001: Basic Equipment For A Freshwater Aquarium

Even the simplest freshwater aquarium requires some basic equipment to keep running. Typically for a freshwater aquarium setup this equipment can include a filter, an air pump, a heater, and a cover with a light. Lots of other gadgets and gizmos are available to solve a variety of problems or make your tank more interesting, but these are the core items you’ll need.


The filter is probably the most important piece of equipment for any aquarium, freshwater or otherwise. Without one, the water quality will quickly drop and the tank’s inhabitants will begin to die. A filter keeps the water clean in three main ways. One, by physically screening out particulate, two by absorbing harmful chemicals, and three by fostering beneficial bacteria which consume any remaining waste products.


When it comes to filters there are a couple different options, each with its own advantages and drawbacks. The most common for simple setups are hang on back filters. These are basically a box that hangs on the edge of the aquarium with a tube to draw in water and an overflow to return it to the tank. These are great for smaller simpler setups as they are easy to maintain and typically free from many problems. Another popular option is a canister filter. This consists of a sealed canister filled with filter media that can be placed somewhere out of site. It is connected to the aquarium by a couple of tubes. Canister filters offer a lot of flexibility as they can hold a lot of different types of filter media. They, however, do require somewhat more work to maintain.


An air pump is suggested to provide water movement and better oxygenation. It can also be used to add a decorative bubble curtain or drive an air powered ornament. When selecting a pump, choose one rated for a tank slightly larger than the one you intend to use it on. You may also need one rated for deep aquariums if your tank is over 18 inches tall.


Good water movement is essential to any aquarium. A powerhead is essentially just a pump designed to attach to the inside of the aquarium and provide this water movement. They typically come with a screen to prevent small fish from being sucked in and a fan shaped outlet to evenly disperse the outflow. You may want to consider adding one if you have chosen an especially long or deep tank to prevent any dead spots where the current generated by the filter cannot reach.


Even if you think the room where your aquarium is located is warm enough, a heater is still suggested. A heater provides a constant even temperature throughout the day. For most tropical freshwater fish the temperature you’re aiming for is around 76 degrees. To select an appropriate sized heater, take the size of your tank, in gallons, and multiply by five to determine what wattage you need. So, for example, a ten gallon aquarium would need at least a 50 watt heater. For larger or longer tanks you may wish to use two heaters placed at opposite ends to provide more even heating.


Substrate is simply the material you choose to place in the bottom of your aquarium. While not essential, it does provide lots of additional area for beneficial micro organisms to grow, and of course can greatly improve the aesthetics of the tank. For basic freshwater aquariums the most common choices are gravel and sand. Gravel comes in a wide variety of vivid colors as well as its own natural tones. Sand as well is increasingly becoming available in a wide range of colors. Whatever you choose, make sure it is labeled as safe for aquarium use. Long term, gravel is easier to keep clean. However, if you plan on keeping any bottom dwelling fish sand is preferred.


Finally, you will need a cover and light for the top of your tank. The main purpose of covering the tank is to lower evaporation and to prevent fish from jumping out. For a simple freshwater setup, an all in one unit is the easiest way to go. However, a cover and light can also get purchased separately which gives you more flexibility in what type of light you choose. In either case, you may want to look at some of the different bulbs available for your light fixture. While a different color of bulb won’t affect the inhabitants of your aquarium significantly it can dramatically alter the aesthetics. And at the end of the day, there’s nothing better than a more beautiful aquarium!


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