Selecting and Setting Up An Aquarium


  • Purchase the largest aquarium that your budget and floor space will permit. The larger the aquarium, the easier it is to maintain proper water quality. Further, a larger aquarium will provide more versatility and allow a greater species selection.
  • We do not recommend anything smaller than 55 gallons for marine aquaria other than for true reef tanks,
  • Surface area is of primary importance. A tall aquarium, lacking in proportional length and width, regardless of total gallonage, does not provide an adequate volume to surface area ratio for oxygen, carbon dioxide exchange.


  • An aquarium, regardless of the filtration involved, is not entirely self sustaining. You will have to devote twenty to thirty minutes per week to maintain your aquarium. It is more time consuming to maintain a larger aquarium, but not proportionately.
  • If you are unwilling or unable to devote this time, you will inevitably experience problems.
  • It is essential for the aquarist to understand the properties of water and the importance of testing and maintaining water quality. Tropical fishes are highly intolerant of poor water conditions and of sudden changes brought about by the hobbyist. Any alteration to the quality and condition of the water must be made as gradually as possible to avoid stressing the fish. Stability is as important as water quality.
  • In addition to periodically measuring pH, there are other tests that you can and should perform to ensure that water quality remains at its optimum. Once water has been "lived in," the resultant effect of the waste products of fish respiration, fish digestion and the decomposition of uneaten food can be measured. The main component of waste products is ammonia, together with two other nitrogenous compounds, nitrite and nitrate. All three are toxic to fishes and invertebrates to varying degrees. By using the relevant test kit, you can measure the buildup of these unwanted by-products and evaluate the efficiency of your filtration system and regular partial water changes in keeping them at a minimum.
  • Poor water quality will result in stress, disease and probable death.


  • If you do not have an aquarium stand, be sure that the surface on which the aquarium will be placed is sturdy (water weighs 8.3 pounds per gallon), level and supports the entire bottom frame of the aquarium. An unlevel surface can cause stress on the aquarium joints causing them to separate.
  • Place the aquarium away from direct sunlight which can cause overheating, excessive algae growth and inaccurate temperature readings on external digital thermometers.
  • Do not place an aquarium above or near a heat source, heating vent or stove. Similarly, avoid the sudden drops in temperature found near a window or air conditioning outlet.
  • Avoid high traffic areas as the constant movement and noise will tend to stress the fish.
  • Convenient and plentiful electrical outlets are required and a water source, inclusive of drain, within fifty feet of the aquarium is an added convenience.


  • There are certain areas in an aquarium set up where "corners can be cut" and a few dollars saved. The filtration system, however, is the very heart of your simulated aquatic world and should be given first priority.
  • Successfully maintaining aquatic animals in the home aquarium is dependent on the proper installation and maintenance of a COMPLETE water filtration system. Filtration is divided into three distinct processes, mechanical, chemical and biological, each of which serves its own specific purpose and all of which are necessary.
  • The size and capability of the filtration system must be appropriate both for the aquarium gallonage and the number and size of the fish therein.
  • There are power filters now available which effectively combine biological, chemical and mechanical filtration into their design. Generally these are proficient through 55 gallon capacity, will out perform undergravel filters, and are less expensive than purchasing separate biological, chemical and mechanical filters. On smaller aquariums (55 gallons and less) the power filter should have a flow rate of 4 to 5 times the tank volume per hour. On larger systems a flow rate of twice the aquarium’s volume per hour is generally acceptable.
  • Eheim canister filters provide excellent biological, chemical and mechanical filtration combined with minimal maintenance both in terms of frequency and expense. Models are available for aquariums up to 250 gallons with wet/dry versions up to 160 gallon capacity now available.
  • Trickle (wet/dry) filters currently provide the MOST EFFICIENT mode of biological filtration. They are available in varying sizes to accommodate aquariums up to 400 gallons. Manufacturer specifications will define individual model capacity and pump requirements. Ideally, aquariums utilizing trickle filters should also be equipped with an appropriately sized, mechanical filter to provide more efficient particulate removal. For some reason, trickle filters have become singularly associated with saltwater aquaria. This is a misconception; they are equally as efficient and advantageous to fresh water applications.
  • We do not recommend using undergravel filters in saltwater aquariums, cichlid aquariums or those extensively adorned with live plants.


