A Beginners’ Guide to Building, Setting up and Maintaining Custom Fish Tanks

Tropical fish breeding is a very popular pastime, but before embarking on this venture, you ought to become familiar with several factors, background information, and other relevant ideas.

If you’re going to buy an aquarium, you might want to consider a custom tank. The costs are higher but so are the benefits. You can purchase a stock aquarium; there are some great sizes and shapes. But what if you have an irregularly shaped corner or perhaps you consider having an in wall aquarium. In these cases, you either get a smaller aquarium for that corner, or you will have to design your system around a standard sized aquarium. There is another option. You could have a custom aquarium built exactly to your specifications. A custom aquarium is more expensive than that of a standard size, but that is to be expected. You are paying for a one-off, not a standard size. You should bother with a custom tank only it is large enough so the extra costs lessen as the tank grows. For example, a small 20-gallon custom tank would cost double than a regular 20-gallon tank would but a custom 200 is not much more expensive than a stock 200 gallon.

The object and the intent of this article are to exhaustively familiarize would-be aquarists like you with how to set up and maintain a fish tank (aquarium).


Before you commence building your fish tank, there are several factors you ought to consider. You first of all have to make detailed plans as to how to start the process by answering the following three pertinent questions:

1. Do I want a salt or fresh water aquarium? This is perhaps the most important of all the questions. This is because fish and other aquatic plants can only thrive in their natural ecosystems as fresh and salt water plants cannot be mixed at all.

2. How large do I prefer my fish tank to be? What should be its capacity? As a general rule, the larger an aquarium is, the heavier it weighs, and as such, weight should never be ignored.

NB: 1 US gallon is equivalent to 3.8 liters or 3.8 kg. A fish tank stand that is designed to accommodate 55 gallons has to support 208 kg of water and the fish tank itself.

3. Is my tank to accommodate multiple species of fish or just one species? Not all species of fish may co-exist with each other peaceably. Some may end up attacking each other in the aquarium.

After answering the above questions, the following are the materials you will have to acquire:

  • 5 glass panels (back, right, front, left, and bottom panels)
  • Silicon sealant (100% non-toxic Silicon)
  • Silicon carbide sandpaper
  • Emory cloth
  • Acetone
  • Paper towels
  • Duct tape
  • Washable felt-tipped marker

Listed below are the steps you will have to follow to make your dream come true:

STEP 1: Determine the desired dimensions of the fish tank

Determine the desired dimensions of the fish tank i.e. its length, width, thickness, and depth. The dimension determines the size of the glass that is to be subsequently used to construct the aquarium as well as the total cost. The glass ought to be thick enough to prevent it from cracking when filled with water. It should also be light enough to prevent it from exerting excessive weights on the stand.

STEP 2: Place an order to the glass cutter.
You will have to purchase around five glass panels in total; one for the base, two for the front and the back; and another two for the right and left.

STEP 3: Cut the panels appropriately

After the panels have been cut, sand the edges by use of the Emory cloth or the Silicon carbide sandpaper. Ensure that the edges are particularly flat and smooth since it is at the edges that the panels will eventually be joined. Finally, clean the edges using wet paper towel and acetone.

STEP 4: Label the panels appropriately
Lay the five panels down and then label them accordingly using washable felt-tipped pen. Label the side that ought to be inside and outside respectively also.

STEP 5: Join the various panels together
Cut out 4 strips of duct tapes of 4-6 inches long. Stick them onto the corners under the panels that are assigned at the bottom of the fish tanks with half the strip sticking out. The strips shall serve as the bracing for each panel.

STEP 6: Arrange the several panels accordingly
Decide which edge of the bottom panel is to be at the front. Apply a bead of sealant on the entire length of this edge. Press down the front glass panel into the sealant. There ought to be a 90-degree angle between the front and the bottom panels. Do not wipe out the extra sealant. Instead, secure the two panels that were adhered earlier using a duct tape.

