Aquarium tanks have a calming effect on your personality making them really nice to come home to after work, especially on stressful days. The rhythmic sounds of the water, smoothly swimming fish, and colorful plants are relaxing to listen to and watch. Studies confirm this: there’s a link between decreased stress and having contact with nature, and including live fish boosts those positive effects.
Setting up an aquarium is an exciting project and learning experience. It does take some specialized equipment and time but is a gratifying hobby. This guide explains the necessary equipment and discusses different types of setups so you can begin this rewarding hobby.
- The difference between a fish tank and an aquarium
- What is aquascaping?
- Necessary accessories to create your home aquarium
- Setting up your aquarium’s interior
The difference between a fish tank and an aquarium
It’s common for people to use the terms aquarium and fish tank interchangeably, and technically they’d be right but there are some nuanced differences in size, construction, and usage.
Size: Fish tanks tend to be small; maybe 5 to 10 gallons. Aquariums are usually larger.
Construction: Fish tanks are simply constructed with little to no habitat; they may be so small as to not need a filter. Aquariums usually contain plants, animals, substrate, and other materials.
Usage: Aquariums are built to mimic the habitat that provides resources for aquatic plant and animal life. Fish tanks do not do this.
Aquariums provide better physical support and mental stimulation for fish. Fish from well-maintained aquariums are healthier and happier than those in fish tanks.
What is aquascaping?
Aquascaping is the term to describe the aesthetics and design of the plants and animals arranged in a tank. It’s similar to landscaping. And people often hold contests to determine who has the best or most exotic set-ups and ideas.
Like landscaping, aquatic designs are largely personal decisions where you’re free to explore your creativity. Three main styles exist: Dutch style, Japanese style, and jungle style.
Dutch style aquascapes emphasize plants rather than rock formations or animals. These tend to be very intricate and take a deal of maintenance. They’re recognizable by the tall thick plants on the rear wall of the tank, manicured plants, and a floor that shows very little substrate.
Japanese style aquascapes include the subsets Nature style and Iwagumi style. Both Japanese styles emphasize sparsely covered rock formations and a limited number of fish. The goal of this style is to create a minimalist aesthetic.
Jungle style is the wild cousin of Dutch style. They both focus on lush plant-life, however, Jungle style permits an untrimmed canopy. The clean manicured lines seen in Dutch styles aren’t present.
So, how to build a home aquarium?
Necessary accessories to create your home aquarium
Setting up an aquarium begins with purchasing the right equipment and supplies. Each piece is an important piece of the whole system.
Below is a list of supplies and short explanation of their purpose.
1. Tanks & stands
The tank & stand are the most obvious requirements but pay attention to their size. Tanks get heavier as they get larger; you may need help moving it later on. Also, several different materials exist so you’ll want to make sure you get the right one for your aquatic life.
Lights are often overlooked but are vital to the health of your habitat. They’re not there for decoration; aquarium lights mimic the daylight/nighttime cycle of the sun. Without them, your fish and plants may not behave or grow correctly.
Fish that are native to shallow streams may thrive in sunlight, and so your aquarium would need a different kind of light than fish who are used to living in deep dark lakes. Plants need light to perform photosynthesis to grow and breathe.
Several different kinds of bulbs exist. The most common are LED, incandescent, flourescent, metal-halide. Each has its own set of features and benefits to help you decide which is most appropriate for your tank.
Filters are important because they remove physical and chemical waste from the water. Waste is produced through digestive processes or from uneaten food being dropped on the bottom of the tank. Without a filter, that waste would accumulate in the tank and damage your plants and fish.
There are three kinds of filter technology to remove the impurities, but many ways to configure it. That’s why you see so many different arrangements such as box filters, canister filters, and trickle filters.
Most filter units will contain some combination of the following filter technology:
Mechanical: Pieces of material are trapped inside of a medium. The water appears clearer but may still contain other pollutants.
Biological: Colonies of bacteria are used to remove harmful substances. The bacteria digest the toxin and excrete something less harmful.
Chemical: A substance, usually carbon, absorbs chemical impurities. These work quickly but also have to be replaced often.
4. Plant substrate
Plant substrate is used to cover the bottom surface of the tank. It’s usually thought of as just an aesthetic part of the tank but actually plays a pretty big role in aquarium function. When choosing a substrate the most important factor to consider is whether you have a freshwater or saltwater aquarium.
Substrates can directly affect water chemistry such as its pH, amount of calcium carbonate amount, and water hardness. Changing the chemistry of the water alters the tank’s environment, and therefore the habitat of your plant and animal life.
Substrates also give plants some place to root. Not all substrates will be appropriate for all plants; such as those that don’t provide nutrients.
