When deciding on a location for the aquarium [fish tank], one must select a place that is free from cold drafts and direct sunlight so that the temperature of the water will not be affected. The rule of thumb is to avoid any place that is drafty or would have rapid and/or unexpected changes in temperature. The next item of concern would be the availability of electrical outlets, as your aquarium will need several, depending on the equipment used. Now that you found a suitable location, let us discuss setting up the tank.
First, you need to clean the tank, even if it is brand new. Never use any type of soap products in or around the tank as they can leave a residue that can be lethal to your fish. Just use a little bit of warm water and a stiff sponge to clean the interior of the tank. After your tank has been thoroughly cleaned, it is ready to be placed on a tank stand or any suitable sold surface that will hold the weight of the tank. Remember, water is very heavy, eight (8) pounds per gallon, so one must consider the weight of the water and the weight of the tank, the decorations and the equipment. In order to compensate for any irregularities in the bottom of the tank, lay a thin layer of Styrofoam between the bottom of the tank and the tank stand.
Once the tank is in place, you can start adding the substrate [gravel] material. The size and type of substrate you use plays an important role in the biological filter. This biological filter is crucial to the health and well-being of your pets [fish]. Please try to avoid large sized materials because food can be trapped between the granules, causing the water to become foul, in a short period of time. Additionally, the rough surfaces can be detrimental to your fish. Sand is not a good choice if one is going to rely on an underground filter to clean the water. Sand will prevent water flow through the underground filter and cause a rise in unwanted anaerobic bacteria (bacteria that thrive without oxygen). If sand is used, along with an underground filter, it should be used over a larger grained substrate and used in a very thin layer. As a beginner, a good choice that will work nicely is a medium sized substrate. Remember, before adding your gravel, please be sure to clean it, eventhough it is new. To clean the gravel, place it in a large bucket and run water over it while you mix it up with your hand or a large spoon. Continue to wash the gravel until the water running off it is completely clean. The amount of gravel needed varies with aquarium size, and the type of filtration that will be used. If an underground filter is used [not recommended], you will need a 3 to 3.5 inch layer to cover the filter plates. Otherwise, a 1 to 2 inch layer will do nicely. Also, please ensure to slope the substrate so that it is at its lowest point at the front of the tank. This will allow uneaten food [if overfeeding occurs] to migrate toward the front where they can be vacuumed/siphoned off.
The next step in setting up your tank is decorating. Most aquarium stores [pet shops] will stock a variety of rocks [real & simulated], plants [live & artificial], and wood to compliment your tastes. Please try to design a set up that will seem “homey” to your pets. It is not required, but it is their home after all. If you add rocks to your aquarium, be sure to embed them in the gravel so that they touch the bottom. Never lean rocks up against the glass for support. This could pose a situation that could break the glass, or hurt one of your fish. Additionally, make sure that all rocks have smooth surfaces to prevent injury to fish that might lean, or rub up against them.
Now, let us talk about the water used in your aquarium. City water supplies contain chlorine and/or chloramine in order to eliminate harmful bacteria and make it safe for human consumption. However, these chemicals are deadly to your fish. It is imperative that all traces of these chemicals be removed from the water used in your tank. Luckily, your local pet shop will have a choice of bottled dechlorinators. Some will have enhancements to sooth the fish and assist in maintaining their natural slim coat. Simply follow the directions on the label, and add the required amount of dechlorinators to the water . . . before you add any fish or live plants! These harmful chemicals must be removed before you can place any living thing into your aquarium.
That then brings us to our last requirement. With any new aquarium set up, it is extremely important to age [condition] the water before adding fish. When fish are added to your tank, ammonia will begin to build up as it is excreted through their waste and due to the decay of nitrogen products such as fish food. A working biological filter is required to convert [deadly] ammonia into less dangerous nitrites and finally into safer nitrates. This is accomplished through nitrosomoiias that converts ammonia into nitrites, and nitrobacter that converts nitrites into nitrates. During the conditioning process, bacteria will multiply rapidly over a period of thirty (30) days. Beneficial bacteria grow along the top of the gravel bed and will help to breakdown waste in the aquarium, and ultimately convert it into nitrates. As the number of bacteria increases, larger amounts of waste products are rendered less toxic. Conditioning time varies depending on the temperature of the water and the size and number of fish, and the type(s) of filters used. However, the process can only begin once a starter fish has been introduced into the tank. A few hardy species, such as guppies or a single betta, should be added to the new aquarium to start the conditioning of the biological filter. Once nitrite levels drop, the conditioning period is over and you may add other fish and plants if desired. As your tank matures, nitrate levels will slowly increase over time but can be maintained at proper levels through water changes.