  • Your aquarium lighting system must accomplish two distinct tasks. First, your lighting system must have the ability to sustain life and the life functions of each of your aquarium inhabitants. Second, the artificial light in your system must make your aquarium appealing and visually enjoyable to you, the viewer.
  • For fish only, smaller aquariums (55 gallons and less) a single strip, full spectrum fluorescent tube is sufficient. For larger aquaria, particularly those wider than 13 inches, twin tube strip lights are recommended.
  • Heavily planted aquariums, regardless of size, should have twin tube fluorescent lighting. This will allow the aquarium to be equipped with a full spectrum bulb to properly enhance the coloration of the fish, and a plant oriented bulb providing light in the red part of the spectrum promoting photosynthesis.


  • With the exception of saltwater and/or African cichlid set ups, the gravel should have no buffering affect on aquarium pH. It should also have no sharp edges and should be of sufficiently small enough diameter so as not to harbor uneaten food particulate. If live plants are to be part of the aquarium decor, do not use sand as a substrate as it will compact too tightly around the root structure. Conversely, too coarse a gravel will not provide sufficient anchorage. Darker gravels generally do a better job of displaying the fish.

Setting Up

  • Wash the aquarium inside and out with warm tap water. Do not use detergents or glass cleaners.
  • Wash the aquarium gravel by placing small quantities (approximately 10-15 pounds) in a clean bucket. Using a hose which has been pushed to the bottom of the bucket, vigorously stir the gravel with your hand, flushing the dirty water over the rim until the overflow water is clear and free of debris. The more thorough the preliminary cleaning, the fewer the problems with cloudy water later.
  • Decorative rock or wood should be thoroughly rinsed under pressure.
    • Wild collected driftwood MUST be boiled in several changes of water and immersed in water for several weeks before it is safe to use. It is best not to use driftwood in saltwater aquariums as it tends to acidify the water.
    • Do not use seashells or coral in a freshwater aquarium. Synthetic substitutes are available.
  • Place the undergravel filter plate(s) in the empty aquarium.
    • If utilizing air driven filtration, use the outermost left and right water return tubes on each filter plate.
    • Trim the return tubes so that the top of the cartridge receptacle will be approximately inch below the surface of the water.
    • Positioning the air pump above the aquarium will prevent back siphoning during power failures. If this is not possible or desirable, an in-line check valve placed between the air pump and the aquarium will prevent back siphoning.
    • A gang valve with one outlet per point of airline connection is required to properly balance aeration as air will seek the path of least resistance.
    • If utilizing powerheads, use one of the inner water return tubes on each filter plate. A mini- mum of one powerhead per undergravel filter plate is required. The powerhead should be completely submersed and the flow diffuser positioned to provide maximum surface agitation.
    • Air bubbles provided by the powerhead are more decorative than beneficial and you need not be concerned if the bubbling is interrupted or ceases altogether. Surface agitation, as controlled by the flow diffuser, provides for gaseous exchange.
  • Backgrounds are available to conceal electrical cords, outside filters, airline tubing, etc. When applying these to the aquarium, use vinylized tape such as black electrician’s or Scotch plastic tape. Apply the background before filling the aquarium with gravel or water.
  • Cover the assembled undergravel filter plate(s) with 3-4 inches of washed aquarium gravel (Lesser depth required without undergravel filtration).
  • Add dechlorinator according to manufacturer’s directions. We recommend using a dechlorinator even if you have a home water purification system. The filter media becomes depleted through use and there may be sufficient chlorine present to be lethal to the fish. Chlorine is lethal at levels as low as .2 - .3 ppm (parts per million).
  • Fill the aquarium approximately 2/3 full of temperature regulated water. If you are using tap water, allow the water to run for a few minutes before filling the aquarium so as to minimize the introduction of contaminants. Placing a saucer or flat rock in the aquarium and pouring the water onto it will prevent the gravel from being scattered.
Nashville tap water is of sufficient quality to sustain most FRESH WATER species with only the addition of a dechlorinator. Certain tap water qualities may have to be altered to support specific species and/or to stimulate spawning. Usually Nashville tap water will have a pH of 7.0 - 7.3, hardness ranging from soft to medium hard and phosphates of 1 ppm. Nitrate will be present at levels which are undetectable with aquarium test kits, but which exceed levels found in a natural reef. Summer months will provide the period of greatest and most frequent deviations from the norm. Check tap water pH before filling the aquarium, and adjust accordingly.
  • Position the external and/or internal power filter(s). Partially fill external filters with water. DO NOT turn the filter(s) on.
  • Mount the aquarium heater(s) in the aquarium above the gravel to ensure adequate water circulation around them. DO NOT plug in the heater(s).
    • Wattage requirement for conventional aquarium heaters is 4-5 watts per gallon assuming controlled, temperate room conditions.
    • Submersible heaters are easier to conceal and provide a more even heat distribution, particularly if placed horizontally in the aquarium.
    • For larger aquariums, generally 55 gallons and above, the use of two smaller wattage heaters is recommended. This prevents temperature differentials within the aquarium and provides a backup system should one of the heaters fail.
    • There are a few species of fish (goldfish being the most common example) that do not require heat; room temperature being adequate. However, they do require the low temperature protection and temperature stability that a heater provides.
    • If you are planning on an aquarium heavily stocked with live plants, heating cables are an excellent alternative to a conventional aquarium heater. Installed under the gravel, these cables will warm the gravel bottom above the water temperature. The warmed water rises to the top, which causes colder water to be pulled down from the upper part of the aquarium. In this way a constant supply of nutrients and fresh water is carried to the roots of the plants.
  • Position plants and decorations in the aquarium. Try to minimize areas where uneaten food may accumulate and do not impede free water flow into the power filter intake.
    • With the exception of not using toxic materials or materials which inadvertently alter the pH, there is no right or wrong in aquarium decorating. The aquarium’s intent is to be visually pleasing to you and, perhaps, to match an existing decor.
    • In a heavily live planted aquarium it is generally advisable to place some tall plants toward the rear of the tank to hide heaters, siphons and the like. Next, rocks or driftwood will hide the lesser attractive lower plant sections as well as offer both a contrast and feeling of depth. Then, midrange plants are placed with another level of rocks or other decorations. Lastly, small foreground plants in the very front complete the descending motif and further hide the bottoms of the plants immediately to their rear. This arrangement works as well with artificial plants.
    • As you become more knowledgeable of the hobby, you might want to alter your decorating scheme to accommodate certain species requirements/preferences. i.e., open swimming space, shelter/security, spawning sites, etc.
  • Add aquarium salt depending upon application: (Aquarium salt reduces fish stress, adds natural electrolytes and improves gill function.)
    • Freshwater - one tablespoon per 5 gallons of water ( that amount if live plants are part of the aquarium decoration.)
    • Brackish - 1-3 teaspoons per gallon of water. (Marine salt is preferable)
    • Marine - estimated amount required for net gallonage; to be adjusted in 48-72 hours.


