How to Setup an Aquarium for Your Home

Fish are not disposable, or merely pretty things to look at. They make excellent pets, and if you think of them as a valued pet, then the work that goes into setting up an aquarium becomes worthwhile.

It’s a job that children can help with, and it could be a rewarding start that cements their relationship, helping them to see the fish as that pets, and seeing the fish as their responsibility.

Fish rely on you to keep their captive environment at its best, if it’s unhealthy, the fish are being cruelly treated.

Which is why learning how to set up an aquarium correctly from the start will not only help them to have a great start in your home, but it will give you and your family the essential skills you will need to look after fish for the longer term.

In this guide we are going to go through all the steps you need to take set-up a fully functioning, safe, and affordable home aquarium.

Choosing A Location For Your Aquarium

An aquarium should be sited on solid ground, or a hard surface. An aquarium that comes with a stand is ideal.

You need to be aware, that an aquarium can crack if it is not on a flat surface, or if the surface is uneven.

For example, if you just put it on a thick carpet, and then fill it with water, that could put stress on different areas of the base.

The location of your aquarium should also be close to the required electrical equipment. You will need electrical sockets for heating, lighting and filtering.

Electricity and water obviously don’t mix well, so having an extension lead sitting under the tank is not ideal. A splash could cause a serious incident, so you’re looking for a location where there is a socket, or the possibility to hang an extension lead away from the source of water.

Another consideration is heat and light. Putting an aquarium next to a window, or next radiator is obviously going to affect the fish dramatically. Excessive heat and light can cause algae to grow, which can be very dangerous to fish.

The only heat and light they should really receive, apart from ambient room temperature, is that directly put into the tank from the specialist equipment that you buy.

What You Will Need: Basic Aquarium Check List

Before you go shopping, it’s a great idea to have a basic checklist of everything you will need to get your aquarium up and running, apart from obviously the fish!

  • Aquarium tank
  • Aquarium filter
  • Water test kit
  • Water filter Kit
  • Water de-chlorinator
  • Freshwater quality test kit
  • Aquarium lighting
  • Gravel
  • Decorations such as artificial plants, or live plants
  • Water conditioner
  • Net for handling the fish
  • Fish food

Adding Gravel To The Tank

You can buy specially coated gravel, but any gravel will do. Fish sellers online, and pet stores will sell bags of fish tank gravel.

Whatever type you choose, you should ensure that the gravel is thoroughly cleaned before putting it in the tank.

One of the biggest beginner mistakes is to just chuck the gravel in, and then fill it with water. The result could be cloudy and contaminated water.

Put the gravel in a bucket and then use a hosepipe to fill the bucket up. Agitate the gravel with your hands as you do this, to mix it up and clean it.

A top tip is to use a cheap bucket you can put holes in the bottom of, so that water drains away, taking contaminated materials with it.

Repeat this process half a dozen times, until the water is completely clear, demonstrating that the gravel is clean and ready to use.

In terms of the quantity of gravel you will need, 2 inches in the bottom of the tank is ideal. Make sure you place it gently, rather than pouring it in, to prevent damage to the bottom of the tank.

Filling The Aquarium With Water

It will be far easier to fill a large aquarium using a hosepipe. However, a smaller tank, or if you don’t have a hosepipe, can easily be filled with a large container.

It’s recommended to use water at room temperature, rather than straight from the tap. This will stop the tank from condensating inside.

Another great tip is to place a curved object, such as a bowl, on top of the gravel. When you then pour the water onto that, it will not displace the gravel.

After the tank is full, you will need to use the water de-chlorinator. You need a good quality kit, that will last for a long time. You will need to use every time you refill the tank, so it’s a good thing to invest money in.

This is a vital point. Un-treated tap water can kill your fish. If you are intending to stock more exotic and expensive species of fish, you may also need to do cycling, this is a water process that balances, and minimizes the levels of ammonia and nitrate in the water. But for a basic family fish tank setup, it’s not necessary.

Once the water has been added, it’s a good idea to test it with a water quality test kit. These are affordable, and give great peace of mind.

Set-Up The Heater

A few species of fish, such as goldfish, can cope quite comfortably with cold water. However, these are the exception, and you need to decide what species of fish you are interested in, to determine whether you will require heated water or not. Generally, it’s a good idea to just heat the water anyway.

A large tank will require a high capacity heater, or sometimes people use two smaller heaters, one at each end, in order to even the heat out rapidly.

A good quality heater, that is small, and has a higher wattage, will be the most efficient, and the longest lasting.

In terms of temperature, you will need to research online for the correct temperature for the fish you are intending to introduce into the aquarium.

Create The Right Lighting

An aquarium looks far better with lighting added to it. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant, but it will bring out the natural beauty of the fish, and the environment you have created.

As the fish will be better off away from direct sunlight, unless you do add considerate lighting, you will struggle to see the fish a lot of the time.

Lighting with a timer is also ideal. The reason for this is that excessive light can encourage bad algae growth. So having the lighting switch off around the time you go to bed will help to minimize this danger.

If the lighting doesn’t have a timer, it’s relatively inexpensive to buy a socket timer.3

Always use proper fish tank lighting, or LED lighting. Other types of lighting can produce heat, which could cause problems within the tank, including dangerous algae growth.

Choosing Accessories: Plants & Decorations


You may wish to decorate your tank with live, or plastic, aquatic plants, decorations such as rocks, and ornaments.

The key thing is to keep balance in the fish tank. If you overfill it, you force the fish higher in the tank, making them feel more exposed. Accessories and decorations should allow free swimming between them, and give your fish an exciting environment.

Another important tip is to make sure that any plants and decorations you buy are both suitable for fish tanks, and are washed thoroughly before entering them into the environment.

Final Tips On Setting Up A Home Aquarium

To conclude, here are a few final tips on setting up an aquarium at home, which might help to make things easier for you:

  1. Always allow your full aquarium setup to run for 24 hours before adding fish to it. This will give it time to settle, and for you to look for any flaws, without disturbing the fish. It will also allow bacteria to build up, which can be beneficial to the fish, and will also allow the water to get to the correct temperature, and be maintained at it by the heater.
  2. If you have younger children, make sure that they are aware not to try and reach in, both in terms of scaring the fish, and pulling a large heavy object over on top themselves.
  3. You should invest in an aquarium glass scrubber. This will allow you to keep the glass clean, and for people to be able to see the fish most efficiently.
  4. And finally, when you introduce fish, it’s recommended to introduce them one at a time, over a few weeks. This gives the individual fish a less confusing time to settle in, and it allows for the water balance to be maintained more readily.

Putting too many fish in at the same time will produce high levels of waste, which can build up nitrate and ammonia, both of which can be dangerous at higher levels. You may need to partially empty and refill the tank as well, to keep the water clean.