Freshwater Aquarium Tank – What to Buy and How to Set it Up

Article by John Thomson

Where will you put it?

The size of your new freshwater aquarium tank will depend upon where it will go in your home so this should be your first decision. Keep the tank away from direct sunlight since this will almost always encourage excessive algae growth. Also you should not place the tank where it will be difficult to maintain the correct stable temperature, e.g. near draughts from windows and doors or near radiators. In an ideal world your aquarium should be situated in a reasonably tranquil part of your house where the fish will not be unduly alarmed by human traffic or noise.

Buying your Freshwater Aquarium Tank and Equipment

Acrylic or Glass?

As a general rule acrylic tanks are costlier than their equivalent in glass. Just because glass is cheaper it does not mean that acrylic is better than glass. Each material has a number of advantages and disadvantages. Poor scratch resistance is the biggest disadvantage of acrylic. Acrylic tanks have the big advantage that they can be formed in almost any shape. On the other hand glass is harder to scratch but it can smash and crack also it weighs much more because it has to be thicker.

Here is a list of their pros and cons:


Easily scratchedLightDifficult to break or crack – children safeCan be moulded into almost any shapeNeeds a stand supporting the whole of its weight otherwise it can split with the weight of the waterThinner and easier to drill through for filters etc.Less distortion because it is thinnerCan yellow with ageMore expensive


Hard to scratchHeavyCan break or crack – may be a hazard when children are aboutLimited to certain shapes mostly rectangular although bowed front glass tanks are now availableMore rigid so they can be placed on an open standThicker and difficult to drill throughMore distortion due to its thicknessDoes not yellow with age so they maintain clarity over a long timeLess expensive

Acrylic tanks have to be more carefully maintained than glass using acrylic safe tools particularly those used to scrape off algae.To sum up, If you just want a standard rectangular tank then it is probably best to go with glass. You will normally have to go with acrylic if you want a very large tank or one with an unusual shape.

Other Equipment

You must carefully choose the right equipment for your aquarium. A reputable dealer will help you with this and it is a good idea to build up a good relationship with your fish man.You should have some knowledge about what else is required, filter, heater, lid with lighting, substrate, backing material and such things as rocks and real or plastic plants. You will need extra accessories like a water conditioner, net, test kits etc once the tank has been set up.

The Golden Rules

Never buy the tank and fish on the same day. Curb your impatience to come home with everything you need all at once!Get the largest tank that space and your budget allows. Small tanks sold as ideal for beginners are a mistake. Larger tanks are more stable in terms of their water chemistry, temperature, etc. Water conditions will take longer to change in a large volume of water so changes for the worst are less likely to take you by surprise. A three foot long (92 cm) aquarium holding approximately 100 litres (about 25 gallons) of water is a good size starter tankPreferably place your tank on a tailor made stand, failing this it should be a strong piece of furniture. A large tank full of water weighs an enormous amount. Water weighs 1kg (2.2 pounds) per litre. A regular tank size, say 36x12x18 weighs approximately 110kg or 242 lbs plus the weight of the tank, gravel, lid and decorPrepare your tank and have it running with freshwater aquarium plants, heating and filtration for at least a week before the fish arrive. This gives the water a chance to settle down as far as its quality is concerned and allows the good bacteria a chance to multiply to a level where the tank is ‘cycling’Do not load the tank with more than 1 inch of fish to each gallon of water and remember that your new fish are probably babies so they will grow fast. There are many aquarists who like to be even more conservative using one inch of fish for every two gallons of water keeping fish waste levels lowDon’t just tip them in add your new aquarium freshwater fish carefully. Float the bag in the aquarium for about 20 minutes so that the temperatures equalise, open the bag and add some aquarium water to it for a further 20 minutes and then finally gently add them to the tank

Conclusion So there you have it. First make a decision about where your tank is going to live and then you can decide on its size and the material that it is to be made from. Your home freshwater aquarium will be a success from the start if you follow the six golden rules.

John Thomson is an aquarium expert. If you want to learn more about choosing a freshwater aquarium tank visit

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