002: Setting Up Your Freshwater Aquarium

Assuming your tank is in place and ready to go, it’s time to begin adding water. A garden hose comes in handy here, but a bucket or pitcher will work just as well. Aim for room temperature water. Make sure to add a chlorine/chloramine remover at the recommended dosage to make the water fish safe. At this point, only fill the tank to about 80% capacity since the decorations and equipment that have yet to be added will need some room of their own.


If you’ve decided on an under gravel filter or cable heater, make sure to get them in now. Next you can begin adding the substrate. Whether gravel, sand, or something else, the substrate is likely to be quite dusty requiring a thorough rinsing. A colander or strainer with holes small enough to not let it slip through works well for this. Once it’s rinsed lower the strainer or colander into the tank and pour it out slowly. Depending on the substrate you chose some fine particulate may still cloud the water slightly. Don’t worry, it will settle out in time.


Now you can begin setting up the various pieces of equipment that will run your tank as well as any decorations. Depending on how many pieces of equipment you have that require power you will likely want to set up a power strip from the closest outlet. Mount it a foot or two up the wall near, but not directly behind, the tank. When plugging in anything coming from the aquarium try to form a loop in the cord that hangs down to the floor then back up. The idea is you don’t want water to be able to drip down the cord and into the outlet easily. Okay, lets start with the heater. Adjust the thermostat to the approximate desired temperature before putting it in the aquarium. However, hold off on plugging it in until it has had some time to adjust to the water’s temperature. You may need to make small adjustments over the next day or so as well to get it set just right.


Next comes the filter. Setup can vary depending on which type of filter you decided on. Follow the directions that were provided by the manufacturer to set it up properly. Make sure to rinse all the filter media before installing it. After it’s plugged in and running check carefully to make sure there are no leaks. Sometimes parts won’t be quite seated together fully and a leak will result. Also listen to the filter. You should be able to hear a gentle hum. Any grinding or chattering likely means either something is stuck inside or assembled incorrectly.


If you plan on using any powerheads they can be added now as well. Before affixing them in place, tip them over underwater to get most of the air trapped inside out. This will prevent problems with getting them started when you plug them in. Try to not aim them directly at the substrate to avoid blowing it around too much, especially into the filter’s intake.


Finally, the air pump can be set up. Find a suitable place for the air pump, on the floor behind the stand is usually fine. Next cut a length of tubing long enough to run from the pump up over the edge of the aquarium and down into the tank where the air stone will be located. If you have an anti-siphon device, cut another small piece of tubing and place it in line just after the pump. Make sure to place it in the right direction. You can blow through it to check which way it goes. Hook the other end of the tubing to the air stone. Make sure to place the air stone away from any filter or powerhead intakes as any air they suck in will cause a lot of noise and could cause them to stall. Depending on the type of air stone you chose you may need to let it soak a while before it will work properly. If so, just leave the air pump off overnight.


After all the essential equipment is inside the tank, you can add any decorations you’ve decided on such as plants, rocks, or logs. Make sure they’re placed in such a way that they won’t interfere with the intakes and outputs of the filter and/or pumps. At this point you may need to top off the water depending on how much was displaced after adding all the equipment and decorations. Finally, place the cover or hood on top of the tank and the light on top of that. Depending on the type of cover it is you may need to trim away part of the back to allow it to fit around the filter and any power cords. Plug everything in and make sure that it’s working. Sometimes filters and pumps will need a little coaxing to get them going the first time. A little shake or quickly plugging and unplugging them a few times usually does the job. With everything up and running you’re one step closer to having that beautiful aquarium you always dreamed of!


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