Setting up Your Aquarium


There are a few points to consider before making an investment into the hobby of keeping fish. Some fish require more thought and planning such as African Cichlids than others while some fish are hardy and less prone to diseases and infections making them ideal for beginners. Below you will find information about choosing the right tank for you and what aquascaping your fish will prefer! African Cichlids usually require a big tank 250Liters being the minimum while other fish such as Tetras and Guppies can be kept in considerably smaller tanks due to their smaller size and less temperamental behaviour. It also doesn’t have to cost you a fortune to keep fish, read on to find out more!

Choosing your tank:

When choosing your tank the most important thing to consider is the size of the tank and then what is the maximum capital you are willing to spend on the tank. As a general rule (and to avoid getting tank envy, trust me you will) you need to get the absolute biggest tank you have space for! Move the furniture around or sell some unwanted stuff on eBay if you have to and get yourself a nice spot on a flat surface where your beautiful tank will be placed!

Contrary to popular belief in bigger tanks the chances of spikes in harmful chemicals such as Ammonia and Nitrate are much less than in smaller tanks; in fact you will have trouble maintaining a healthy balance in any tank smaller than 60Liters (not to say it’s impossible). Depending on the fish you want to keep, 100Liters would be a good size for a start up tank.

If you plan on keeping some of the larger and more aggressive fish such as Discus, Other Cichlids (African, Central and South American) and larger catfish such as Plecos then naturally you will need a bigger size tank. Discus require a tank size of 200Liters for 3 specimens, bigger if you want to keep more, whilst most African Cichlids require a tank of 250Liters as a minimum but again the bigger the better! Planning ahead really goes a long way when it comes to setting up a home aquarium, so check your space, buy the biggest size tank you can and get an idea of the type of fish you want to keep before spending any money.

Note: If you plan on keeping a Mbuna only species tank such as the popular Yellow Lab (Labidochromis Caeruleus), or some of the shell dwelling cichlids (hard to find in the UK) you can get away with a smaller tank down to 190L.

You might think getting a decent size tank will cost a fortune but it needn’t do. You can pick up used tanks for decent prices from Gumtree and eBay click here for ESSENTIAL tips on buying used tanks if you want to go low cost. Alternatively some of the bigger fish stores such as Maidenhead Aquatics will offer a huge variety of tank sizes, even custom made ones and can offer finance too so it’s worth contacting them or visiting your nearest store for more information. Same rule applies to decorations and equipment for your fish tank. The Internet really is great to grab yourself some bargains and don’t be afraid to shop around a bit before making a decision. Alternatively chain pet stores will often have a great range of products, so again check your local fish store.

ND Aquatics have an amazing range of aquariums available to order from their online catalogue. Anything from saltwater, freshwater, different materials, colours are all available in different designs and sizes. The prices are not bad either and they have a big free delivery zone but deliveries outside of this zone will incur a charge. Click here to be redirected to their website were you will find out more information about their services and how to contact them.


Now that you have chosen a tank to suit your needs and your fish’s it’s time to think about filtration. Some fish such as the Siamese Fighting Fish (Betta) prefer slow moving low current waters, most other fish however, are not fussy and a good water flow is essential. The bigger the fish and the more fish you have the more biological load your filter has to handle so it is important to keep the correct number of fish for your tank. Your filter should at least match your tank size.

African Cichlids only:

If you are planing to keep African Cichlids you will know that they grow to be quiet big fish added together with the overcrowding they produce a lot of waste! All of this waste will end up on your substrate and produce harmful chemicals such as Ammonia so it is VITAL! You have good water flow in your tank and your water full of Oxygen. Consider filtering your tank twice over as a general rule e.g. if you have a 250L tank have enough filtration for 500Liters and if you have a 300L tank have enough for 600Liters etc…

A better way of achieving the above is to go with 2 filters of equal power. This will mean the filters work in support of each other and in case of 1 filter malfunctioning you still have an already cycled filter which will do the job till you replace the other filter or repair it accordingly. For example for a 600L tank go with 2 filters that will do 300Liters each. The Fluval filter range by Hagen is possibly the most common, high quality filters in the hobby, recommended by many due to their performance and reliability. Other brands such as Aquamanta sold exclusively by Maidenhead Aquatics and Tetra also make for decent filters.

