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Over the years I have developed an idea of what I want in a dream tank. What exactly I want to put in it is not as important. The things I want to make sure to include are all the little details. There are a lot of little details that over time you wish you had thought of when you setup the tank. I want to make sure to include them all from the beginning.
The following is a description of what I would want in the perfect aquarium:
-Wooden stand to conceal all the equipment and supplies.
-Three power strips mounted inside the stand. One would be the main power strip. This is where air pumps and the other power strips are plugged in. The second would be the one that everything that needs to be turned off during a water change will be plugged in so that I just have to turn off one switch and all filters and heaters are off. The third power strip is connected to a timer on the main power strip and is where all lights are plugged in. Variations of this would be multiple timers for a more controlled photoperiod.
-The three power strips are mounted to the top of the inside of the stand. Ideally they face down so that there is no way for water to run in to the outlets. If the design of the stand prohibits this then facing sideways is fine. Ideally the power strip that turns off the filters and heaters for water changes is mounted just inside of and above the door of the stand so it is easily accessed.
-Fasten the cords to the stand to keep them tidy, organized, and out of the way.
-A small light should be mounted inside and above the door of the stand so that you can easily turn it on when you need to do anything inside the stand. I have even seen one person install a switch that automatically turns the light on when the door opens.
-Waterproof the inside of the stand. Use wood sealer to make it more waterproof, you will inevitably have water where you don't want it and waterproofing the stand will save you a headache by containing it.
-Install a water sensor alarm inside the stand to alert you of any leaks as early as possible.
-Install a shelf to hold things like fish food, dechlorinator, etc. This will increase the storage capacity inside the stand.
-Install a hook on the inside of the door of the stand to hold a hand cloth or small towel, you will use it every time your hand goes in the tank.
-Use a small plastic storage container with no lid to keep nets in. This way when they drain it is into the plastic container. This keeps them clean and easily accessible.
-The back of the tank should be painted. It looks a thousand times better than plastic backgrounds. Paint the sides too if they will not be viewable (such as a tank that is in a corner, paint the back and the side that will be against the wall). From the front of the tank a painted side is not visible as a mirror but as the painted color just like the background.
-Use sand as a substrate. Sand is very little to absolutely no maintenance. I prefer to do either solid black or a 50/50 mix of black and white. The black and white mix helps hide anything that may end up on the sand (debris, chips from rocks, etc.). Sand is also much more natural. Please see the article on Sand as a (Superior) Substrate for more information.
-Keep everything black. The background, the air tubing, filter tubes and pipes, heaters, etc. It will all look much better long term. A dark background and substrate will not only show off the colors of the fish better but will actually increase the amount of pigment they produce. And with everything matching the tank will look much better.
-Attach your air stones to rocks with zip ties, do not use suction cups. This keeps them on the bottom and and in place for years.
-Buy the fish that YOU like, don't limit yourself by the arbitrary standards others set. For example, if you like the black moor goldfish with a single tail instead of the double tail it is supposed to have then you should buy it. If you like the discus that has peppering and 'poor' coloration then buy it. It doesn't matter if others have standards that make them think they are 'inferior'.
-Use filtration that exceeds your tank's needs and is easy and cheap to maintain. This means avoiding the hang-on-back filters that just have thin slide-in cartridges and going for ones that have reusable media. If the tank is large enough to warrant it the best filter would be a small pond/pool filter that has a backwash option. These allow you to drain the tank while simultaneously cleaning the filter without having to lug it to the sink or bath tub, open it up, rinse all the media, etc. The setup may require a little more expense and setup time but is well worth it with all the time and money you will save long term. I would do a pond filter on anything 150 gallons and up. Starting at 55-75 gallons (depending on the type of fish) up to a 150 I recommend the Fluval FX5. From about 35 gallons up to 55-75 gallon tanks I recommend a Fluval 405 (yes 405, not 406, I like the 405 better). Anything less than that I recommend an AquaClear 110 (smaller AquaClear for even smaller tanks). If you use an AquaClear make sure you put something over the intake, their flow is too strong for the very small intake strainer they have. There is a prefilter made for the AquaClear powerheads that does not fit perfectly but can work very well if attached with a zip tie. There are also sponge filters available online made to fit the intakes.
-I always use air pumps in freshwater tanks, I have seen them save entire setups way too many times not to. If your filter stops running for any reason at all (impeller breaks or dies, pump dies, filter becomes clogged, etc.) and that is the only aeration on the tank fish can start dying ( I have seen it happen in as little as four hours). If there is a strong air pump on the tank it could go a week or more without a single issue or loss. They increase flow and aeration and many fish like to swim in them (that is reason enough for me). For their cost they are more than worth it.
-If you do not have plants or corals (which require lighting) keep your lights on minimally. This means setting the timers so that they come on in the evening when you get home from work and go off when you go to bed. There is no need to light the tank (and grow algae) all day long if you aren't there to enjoy it. The fish only need enough light to tell night from day, something that most rooms will do just from their windows without any light on the tank or in the room.
-Feed New Life Spectrum exclusively. It will keep the fish healthier and better colored. It will also keep the tank cleaner. Please read the articles on Feeding and Nutrition for more information.
-Maintain a healthy water change schedule. On most freshwater tanks 25% weekly will prevent almost any problem you would have otherwise had. If that doesn't keep the nitrate below 20ppm then they may need to be larger, but just as often. Read the article on Water Changes for more information.