Setting up a Home Aquarium: FAQs

So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start a home aquarium? Congratulations, you’re about to embark on an incredibly rewarding and enjoyable journey.

As you’re brand new to the hobby, you’ll undoubtedly have lots of questions, so we’ve compiled answers to the most common FAQs that our experts have received.

What equipment do I need to set up a home aquarium?

For a fully functioning aquarium you will need the following key pieces of basic equipment and accessories to begin with:

How big should my first fish tank be?

The size of your tank ultimately depends on how much available space you have at home. It is common for smaller tanks to be recommended for beginners, but if you have the available space we would suggest a mid to large-sized tank of at least 80-100cm in length. This is because the water parameters in larger tanks are much more stable, as changes happen more gradually. This means there is less chance of things suddenly going wrong with water quality or temperature, thereby reducing potential stress on your aquarium inhabitants.

Should I use an internal or external filter?

This, too, depends on the amount of storage space you have in and around your home aquarium. Internal filters are smaller and designed to sit fully submerged within your aquarium, ideal for those with little to no storage space. External filters are larger and sit outside the aquarium. Many of the larger aquariums are sold with built-in cabinets below the tank, which creates a storage space in which external filters can be kept out of sight. Both internal and external filters are highly capable of keeping your aquarium water clean and safe for your fish, though the larger external filters are generally regarded as more effective and efficient as they can store more filter media.

How long should I keep my aquarium lights on?

You should keep your aquarium lights on for an average of 8-10 hours per day in a planted aquarium. Aquarium lighting is highly important, as it has a profound effect on the behaviour, health and general wellbeing of your fish, and provides vital energy for aquarium plants and other living organisms.

Be sure never to place your tank in direct sunlight as an alternative to artificial lighting, as this will just encourage algae growth. You should also never leave your lights on 24 hours a day; your fish and plants need to respire and rest, or they could die.

Which kind of aquarium substrate should I use?

This is purely down to your own personal tastes, and you can have a bit of fun selecting your favourite combinations to customise your aquarium. The substrate is the material that covers the bottom of your aquarium, and most come in gravel or stone form. You can choose from a huge range of colours and types of gravels, or you can choose to use aquarium sand as your substrate instead, or even a combination of the two.

Why do I need to test my water PH?

Tap water in different regions has varying levels of acidity. This level of acidity, or PH, will dictate which types of fish you are able to keep, as different species can tolerate different levels. You can easily test your water PH level at home using a simple PH testing kit; it is essential you do this before choosing your fish.

What is fish tank cycling?

Fish tank cycling is a process you must carry out once your aquarium is set up, but before you add your fish. The cycle is the way in which your tank filtration deals with waste in the water, with friendly bacteria converting chemicals like ammonia into less harmful nitrates.

New aquariums, however, have not yet built up this friendly bacteria. This means that adding new fish will lead to the overloading of your filtration system, causing your fish to die. This phenomenon is called ‘New Tank Syndrome’ (NTS) and can be devastating.

To cycle your tank, simply add small amounts of fish food to the water each day for 4-6 weeks. The food will release manageable amounts of ammonia for the filter system to handle, and will encourage the growth of friendly bacteria. Do not add your new fish to the aquarium before this important step.

What temperature should my aquarium water be?

If you are keeping coldwater fish such as common goldfish, your tank water can be kept at room temperature with no need for a water heater. If, however, you’re keeping tropical fish, you will need to install a water heater and maintain the temperature at around 23 to 28 degrees celsius (73-82 degrees fahrenheit). Make sure you research your species of fish thoroughly to find out what temperature their aquarium needs to be kept at.

How many fish can I keep?

This largely depends on the size of your tank and the type of fish you want to keep. The general rule of thumb is to allow 1 gallon of water for every 1 inch of fish. However, for this rule to work you must work to net gallons (as a 10 gallon tank, once full of substrate, filter and accessories does not hold 10 gallons of water), and you must always work to the size your fish will be when they are fully grown adults.

You can also work to the rule of 1 inch of fish for every 12 square inches of water surface area. This works better if you have a non-standard shape or size of tank, as surface area affects oxygen exchange and, therefore, how many fish can be supported. Overstocking your tank can be very dangerous for your fish, so make sure you err on the side of caution and go for fewer fish if you’re unsure.

Still have questions?

You can give our experienced Pond Planet team a call on 01642 612419 to get more help and advice on setting up your new home aquarium.