How to Prepare a Tropical Aquarium for Winter Blackouts
How to Prepare Your Aquarium for a Cold-Weather Emergency and Power Outages
When the power goes out in winter, you can grab a blanket and put a sweater on the dog, but your tropical fish or reef aquarium may be at risk of damage. A few simple precautions and a well-stocked emergency kit could save your freshwater or saltwater fish, live coral, aquatic plants, or invertebrates from illness or death due to cold-water temperatures or lack of aeration during a blackout.
So, don't worry about your pet fish or prized corals dying during the next Snowzilla or Snowpocalypse, stock up on the appropriate supplies instead! Read on to learn what to do to protect your tropical aquarium or saltwater tank during cold-weather power outages.
General Cold-Weather Tips for Tropical Fish
Here are some general tips to keep your tanks warm in cold weather:
- Move fish tanks away from windows to keep drafts to a minimum.
- If possible, keep your aquarium in the room you'd be most likely to close off and retreat to in the event of a cold-weather power outage.
- In case of a winter blackout, cover any windows in the room with blankets, sheets, or plastic and put a draft-dodger or rolled-up towel under the door.
- Hang out in the room where you keep the tropical fish tank to passively keep the room warm (thanks to your body heat).
- Reduce the amount you feed your fish until the electricity comes back on to minimize the build-up of wastes and degradation of water quality in your aquarium.
Necessary Supplies to Keep Your Fish Tank Warm During Power Outages
The essentials for keeping your fish tank warm during a winter power outage include:
- Mylar emergency blankets
- Heat packs
- A battery-powered aerator
- Duct tape
- UPS or uninterrupted power supply
- (A printed copy of this page)
Your kit should contain at least one Mylar emergency blanket, a battery-powered aeration device or air pump, duct tape, and as many 72- or 60-hour heat packs as you can reasonably store under the fish tank.
An uninterrupted power supply or UPS can provide hours of power in a cold-weather blackout, but it's best to have the rest of this kit on-hand in case the power stays out longer.
This Kit Works
Properly used, this kit should keep your tropical aquarium or reef tank warm and aerated for several days. More heat packs and more batteries will allow you to keep it warm and aerated even longer.
How to Use a Tropical Aquarium Blackout Emergency Kit
Once you have all of your supplies ready, here's how to make use of the emergency kit:
- Turn on the air pump: To protect your aquatic pets from cold-weather blackouts, start by connecting and turning on the battery-powered air pump as soon as the power goes out. For maximum oxygenation, the battery-powered air-pump power pack should be outside the Mylar emergency blanket when you are finished.
- Arrange the heat packs: Put four to six activated 60- or 72-hour heat packs evenly spaced around the aquarium. Attach the heat packs with a sticky-side-out loop of duct tape at the bottom edge of the outside of the tank.
- Wrap the tank in an e-blanket: Wrap the Mylar emergency blanket around the fish tank with the shiny side in; leave a bit of looseness around the heat packs. Tape the blanket together like a tent at the top. Use the duct tape to tape the blanket to the stand. Make sure that the power pack to the air pump are outside the Mylar emergency blanket.
These sheets will keep your tanks warm. They are also great for covering windows to keep heat in the room. If you use these Mylar blankets to cover windows in your tropical fish room, put the shinier side facing into your home to best retain the heat. I replace mine after using them because duct tape residue can make folding them back up again problematic. I buy a few of these on Amazon as add-on purchases when someone in my household buys something else. Sometimes, I fold the old ones up as best as I can and put them in my car's toolbox to use in case we get stranded out in the snow.
1. Mylar Blankets
Mylar will help keep heat in your tropical aquarium during power outages, and you will need one or more. They can usually be found in sporting goods stores and in the sporting goods departments of most major stores.
Decide how many you need in order to keep the heat in your tropical aquarium or reef aquarium during a blackout by measuring all the way around it. You should have at least eight inches or more in combined length of Mylar emergency blankets than the circumference of your aquarium.
