A Start-Up Guide to Having a Fish Tank

How complicated can an aquarium be?

It’s just a tank with some fish and a bit of décor, right? Well?

If you’re thinking of setting up an aquarium and buying some fish for pets, it may not really be as simple as you think. Yes, fish are mostly uncomplicated creatures compared to a canine or a feline. They also do not need as much maintenance as a dog or cat. But if you think scouring the internet for aquarium for sale ads is all there is to it, then you’re gravely mistaken. Put it this way, even the simple matter of choosing the right tank for you may not be so easy.

Do you go for a 29 gallon aquarium? Maybe a 75 gallon aquarium is better so you can have more fish? Or should you go for cute and get a small fishbowl? How about splurging for unique fish tanks instead? Speaking of fish, what sort should you get?

Those questions are just the beginning. So to help you out, here are a few things to look into and consider when starting a fish tank.

1. The Actual Fish Tank

Aquariums come in a variety of sizes and designs. There are the usual rectangular kinds (I wrote about a few of them here).

There are also the unique and quirky, attention-grabbing kinds. Unique fish tanks have the added benefit of being conversation starters, so there’s that working for them. Although the regular 29 gallon aquarium or 75 gallon aquarium in a rectangular setting isn’t so bad either.

You need to identify what will work for you considering the space you have available and how much you’re willing to spend (money and time, both) on it.

2. The Fish

Fish come in an assortment of species and types. There are freshwater and saltwater kinds. Prices generally range from the absurdly cheap to the jaw-dropping expensive.

As a beginner, though, you might want to stick with freshwater fish as those are typically easier to maintain.

3. The Accessories

There’s more to an aquarium than just the fish. You also need to familiarize yourself with the following accessories that are necessary for your pets to thrive.

  • Aerators

Aeration is the process of ensuring there’s enough oxygen in the water. Simply put, you have living things inside that tank and they need to breathe, hence the need for oxygen. And the larger the water surface, the greater the opportunity for gas exchange.

Aquarium filters may be able to aerate the water enough, but in some cases, additional aerators may be needed to make sure there’s enough gas exchange happening to keep the aquarium inhabitants in peak condition. Stuff like water temperature, salt concentration, fish medication and stocking levels all affect the quality and quantity of air in your fish tank.

  • Lighting

Often overlooked, aquarium lighting is actually very important. This is especially true if you have photosynthetic organisms inside the tank. That means live plants, anemones, corals and even some species of fish.

These lights provide the primary light source for your aquarium. Therefore, you have to find one that works best for your set up. Whether you get the lights for aesthetic or functional purposes, there are different kinds to choose from- compact, standard, metal halide and so on.

  • Filters

If you want to keep your tank as clean as possible for as long as possible while maintaining the health of your fish, then you need a good filtration system to be installed in there. Basically, the filters will keep the water clean and free of leftover food, feces and other particulate matter. They will also ensure toxic materials are swept away before they can harm your fish.

Just like lights, there are also many different filter kinds. Generally, they’re broken down into 3 types: mechanical, chemical and biological. There are also a number of filter options.

Need help deciding what to get? Read my comprehensive filtration system guide.

  • Heaters

Fish may be cold-blooded creatures. That doesn’t mean that you don’t need to worry about the water temperature in your aquarium, though. If you choose to get tropical fish, for example, then the water temperature in your fish tank must ideally be between 20 and 30 degrees C.

If you don’t keep a stable and appropriate water temp, you may be stressing your fish out. And that’s never a good thing. A few things to consider when buying a heater:

  • Tank size.
  • Heater type.

Bear in mind that your choice of aquarium may affect the accessories you get for it. For example, unique fish tanks may need specially made lights as regular lighting may not fit the shape of it.

4. Décor

This is where we talk about all the other stuff you want in the tank for aesthetic (and maybe some functional) purposes.

  • Plants

Okay, some of you may not really think of aquarium plants as “décor.” That’s fair. But put it this way, many fish tanks would survive without plants in them, live or otherwise. So they’re not really always necessary, pretty much like the other stuff pet owners put in there.

Anyway, there are plastic plants and then there are live plants.

Live plants, of course, will require more attention and work. But they have the advantage of helping with inhibiting algae growth plus they serve as additional food sources.

Plastic, meanwhile, doesn’t decay, is easier to care for and clean and won’t carry parasites.

I wrote about all the pros and cons of each here, along with a few of my favorite plastic plant decors.

  • Ornaments

I love decorating my aquariums. Maybe because the fish don’t complain like the other inhabitants of my house when I so much as change the location of the couch in the living room.

I’ve written about some interesting aquarium décor here and here.

Now that you know what you need, you may have already arrived at the conclusion that aquariums may not be the cheapest of hobbies.

Before you go ahead on your aquarium for sale hunt, whether it’s for a unique fish tank or regular one, take the time to really think about it and consider your budget and your commitment to having pet fish.