In the market for a low-maintenance pet that’s quiet, helps you reduce stress, and can entertain you for hours? Forget scooping the litter box or walking a pooch in the rain. Consider setting up a freshwater or saltwater aquarium in your home for years of peaceful, zen-like enjoyment. Fish are the third-most popular pet in the United States, and with good reason.
Health Benefits of a Home Aquariums
Having an aquarium in your home or office opens up numerous health benefits. One of the top benefits is that a fish tank can reduce your stress and anxiety. People hold a deep connection with nature and water, and watching an aquarium can bring about that same kind of deep happiness that people feel when visiting a beach or a lake.
Experts agree that watching aquarium fish can alleviate stress. This is why you may notice fish tanks in the waiting rooms of many dentists, doctors, and counselors. Aquariums can help lower your blood pressure and heart rate and the wonderfully calming, almost hypnotic effect can help alleviate anxiety.
Owning a fish tank can even help you get a better, more restful night’s sleep, which may result in better overall health. Spending some time in front of your fish tank before you go to bed can help you fall asleep faster.
Though fish tanks provide visual stimulation that might boost your focus and creativity, their calming effect can help with children with hyperactive tendencies or behavioral issues, helping them both sleep and concentrate better.
Aquariums can even help Alzheimer’s patients. One Purdue University study found that when Alzheimer’s patients had a fish tank in their home, those patients showed an improvement in appetite, alertness, and overall mood while showing reduced aggressive behaviors.
Planning your Aquarium
There are things to consider before you buy an aquarium, including the size and type of tank, the best location for your setup, the time you have for maintenance, and the types of fish.
Consider your budget when picking an aquarium. New setups can cost from around $50 for a basic tank to thousands of dollars for custom-made ones. Don’t forget to buy supplies to maintain your tank, including an air pump, filters, a fishnet, gravel, decorative rocks or hiding places, a glass cleaner, lights, food, and water test kits.
Do you want an all-inclusive kit, or are you longing for a more creative aquarium for your space? You can go with a traditional size and shaped aquarium, or you can go all out and create your own custom-designed aquarium to fit your space.
Some people have grand, showpiece tanks separating entire living spaces in their home or as an impressive design element in an office, restaurant, or hotel. An aquarium masterfully designed to fit into your unique decor will ensure a wow-factor impression for visitors every time.
The world of custom-made aquariums is expanding, with about any shape you could imagine is available now, with endless varieties of fish, aquatic plants, and custom lighting to fit your mood, decor or themes.
If this is your first aquarium, you may want to start with a smaller aquarium until you get the hang of caring for fish. You can start with a 5 or 10 gallon tank and upgrade to a 20-gallon, 35-gallon or more as your expertise increases.
The usual shape of aquariums is a rectangle. There are smaller bowls for solitary fish like bettas (Siamese fighting fish) and cylindrical and other shapes for an intriguing look. The shape you choose depends on your decor, your creativity, your preference, and your budget.
Where to Place your Aquarium
Inviting an aquarium into your interior space can soften what otherwise may be a sterile or plain decor, bringing a sense of movement in natural, soothing elements.
Deciding where your new fish tank will be located is important. Whether it’s gracing a table or a corner of your room or is big enough to serve as a room divider, your aquarium will make a statement and can change the entire vibe of your room.
You’ll probably want your aquarium where you can spend time watching your new buddies. Most people prefer a living room or family room, and many kids prefer their fish tank in their bedroom. Make sure there’s a nearby electric source for the filter, light and heater plugs. Having it close to a water source for periodic water changes is helpful, too.
Where you place your new aquarium in a room is important, too. Fish thrive in temperatures between 73 and 82 degrees Fahrenheit, so you won’t want to place your tank too close to a radiator, air conditioning vent or window because of fluctuations in temperature. Direct sunlight can also cause green algae to grow in your tank.
Choose a sturdy surface for your aquarium. Keep in mind that a gallon of water weighs a little more than 8 pounds, so a 20-gallon tank would weigh 166 lbs.
Fish don’t like loud noises, especially the booming of speakers, so try to pick a quieter location not next to the stereo or surround system.
Creating the Ideal Aquarium
Now that you’re sold on the idea of adding an aquarium to your life, there are a few more things to ponder. One big decision you’ll make is whether you want a freshwater aquarium or a saltwater one. They are different in some ways, including species of fish, plants, and ease of maintenance.
As a general rule, freshwater tanks are easier and cheaper to maintain and a better choice for beginner aquarium owners.
Saltwater fish aquariums can house more colorful, tropical fish, but both the fish and tank setups cost more. Saltwater tanks require more diligent upkeep. However, after you establish a good nitrogen cycle and use live rock, a saltwater tank can regulate its water better than a freshwater aquarium.
