How To Set Up (Build) A Saltwater Fish Tank / Aquarium

How to go from this, to this. 30 steps, one video, let’s go! Welcome to My First Fish Tank, the only website
and YouTube channel 100% dedicated to you, the beginner! Building your first saltwater aquarium is
easy at My First Fish Tank, and here’s how it works. Watch this video from start to finish. If you aren’t already there, go to
and click on “Build”. Browse through the 4 different budget options
and choose which one fits you best, then buy your gear. Once your items arrive, follow along step
by step and you’ll have your first tropical fish tank up and running! If you like our content, do us a favor and
subscribe down below. We also post daily to Instagram, so follow
us @myfirstfishtank. If you’d like a copy of the 30 step-by-step
instructions, build lists, transcripts, study guides, and more, just put your name and email
address into one of the many sign up form at You’ll get the password to the members only
tab with links to everything. Alright, enough of the sales pitch. Without further ado, let’s get started! Step 01: Choose Your Budget
There are 4 different budget options to choose from. If you are set on a larger tank but don’t
have the money today, then just do what most of us in the hobby do… buy a piece of equipment
with each paycheck. Regardless of which price-point you choose,
the end result is going to be beautiful. Step 02: Purchase Items
Each budget option contains three sections… Essential, Optional, and Upgradeable. To complete the 30 steps, you will at least
need the essential items. But if you want to spruce things up a bit,
you can swap out an upgradeable item for an essential item. For example, each budget has an optional,
slightly larger tank that you could swap out for the essential item. The optional items are just that, things you
may want to purchase as your budget allows. Just don’t mix and match from various budget
options, as each option was specifically chosen to make sure all the pieces of equipment work
well together. We use a few different online retailers in
order to get our preferred products at competitive prices. So just open up a few tabs in your browser,
add everything to your carts, and you’ll have a few exciting shipments heading your
way! If you live outside of the USA and Canada,
send us an email with a link to your favorite online retailers, and we will be happy to
help you custom build your first saltwater aquarium within your budget! Step 03: Choose Location
You’ve ordered your essential items so let’s figure out where your tank is going to reside. Choosing your location is not rocket science,
but there are a few do’s and don’ts you want to keep in mind. Do choose a location with electrical outlets
nearby, and make sure that circuit can handle the load. You could do an easy test by plugging in some
high amperage items such as a vacuum, space heater, or hair dryer and turning them on
at the same time. As long as your circuit doesn’t break, you
should be alright. Don’t put the tank in direct sunlight. A little bit will be okay, but too much direct
sunlight can cause unwanted algae growth and temperature swings. Do choose a location that has easy access
for maintenance. You are going to be spending a lot of time
keeping things pretty, so the closer to a utility closet or garage the better. Don’t put the tank over a vent or next to
a floorboard heater or wood burning stove. Daily temperature swings of even a few degrees
can cause stress for your livestock. Do make certain your table/stand/counter,
or floor can withstand the weight of your aquarium. 1 gallon of water weighs 8.3 lbs, so a 20
gallon tank is going to weigh over 160 lbs in water alone. And for everybody else in the world who is
not from the United States, 1 Liter of water weighs 1 kg. Don’t put the tank in your bedroom, unless
a constant low-level gurgling and buzzing noise is your thing! I have several tanks in my bedroom, so we
have to sleep with a fan on to drown out the noise. Step 04: Unpack Aquarium
When your aquarium arrives, give it a quick visual inspection to make sure there are no
obvious cracks or defects. It is glass, so sometimes it can be damaged
during shipping. Glass aquariums are heavy, so it’s always
a good idea to have a helper so this doesn’t happen. Step 05: Assemble Stand
Most budget options don’t have a stand, so you can just skip this step. If you did purchase a stand, just follow the
included instructions to get it assembled. If you plan on using your own stand, make
sure it is strong enough to support the weight of the tank. Step 06: Cut Foam Mat
All of the budget options at My First Fish Tank either come with pre-cut mats or they
don’t require them. But if you are building your own system, be
sure to carefully cut the neoprene foam/yoga mat to fit perfectly underneath your tank. Small irregularities in the top of the stand
