Beginners Guide to Fish Keeping and Building your first Aquarium (Part 1)

1. Filter system with Bio-media filter

There are generally 4 kinds of Filter systems out there.

  • Hang-on Filter – This is a filter that hangs on the back of your aquarium with a pump that pumps water into  it, filters the water then send its back out. There are various  models. Some even have a 3 stage filter process of carbon, bio-media and coarse filtering.  These are typically the cheapest option but the least amount of water filtration. Some of them are also Loud but newer models have improved on the original designs. These are the most popular items in terms of getting started and maintenance.

AquaClear 50

  • Under Gravel Filter – Uses the aquariums  bottom Gravel as its filtration media. Uses a pump to pump the water through the bottom gravel and return it to the tank from above. This type is an older style of water filtration still in practice today in some aquarium setups. This set up however is not near as efficient as today’s newer canister filter system and can be difficult to clean at times. Recommended for advanced users who know what they are doing.

Undergravel Filter example

  • Canister Filter –  Canister filters take  your filtration outside of your tank into a “Canister” with a 3 stage filtration system including an external pump. Feed by hoses into the aquarium lessening the amount of equipment inside your tank.  Usually contain multi-stage filtering with a course  Filter screen,  Carbon stage and then Bio-media stage. The Canister system adds more water capacity to the system as well which increases  water buffering capacity. Canister cleanings can be done by disconnecting the unit from the  main lines by valve and then carried away and rebuilt every month or two. Canister systems add volume  filtration capacity. One  bonus of the Marineland line is that you can add custom filtration media saving you money in the long run. These canister are on the mid range expensive side for starting out however in my opinion they are well worth the price. I believe I paid about $100.00 for my Marineland C-160 (up to 30 Gallon tank).

Marineland C series Filter - with cutaway

  • Sump System – Similar to Canister filtering but on a lot larger scale, a Sump system is key for those Large Aquarium projects. Mostly used in Marine aquariums due to the edition of some useful equipment (like a skimmer), these systems are professional and filter your water the best. They add quite a bit of water filtering capacity but  setups are usually quite complex and expensive. These are for the serious aquarist. Most Sump Designs are custom but there are some manufacturers who build pre-built sump systems.

Sump System Design

2. Heaters

Ranging in size, I recommend purchasing a Heater that is larger than your aquarium is. That way the heater will not constantly be running and only come on to heat up the water a short time. Most heaters you purchase now days are Shock and shatter proof as well and they last a long time. Fluval  has a really great product line of heaters that I use and work well. I have not broken one yet!

Fluval M100 Heater

3. Air conditioning or Cooling Fan

This is pretty self-explanatory. You need to keep your tank cooler in the summer or hotter temperatures. There are expensive items that you can buy to actually “Chill” aquariums, these units effectively are called Chillers however they are really expensive for someone starting out and they require a lot of power and space in order to operate. For a smaller tank, chillers are over kill. However if you have air conditioning or a large stand fan nearby that will work fairly effectively (although having air conditioning plus the fan combination works the best).

4. Lighting

Lighting is extremely import for a couple of reasons. If you have live plants, lighting is a must. Lighting also provides your fish with a constant light source which can affect their health. Having a lighting system that is the correct brightness for the fish you have is also important (some fish prefer darkness or dimly lit areas like their natural habitats.

Another important aspect is the Day – Night Cycle.

I think this is simple to explain, when you go to bed you typically turn the lights out. Fish also light the lights out at regular intervals. Fish sleep just like humans do (well sort of). This day night cycle will prolong the fish’s  life  because it reduces stress.  I recommend a  Simple Timer for your light. Program it  to turn off after 12 hours at the most. So for example you  could set it to turn on at 9:00 a.m. and turn off at 9  pm. This will ensure  a stress free fish environment and the reduced lighting will control your Algae build up. After all Algae forms  due to excess light.

A lot of people ignore this step which I feel is very important.

Pro Tip: if you have the tank  out of direct sunlight but the room the tank is in gets ambient light you can set your day-night cycle to 10 hours, turning off when still light outside. This creates a more natural graduation in your disappearing light. Some of the more expensive lighting system use a dimming approach. There may even be dimmable timers (of which I haven’t looked into).

Type of Lighting:

LED – probably the best option now as prices have dropped and these things last for a very long time. They also consume far less energy than typical aquarium lighting. (I actually use two lights, one for Daytime and one for Night time moonlight type effect). They are also less bulky due to LED’s being small and they don’t have ballasts. That being said, if you have a lot of specialty plants you may require special tube lighting for increased UV lighting. LED systems like this one can’t change their light output by changing a bulb.

Marineland Single Bright LED Lighting


Fluorescent T5  High Output  style Bulb lamps – This bulb type is the same fluorescent Bulb type used in overhead lighting however there are a lot of different lighting options for bulbs. This type of bulb typically consumes more power however usually has more lumens or dynamic temperature range. These bulbs typically provide an ambient light at a certain range rather than shimmering or sun directional lighting effect. I’m not an expert on lighting but I do know that this style of lighting is the cheaper option  (although that is changing rapidly) and is still quite common in lighting set ups due to lower cost per bulb.

For more in-depth technical information check out Bulk Reef Supplies Video  review of fluorescent lighting systems:

Metal Halide – This type of Light more correctly resembles the sun Look and light output. They  are more expensive and have shorter life spans than the other types.  Due to the nature of Metal atoms in the light more natural Sunlight. These lights also get a lot  more hot than the other two types so a cooling unit ( “chiller”) may be necessary.

For a more in-depth review on all Lighting options  check  out  Bulk Reef Supplies video on Lighting types (for Fresh and Marine environments):


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