While aquariums are a delight, they do require some maintenance to keep the water clean, clear, and healthy for your fish. You’ll need to do weekly partial water changes (10-20% of the tank’s capacity), manage the filtration system (including changing filters), vacuum debris from the bottom gravel, and of course, feed your fish. If you lead a busy life or don’t want the hassle, there are aquarium maintenance companies who will do the work for you.
The water quality of your fish tank is critical. You’ll want to learn how to use pH, ammonia, and nitrate testing kits and then test weekly and research how to improve water quality if readings indicate less-than-optimum levels.
When you’re setting up an aquarium for the first time, never put your fish in the water right after filling with chlorinated (tap) water. Use a dechlorinator or leave the water in the tank with the filtration running for a specified time before adding fish. Test the water to make sure the nitrogen, pH, and ammonia levels are stable. For every partial change, add the de-chlorinator or let water set out for at least 24 hours before adding to the tank.
Make sure the water filter you use is adequate for the size of your tank. Your system should clean the tank at least three times an hour. Many aquarium owners also keep a backup battery-operated aerator in case the electricity goes out during a storm.
The temperature of your fish tank is important. Some fish are easily susceptible to temperature changes, while other fish are hardier. You’ll want to install an appropriately sized water heater for your tank. Heaters have a built-in thermostat and kick on when the water temperature cools below the optimum temperature. Maintaining the proper water temperature for saltwater tanks is more critical than for freshwater tanks.
Once you have your aquarium set up with gravel, decorations, and circulating water, it’s time to pick out fish and plants to complete your underwater environment. It’s tempting to go for the most colorful fish in the store, but carefully plan what you’ll bring home.
Choosing the right fish for your tank takes some consideration. Freshwater fish are different from saltwater fish species, so tell the store employee which type of aquarium you have and ask for advice. Some fish are more hardy, while other species are fragile.
Not all fish are compatible species to species, so choose harmonious fish that require the same (or similar) water conditions. Doing your homework on this can save lots of disappointment later.
For freshwater aquariums, you may want to try some good, communal fishes to begin with like tetras (including cool neon-colored tetras, red-eyed tetras, and serpae tetras) and danio zebras.
Some fish are more predatory and can clear your tank of other fish quickly. Use caution with aggressive species of freshwater fishes including oscars, devils, and cichlids.
If you’re setting up a saltwater aquarium, you may want to start with tangs, angelfish, arowanas, Nemo-looking clownfish, or puffers. Keep in mind that puffers, while entertaining, require large tanks and extra maintenance.
Add a Few Fish at a Time
Although it’s tempting to set up your aquarium and add lots of fish right away, resist the urge. Instead, add one to three fish during the first stage and let them acclimate to the surroundings. Wait a week, check the nitrogen cycle, and then slowly add more fish in the future. When you’re buying fish at a store, make sure the fish look healthy and ask the store employee for advice on acclimating the new fish to your home aquarium.
Live or Artificial Plants?
Do you want live or artificial plants for your aquarium? While artificial plants are easy, living plants not only look beautiful, but they consume fish-waste nitrogen so your tank environment stays healthier for your fish. Choosing which live aquarium plants are best for your aquarium setup can be fun, sort of like doing interior design for your fish. It takes a bit of practice to know how to keep your living aquarium foliage happy and green, but it’s well worth it.
Beginner-friendly freshwater plants with a good chance of succeeding include grass-like vallisneria, cryptocorynes, marimo moss balls, dwarf sagittaria, Christmas moss, java moss, java fern, aponogeton crispus, and Amazon sword.
Mistakes to Avoid
As a new fish owner, you’ll no doubt make some mistakes – everyone does – but here are some things to keep in mind as you become a steward to your new school of fish.
Fish Beg, But Don’t Overfeed Them
Almost everyone enjoys feeding fish, especially children. However, overfeeding has unintended consequences. Feeding once a day is fine as long as the food amount is appropriate for the number of fish. But remember, your fish can go a few days without food, and too much food results in higher waste levels which can raise harmful nitrate or ammonia levels. You may want to stick to a regular daily feeding schedule and keep the fish food in a place not accessible to children.
Keep an Eye on the Water Level
Watch the level of water in your aquarium. Water can evaporate, increasing the concentration of toxins. Too little water also makes the filtering system work harder and creates a harsher, waterfall-like atmosphere for your fish.
Don’t Overpopulate your Tank
Keep in mind that overcrowding a fish tank can lead to fish stress, increasing the chances of aggression and sickness. It also will require more frequent cleaning/vacuuming of the gravel and sides and more frequent water changes.
Enjoy your Fish
While there are some regular maintenance requirements for keeping fish and moving your aquarium (and those can be enjoyable, too), the entertainment and calming health benefits of owning them will last for years. Now all that’s left is to name your fish.