Freshwater aquarium setups can range anywhere from under $100 to well above $1000. This will all depend on the size of aquarium you want and what you’re willing to spend on other aquarium equipment.
We will look at the options below. Some first questions you need to ask yourself are, do you have a place for an aquarium, is that location near electrical outlets, an area free of heavy traffic throughout your house?
After reading this post, you will have the basic knowledge of the equipment needed for your freshwater aquarium. This equipment will assist with the aquarium cycling. It will create places for beneficial bacteria to build up.
There are aquarium equipment kits that you can purchase with all items needed to get you up and running. They can be cost-effective, but like any ready-made item, the quality of products within is usually the least expensive.
Why not pick your own of each item after some research that will perform better, it may cost more at first, but you will save with the longer life of that product and get what you want.
Basic Aquarium Equipment needed to get started:
- Air Pump
- Decor / Plants
The most important piece of aquarium equipment is the tank; I could not resist. Here we will discuss the two different materials used to make aquariums, glass, and acrylic; both have advantages and disadvantages.
|It is much harder to scratch compared to acrylic.||Shattering can occur easier with glass.|
|It can be found in standard sizes, making it easier to find hoods that fit your aquarium.||Difficult to make an aquarium other than a rectangle due to the rigidness of glass.|
|Glass panes are very strong; This is a plus if you aquascape with heavy objects. You not only have the water weight, but now you also weigh those objects on the bottom glass pane.||The weight of glass aquariums is 6-10 times heavier than acrylic. If the desired aquarium is above 150 gallons, you should look at acrylic. The aquarium alone will weigh around 300 pounds, then add in 150 gallons of water at 8.3 pounds for a combined weight of 1,545 pounds. Adding substrate and decor, it goes up even more.|
|Costs less to purchase, reduce the cost even more by being patient and waiting for some big-box pet stores to do dollar per gallon sales. These usually happen a few times a year; the dollar per gallon is generally for aquariums up to 29 gallons. The larger tanks are a percentage of the sticker price.|
|Lightweight compared to glass.||Scratches easily. Over time the scratches from cleaning will make it more difficult to see into the aquarium.|
|It does not need to be as thick to support the same amount of water as glass aquariums.||The stand will have to support the entire bottom of the aquarium; unlike glass, they only need to support outside edges (the larger the tank, the more support it will need).|
|Acrylic is easy to mold into any shape aquarium you desire, with less tendency to distort objects.||Many acrylic types will yellow, which will cost more to replace compared to glass, which does not yellow over the long run.|
The options are limitless for hoods purchased or DYI with different materials. We will cover the purchased options here, and I will cover the DYI hoods in future posts.
|They are versatile and very durable.||Tend to be more expensive. This is not a problem if you only have a few aquariums. Perhaps you start a fish room, it will get expensive.|
|Easy to clean; just lift it off and whip the algae or hard water off.||You may have to cut out custom sections for heater wires, airline tubing, or hang on the back (HOB) filter.|
|Reduced evaporation, as there are no unwanted gaps in the hood.||It does not come with lights; you will have to purchase these separately.|
|As with all hoods, keeps your fish or other aquatic species in the aquarium.|
Glass under light with a plastic hood
|Hinged plastic lid, making access easy for feeding or some maintenance.||Customizable lighting is difficult to cover the entire tank.|
|Light comes with a hood.||Lighting is always focused on the back of the aquarium.|
|Most aquarium kits come with this setup.||It has more openings leading to greater evaporation.|
|Comes with pre-cutouts for HOB filter, airline, and heater cords.|
|It has what I consider a classic aquarium look.|
Lighting will depend on your setup; Do you have live plants? Do you have fish that are sensitive or like reduced light, or need more light? Do you want to change colors to have a different ambiance for your mood or just simply get a different effect from the aquarium?
There are many options for lighting. We will just talk about the basics available. When you get into live plants, that will need a more in-depth discussion on what is needed in future posts.
|Reduced electrical cost compared to fluorescent||Some kits may not come with LED lights, but as they become more popular, more and more kits with LED lighting.|
|Reduced heat being radiated to the aquarium and other equipment||Some kits may not come with LED lights, but as they become more popular, more and more kits with LED lighting.|
|Most LED lights have different settings that will allow you to set the option for night lighting to simulate the moon, along with the intensity of the light.||As effective as LED lighting is, it costs more on the front end, but you will save on energy costs in the long run.|
|Create a different look within your aquarium.||Only suitable for a small array of plants.|
|Provide suitable lighting for virtually all fish.|
Fluorescent Lighting (standard and compact)
|Standard fluorescent produces quality light intensity, with minimal heat produced.||Produce more heat than LED lighting.|
|Compact fluorescent produces more light at smaller sizes and is usually built into aquarium hoods.|
The air pump size will depend on your setup (aquarium size, what’s running off the air pump); everything within your aquarium needing air supplied to function.
When you are deciding on an air pump, here are some items to consider before purchasing. This will be a post of its own later. However, if you only supply one or two air stones, a small pump will suffice, like the Tetra Whisper Air pump.