The Fluval 306 External Filter is an excellent choice for aquariums of up to 300L it works great in smaller aquariums too with it’s adjustable flow rate. It features multiple trays with various media types that are interchangeable, a strong flow and great reliability. Click here to see some of the best filters on the market.

Substrate & Decoration:

Now that you have your tank and filtration sorted it’s time to get to the fun stuff! Consider your fishes natural habitat and try to replicate it. This is not an absolute must but think about your fish! There are things you can add that not only look great but can affect your water chemistry to suit the fish you want to keep. Live plants are a great addition too as they absorb some of the harmful chemicals produced by the fish and oxygenate the water. They also add a bit more life to the aquarium.

African Cichlids:

African Cichlids come from fresh water lakes and their habitat is made up of rock formations giving them places to hide in-between the cracks and caves and their substrate is soft sand and don’t they like to dig! Go for a fine sand substrate or for small gravel based substrate to cater for their digging. The colour is totally up to you so get creative if you are not using coral sand. It’s common practice to use coral sand in AC tanks to buffer the PH naturally as they like a higher PH (Alkaline) and hard water.

If you want to include plants I would go with plastic ones because African Cichlids like to uproot and damage live plants, although if proper care is taken such as protecting the roots of the plants you can successfully keep live plants with them so if you really want to give it try go with hardy plants such as Anubis and Java Fern. Again get creative with the colours of your plants and set them up to your imagination. It’s fun having no rules.

Rocks! The majority of AC tanks you are going to encounter are likely made up of rock formations, this is because of their natural habitat and well because it looks nice in a simplistic way. Most of the rocks you find at your local fish store will do just fine but again due to the fish preferring alkaline hard water you can use Ocean Rock as a natural buffer and others have been known to use Limestone. Stack them up however you like and create caves and hiding places for your fish! Remember not to stack any heavy pieces of rock against the glass as it could result in cracks and leakage.

All Other Fish:

The majority of the other fish you will find in the aquarium trade are not fussy but will prefer a set up mainly of plants (live or plastic) hiding places provided by their leaves make them feel secure, the use of driftwood has become very popular and the fish sure like it too! They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes so you are sure to find one to suit your grand idea. If you provide plenty of hiding spaces the fish will feel safe and you will actually see them more as they will secure to swim in the open spaces of the tank. It’s important to remember when it comes to decorating these are just guidelines and not rules though some elements will certainly make your fish’s lives more interesting.


Keeping the water Oxygenated is very important. Your filtration will add some oxygen but you would do well to add an air pump for extra oxygen and make sure there is water movement at the top of the tank to allow oxygen to enter the water. This White APS 300 Aquarium Air Pump – Tetra is as silent as they come along with the Fluval Q air pump range. Although both are pricey compared to other available models on the market both are excellent choices for durability and silence.

As with any tropical fish you will need a heater appropriate for your tank size. As with filters I recommend using 2 heaters at the wattage your tank size requires. For example if you have a 300L tank use 2 300Watt heaters with the rule being 1Watt of power per 1Liter of water. Although this is not absolutely vital it does mean you have a back up heater and it doesn’t use more electricity because they won’t be on any longer than if you had just 1 heater due to the thermostat cutting off power when the water is at the set temperature.

This Interpet Heater sold by Amazon is a great heater for your aquarium for a very reasonable price, you can purchase it by clicking the link and selecting the wattage appropriate for your tank size!

If you are looking for a higher range heater for your tank the Fluval E Advanced Electronic Heater range is perfect. Although more expensive than the Interpret these filters come with a protective plastic coating to protect your fish from burning if they sleep/get stuck behind it, they are extremely accurate and have a digital display.

You will also need to get yourself a thermometer, various options are available on the market and most of them are reasonable accurate. My personal suggestion would be a digital thermometer with a LCD display some of these also have alarm options that go off when there is a massive change in temperature to alert you. The other bit of essential accessory you will need before you can start the cycling process is a complete water test to check your water quality. This will be your long term companion in maintaining your water parameters. Essential to all fish keepers.

Other useful items are a bucket to be used only for your tank, Gravel cleaner, Magnetic Glass Cleaner (floating ones are handy) and of course lighting!

Click here to learn how to cycle your tank and what precautions to take when choosing your fish.