the rinse water overflow the rinse bucket and carry the dust away on the ground. Either rinsed "dead" sand or unrinsed "live" sand - add to the aquarium. Add 1 to 2 inches of "dead" sand or 3 to 4 inches of "live" sand.
- Add your aquascaping of either dried rock or live rock. Dried rock can be freshwater rinsed but live rock should be added straight to the aquarium. Leave at least 3 inches between the sides and front to allow for class cleaning and fish movement. Place rocks so they cannot tumble into the front glass.
- Restart all systems - filter, heater, etc... Do not run the skimmer just yet. Check for leaks.
- After a day or two, begin checking water chemistry. Test pH and specific gravity. If it will be a reef system, also check calcium and hardness. Adjust if necessary. Run the lights for 2 or 3 hours per day.
- If the rock and sand were not live, seed the system with a handful of live sand. Then add some fish food every two days to add some protein and ultimately ammonia to the system. This will get the nitrogen cycle going.
- Test the water for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate every other day until ammonia and nitrite are 0. Clean the aquarium glass as needed. Run the lights for normal day light periods.
- If nitrites and ammonia are 0, after at least 4 weeks, buy one fish that you want for your community, the hardiest you have picked. Acclimate it and observe it for one week. Start your protein skimmer and keep it running.
- If your fish remains healthy, continue to buy one fish per week and continue observing. Continue to check water quality - salinity, pH, nitrite, and ammonia, also calcium and hardness if corals are involved. Adjust as needed.
- Enter your routine maintenance schedule and continue to add stock. Once the tank has been set up for one month and new stock is being added to existing stock, it is a very good idea to set up a quarantine tank to stage the addition of new arrivals to your aquarium.
- Congratulations - you are now a marine aquarist!!!