When in doubt, get one more than you think you'll need. They are handy to have around and a double layer may provide more heat containment. A single 54" x 80" blanket will work fine for a 10-gallon tank. Two 54" x 80" Mylar emergency blankets will comfortably cover a 75- or 90-gallon aquarium.
2. Disposable Heat Packs
It's a good idea to have a good supply of emergency heat packs. 72-hour warmers are ideal but the 60-hour UniHeat warmers seem to be more readily available. A good rule of thumb is to use two heat packs per 25 gallons of aquarium at a time. So, if you have a 75-gallon aquarium, you may want to have 6 warming packs available for each 60 hours you may be out of power due to a cold-weather power outage. If you use another type of warmer, be sure to follow its specific instructions.
Important: Please remember that the heat packs must be used outside the tank—never put them in it!
Batteries can provide power to an aquarium bubbler during winter power outages. Bait aerators such as this one tend to cost a lot less than bubblers made for the aquarium industry and work just as well in a pinch. The mechanism inside is the same and I've actually found them to be a lot sturdier. I keep three of a very similar model in the cabinet under my 95-gallon reef tank in case of an emergency. They cost about $7 each when I bought them from the fishing department of my local Meijer store.
3. Battery-Powered Aeration (Bubblers)
Tropical fish and reef tanks will benefit from steady aeration during stressful times such as cold-weather power outages. While bubblers aren't used much in saltwater set-ups, they provide water movement quite well in an emergency. A cheap, battery-operated bait aerator will do in a pinch, however, you'll need to stock up on batteries before a blackout happens. While your usage may vary, these devices usually work for about 8 to 16 hours on a set of batteries.
I have a couple of battery-powered air pumps for use during power outages, both of which will operate vigorously for about 12 hours per charged D-battery. You can store a spare battery right inside the casing.
Important: Just so you aren't surprised, please be aware that battery-powered aerators are usually pretty loud in operation.
4. Duct Tape
2" Duct tape will be used to stick everything in this kit together to keep your aquarium warm. While any Duct tape will work, I prefer Duct tape that's at least two inches wide. It is easier to tape along the side of a Mylar blanket with wider tape and it gives you more sticky surface area to grab whatever you need it to.
This UPS has four battery back-up outlets and four regular outlets. It gives you the ability to pick and choose what you want to stay on in an emergency. I like this model of battery back-up because it provides eight outlets so you don't need an additional power strip to run aquarium equipment that doesn't need to stay on in a power outage. You can plug it right into your GFI breaker and it should have enough outlets for all your aquarium equipment. I would like to eventually get this model to replace my 4-outlet UPS and power strip.
5. UPS or Uninterrupted Power Supply
A UPS or uninterrupted power supply can protect your tropical aquarium from winter power outages for several hours. While most uninterrupted power supplies don't provide more than a few hours of power, they can protect your tank automatically and probably long enough for you to get home if the power goes out while you are out for less than eight hours. You can then take other steps to keep your fish safe once you get home.
The length of time your uninterrupted power supply will provide power for during a blackout depends entirely on what you have plugged into it. I suggest trying a dry run by unplugging the power supply and testing it to see how long it lasts so you'll have no surprises if it is needed later.
I like the power supply shown below because four of its outlets automatically switch to the backup power supply if the electricity goes out. That way, one can pick and choose what to have backed up with an emergency power supply. For winter use, be sure to plug the heater into the automatic backup outlets on the strip.
Always Be Prepared
While a backup power supply can provide hours of power, it's still a good idea to have the rest of the cold-weather emergency kit available in case the blackout lasts longer than a few hours. Also, if the power stays off long enough to cool down your home, simply providing power to your aquarium heater may not be enough to keep it warm so, at the very least, a Mylar emergency blanket should be wrapped around the tank to keep the heat in.
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Kylyssa Shay