If you need to supply more aquariums, you will need to look into larger pumps that will provide the output needed. One thing to keep in mind with air pumps or any pump is the distance and elevation gain/loss that it can effectively pump.
What are you supplying air for?
How big is your aquarium? Look at the specifications for the pump you are considering; it will have the aquarium it can support.
Are you just supplying air for one tank or 10? As air needs go up, distance increases, and elevation increases, this will affect the size of the air pump needed.
Multiple aquarium heater types/brands are out there. The best option for heating a single aquarium would be submersible or hanging/ immersible.
A starter kit normally has one of these options. Other options are inline, filter heater, substrate, or complete room heating.
The option to select depends on your aquarium setup, types of fish kept, amount of fish, and the amount of money you want to spend.
|Will keep water at a constant temperature than some other options, placed next to filter inlet with more water movement to distribute newly heated water.||The heater can overheat, causing the cracking of glass.|
|Have an LED light near the top of the unit to tell when it is on and working.||The water level must stay above the glass to prevent damage.|
|Submersible – entire heater element can be placed into water.||Hole in top of the hood for the electrical cord.|
Immersible/ Hanging Heater
|Comes in most starter kits.||A less efficient method of heating aquarium compared to submersible.|
|Relatively cheap||The water level must stay above the glass to prevent damage.|
|Good for planted tanks||They are not as common anymore and can be fairly expensive.|
|Heating creates a gentle water movement stimulating root growth.||Will not heat water evenly, will need supplementation with Immersible or submersible heater.|
|The heater is not located inside the tank; It is usually between a sump or filter and the tank.||Prone to leaks due to equipment outside of the tank.|
|The option is good if you have aggressive fish hard on equipment.||Rather expensive, not only do you need this heater, but you will need a sump or some other outside tank filter.|
No Heater at all
This option is more aligned for fish rooms, as you have multiple tanks needing to be heated in a small area. You should only use this option if you have the means to ensure room temperature remains consistent.
If you have a species that can thrive at your home’s room temperature, this is also an option that can help reduce costs.
|Reduced outlets needed for heaters.||Multiple tanks requiring different temperatures, an above option will still be needed.|
|It will reduce electrical expenses, with a properly insulated room and close to airtight as possible.||It can be hard to maintain constant temp if the room is not set up correctly.|
|You do not have to worry about the electrical shock when you forget to unplug the heater during maintenance.|
This piece of aquarium equipment is essential. There are different options for filters. Each has its advantages/disadvantages; what you get will depend on your setup and preference. Options we will look at are sponge air driven, hang on back (HOB), and under gravel.
There are other filter options out there (sump, canister, etc.). For a beginner with a single aquarium, the best option would be the hang-on back filter. Most aquarium starter kits come with one designed for that tank size.
|Cheaper than most other filter types.||For larger aquariums, they will need multiple sponges.|
|Can operate multiple filters with a correct-sized air pump for the number of filters.||It does not allow multiple filtration options to be added (biological if not added, chemical). Other filters may have these options available.|
|Sponge lasts a considerable amount of time.||The filter is visible in the aquarium.|
|Cleaning, all that’s needed is squeezing a sponge out in a bucket with the old tank water.||Not ideal for fish that produce large amounts of waste or heavily stocked aquariums.|
|There are options available to add biological media.||Does not provide much water movement.|
|Only one power source needed for the pump will support multiple air appliances.|
|Will not suck fry or small species into the filter.|
Hang on Back (HOB) Filter
Hang-on back filters are probably the go-to for most aquarists. They usually come with all starter kits, are easy to maintain, and need an outlet to work. They provide good filtration for your aquarium if adequately sized.
|Comes with most starter kits.||Mechanical parts that can fail.|
|Water movement is more significant throughout the aquarium.||More expensive than sponge filters.|
|Opens options for additional filtration media.||Continued cost of filter cartridges.|
|On the outside of the aquarium, making cleaning or changing filters easier.||When the water level gets low, noise from water falling can increase. If in a quiet area, it will be noticeable.|
|Greater water exchange through the filter than sponge filters||If outlet space is a concern, this option will take up an outlet.|
|It may pull fry or smaller invertebrates into the filter from the suction that’s created.|
Under Gravel Filter
It is an option in any aquarium with a substrate; the substrate is part of the filtration process. Planted tanks, you will want to look at another option: to clean the aquarium almost a complete breakdown of the tank, leading to disturbance of roots killing the plants.
Under gravel, filters are effective given you stay up on gravel vacuuming and cleaning the aquarium. Imagine the amount of waste, uneaten food, and detritus collecting under the plates if vacuuming does not occur.
|Virtually Invisible, the only thing visible is piping coming to the top of the aquarium.||Difficult cleaning in the long run almost requires a complete breakdown to clean.|
|Inexpensive to purchase and operate only need an air pump and filter.||Not good with planted aquariums because of the above problem.|
|No moving parts.||It cannot be used with diggers; Cichlids come to mind.|
A substrate is not what you normally think of as aquarium equipment but is essential for the look you want; fish species need to be considered when selecting the substrate.