could lead to stress fractures and ultimately tank failure over time. So do yourself and your home a favor and use
foam! Step 07: Place Aquarium On Stand (Or Table,
Or Counter) Wipe off the top of the stand/table/counter,
and the bottom of the tank. With your helper, team lift the tank into
place, being sure it is perfectly centered on the foam pad. Leave about a fist size space between the
tank and the wall to allow access for cleaning and equipment. Do a preliminary leveling using shims if necessary,
before moving onto the next step. If you purchased a larger system with a sump,
you will also need to follow the instructions provided, and install the prefabricated plumbing. This will allow you to move onto the next
step and leak test both the tank and sump. Step 08: Fill With Tap Water And Leak Test
Tanks can be damaged during shipping, and a small leak can lead to a big headache. Fill your tank with tap water. You can use a bucket, pitcher, or hose. It doesn’t matter at this point, because
you are just going to drain it in a couple hours. Once full, give the outside of a tank a quick
wipe to make sure it is completely dry. Now closely inspect your tank, especially
around the seams, to ensure there are no leaks. Step 09: Level Your Tank
With the tank full of water, we’re now going to level the aquarium. A couple quick notes here. If you purchased a 20 gallon system or less,
you will most likely skip this step. Never place composite shims directly under
the tank. Only use shims to level the aquarium stand. Laying the level on top of the tank, check
all angles to get a sense of where to place the composite shims. Place the shim underneath the stand, with
the ribbed side facing down. Use a hammer to gently tap it into place. You will likely need to use several shims
at different locations on the stand. Once the tank is level, break the shim by
pulling up. Step 10: Drain The Tank
There are two ways to start a siphon. Option one: the mouth method. Make sure your gravel vacuum is clean. Stick the large end of the vacuum under the
water line. Bring the small end of the tube to your mouth,
being sure it is above the water line. Suck in the water until it nearly reaches
your mouth and place your thumb over the end. Then lower the small end of the tube into
the bucket, release your thumb, and your siphon is started. Option two: the mouth free method. Hold your thumb over the small end of the
tube. Fill the large end of the vacuum with water. Place the small end over the bucket, release
your thumb, and once water starts flowing into the bucket, quickly place your thumb
back over the tube. Then stick the large end of the vacuum into
the tank, being sure to keep it facing up. Fill the vacuum with water, then keeping it
below the water line, flip the vacuum downward. Remove your thumb and your siphon is started. Step 11: Make or Buy Saltwater
You have three options here. Option one is to purchase pre-made saltwater
from your local fish store. Just get a bunch of 5 gallon buckets and make
the trek. Option two is to purchase RO/DI water from
your local fish store, and then mix the salt yourself. Option three requires you to purchase an RO/DI
filter and make the saltwater yourself. Here’s how to make saltwater. Make sure to only use RO/DI water, never tap
water or distilled water. Read the directions on your salt mix container
to estimate how much you will need. Slowly add in salt while stirring. Measure the salinity with your hydrometer
or refractometer, and add salt mix or RO/DI water to bring the salinity to 33-35 ppm. Once you have livestock in your tank, you
will also need to add the additional step of heating your saltwater mix to match the
temperature of your display tank before doing any water changes. Step 12: Add Rock and Aquascape
You can use your own aesthetic judgement here. But here are a couple things to consider. Make sure that your aquascape is stable, and
that a grazing snail or strong water current won’t topple it. Leave enough space between the aquascape and
the glass to allow for easy cleaning. And lastly, be sure to provide hiding places
for shy fish and invertebrates. Step 13: Add Sand
If you didn’t purchase the optional sand and/or just prefer a bare bottom tank, skip
this step. Do not rinse the live-sand. Instead, just pour the bag out directly into
your tank, and spread it evenly around your aquascape. Sand is not an essential element for a saltwater
aquarium, although some species of fish and invertebrates will require a sandbed for burrowing,
protection, and food. Step 14: Add Return Pump
It is easier to add the return pump before adding saltwater. While not absolutely essential, I recommend
using the optional plastic hose clamps to secure the flexible tubing to the pump. Stay clear of the traditional metal hose clamps,
as they will rust over time. Step 15: Add Saltwater
To avoid splatter, pour saltwater directly onto your stable aquascape, or place a small