STEP 7: Fasten the panels

Apply a bead of sealant on the edges of the bottom panels where the right panel is to be placed. Apply yet another bead of sealant at the edge of the front panel where it intersects the edge of the right panel. Fix the right panel, fasten it with a sealant, and secure it using a duct tape.

STEP 8: Complete the joining procedure

Repeat the above steps for the back and left panels.

STEP 9: Make the final touches

After installing all the sides, apply a bead of sealant at the point of intersection of the corners and inside the fish tank.

STEP 10: Let it dry

Allow the sealant to dry for around 24 hours. Fill the tank slowly with water after this period. Observe it for another 24 hours for any leakages.


You will first and foremost have to verify that you have all the required items. You will have to look for the right tank, and other accessories such as heaters, filters, and pumps. Check your tanks for any leakages or other kinds of blemishes that may compromise the efficiency of the tank in keeping fish.

Find the most suitable place to fix or place your tank. It is important to have a long cord that will be enough to fix or plug into the tank. A typical tank will usually require three items to plug in.

After you have firmly set the aquarium on the table, you will thereafter have to find some gravel. You will first of all have to rinse it, in order to remove any dust or chemicals that may have been left over from the bags that initially stored them. Spread the gravel evenly at the bottom of the tank. Ideally, the gravel ought to be half an inch deep. Any shallower depth is not advisable since the fish may easily dig up and whereas any larger depth will lead to more traps of unwanted particles.

Some plants may be present in the aquarium. To get rid of them, place a cereal bowl at the bottom of the tank. The water will overflow after some time. The gravel shall remain intact after some time. Alternatively, you may pour water directly without using any cereal bowl. This, however, will require you to repave your gravel and is more difficult.
Next, you will have to set up the filters and the heaters on the aquarium wall. The filters may be fit at the back or under the gravel. You will then rinse the carbon filter in order to ignite the filter system. After this, you will have to plug the heater into its place. These two procedures may only be carried out when the water levels in the aquarium are high enough to sustain them.

Put the lid on the tank and light on the tank and allow them to sit idle for several days or weeks. In this phase, you will also have to ensure that there are no leakages in the aquarium, the heater is working as expected, and that the filter also is running as required. This procedure is also necessary to allow the tank or aquarium to accumulate as much bacteria as possible that shall subsequently feed the fish and other aquatic organisms.

At the expiration of this one-week interval, the aquarium shall now be in a position to accommodate the various tropical fish species you may want to keep. You will then have to approach a reputable fish or pet store to order your preferred fish species. It is advisable to buy no more than four fish at a time, as any more than that may usually turn chaotic. This will also enable your fish to get used to the tank environment more easily.

The Steps to be followed to set up a Fish Tank

The steps enumerated below are aimed at giving you a rough guide. You will, however, have to find your own extra materials as well as the other missing but crucial pieces of information.

STEP 1: Determine the kind of fish you will want to keep

The first step is determining the kind of fish you will prefer to keep. This is because different kinds of fish require different degrees of care. Fresh water fish, for instance, is completely different from salt water fish as pertains the amount and intensity of care they need. Fresh water fish are generally easier to maintain. The salt water fish, on the other hand, are nicer to watch yet require extra care.

STEP 2: Acquire your preferred fish

At this stage, you will have to get to the nearest reputable pet or fish store and acquire your preferred fish. Be careful on the kind of advice and the products that the store shall offer you. This ought not to be difficult to undertake since by now you are way too familiar with what is required of you.

STEP 3: Position the aquarium appropriately

Place the aquarium in an appropriate position. It is preferable that you fix it in very open, conspicuous, and easily noticed space so that it may be seen by everyone. It should also be so placed as to complement the interior home décor. Add the filter, the heater, the gravel, and water into the aquarium. Set the heater to the desired temperature, turn it on, and place all the decorations appropriately inside. Place the lid and set the system to go.

STEP 4: Give it a grace period

You will have to wait for at least one to two weeks before introducing any fish into the aquarium. This will allow the temperature and the other conditions of the aquarium to be adjusted appropriately. It also gives you some space to ascertain whether your filter is working properly and to check whether there could be any leaks in the water tank.

