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Aquarium Setup

    Setting up your first aquarium can be fun, but it requries imagination.  Before you even think about fish or how to do a fishless cycle, you have to get the tank ready for water.  It is best to buy the biggest tank you can afford.  Bigger tanks really do take less work to keep them going, trust me!  You will need to get everything for the tank before you start it up.
Supplies List:
Full hood, cannopy, or glass hood
Lighting (if not supplied by the hood)
Substrate (gravel, sand, plant substrate)
Power outlet strip
Decorations (whatever you like)
Aquarium Stand
Aquarium background

    Let's start with the stand.  You should either buy a stand made for your size of aquarium, or use a table that is very well supported.  Remember, a gallon weighs over 8 pounds, so a 30 gallon tank is going to weigh around 250 pounds when filled with water.
    For an aquarium, you have three options.  Glass tanks have been around for years.  They are hard to scratch, but don't hold in heat as well.  Acrylic tanks are made of clear plastic and hold heat very well.  They are easy to scratch and more expensive, though.  A third option is a custom-built plywood/Plexiglas hybrid tank.  Not many people are going to go to that expense for their first tank.  Most will get glass or acrylic.  Get the biggest tank you can afford.  Get some type of background to go on the back outside of the tank and go ahead and put it on.  This will cover up the wires and tubes behind the tank.
    Next is the cover for the tank.  It amazes me that so many people leave their tank uncovered.  This allows huge amounts of water to evaporate, and fish will jump out if they get a chance.  Get a cover that will cover most of the surface.  There are hoods that come with lights inside of them, and canopies that also have lights in them.  There are also covers with a light that sits on top of the cover.  Most people say all glass covers are best.  Make sure the lighting you get will have at the least 1 watt of light per gallon, but 2 watts will be better.  You will see why later.  It is also a good idea to get a light timer that plugs into a wall outlet and you plug the light cord into the timer.  Turn the light switch to on and set the timer for 10-14 hours continuous hours per day.  This will allow the fish to have a more natural day and night.
    So far, we have a tank sitting on a stand with a lighted cover on it.  Next you need to think about substrate.  You might go with sand for a flat surface or gravel for a rocky surface.  If you think you are going to go crazy over plants, there are also substrates made for plants.  Clean the substrate well before placing it into the tank.
    Tropical fish come from water that is over 75 F.  This means you will need to heat the water to at least that level.  Some fish need higher temperatures.  Make sure you get a heater that is of good quality and fully submerged.  This will let you hide it behind plants or decorations.
    Now you need a filter.  There are multiple types of filter.  30 years ago, the common filter was the under-gravel filter.  While UGFs are good filters, they have many problems that have been solved by modern powered filters.  The best first filter is a hang on back power filter.  Cannister filters are also good because so much can be done with them.
    You should probably leave the tank at this point and buy any plants and decorations you plan to use.  A stable and healthy tank needs plants.  Some fish eat plants, so if you plan to keep those fish you should get plants that they will not eat.  Make sure you study the plants to make sure they will do well with your lighting and filtration.  It is usually best to plant a tank from the beginning because they will work well during the Nitrogen Cycle.  You need to get the plants and go straight to the tank and be ready to fill it with water.  Real driftwood will also be important as a hiding place and food for many types of fish.
    At this point, you will need water.  Tap water will work fine in almost all tanks.  There is no need to adjust pH or hardness, no matter how much you think there is.  Almost all fish are raised away from their natural water and can do fine in a wide range of pH and hardness.  All you really need is a good dechlorinater to remove chlorine, chloranimine, and heavy metals.  Some sites and books say you can let the water sit over night to let the chlorine leave it.  This does not mean the chlorinations and heavy metals will leave, though.  This is why dechlorinater is so important.  I usually pour all the dechlorinater I will need for the entire tank into the first bucket of water I add to the tank.  Fill the tank to about 5 inches.
    With 5 inches of water, it will be easy to plant the tank.  How they are planted depends on the type of plants you get.  Some plants will float in the tank and will not need planting.  You should also place any decorations and driftwood that you have in the tank now.  Once plants and decorations are in the tank where you want them, slowly and carefully pour in the rest of the water to fill the tank.
    Now that the tank is filled and all equipment is in place, turn everything on.  Let the tank run for at least a day before adding your first fish.  The next step after allowing the tank to run will be deciding how you are going to cycle the tank.  A fishless cycle is now considered the best method because it will save you the loss of your first fish because the cycle will be complete before the first fish go in the tank.