Fresh water aquariums are easy to setup and maintain. The two most important things to remember (and what most people fail to do) are to make sure the tank goes through the proper nitrogen cycle before adding fish and to NOT overload your tank.
First off, when shopping for fresh water aquariums, buy the biggest one that you can afford and can fit in your home. The bigger tank will be easier to maintain since the more water in the tank, the less likely your water quality will go downhill before you have a chance to adjust it.
Aside from the tank and stand, fresh water aquariums require lighting, heater, filtration, substrate and a hood. The hood might come with your tank, otherwise get one that fits well as this well help reduce evaporation. To pick the best lighting, heating and filtration check out the links on the left. For substrate (the stuff you put on the bottom) you should avoid filling the tank with all that pretty glass a layer of good old aquarium gravel will do best as it will give the bacteria something to grow in – feel free to scatter some of the petty glass pieces on top of the gravel.
To set up the tank, wash off all the substrate and decorations that will go in it (don’t use soap just rinse in water). Place the tank and stand in it’s new “spot” making sure it is near an outlet for the electrical pieces. Make sure all the cords fit and there is enough extra cord so that the cord dips down and then up again to the outlet – in case water runs down the cord it will drip off onto the floor before it reaches the outlet!
Insure all the fresh water aquariums equipment fits in the tank and make the appropriate cutouts in the hood if necessary (make sure you don’t make them too big – the tighter the fit the less evaporation will happen). Hook everything up but leave it unplugged and fill up the tank with room temperature water. Use water conditioner in the amounts recommended on the bottle. Once the tank is full turn on the heater, filter lights etcc.. and make sure they all work as expected.
Now you are ready to cycle your tank. This is the process that establishes a bacteria bed in your tank and is important as this bacteria is what filters out the ammonia produced by fish waste and decaying food that would otherwise make the tank water toxic to your fish. Basically what happens is you introduce the ammonia to the tank and magically, bacteria begin to grow in your gravel and filters – these bacteria eat the ammonia but they produce a substance called nitrite which is also toxic to your fish! Luckily another bacteria will magically appear and eat the nitrite turning it into nitrate. Nitrate is not harmful to your fish unless it is in very high levels.
The only thing you need to do to get this process started is to populate the tank with a couple of hardy (and cheap) fish so that ammonia will be introduced to the tank. The process will happen automatically in fresh water aquariums and you don’t need to do anything else, although you might want to get a good test kit to test the ammonia, nitrite and nitrate levels. When ammonia and nitrite levels are at 0, then they cycling is done and you can start to gradually add more fish. It is important to only use a couple of fish (and hardy ones like Zebra Danios) as the tank will be quite toxic in the beginning which could kill a less hardy fish.
To maintain the good water quality in your fresh water aquariums, remember that the beneficial bacteria created in the step above is living in your gravel and filter so don’t remove too much gravel or change the filter too often. Also, don’t add too many fish at once as this will upset the “balance” of bacteria to ammonia and ammonia could build up too fast killing off everything in the tank!
Fresh water aquariums maintenance is pretty easy. Of course you will check that the filters, heater and lights are working daily and that the fish are in good health since you will be looking at and enjoying your tank every day this should be easy! In addition, you will want to clean off the accumulated algae once a week and do a partial (25%) water change about every month or so and change the filter cartridge then as well.