power failure shopping list

Emergency Situation # 3: Aquarium Power Failure

This is the third article in the Emergency Situation series. Click here to see Emergency Situation # 1 or Emergency Situation # 2. The basic premise is that I’m simulating a saltwater aquarium emergency, in order to figure out how I would handle it and if I need to get any equipment to help myself be more prepared. In Emergency Situation # 3, I’m simulating a total aquarium power failure.

hurricanes cause aquarium power outtagesFor me, this isn’t so much of a hypothetical example. Just a few years back, Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the United States and left many homes without power–including my home. I wrote about it, at the time, but I haven’t had any real emergencies since then, and quite frankly, I’ve become complacent (or is the right word lazy?)

Emergency Situation # 3: Aquarium Power Failure

At the risk of stating the obvious here, in a power failure situation, the aquarium becomes a bathtub. A saltwater bath tub where the inhabitants continue using up the available nutrients while the water quality rapidly deteriorates. The deteriorating water quality will shock and eventually kill the saltwater fish and aquarium corals. The more fish and coral you have in the tank, the faster the situation will turn bad for you.

The two most urgent issues at this time are temperature change and oxygen levels/water movement.

So I quickly move to set up my battery-powered backup air pumps. These are no long-term replacement for proper water circulation, but in a pinch like this, they should create a minimal amount of oxygenation and water movement to keep things from stagnating.

Next, with no way to heat the water to keep the temperature from dropping, I’m going to create an insulating jacket, from a few inexpensive solar blankets and duct tape.

Solar blankets are poor contact insulators, which means they won’t keep you warm if you’re laying directly on the cold ground, but they are good at trapping heat in–and since the water temperature of a reef tank is typically about 78-80 degrees Fahrenheit, the thermal blankets should help slow down the loss of heat as the temperature of the house begins to tip.

The ideal resource, for this emergency situation, is a backup generator, of course, which could keep the power running.

If you don’t have one of those, and if you have a car, you could squeak by with Power Inverter. This is a gizmo that you would plug into the cigarette lighter (does anyone light their cigarettes with these things anymore?) and it creates an outlet where you can plug an extension cord in. In this way, you can turn your car into a not-so-efficient gasoline-powered mobile power generator.

Here is how I would turn my car into a power generator:

  • Step 1: Take heater out of the sump and place it in the aquarium
  • Step 2: Plug the heater a single powerhead  into a power strip
  • Step 3: Plug the power strip into an extension cord that will reach from the aquarium to the car
  • Step 4: Turn on the car
  • Step 5: Plug the power inverter into the lighter
  • Step 6: Plug an extension cord into the power inverter
  • Step 7: Turn on the power strip

Voila, I am now converting gasoline into electricity and running minimal life support to sustain the tank. Every few hours, depending on how cold it is in the house, I would do this to keep the temperature up and circulate the water. Other equipment, like protein skimmers and additional power heads can and should be unplugged. For short periods of time, during the power failure, they won’t bee needed and will just cause extra energy drain.

Shopping list

You can pick everything up here from Amazon.com and keep it all together in a box to serve as your emergency kit.power failure shopping list

  1. Power inverter
  2. Extension cord
  3. Power strip
  4. Emergency blankets
  5. Duct tape
  6. Battery powered air pump
  7. Airline
  8. Airstone






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