8 Steps to Setting up a Saltwater Aquarium

Hey folks, Jeff Hesketh here with yet another salty article for people looking to get into the saltwater aquarium hobby. Today we are talking about setting up a saltwater aquarium and the steps needed to do so. If your new to the hobby give this article a read but after make sure you visit our start here page. It is full of helpful information to help you get started with your own saltwater aquarium.

Step 1 to Setting up a saltwater aquarium

setting up a saltwater aquarium

Find a location

Choosing the proper location for your saltwater aquarium setup is actually incredibly important. You can’t just put the aquarium anywhere. It is not just about how it looks, but how the aquarium functions and how well it works for both you, and the fish inside.

There are several questions to ask yourself:

  1. Where do you spend the most time? An aquarium in the wrong location won’t be enjoyed, and it won’t be seen.  The best place may be in your living room or your den. That being said don’t choose the busiest location in the house because a lot of activity in a room can damage your aquarium, especially if you have kids.
  2. Having proper lighting for the aquarium can work to your advantage, but too much light from a window can have a negative impact on the aquarium. If the aquarium is in constant direct sunlight, the temperature and the algae growth will skyrocket.
  3. Keep the location away from doors or entrances. The constant opening and closing can cause drafts, and it can cause the temperature to move up and down. On that same note, keep the aquarium away from air conditioners and heaters as well.
  4. Remember that water weighs over eight pounds per gallon. If you have a 100 gallon tank, that is over 800 pounds of water sitting in one location. Make sure that location has the strength to hold that weight for not only weeks, but months and years.

Step 2 to Setting up a saltwater aquarium

Keeping the stand level

As was just mentioned, water is very heavy when in large quantities. If you don’t choose a level location, you are going to have a big problem on your hands. In addition, if your stand is not level, you are going to have a big problem on your hands. You always want to keep things level, and here is how.

First of all, don’t just fill the aquarium up all the way. Water is going to find its own level, and that allows you to measure how off it is. Fill it up about one-quarter of the way and then measure the front water line and the back water line. The difference will tell you if it is off level. If the level is off by more than a quarter inch, you will need to remove the water, and shim up the stand so that it is more level. Fill it up again and then check the level once more.

A quarter-of-an-inch can be small at first, but it will only magnify as the tank continues to fill.

Always remember to shim up the stand itself, never the tank.

Step 3 to Setting up a saltwater aquarium

Set up equipment

There is a lot of equipment needed for an aquarium, especially for saltwater aquariums. All of these pieces come together to create an ecosystem for your fish and your plants, and each piece is very important.

  • Overflow: One of the biggest drawbacks of an aquarium is that you often see all the equipment in the background. An overflow will allow you to hide the equipment outside the display tank. This gives you a better look, but also more room to enjoy with your tank. The overflow box will sit on the lip of the aquarium.
  • Plumbing: The plumbing will take water from the sump in the aquarium and put it in the overflow box for you. The best choice here is PVC, and you should have a pipe that is roughly half an inch to three-quarters of an inch in size. For the return plumbing, use a one-inch pipe. Using 90-degree elbow fittings together will give you a 180-degree turn that hangs neatly in the overflow.
  • Sump: This is setup underneath the aquarium, where equipment is placed. The aquarium sump makes a great place for placing things like the protein skimmer, the heater and the nitrate reactor. You can put water in it to top up the tank; you can put in supplements for the tank in it and more. It will also aerate the tank for you. The sump should be placed in a low-lying place that will receive drainage in the tank.
  • Protein Skimmer: This will remove protein and other organic waste material. It will keep your aquarium healthy and allow for proper filtration. The protein skimmer should be placed as the first step in the filtration process. An in-pump skimmer is your best option.
  • Heater: The heater can be placed in the sump area, or it can hang on the aquarium side to maintain a constant temperature. Most are simply a long cylinder that can hang in the corner of the aquarium.
  • Return Pump: The return pump will take water from the overflow and send it back into the tank, clean and fresh. It typically comes as part of an overflow kit, or can be placed in the overflow itself.
  • Return Plumbing: The return plumbing is the one-inch diameter pipe that sends water back into the tank from the pump.

Step 4 to Setting up a saltwater aquarium

Conduct a wet run

Before you put anything living into the aquarium, you should conduct a wet run. This wet run can last a day or a week, or however you want it to. Throughout the wet run, check the aquarium parameters and the water quality to ensure that it is safe for fish. Once you are sure, you can begin the process of landscaping the aquarium for the fish.

Step 5 to Setting up a saltwater aquarium

Add live rock

Adding live rock will really make your saltwater aquarium look fantastic and it helps to create a proper ecosystem for your tank. In order to ensure you don’t make things worse, you can do the following:

  1. Don’t overload the amount of live rock you have in the tank. Doing so can actually kill the live rock and hurt your tank.
  2. A good rule of thumb is to have one pound of live rock for every gallon of water in your tank.
  3. Once you add the live rock, watch to make sure that it doesn’t develop black areas or a white film. If it does, take it out.
  4. Don’t stack the rock together. This will cause a severe lack of circulation that can lead to algae blooms. Space things apart.

Step 6 to Setting up a saltwater aquarium

Add sand

It can be a pain to add sand into an aquarium, especially if you already have water in it. The best way is to take a PVC pipe and use that with a funnel to pour the sand into the bottom of the tank. This will keep the sand at the bottom, and it will keep things from becoming too messy for you when you are pouring. It also gives you greater control over how the bottom of the tank looks and the overall aquascape. It will also keep the sand off the live rocks you have placed.

Step 7 to Setting up a saltwater aquarium

Add pre-mixed saltwater

When you pour the water in, it is not going to be saltwater. You can’t just add in salt from your kitchen to make work either. Your going to need a good salt mix and RO/DI unit to make saltwater for your aquarium. A big part of maintaining a saltwater aquarium is having pre-mixed saltwater on hand. For more info on mixing saltwater or your saltwater aquarium, follow the link.

You can add this into the tank quite easily and it is the best choice. It is already at the quantity that you need it. Most local fish stores (LFS) and aquarium shops will sell this in bulk to accommodate any size of tank that you may have.

 Step 8 to Setting up a saltwater aquarium

Install lighting

The last thing to do is the install the aquarium lighting. You want lighting that illuminates the tank but doesn’t wash things out. You want lights that are fluorescent in most cases, and they will rest over the tank, protected by a Plexiglas screen in case something bursts. Usually, the tank itself will come with lighting and lighting casings that are designed specifically for the tank itself.

Setting up a Saltwater Aquarium Final Thoughts

If your looking to get started with your own saltwater aquarium this was a great place to start. Now I would like to invite you to look around some more. Mad Hatter’s Reef has a lot of information for saltwater aquarium hobbyist. I wish you luck on your salty venture.

Feel free to drop me a line @ Jeff@Madhattersreef.com

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