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The first piece of equipment you will need is a tank. Fish tanks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. A rectangular tank is recommended over hexagonal, pentagonal, or any other shape, because rectangular tanks generally provide the most surface area and are easier to maintain.
The size of your tank will be determined by several factors. First of all, the larger the tank, the greater your chances of success. The bigger the tank is, the more mistakes you can make without seriously affecting the fish, and the more time you will have to fix any mistakes you make. Also, the tank size you choose will be dependent upon the amount of fish you desire to keep. A larger tank can hold more fish than a smaller one. Bigger tanks are also superior in terms of temperature regulation. For a beginner, the recommended tank size is a minimum of 20 gallons.
A fish tank will require a stand to keep it off the floor and raise it to an appropriate height. As a full fish tank can be quite heavy (at least 10 pounds for every gallon), using a piece of household furniture (like a table or a bookshelf) as a stand is not recommended. To avoid potential disaster, a stand specifically designed to hold a fish tank and sized to your particular tank is the best option in almost all cases. Commercial aquarium stands are available in metal and wood. They come in a variety of styles and qualities, some very simple and some looking more like an expensive piece of furniture, even providing storage space underneath the tank.
A tank cover serves several purposes, but its most important duty is to keep the fish in the tank. Some fish are more inclined to jumping than others, but any fish has the ability to get out of an uncovered tank. The types of covers most commonly used are plastic hoods and glass tops. They both have access doors, and a plastic hood will also have a glass strip where the light fixture will be installed.
Most fish do not require a substrate. It is more for aesthetic appeal than anything else, but many hobbyists choose to use it in their tanks. Gravel is the substrate most commonly used. It is available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. Medium-sized gravel is generally best, although smaller gravel can look great in a planted tank. Large gravel can be disastrous, as it can leave spaces that will trap food, waste, and even small fish.
Decorations are not a required component of a successful tank. However, they will add significantly to your tank’s aesthetic appeal and can provide a sense of security for your fish by creating hiding places. The choices are endless, including live or fake plants, real or fake rocks, and a huge variety of molded ornaments of structures like castles and treasure chests. Check with your dealer to make sure that any wood or rocks you use are safe for the type of tank you have and will not have negative effects on the tank.
There are a variety of aquarium lighting options to choose from. The lighting you choose will depend on the type of tank you have: aquatic garden, fish-only, or low-light plant. If you have an aquarium with a variety of aquatic plants, your tank will require a substantial amount of lighting. If your aquarium is not going to include any plants at all, a standard light fixture will do, which will usually house a normal-output fluorescent tube light. This type of lighting will enhance the beauty of your fish with a fairly low, standard wattage.
A low-light plant aquarium will require dual-tube fluorescent lights, which can fit in the same space in a hood that would house one regular single-tube light. These lights can provide plenty of illumination for your tank with only about 2 watts per gallon. They should be full-spectrum bulbs that are specifically manufactured for use with aquatic plants.
Most fish will do well in an aquarium that maintains a temperature between 76° and 80°F. This will require a heater and a thermometer. Aquarium heaters are available in hang-on and submersible varieties. Submersible models are attached to the aquarium glass with suction cups. They tend to be more expensive than hang-on heaters, but they also are generally more reliable and accurate. To make sure the tank is evenly heated, place the heater horizontally on the back glass of the tank, just above the bottom and just below the filter return.
The wattage of the heater you choose for your tank should be determined by the size of the tank and the location of the tank. For example, if you have a 50-gallon tank, you can use a 150-watt heater or two 100-watt heaters if the tank is kept in a location that can become cool; if your tank is 29 gallons, it will need a 100-watt heater or two 75-watt units if it is kept in a cool location.
There are several types of filters, including sponge, undergravel, and hang-on outside. The sponge filter (basically, a piece of foam sponge that is fitted with a lift tube) is inexpensive, easy to maintain, and quite efficient. It is an inside filter, meaning it must be situated within the tank and cannot be hung on the outside like some other filters. With some effort, a sponge filter can be hidden by rockwork or decorations, but it will never be unnoticeable. They tend to be most useful for tanks under 20 gallons in size, which are not recommended for beginner hobbyists.
The undergravel filter is made up of one or more slotted filter plates that cover the bottom of the tank with a small amount of space left beneath them. Lift tubes are fitted into the filter plates and the plates are covered with several inches of gravel. Water is drawn down through the gravel, into the space below, and then pulled up the lift tube and back into the tank. The downside of undergravel filters is the upkeep. By performing weekly deep vacuuming during water changes, many problems can be avoided, but if debris is allowed to build up under the filter, an extensive cleaning will need to be performed, including the dismantling of the entire tank.
The hang-on outside filter is highly recommended for novice aquarists. Most of these filters use a water pump to bring water from the tank up into the filter, where it moves through areas of filter media and, with the help of gravity, returns to the tank. There is no such thing as over-filtration, only under-filtration, so buy the biggest and most powerful filter that you can hang on your tank.