5. Carbon-dioxide (CO2) kit
A carbon-dioxide (CO2) kit provides necessary elements to your aquatic plants. Plants require CO2 and sunlight in order to survive; it’s a process called photosynthesis. Aquariums are a closed system that normally doesn’t provide sufficient amounts of carbon-dioxide for plants to thoroughly flourish. The solution, then, is to equip the aquarium with extra.
Not all aquariums require extra CO2; it depends on the relationship between the number of plants and the amount of light available. A tank with lots of plant-life and high-intensity light will need CO2 to match. On the other hand, the same size tank with fewer plants wouldn’t necessarily need extra CO2.
There are three ways to add in the carbon dioxide:
Manual systems are budget-friendly and good for small tanks. These have to be manually turned on and off to maintain optimal CO2 levels.
Semi-automatic systems operate on a timer. They’re a tad more complicated to install but not beyond being able to do it on your own.
Automatic systems use a probe and pH controller to constantly monitor levels. When the probe detects the water becoming acidic it stops the flow of CO2.
Heaters maintain the tank’s temperature; fish are cold-blooded so temperature is important to maintain a stable temperature. Though keep in mind that each species of fish thrives within a different temperature range. If the temperature falls too low the fish will have difficulty digesting food and performing other bodily functions. The easiest way to check the temperature is by installing a thermometer inside the tank. Several styles are available.
Chillers also help maintain tank temperature but most tanks don’t need them. Fish are more sensitive to cold temperatures than they are to warm ones so it’s rare that space will need to be cooled. These are useful in tanks that contain coral though.
8. Test kits
Test kitshelp you monitor the tank’s environment; things like pH, water hardness, chemical composition. There’s a variety of different methods: strips, test tubes, probes. Some kits test for one thing, but most are combo kits.
Setting up your aquarium’s interior
It’s important to understand that the interior of an aquarium is a living ecosystem whose components work together. To that end, great care and thought must go into the number and type of species you bring into it.
What plants or moss are appropriate?
Aquatic plants and moss differ from their terrestrial counterparts. You must propagate your tank with the appropriate plant-life.
Some aquatic plants like lillies, water hyacinths or lotus float on top of the water. Other plants such as anubias, java moss, and kelp live completely submerged.
Consider your aquarium’s environment before installing plants; like fish, plants thrive in specific conditions. Follow these guidelines before placing plants in your new tank:
1. Generally, aquariums composed largely of plant-life will require more light.
2. Take care not to introduce plant-eating animals to the environment.
3. Limit the number of floating plants so others don’t get shaded out.
4. Tall plants should go in the background; short plants go in the front.
5. Consider a CO2 system if your tank is densely populated.
What fish can I use in my aquarium?
The size and type of aquarium you have will dictate what kind of fish can live there. People often find it easier to choose a fish first, then build a tank around it. That way you can make sure the plants, lighting, heating, and filter will work together to benefit the health of the fish.
The two biggest considerations are how big the fish will get, and how much room it needs to swim.
The general rule of thumb is to allow 2-5 gallons for each inch of fish; that works well for small fish but not large breeds. For example, if you have a 5-inch fish then you should make sure to have a 25-gallon tank.
Adding small schooling fish is a good way to stock your aquarium without worrying about lots of negative interaction. Some species can school with as few as six individuals.
Research your fish to ensure that your tank is large enough to accommodate its swimming habits. A fish who is used to swimming a mile a day wouldn’t thrive in a small 55-gallon tank. Each species is different and size is not an indicator of how far they will swim.
Good fish for beginners are hearty and can handle things like temperatures fluctuations and pH imbalances. They don’t require specialized feeding or light. Some examples include swordtails, platies, and neon tetras.
How do I care and maintain my tank?
Having the right equipment is only one aspect of creating a relaxing home aquarium. You must still work to make repairs, do upgrades, and solve other problems. It does take some time and effort to keep your aquarium looking its best, but the trade-off is worth it.
Algae is the most common problem. Every tank will have some, but you can control its growth by limiting direct sun and not overfeeding. Algae-eating fish or snails are a good offense.
Cloudy water is seen in new tanks that haven’t had a chance to settle. If the tank is cloudy later then it could indicate a chemical imbalance.
Fish gaping at the surface is a sign that there’s not enough oxygen in the water. You can add an aerator or make sure there’s more movement at the water’s surface.
Ammonia and pH changes are usually signs of filter problems though dead or decaying matter can also affect them. Make sure to inspect your tank often.
It’s well documented that being close to nature boosts mood and overall feelings of well-being. Aquariums are a good way of being close to nature. Setting them up is a fun engaging process that involves gathering the right equipment and knowledge. Once established, your aquarium will give you years of joy and relaxation.