Are you going for a planted tank? If so, you will need to choose a substrate designed for that, which may mean putting soil down below your substrate to improve the rooting of plants.
There are substrates out designed for planted tanks; if plants you want have a small root structure, they may not work. I had substrate designed for plants but did not look at how small roots are compared to the compactness of the substrate. Fish would swim close to the substrate, and plants would just come out.
Think about what look and plants your want when considering your substrate. Adequate vacuuming of the substrate is a must; if it goes too long, only vacuum a quarter of your substrate at a time.
Doing too large amounts will increase the amount of ammonia released and can be detrimental to your fish. The bubbles when you disturb the substrate are more than likely ammonia being released.
When I think of gravel, I am talking pinhead size up to 3/8th an inch. There are unthinkable amounts of different gravel types of any color you want.
|Easy to clean, does not get vacuumed into hose easily.||It does not hold plants well, almost impossible to obtain carpet plants.|
|Provides river looks to an aquarium.||Easy for uneaten food to get into gaps and degrade water quality.|
|Difficult for fish to move around||Detritus build-up can occur quickly, creating the Sulphur smell (ammonia release into water column) when disturbed.|
|Aesthetically amazing, if you have a species that rearranges the substrate, it is fun to watch.||Very fine particles, species that like to move substrate, will rearrange substrate for you.|
|Cost is relatively cheap compared to special substrates.||Compacts and creates anaerobic pockets|
|May require root tabs for planted tanks.|
A small but needed aquarium equipment is a thermometer, the easiest parameter to monitor but vital. There is not much to talk about here, the two options I have used, and trust are a floating glass thermometer and the stick-on side of the tank.
My preferred thermometer is the stick-on tank option; it comes down to your preference.
Stick on Aquarium Thermometer
|Visibility is perfect. It’s always in the same spot.||Hard to determine the exact temperature.|
|Less expensive than the glass option.||Debatable whether air temperature affects reading.|
Floating or Standing Thermometer
|Directly in the aquarium giving exact water temperature.||Suction cups degrade over time, allowing the thermometer to float around the aquarium.|
|Can get exact water temperature with closer degree measurements.||Can break easily, contaminating aquariums.|
|Easy to determine temperature with digital display.||Require batteries|
|Some options are available with wireless readings.||Least cost-efficient|
|Some options are available with an audible alarm that sounds when the temperature falls below a certain level.|
Looking for that aquarium that would make others talk about it? Plants and décor (hardscape) will help your tank become that talk when someone enters the room.
Some hardscapes are not plants that can improve water quality and look amazing. Battle Born Aquatics offers Indian Almond Leaves and Alder Cones that not only look appealing but offer benefits for your water quality.
Substrate paired correctly with correct plants will create an amazing look that you can enjoy every day. The quickest and easiest way to achieve this look is to use artificial plants; there have been great strides in the past couple of decades to make artificial plants look more lifelike.
For those that have seen naturally planted tanks though there is no comparison, with some extra knowledge and equipment, you can have an amazing live planted aquarium. Let’s look at each option.
|Price compared to live plants is lower.||If you want an eye-catching aquarium, this is not as attractive as live plants.|
|You want low maintenance, this is the option; it is minimal to zero.||Larger fish can easily move within the aquarium.|
|Fish do not seem to notice the difference.||Algae have to be cleaned off regularly.|
|No additional/ special equipment is needed.||They do not have the benefits live plants do on aquarium water quality that live plants add.|
|The most eye-catching aquariums have live plants; they flow in the water and look natural.||It will need more equipment from lights to CO2, and cost can increase fast. Quality lights designed for aquatic plants are not cheap.|
|Provide a more natural environment for your fish, correctly selected plant species that match those of your fish.||Not for the beginner; you need to do your research and understand each plant’s requirements.|
|Helps improve water quality.||Takes extra maintenance, trimming plants, ensuring they are fertilized (with a quality fertilizer that will not harm fish species in the aquarium).|
|Need I say more AMAZING TO LOOK AT!|
These nine items are not a must-have to own an aquarium. You can have an aquarium with just the aquarium, filtration (a must), and a light so you can enjoy your aquatic species of choice.
The aquarium equipment covered above will help ensure your fish can thrive. You should always have the aquatic species’ comfort in mind before purchasing, and while in your care, treat them as you would any other pet.
I treat mine as my pets and want the very best for them, and I am guessing if you have made it to this point, you have the same care and love of aquatic fish as I do. Aquariums are beautiful and soothing to look at; for me, they have a calming effect that is enjoyable.
If you are looking to get your first aquarium and have questions, please ask those in the comment section to create a place where people can continue to learn.
Jesse is the principal author of this blog. He is an avid fishkeeper with rich experience spanning several years. He is here to share his knowledge and ensure you also have a guiding compass, as he did with his father.