plate directly on top of the sand bed, and pour the water into it. Regardless of what you do, expect a cloudy
tank if you used live-sand. There is usually a packet of water clarifer
that comes with the live-sand. Add that to the tank now to speed in the clearing
up of the tank. Step 16: Organize Wires And Install Drip Loops
Water and electricity do not play well together. For your safety, be sure that your outlet
is protected from accidental water splashing. It is also best practice to make sure your
outlet is protected by a gfci. I highly recommend using the optional surge
protector, as it has five individually controlled outlets which will make tank maintenance a
breeze. Use either a label maker or tape to label
each cord. Be sure to install drip loops wherever necessary. A drip loop is just a loop in your electrical
wire that goes down below the outlet and then back up to the outlet. This will protect your outlet from water that
may run down the wires by accident. A cheap zip tie or cord clip is an affordable
solution when installing drip loops. Step 17: Add Mechanical Filtration
Place your sponge and/or polyester filter floss into the the rear filtration chamber
or sump. Step 18: Add The Primary Heater
We like to put our heaters in the rear filtration chamber or sump. Just make sure that wherever you put it has
decent flow to transport the warm water throughout the tank. A quick note about heaters. They need to be calibrated. Set your heater to 78 degrees Fahrenheit (or
25 degrees centigrade). Place it into your aquarium, making sure it
is covered with water. Give it a day and use your thermometer to
check the temperature. Your heater will likely be off by 1-3 degrees. Remove your heater, and adjust the calibration
dial to match the water temperature. Then adjust the temperature to reflect the
new 78 degrees. Step 19: Add Backup Heater
If you bought the optional backup heater, install that now. Even the best heater will eventually fail,
and a backup heater is the best redundancy protection for your tank. Here’s how the backup heater works. Follow the instructions from step 18 to calibrate
it. Then, lower the temperature of the backup
heater to 76 degrees Fahrenheit or 24 degrees centigrade. Then at some point in the future, when you
notice the temperature of the tank is only 76 degrees, you will know that the primary
heater has given out and it’s time to order another heater. You can then promote your backup to primary
and be thankful your livestock are still alive and happy! Step 20: Turn On The Return Pump
Turn on your return pump to start filtering your tank. It will take a while for the sand to settle,
so just be patient as the cloudiness clears. Step 21: Install and turn on Wavemaker/Powerhead
If you did not purchase a wavemaker, just skip this step. Attach the wavemaker to the side of the tank. Make sure it is a few inches below the water
line to avoid any air sucking noises that may occur. Turn on the wavemaker and set it to medium
for now. You will be able to make adjustments to it
later. Step 22: Install Lights
Most lights are not waterproof, so make sure to install these carefully. If you have lights as a part of your canopy,
then just put the canopy into place. There are various mounting options here, so
follow the instructions with your lights to securely mount them to the sides or rear of
the tank. We like to hide the wire behind the tank. Plug them in and turn them on. Step 23: Cycle the Tank
Cycling your tank is hobbyist lingo for establishing a bacteria colony in your live rock to remove
the toxins (specifically ammonia), that are caused by livestock waste and uneaten food. There are two ways to cycle the tank. The first method is fishless. Add a piece of frozen shrimp or add a couple
tablespoons of fish food. Do not change your filter during this time
and if you have a protein skimmer, make sure it is off. Test your water for ammonia, nitrite, and
nitrate every few days, and record the results in a log. You will see your ammonia spike first, followed
by nitrite, and finally nitrate. Once your ammonia and nitrite levels have
returned to near zero, the cycle is complete. The second method is the fish method. I recommend adding a product such as Fritz
Turbo Start to help establish the cycle quicker. Then add a couple of hardy fish such as Clownfish
or Damselfish. Keep the protein skimmer off and only clean
the mechanical filter once a week. Test for ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate every
few days and record the results in a log. If ammonia levels reach 1 ppm, you will need
to perform a 15%-30% water change to reduce the ammonia levels. Once the ammonia and nitrite levels return
to near zero, your tank is cycled. A full cycle takes 4-6 weeks. Step 24: Perform a 25% Water Change
Once the cycle is complete, a 25% water change will help remove any remaining nitrates. If you have a protein skimmer, you can now
