What happens to aquariums when the power goes out?

Power outages can drastically affect your delicate aquarium environment. Are you prepared?

If power is only out for a short time, you may be OK if you have a large enough tank, the right environment and minimal fish.  However, what happens if the power goes out for longer than an hour or two?

It is a harsh reality that aquariums need electricity to function. Power runs things like the lights, air pumps, powerheads, skimmers, feeders, etc.  All of these things work together to create a healthy environment for your fish.  When those things do not have power, your fish will suffer.  We all want healthy, happy fish and in order to attain that, we need to have proper power.

Many tanks can last for an hour, but larger or well stocked aquariums can have considerable problems after just one hour.  With oxygen levels and temperature changes your fish will be in stress quite quickly.  Not to mention the buildup of toxins and harmful bacteria that can happen.

Some say adding a portable generator will help, but you can not expect to be at the house each time a power outage happens.  That is why having a standby home generator can be very beneficial for protection your fish.



What happens to your aquarium when power goes out?

There are two major changes that can drastically affect your fish.

  1. Oxygen levels decrease
  2. Temperature changes

Either of these events by themselves can hurt your fish, but together they can be detrimental to the fragile system you have created in your aquarium.  Fish thrive in consistent and stable environments.  Without additional measures, your entire ecosystem can become dangerous to your fish in a matter of a couple of hours.

For temperature changes, you can add warm water or ice as needed, but these must be done very carefully.  Little changes and constant monitoring are crucial.

Here’s a helpful tip from Rank My Tank: To minimize heat loss, cover your tank with a blanket to trap in as much heat as possible. Make sure you unplug your lighting system before you cover the tank with a blanket because certain lighting systems might pose a fire hazard if they come back on while the tank is covered. (source)

For oxygen, plants can help, but when the power is out so are the lights that are powering the plant (no pun intended). Plants need light in order to function properly and they will quickly stop producing in a darkened environment.



What about my salt water aquarium in a power outage?  Isn’t it safer?

Saltwater aquariums may actually have a few more issues to worry about because of their particular environment.  I am not an expert, so let me defer to The Spruce:

"There are certain functions in a saltwater aquarium which are essential for its survival: gas exchange and water movement. Even the most sensitive corals in a reef tank can survive for days without intense light, but the viability of fish, invertebrates, corals and beneficial bacteria deteriorates rapidly without a reasonable supply of oxygen.

This being the case, in the event of a power failure, the primary objective (both short and long term) for the aquarist is to supply oxygen to the tank and move water (even periodically) about in the tank. This is bare bones survival and some of your tank's filtration systems (wet/dry trickle, canister filter) will not be functioning. The nitrifying bacteria which resides in the tank (on the live rock, tanks walls, etc.) will live and continue to process ammonia, nitrites and nitrates if O2 is supplied at least periodically. (source)



How to prepare for a power outage:


First step is making sure your tank will not leak with a helpful simple test:

One of the first things every aquarium owner should do after setting up their tank and before adding any fish is to simulate a power outage. By turning off all of the power for several minutes, you can check your plumbing to make sure you do not have any water siphoning back that could drain your tank. When you start your tank back up, you can make sure that the pumps and other equipment will function properly. If your equipment does not perform adequately, now is the time to make changes, before you add your fish. (source)

You also want to make sure to unplug your filter.  Filters contain agents you don’t want coming back into your water and you don’t want to have a water leakage. “Another reason to unplug your filters is because harmful toxins can buildup in your filter if your power is off for a long period of time. These toxins include ammonia and hydrogen sulfide.” (source)


Second, do not feed your fish during a power outage.

Feeding your fish can produce waste.  That waste will make a great impact on the quality of your water, especially since the water circulation will not be active.  You may not know this, but most fish can go 3-5 days without food so there is no reason to worry about not feeding them for a couple of days.


Third, find a legitimate power source for power outages

If your power is out for more than a couple of hours you want to restore the environment for your fish as quickly as possible.  You may have enough time to run to your local home improvement store to find a power generator . . .that is if they power goes out at a convenient time.

Many power outages happen in inconvenient times.  Having a solution at hand will be your best option. You can pre-purchase a solution rather is a power generator or a battery pack.  Either way, you will need to be present to start these items up and make sure they are maintained properly.

The BEST solution is to have a power source you don’t have to think about.  You have worked hard to create just the right aquarium for your home and the perfect environment for your fish.  Having a home standby generator gives you peace of mind that if the power goes out, in a matter of seconds it is automatically restored without you having to think about it.

At Verdegy, we have committed to the highest quality of Cummins generators.  Usually in 10-20 seconds these whole house stand by generators will start your electricity back up as if nothing ever happened.  Imaging the time and money you will save when you don’t have to worry about your aquarium when the power goes out.

There are much more we can talk about when power goes out, but we want to offer you a free consultation.  If you live in the DFW area, we will come out and assess your needs to make sure you are prepares when power outages happen.  In North Texas, it is not a matter of if your power goes out, but when. Give us a call at 214-207-0506 and let us help you keep your aqarium healthy and your fish happy.



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