Setting Up Your Aquarium

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Spirit Level measuring base for aquarium

Installing the aquarium

Once the aquarium is up and running, it is very difficult, time consuming and stressful (to fish and fish keeper!) to move. Therefore it must be positioned carefully and correctly to begin with. Make sure that the floor and cabinet or stand on which the aquarium is placed is strong enough to hold the aquarium when full. If the aquarium is quite large, check to see where any supporting floor joists are, and position the stand on these. Make sure there is plenty of room behind the aquarium for cables and pipework as well as routine maintenance. Finally, if the aquarium has an unsupported base, make sure you place a layer of polystyrene or foam between the aquarium and its stand or cabinet. Without a layer of foam or polystyrene, the aquarium base is prone to cracking when placed under the full weight of its water.

Placing gravel and aquarium substrates

All substrate, with the possible exception of very fine sand substrates or planting additives, must be thoroughly cleaned before use in the aquarium. A large amount of fine dust is present in most substrates and this will cloud the water if it is not rinsed out. The task of cleaning substrates is a long and arduous process but is essential to the smooth setting up of the aquarium. A good method is to systematically clean small handfuls at a time, under a running tap. Rinse the substrate until the water runs clear. The cleaned substrate can then be placed along the base of the aquarium. Do not worry about creating an even substrate, in many cases a more natural appearance can be created by an undulating substrate with shallow and deep areas. For the best effect, deep areas should be towards the back whilst shallow areas can be at the front of the aquarium. This creates a better visual impression and also allows waste matter to collect in the shallow areas where it can be easily seen and removed. The depth of substrate is unimportant unless live plants are being kept, in which case it should be at least around 5-8cm deep.

Filling the aquarium

Before filling the aquarium, make sure that the aquarium is positioned correctly on the stand or cabinet and use a spirit level to check the aquarium is level and steady. The aquarium can be filled with normal tap-water, unless you are creating specific water quality conditions. It is important to allow the tap to run for a few minutes, especially when using a hosepipe. This allows any 'old' water, which may reside in pipework and contain dangerous elements to be removed. If possible, fill the aquarium slowly with the minimum disturbance. Even though the gravel may have been cleaned, the water is likely to cloud a little at first. A good method is to place a clean sizeable object (such as a bucket, plate, large rock etc.) in the aquarium and to pour water onto this. The water will then be dispersed over a large area and disturbance of the substrate will be minimised. The aquarium should be filled to within a few inches of the top, leaving space for water displacement from decor and equipment. Once the aquarium is filled, a suitable de-chlorinator should be added. A de-chlorinator is a proprietary liquid treatment that removes harmful chlorine, chloramines and heavy metals from tap water. Your retailer will be able to recommend a good de-chlorinator.

Checking equipment

Once the aquarium is filled, any equipment can be positioned and switched on. Heaterstats should be positioned in an area of gentle water flow, such as in the path of water movement from the filter, and positioned at a 45() angle with the heating element facing downwards. Remember that the heaterstat must be completely submerged and never switched on out of water. Ideally, place the heaterstat at least 10cm or more beneath the surface. This should prevent the heaterstat from emerging above water during water changes. The heaterstat should be set to the desired temperature (normally 24-26C (76-79F) for tropical fish) before being switched on. Most heaterstats have a light that will indicate that the heater is working. It will take up to a few days before the desired temperature is reached. Internal filters are normally positioned just below the surface at one end of the aquarium, although different filters may have specific instructions so check the products recommendations first. When the internal filter is first switched on it is likely to contain a number of air bubbles that will be expelled, often in an irregular fashion. It may take a few hours before all the air bubbles are expelled so allow the filter time to run. External filters are a bit more complex to set up, so again check the products instructions. Make sure that the inlet and outlet pipes are positioned at opposite ends of the aquarium. This allows the maximum circulation of water within the aquarium and prevents 'dead spots' from occurring. The inlet should be positioned just above the substrate and remember to attach the supplied 'grill' which will prevent large objects (such as fishes) from being sucked into the filter. The outlet pipe should be positioned just above or below the surface and may have a diffuser or spray bar attachment. An external filter needs to be 'primed' before use; this is the process of filling the filter and pipework with water before it is switched on. Most modern external filters have their own specific methods of priming, which should be followed carefully. An external filter will also contain some air, which will be expelled over time. This may produce some unusual noises from the filter at first, but should clear within 24 hours. If the problem persists, try gently turning the filter to different angles to encourage air bubbles to be expelled.

Placing decor

Most wood and artificial decor does not need cleaning before being placed in the aquarium although some rocks may need a quick rinse to remove any dust. The positioning of decor is a largely individual choice although care should be taken to ensure that any large objects are secure and unlikely to fall or be knocked over.

Getting ready for plants and fish

Once the aquarium is filled and its decor and equipment is in place, it must be left for at least 4-5 days before any fish can be introduced. During this time the heater and filter should be left on continually. Allowing the aquarium to run for 4-5 days will ensure that the water reaches a stable temperature, any dangerous pollutants (such as chlorine or metals) are removed and the equipment can be monitored to ensure it is working correctly. During this time, it is advisable to add a bacterial or biological starter. A bacterial starter is usually a liquid or powdered additive that introduces useful bacteria into the aquarium and filter allowing the aquarium to cope with the waste products from the first fish when they are introduced into the aquarium. Plants can be introduced into the aquarium as soon as the water has warmed to a reasonable temperature, normally around 24 hours after the heaterstat is switched on.

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