Replenish salt ONLY when you have physically removed water from the aquarium.

  • Finish filling the aquarium until the water line is hidden by the decorative aquarium trim. Do not overfill as this can create a siphon action around the upper rim. (Not with Oceanic/Nature’s View aquariums. They are sealed to prevent capillary leak and salt creep.)
  • Plug in the heater(s), turn on the filter(s) and balance the aeration.
  • Ideally wait 24 hours before introducing fish into freshwater aquariums. This is primarily to insure that the aquarium temperature is correct and STABLE: 75 - 80 for most tropicals.
  • Marine aquariums should be left operating for 72 hours before introducing fish. This is to allow for accurate, stable measurements of pH, specific gravity and temperature. Acceptable parameters for the introduction of fish are:
    • Temperature 75-80F;
    • pH 8.1-8.3;
    • Specific Gravity 1.022-1.027;

Equipment Checklist


a Air line a Fresh water aquarium salt a Air pump
a Gang valve(s) a Air stones a Gravel
a Algae scraper a Gravel vacuum a Aquarium book(s) 
a Heater(s) a Background  a Light bulbs
a Battery operated air pump a Net(s) a Dechlorinator
a Plant supplement a Decorations  a Powerhead(s)
a Filter(s) a Test kits a Food 
a Thermometer(s)

Saltwater Specific

a Frozen food a Marine pH buffer a Ground Probe
a Marine salt a Marine substrate a Hospital tank
a Heater covers a Hydrometer a VHO/metal halide lighting
a Protein skimmer