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Beginners Guide to Setting up a Freshwater Tropical Fish Tank

What can be achieved
What can be achieved

Starting Out

You have made the decision to start a tropical fish tank! Congratulations! Many people opt for tropical freshwater fish as they are not as difficult to keep but still provide the diversity and colourfulness of marine fish that attracts budding fish keepers. There are more than 4,000 species of these types of fish from all over the world. There are many variants in size, colour and all require care, but that is part of the hobby.

Plus it can be quite fun along the way!


Your Tropical Fish Tank and Stand

There are various things to consider when choosing anything with this hobby and it’s usually best to get it as close to right the first time as possible to save expense further down the line. Some things to consider before choosing your tank:

If you have fish in mind, they may require a tank of a certain size

  • How much space you have in your
  • Do you want your tropical fish tank to match your existing furniture?
  • Your budget
  • Tank shape
  • The general rule for new hobbyists is to get the largest tank they can afford. Larger tanks are more stable in regard to water conditions and allow you to keep more fish.

    Again a few things to consider:

    Larger tanks will cost more to set up and run

  • The cost in time is increased too
  • Is the size practical for you to maintain?
  • They are much more impractical to move and transport
  • Weight is an important factor. The larger the tank the more it weighs. It’s best to consider where the tropical fish tank will be located and the structural integrity of the flooring.
  • Once you have made a choice of what kind of tank you would like. The next decision is the material, glass or plastic. Both have their pros and cons. Acrylic weighs less and can be better for visibility at times. However it is prone to scratching easier than glass. Price wise there is little difference, acrylic is probably slightly more expensive for common sizes of tank.

    The next step is to consider where the tank will be located. Do you have an existing cabinet where you wish to place the tank? Depending on the size of the tank you may be better served buying or building a purpose made cabinet that will support the tank adequately. Cabinets can be pricey to buy new with the tank, so building one yourself is always an option.

    A layer of specialist matting or polystyrene is advised to be placed between tropical fish tank and stand to even out the surface.

    Its always advisable to shop around, different places offer sometimes vastly different prices (especially for cabinets) and some bargains can be found on second hand tanks, buts there’s always a danger when doing that.


    Hoods and Tank Tops

    You are probably going to need something to go over the top of your tank. Hoods and cover glasses keep fish in, air bourne chemicals out, provide somewhere to put lights, stop water evaporation and heat loss, and improve the aesthetics of the tropical fish tank.

    It is recommended to have a cover over the top of the tank itself (such as sliding cover glasses or a drip tray) and a hood. The first the tank should come with, the second it probably wont unless you buy a package. For hoods its worth considering looks, tank access, and the suitability for any special future lighting plans.


    Locating the Tank

    When you have purchased your tank, there are things to consider:

  • Is it close enough to plug sockets?
  • Direct sunlight, this can cause problems with algae growth and overheating.
  • Weight, is the floor suitable and strong enough?
  • How is the viewing position?
  • Is it away from sources of noise and vibration?
  • Is it away from highly trafficked area’s?
  • Is it in a stable area in regards to temperatures? If it’s somewhere that heats up too much or is too cool can be problematic later on.
  • How far away from taps is it? Having to carry buckets can be a pain.

    Once the tank is positioned leave it in position before filling up for a while to make sure you are happy with it’s location.



    Next step! Is to set up your equipement. Your fish require more than just water. The three things you will require are heating, filtration and lighting. All are important though the filtration should be prioritised as it directly affects your water conditions and the quality of life your fish will enjoy.

    I will explain the Nitrogen cycle in another article, however the basics are:

    Fish produce waste. The waste releases ammonia into the aquarium water which is toxic. Good bacteria turn the ammonia into non toxic chemicals (at normal levels).

    These bacteria exist in the filter, gravel and ornaments in your tank. Make sure your filter has a sufficient flow rate and size to cope with the size of your tank and the number of fish you intend on keeping. If you have a 60L tank it’s best to get one that can cope up to 100L, this way if you overstock with fish you will be covered to some extent.

    Different fish prefer varying aquarium temperatures though most will cope fine between 23-28 degree’s Celsius. I have heard of people keeping guppies at room temps without the use of a heater. Though this those slow down their metabolism so that they live longer but grow at a decreased rate.

    If you are interested in purchasing a Fluval Edge 23L yourself, check out the links below, Amazon usually great competitive prices.


    About Mike

    Web designer, football fan and budding traveller.

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    1. Wow! I don’t know how this is possible but my story is exactly the same as yours. I bought the Juwel Koral 60 as beginner fishkeeping, I also replaced the filter with the Fluval U2. It has guppies in it, together with one black balloon molly and some panda corydoras. One of the female guppies died giving birth to 22 little kids! Today I bought the Fluval Edge to find a place for this fry to grow in. I really am speechless regarding the exact same setup you have.

      Have fun fishkeeping!

      • Hey Wouter! Glad to hear someone else is on the same path as me haha, it’s great fun. The U2 filter seems to be working great and the guppies are growing quickly! I’ll post some updates this weekend! Thanks for taking the time to connect!

    2. Geoffrey petherbridge

      What do you think of a under gravel filter running at same time as a external filter. Thanks for a reply

      • Hey Geoff, can’t see there being a problem with it. Under gravel filters how ever are generally not very effective and provide far less filtration than other types. From my experience it’s better to get one high powered filter (external) as long as it is beyond what you require you should have necessary headroom regarding stocking. The Fluval U2 has kept the ammonia and nitrite levels at zero after bedding in, in my 60L tank.

    3. Hi Geoffrey,
      By all means consider 2 filters running at once, in theory the more filtration you have the better. Like Mike says, one should be enough though as long as its powerful enough to handle the flow of water. Besides doing it this way with just one filter rather than two might prove to be more cost effective. I for one dont know many people who have tried using filters the way you’ve described, usually just one will suffice. But at the end of the day its entirely upto you Happy Fish keeping!

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