STEP 5: Introduce fish into the aquarium

At this phase, you are now required to introduce fish into the water tank/aquarium. The most important consideration here is to be sure that the breeds that are introduced into the tank are capable of getting along well with each other to prevent any possibilities of them attacking each other. They also ought to be healthy, should fit well into the tank, be affordable, and be presentable enough to be viewed for long.

STEP 6: Identify and adopt the right maintenance procedures
You will then have to learn how to maintain your fish in the very best shape and form at all times. To do this, you will have to feed them regularly, inspect the filters from time to time, and carry out other relevant tasks. This is the only way to keep the fish healthy and alive for long.


The environmental conditions in the fish tank are constantly changing. These conditions have to be routinely checked as the failure to do so may often lead to dire consequences. Routine maintenance may differ from fish tank to fish tank owing to the varying set ups. It is, therefore, necessary to set up a relevant routine maintenance schedule and adhere to it to the letter. Explained below is a sample routine maintenance schedule that typically covers the main points or factors you may have to consider for a healthy aquarium.

  • Everyday

Feed your fish early in the morning and late in the evening. Check the water temperatures also at these times. Inspect your fish for any signs of injuries, or illnesses. A fish that has drooping fins or one that seems to have a hollow belly is most likely infected with a disease. Fish whose behaviors are deviant i.e. vary from the normal or expected standards may be indicative of spawning (the release of eggs during a breeding season) or courtship (attracting of the various mates). Certain live fish may produce tiny fry also. It is, therefore, necessary to study them keenly to notice any strange signs and act on them appropriately. Check also for those fish that are not as active as they should. They may need extra care or further inspections.

  • Once a week (approximately)

Test the degree of acidity or alkalinity of the water tank, otherwise called the pH. The ideal pH for fish should be somewhere between 6 and 9. It is necessary to maintain this stability at all times to ensure the survival and optimal health of the fish. For tropical aquariums, you may need to check the heater and the thermostat units since they may develop leaks and break in case they are accidentally knocked by one of the larger fish. It is thus very advisable to have some spare heaters or thermostats for possible replacements if and when the situation so demands. For cooler aquariums, you may have to clean the filters and rinse them with cold water from time to time to prevent killing any microorganisms before subsequently retrofitting them into the aquarium.

  • Once every 10-14 days

Alter at least 20-25% of the water in the tank to maintain the quality thereof in desirable levels. Disturb the surface of the gravel gently using the end of a working hose pipe to remove the old water and detritus at the same time. The water that is to be topped up ought to be left in a container at room temperature for around 24 hours to allow the dissolved gases to escape and the temperatures to stabilize as well. Gently top up the tank with water to levels that exceed no more than 2 inches (5 cm) from the top to prevent any fish from jumping out.

  • Once every 3 weeks

In this phase, you will have to clean out the filters that are found in the tropical tanks. You are advised not to change water, whether partially or completely, at this stage as this will interfere with the colonies of the beneficial bacteria that may be living in the gravel. You should not also rinse the filters using hot water. You should preferably rinse them using old aquarium water instead of chlorinated tap water. Check also the growth of the water plants and take some cuttings, prune them or thin them as the need may so demand.Carrying out the aforementioned tasks and procedures may not happen as regularly as is desired. Skipping them once for the sake of a holiday or a trip may be alright. Just be sure though to carry out the essential maintenance before embarking on a long trip or holiday. You should also carry out those maintenance procedures as soon as you are back from holidays.


Breeding tropical fish, whether for leisure or for commercial gain, is a very desirable venture. This is because it helps in appreciating nature as a whole, aids in conserving the environment help in preserving the various fish species, and enables us to spend time appropriately by not deviating our focus and attention to other things that equally matter. Also, the activity itself of fish breeding and the maintenance of aquariums is full of fun and brings along some attendant benefits such as relief from stress, anxiety, and other emotional issues. Moreover, the cost putting up an aquarium is not too prohibitive and may hence be put up by just about every kind of person. All and sundry should therefore take it upon themselves to install this system in their households.