fish tank setup

Goldfish Tank Setup

The whole shebang about setting up your goldfish aquarium:


Owning goldfish can be an enjoyable experience. In fact, it can also be beneficial to your overall health and wellness. Goldfish are a peaceful pet choice that can not only brighten your day, but they can also enhance your mind and lift your spirit. None of which is possible if you do not know how to care properly for them. Before you drive to your local pet store, you need to have a clear understanding as to what goldfish are all about as well as what they need to live happily ever after in their aquarium, outdoor pond or water garden.

fish tank setup

I will include a sample storyline situation and build on it throughout the article to help you better understand the process. This sample will follow Judy and her family through their goldfish aquarium decision making, purchasing and setup.

Meet Judy:

 Judy and her family have been discussing pets and whether or not they are ready for the extra responsibility. Judy and her husband both work full-time jobs. Her husband works at night while she works during the day. Their two children are both in school during the day as well. They believe that goldfish could be a good fit for their family dynamic because they do not require someone to walk them every few hours, nor do they need to be housebroken. Another reason for this decision is that Judy’s husband suffers from high blood pressure as a result of his stressful overnight job. Judy read an article that explains how a goldfish aquarium can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure.

Decisions, decisions:

Take the time to walk around your home. Decide where the best location for your aquarium is and take its measurements. It is a good idea to know exactly where you want your aquarium as well as how much space you have to accommodate the aquarium. Be sure that the location is not in direct sunlight, exposed to a draft and that it is near a power source. Direct sunlight can increase the water temperature and speed up the growth of bacteria and algae. Drafts can become harmful for your goldfish, especially during cooler months of the year. You will need the power source in order to plug in your filters and other devices.

The next thing you need to deliberate is your budget. A budget is necessary because although goldfish may not seem exotic enough to be expensive, they can actually cost hundreds depending on the breed you choose. Aquariums also vary in price depending on the size, so this will also need to be a factor in the budget. Other items include:

  • Gravel
  • Cleaning materials
  • Décor
  • Filtration systems
  • Lighting
  • Plants
  • Heaters
  • Food
  • And of course, fish

These items can quickly add up and contribute to the final cost of your aquarium expenses.

Check in with Judy:

Now that Judy and her family have made the decision to become goldfish owners they now must consider other factors as well. Judy recruits her family to do a walk-through of their home. They need to find the perfect location for the aquarium where it will benefit the whole family. Her husband suggests placing it in the dining room because it has the most space and is the location of their family meals together before he goes to work. Judy and the children agree. Now, they must check for direct sunlight, drafts, and power sources. The spot seems to be away from windows and doors so there will be no unwanted light source or draft. It also has a power source that will be used to plug in the devices. Next, Judy’s husband measures the space and finds that they have an open space that measures 5 feet long by 4 feet wide. This amount of space can easily hold a standard 75-gallon aquarium and the stand (with room to spare). This means that whatever tank and stand they choose cannot exceed these measurements.

They now sit down together to discuss a budget. Judy’s income plus her husband’s income minus all of their current bills, food, etc. should help them determine a cost that they are comfortable with.  They decide that they can spend:

  • $500 on an aquarium and the stand
  • $100 on the gravel and décor
  • $30 on artificial plants (optional)
  • $30 on live plants (optional)
  • $100 on a filter
  • $50 on a heater
  • $50 on lighting (if the aquarium does not come with one)
  • $20 on fish food (depending on the diet they choose)
  • $75 to $100 on cleaning materials including:
    • Gravel vacuum
    • Net
    • Water conditioner
    • Air stone
    • Algae brush
    • Water pump or siphon
  • Total estimated budget: $955 to $980 (rounding up to $1,000 to be safe). They also estimate that they can spend about $50 on the fish themselves.

Decisions, decisions continued:

Once you have locked down your space and your budget then it is time to figure out what kind of goldfish you are interested in keeping, as well as how many. Keep in mind that a single goldfish requires at least 20-gallons of water. Each additional goldfish you decide on after that should have at least 10-gallons to 20-gallons of water each. For example, if you would like five goldfish then you should plan on a 60-gallon tank minimum. However, specialists believe that an aquarium could never be too big, so buy the biggest one you can afford.

