Preventing Heater Problems
Preventing heater problems is not difficult, but you need to know what can go wrong. Too often during my time as an aquarist have I heard the lament that the heater blew up in my tank for no reason at all!!.
Actually there probably was a very good reason and it most often has to do with misuse. The aquarist is most often to blame for such a situation, it is his responsibility when preventing heater problems. Unfortunately I can’t sugar-coat that one. In all likelihood the explosion was caused by a weakened heater tube. No matter the manufacturer, the common material for a heater has always been glass. It is inert, does not leach anything in to the water and convects heat quite well. Although it is extremely strong when it is properly handled, a glass heater tube can be quite fragile when knocked or has heat improperly applied. Proteting the glass tibe is the primary way in preventing heater problems.
There are three basic possible problems that evidence in a variety of ways. The fish are
- Not heated enough,
- The fish are “boiled” by a heater that fails to shut off when the desired temperature is reached
- The heater tube explodes
The first and foremost protection for all of these is the addition of a reliable thermometer as an essential part of the heating equipment. Without one, the actual temperature can only be a guess, no matter how well a manufacturer tries to calibrate the system to remain at a set level. I also have developed the ability to get a good idea of the temperature by “feel”. Here you put your hand on the tank every time that you read the thermometer. It gives you tactile feedback for the temperature of the glass and the temperature of the water by inference. It is not perfectly accurate, but doing it on a daily basis gives you a good feel for the right temperature – but more importantly a secondary system to warn you is it doesn’t feel right.
Preventing Heater Problems means Preventing Operator Abuse
When selling in a store, the consumer is always right, but that is no protection that the product was misused – often innocently, but most of heater failures are caused by the operator. In most cases, the heater is not disconnected from power when a partial water change is done. Most aquarists suggest no more than 20% of the tank be drained and replaced at a given time. This is a wise from a number of angles. The water conditions are improved by dilution, but remain consistent over time. When the tank is drained much more, there is the danger that the heater element within the heater tube could become exposed to the air, rather than remaining underwater. If this occurs, and the heater is heating, there is a good chance the glass will be weakened by exposure to the air and the sudden differential between the heater element and the air temperature will cause the glass tube to shatter.