turn it on. If you already have fish in the aquarium,
be sure to heat your new saltwater to within a degree or two of the aquarium water to avoid
stressing out your fish. Turn off your return pump and wavemaker before
starting the siphon. Use a pitcher or bucket to easily add the
new saltwater to the aquarium. Step 25: Buy Fish
Start by purchasing 2 hearty fish from your local fish store, such as Clownfish or Damselfish. Even though your tank is now cycled, the addition
of fish can cause a second mini-spike of ammonia, so be sure to to test for ammonia every week. Step 26: Drip Acclimate Fish
Drip acclimating your fish is the process of slowly equalizing the water parameters
from the fish store to your aquarium. It is crucial as temperature, pH, and salinity
will likely be different in your aquarium. The most important thing to remember here
is you never want to add water from your local fish store into your aquarium. First, rinse off the outside of the bag with
fresh water. Turn off your aquarium lights, and float the
bag in your aquarium for 15 minutes to help equalize the temperatures. Take a long portion of airline tubing and
tie a couple of loose knots in it. Using a clean bucket or receptacle that you
only use for fish, cut the top off of the bag, and gently pour the fish and water into
the bucket. Place one end of the airline tubing in your
aquarium, and the other in your bucket, being sure to start a siphon first. Adjust the tightness of the knots so you get
between 1-2 drops per second. Drip acclimate the fish for 30 minutes. If the room you are in is chilly, you may
want to consider adding a small heater into the container so the water temperature stays
near 78 degrees. After 30 minutes, remove the airline tubing
and rinse it with fresh water. Step 27: Add Fish To Tank
We are not going to discuss quarantine tanks for your first build, but to learn more click
on the “learn more” section at My First Fish Tank for a link. Setting up a quarantine tank is considered
the gold standard of marine husbandry and is best practice for keeping your livestock
disease free. Keeping the aquarium lights off while introducing
fish to your aquarium will help reduce their stress levels. Using a net or small bowl, catch the fish,
being gentle and patient as they can be injured easily. If you are using a net, just give it a couple
quick bounces to get rid of any local fish store water. Then gently pinch the end of the net around
fish, turn the net upside down , and release your fish. If you are using a bowl, just hold you hand
over the top and drain the water out before adding your fish. Many fish jump, and there is nothing worse
then coming home and finding one of your pets dead on the carpet. I always recommend purchasing or making a
mesh screen kit. You can find a kit in the “optional” section
of each build, and a video on how to make it in the “learn more” section at Step 28: Turn On Lights
Give your fish a few hours to explore their new home before turning the lights on. If you have programmable lights, turn them
on slowly over the course of the day. If you just have an on/off switch for your
lights, consider letting the fish get used to their tank for one entire night before
turning the lights on. Step 29: Rinse All Equipment In Freshwater
Saltwater is quite corrosive to your equipment, so anytime something comes in contact with
saltwater, be sure to give it a thorough freshwater clean in the sink. Make sure to get the inside of any piping
or tubes, and never use soap as soapy residue can be detrimental to your livestock. A small amount of tap water won’t hurt your
tank, but if you can let your equipment dry completely first, that would be best. Step 30: Send Us Pictures & Learn More
Send us pictures and learn more. Four last things before we say goodbye. First, please, please, please send us pictures
and videos of your new tank. All of us here at My First Fish Tank love
sharing in the success of our fellow hobbyists. If you have any questions along the way, don’t
hesitate to reach out to us. Our email is [email protected] Second, if you haven’t already done so, if
you wouldn’t mind doing a little favor, please like this video and subscribe to our channel
on YouTube. Then head over to Instagram and follow us
@myfirstfishtank. Third, sign up for our newsletter. You’ll receive all four build lists, the ultimate
saltwater buying guide, the 30 step-by-step instructions, and the password to the members
only section. And lastly, your journey into this hobby has
just begun. We’ve barely scratched the surface. Head over to My First Fish Tank and click
on the “Learn More” tab for the detailed 10-part series, unboxings, reviews of various products,
and so much more. From all of us here at My First Fish Tank,
we thank you for allowing us to be a part of your saltwater aquarium journey. Happy Reefing Everybody!

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