All of these decisions may seem daunting and may even deter you from going through with bringing goldfish into your life. But, don’t let it! Goldfish are such wonderful creatures and if you take care of them, they will gladly return the favor.

*Do not rush into any of these decisions or, skip passed them. The fish are not going anywhere and will be waiting for you when you are ready for them.*

Research is a major component to these decisions as well. You can go on the internet, visit a local library, speak with an expert or visit a few pet stores. Gather as many facts as you can before you buy anything. Read up on the various breeds of goldfish because there are so many to choose from! Get to know each breed and then choose which one will best suit your lifestyle, your interests, and your personality. Then discover who is best suited to share their tank. Only certain breeds should live together to prevent bullying, fighting, or competition for food.

Check in with Judy:

            Judy and her family plan to spend up to $1,000 on the aquarium and supplies and up to $50 on their fish. Now they must decide which breed(s) they are interested in. There are about 15 different breeds of goldfish that are well-known and relatively easy to find in the United States.

  • Black Moor Fancy Goldfish
  • Bubble Eyed Fancy Goldfish
  • Celestial Eyed Fancy Goldfish
  • Comet Goldfish
  • Common Goldfish
  • Fantail Goldfish
  • Lionhead Fancy Goldfish
  • Oranda Fancy Goldfish
  • Pearlscale Fancy Goldfish
  • Ranchu Fancy Goldfish
  • Red Cap Oranda Fancy Goldfish
  • Ryukin Goldfish
  • Shubunkin Goldfish
  • Telescope Eyed Fancy Goldfish
  • Veiltail Goldfish

They can pick no more than seven goldfish for their 75-gallon tank. Judy and her family research each goldfish species to find out their individual personalities, physical traits, temperaments, and special needs. The family will also research which breeds can be tankmates and which breeds cannot. They decide that the Celestial Eyed Fancy Goldfish is so ugly that it’s cute! They plan to bring home two to three of this species. They then read that a Celestial Eyed Fancy Goldfish’s ideal tankmates include the Bubble Eyed Fancy Goldfish, the Black Moor Goldfish, or the Telescope Eyed Fancy Goldfish. The children decide on an aquarium housing both Celestial Eyed and Telescope Eyed Fancy Goldfish because they are both “handicapped” swimmers with unique physical traits, sweet personalities and are both non-competitive during feeding time. They also find out that these goldfish will require smooth décor and gravel because their eyes can be easily damaged on anything pointy included inside the tank.

Make a list:

Next, it is time to make a list of everything you need to purchase. You have your budget in place, therefore, you know how much you can afford so that (and the list) should help keep you from overspending. Do not write “Fish” on your “To-Buy” list just yet. You should only be shopping for supplies at the moment. Fish will be the last thing you purchase because the aquarium needs to be situated, put together, treated, and cycled before it is “fish ready”.

Judy’s list:

            Judy sits down at her dining room table to make her shopping list and provoke inspiration.

  • 75-gallon aquarium with a stand: $500
  • Smooth gravel and smooth décor for the bottom: $100
  • Artificial plants (optional): $30
  • Live plants (optional): $30
  • Filtration system: $100
  • Heater: $50
  • Lighting (if aquarium does not include one): $50
  • Food: $20
  • Cleaning materials: $75 to $100
    • Gravel vacuum
    • Net
    • Water conditioner
    • Air stone
    • Algae brush
    • Water pump or siphon
  • Buckets (for filling the tank and for water changes every two weeks)

Acquiring your shopping list items:

Visit the pet store you have chosen and begin to pick out your items. If you get confused or have any questions, then ask the staff. You should have opted for a pet store that has employed a caring and knowledgeable staff. If they do not care about the store or the pets, then they will not care about yours.  It would be wise to recruit the assistance of a friend for this shopping expedition as some of the supplies can be heavy. Keep all receipts! If any of your items does not work or is broken, then you will need to be able to return it to the store in exchange for another one.

