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Emergency Preparations for Your Aquarium

An aquarium holds water and fish in a hostile environment – the atmosphere.  You should make emergency preparations for your aquarium.  We take many precautions to ensure that our charges remain healthy and properly kept.  Most of the vital life support systems require electricity to operate.  The big three, filtration, heating and light all require a constant supply of electricity.  In normal times, this is not a problem.  When a disaster strikes, however, are you prepared to last it out?

In a previous post, there is an excellent video on the back-up equipment when you are making emergency preparations for your aquarium.  It offers the basics you need to know.  There are three main factors to keep in consideration when preparing for a power failure – the most common form of aquarium, filtration, heat and lighting


To run any useful equipment, you need power.  The logical solution for many people is to consider purchasing a UPS – Universal Power Supply to run the vital accessories for as long as possible. I have no problem with tis idea, except that most UPS systems will not work – they can’t run the standard electromagnetic motors found in modern filtration devices.  The problem is that they deliver good power for computers, but in many cases useless electricity for the pump.  A computer needs 120 Hz delivered to it, but the shape of the waveform is often clipped at the top and bottom.  The sine wave is squared off.  A computer and their accessories will use clipped waves with no problems, they are all notoriously digital – even down to their power!

A filter, such as a Fluval or AquaClear and the many filters that use similar motors that run an impeller magnet by an epoxy sealed electromagnetic coil rely on analog electricity that follows the full swing up and down of standard electric company power.  The magnet follows the power flow as it goes through each full cycle – a clipped wave does not allow the magnet to smoothly follow the power, and so it often does not even start, rather they often simply vibrate back and forth instead of spinning.  Purchasing a proper UPS with full cycles is often exorbitantly expensive – so is it not useful to run the standard filtration.

Standard filtration is usually not possible, but there is an alternate that will allow the fish to live through the loss of power. That is a battery air pump.  The most important factor is not that the water continue to be purified, but that the fish be provided with enough oxygen to survive the loss of power.  As standard emergency preparations for your aquarium.  There should be an air pump per tank, to ensure that the water remains agitated at the surface to permit the oxygen to enter.  That is much more important than keeping the water pure.  One trick to follow, though is to pull the filter apart and keep the filter material in the tank to keep the beneficial bacteria in aerobic conditions as well.


Battery Powered Air Pump with air stone per tank – a couple of spare battery sets for each

Optional – UPS with analog power output – test it on the filtration you use before you put it away- only plan to power one filter per tank to continue circulation.


Fish are poikilothermic – cold blooded – their bodies will be at the temperature of the environment around them.  A standard aquarium is kept between 75 – 80oF. Fish become stressed when they are exposed to a rise or drop of 2o C in a 24 hour period. A power failure in a cold climate can drop the tank’s temperature quite rapidly. In a recent power failure that happened for a number of hours where I was unaware power was out at my home, the temperature in four tanks went from 78 to 61 during the time I was at work.  Apparently the power went out shortly after I left and I wasn’t told it was out until shortly be fore I went home.  Taht was over 9 hours with no power in freezing Montreal temperatures.

To prepare for such an event when you are there and aware of it, the best you can do is make sure you have a clean pot and a portable butane or Sterno stove to heat water and some plastic bags or containers to float warmed water in the tank. In this recent outage, it wasn’t worth it, the temperature had gone so low and the outage only lasted another hour or two.

You can use warm water in a two ways – either pour it in directly and do small water changes to keep the water warmer. or better, use containers to hold the warmed water and let the surrounding tank water adsorb the heat, then recycle the container without adding any new water tot he tank.  This is best if the pH of the tap water, or other characteristics are very different form the water in the tank


Portable butane or Sterno stove – extra fuel

Floatable containers – to hold the warm water.  Either plastic containers or plastic bags to hold the warm water

Good water conditioner if you are adding warmed water directly to the aquarium


Lighting is important for live plants, and not all that vital for the fish themselves. In a power failure, there is little danger in leaving the fish in the dark. You can look for LED lighting that is battery powered, but generally you don’t need to bother adding any equipment for lighting when making emergency preparations for your aquarium.  The fish will do fine in the dark in most cases and the plants can last a day or two without light. They rarely have problems when faced with a sudden loss of power.