Check in with Judy:

With list in hand, Judy and her brother journey to her favorite pet store to purchase her items. During their visit, they become overwhelmed by the various gravel and décor choices. They enlist the assistance of a knowledgeable staff member to help them choose natural gravel instead of dyed gravel. He also aims them in the direction of the smooth décor. Next, the staff member continues to assist them by introducing the various filters, heaters, and air pumps they sell. Judy and her brother decide to purchase an HOB filter (hang on the back), a 13” 150 Watt submersible aquarium heater, Air pump suitable for a 50-gallon to 100-gallon tank, and they did not need to purchase extra lighting because the aquarium included one. It is essential that Judy and her brother chose items that were appropriate for the size aquarium she decided on. Anything designed for less than 75-gallon aquariums would not do their job adequately.

Bringing home supplies and beginning setup:

You may want to bring someone to the pet store with you. They can come in handy when you need to carry your items to and from the car. If you have chosen a large tank (like Judy did), then you will need someone to help you install it as well. Make sure to provide towels or blankets in your car to help protect the aquarium on the way home. Once you arrive home, have your friend help you bring the supplies into the house. The aquarium should be brought to your water nozzle or hose to be rinsed and dried before installation. Do not use soap or chemicals. Dry it off with a towel (paper towels will work as well). While you are rinsing and drying your aquarium, have your friend position the stand in its permanent location and prepare it for tank installation. Now, you and your helper can place the aquarium on the stand in the designated area. Make sure your tank is level and secure before moving forward. You should also have plenty of room to reach the power source and space to maneuver around the aquarium during installation and decoration. Do not add or fill the tank with water first! Also, do not plug anything in at this point!

Check in with Judy:

Judy and her brother have now purchased all of the supplies on the list. She was careful to stay within the $1,000 budget and even managed to come in a little under since the lighting was included in the aquarium. The two of them begin to carry the supplies to her vehicle and wrap the aquarium in a large blanket before placing it inside the car. Upon arriving at Judy’s house, she and her brother carry the supplies inside and return to her vehicle for the tank. Before bringing it inside, they move it to the backyard where they can rinse it off with a hose. While Judy dries the aquarium with a towel, her brother prepares the stand in the dining room. Together, they carry the tank inside and secure it into the stand. Her brother adds a small amount of water to the tank in order to test how level it is. Finally, the tank is level and secure and is ready to be decorated.

Adding items to the aquarium:

The very first thing you need to add to the tank is the gravel. That is unless you have chosen to use an undergravel filtration system in which case that would go in first. Rinse your gravel before adding it to the aquarium. Choosing natural gravel rather than dyed gravel will be better for the health of your goldfish. You should plan at least three to four inches of gravel to the bottom of the tank (or on top of the undergravel filtration system). Once the gravel is situated the way you want it, next thing to add is décor, plants, and devices.

While you are beginning the decorating process you should have your friend begin running the tap water for about a minute. Then have them fill a bucket with cold tap water and treat it with water conditioner. Follow the instructions on the water conditioner packaging. Do not use straight tap water in the aquarium. While the water is being treated, you can start placing any décor, plants, or rocks that you bought around the tank. Be sure to bury the plant roots well as many goldfish will enjoy digging them up. You should also use this time to bury any air stones or hoses that you do not want exposed. Follow the directions for these items closely. You can begin adding the now treated water to the aquarium. It is important that you treat the tap water beforehand because straight up tap water is harmful to goldfish. Your décor and gravel may move as you add the treated water slowly. Simply replace it as you go. Do not plug anything in until you have completed filling and decorating!

Check in with Judy:

Judy has secured her aquarium and is ready to get to work! She bought a large bag of natural gravel to place in the bottom of her aquarium. After rinsing the gravel, Judy adds enough to fill about 5 inches from the bottom. Once her gravel is in place, she signals to her brother to activate the sink and let it to run for about a minute on cold. Her brother will then grab a bucket and begin filling it with the cool water. While he treats the tap water with the water conditioner, Judy will start adding her plants, décor and rocks to the tank. She takes the time to bury the plants and secure the other décor and hoses before moving on. Next, Judy will begin adding the treated water to the aquarium. She does so, slowly to avoid any splashing.

Installation of devices:

Install (but do not plug in) your heater, filter, and lighting. Be sure to pour some of the treated water through the filtration system chambers. For best results, install each item carefully and by following the packaging directions. Each device is a different type and brand and should only be installed as it says to in the instructions. Be sure to keep any hoses, wires, or tubing out of the way of the hood. If the hood is resting on any of these items, then they should be moved. Some aquarium hoods can have pieces removed in order to make way for these wires, tubes, etc.

Tip: Instead of plugging everything into a power strip on the floor, why not mount it to the wall behind the aquarium? Do so carefully and without anything being plugged in. In fact, do not plug anything into the power strip until you are confident that it is secure to the wall. This tip will help prevent any tank water from dripping down the cords or hoses and into the outlet.

Once everything is installed and looks the way you want it to (and any spilled water is cleaned up) then it is time to plug everything in and take her for a spin! Run your heater and filtration system for about two weeks without any fish in the tank. Goldfish need good quality water that falls between 65º F and 75ºF. If the water is too hot or too cold then it could put your fish in shock. These two weeks will also be a good time to pick out (don’t bring home) the goldfish you want as well as any food etc. that you forgot  during the last trip to the pet store.

Check in with Judy:

With the tank about half way full of water, Judy and her brother will now install the heater, filter, and other devices. They are careful to unpack and install one device at a time as well as to follow the specific directions. Once they are properly installed, they work together to mount the power strip to the wall. This will serve as a safety measure for any dripping water and make it easier to unplug during future cleanings etc. The power strip will also then be out of reach of her children.         

Judy will then continue filling the tank with the treated water until it is completely filled. She and her brother clean up any messes they may have made during this process, then plug in the devices and find out if everything is working correctly. If they seem to be working fine, then Judy will leave them running for the next two weeks. During this time, the aquarium is being properly cycled through and heated to the proper temperature for goldfish inhabitants. Also, during those two weeks, Judy remembers that she needs to buy fish food and pick out (but not bring home) the fish. Judy discusses a goldfish diet with one of the helpful staff members at her favorite pet store. He explains that goldfish are omnivores and will eat just about anything they are given. So, Judy decides to pick out a can of fish flakes, a few mosquito larvae as well as some insects. The staff member that helped her before also reminds her that her goldfish will nibble on the live plants she bought and planted inside the tank. Judy and the pet store worker then examine the goldfish. She clarifies that she and her family have chosen the Celestial Eyed Fancy Goldfish as well as the Telescope Eyed Fancy Goldfish for the tank. After Judy and the worker look them over, Judy picks three Celestials and three Telescopes. The staff member puts them aside until Judy returns to bring them home.

The day has finally come!

Finally, it is time to bring home fishy! However, before you go out and pick them up you need to test the tank water for temperature, pH level as well as ammonia and nitrate levels. Your tank water should read no less than 62ºF and no more than 75ºF. The best temperature would be about 70ºF. The pH level for goldfish should fall between 7 and 7.4 (7.4 being more desirable for the species). Finally, the ammonia and the nitrate tests should both be zero.

Returning to the pet store to pick up the goldfish you chose is an exciting moment. You have worked so vigorously to get to this point! Prepare your vehicle for the delicate cargo and drive carefully back home. It is recommended that you place the goldfish bags inside a box of some kind to prevent them from moving around too much during the twists and turns of the road. Do not turn quickly around corners or stop too suddenly as this could add stress to your fish. Once you are home, allow the plastic bags to float on the surface of the aquarium water before releasing them into it. 15 to 20 minutes of floating should be enough. Finally, let the fish out of the bag and into the aquarium. Give your new family members some space and time to get used to their new home and their tankmates. Quietly observe them from afar. Enjoy this new stage in your life. However, never underestimate the responsibility you now have.

Final check in with Judy:

Judy performs a few water tests before picking up her fish. She tests the water temperature (falls at 71ºF). She then tests the pH level (registers at 7.3), and she tests for ammonia and nitrate levels (both of which come back as zero). With everything ready to go, Judy returns to the pet store to pick up her finned family members. She is careful not to run with them or drive quickly with them. Judy secures them in a shoe box for further fish transportation safety. Once she arrives home, Judy allows her goldfish to float in their bags on the aquarium water’s surface. 20 minutes later, Judy allows them to enter their aquarium. Her family watches quietly from afar as the fish become familiar with their new home and their tankmates. Her children glow with excitement while picking out the names of their goldfish friends and her husband begins to feel the stress melting away.