How to Prepare a Tropical Aquarium for Winter Blackouts
Learn how to make and use a tropical aquarium emergency preparedness kit for cold weather 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.
Supplies You Will Need To Be Prepared
Essentials for keeping your fish tank warm during a winter power outage:
- Mylar Emergency Blankets
- Heat Packs
- Battery Powered Aerator
- Duct Tape
- 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.
How To Use Your Tropical Aquarium Blackout Emergency Kit
What to do to save your tank when the power goes out in winter
To protect your aquatic pets from cold-weather blackouts using these materials start by connecting and turning on the battery powered air pump as soon as the power goes out. For maximum oxygenation effect the battery powered air pump power pack should be outside the Mylar emergency blanket when you are finished.
Next, 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.
Then wrap the Mylar emergency blanket around the fish tank shiny side in, leaving 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 is outside the Mylar emergency blanket.
#1 Mylar Blankets
You will need one or more Mylar emergency blankets. They can usually be found in sporting goods stores and in the sporting goods departments of most major department stores.
Decide how many you need 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 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.
Emergency Blankets - Mylar will help keep heat in your tropical aquarium during power outages
These sheets are also great for covering windows to keep heat in the room. If you use a Mylar blanket to cover windows in your tropical fish room put the shinier side facing in to your home to retain heat best.
I replace mine after using them because they don't ever fold up into the neat little packets again and the duct tape residue from this particular use makes it even more problematic. I just buy a few on Amazon as add-on purchases when someone in my household buys something else. I fold the old ones up as best I can and put them in my car's tool box to use in case we get stranded out in the snow.
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.
#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 kind of Uniheat warmers seems 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.
Please remember the heat packs must be used outside the tank, never put them in it!
Chemical Warmers - Keep water warm during power outages
I recommend buying the longest duration heat packs you can find. UniHeat is a good standard brand that I've had dependable results with for over a decade even when I've used them to ship live marine organisms through the mail in winter. They use a reaction of iron powder, activated charcoal, salt, vermiculite, sawdust, and water to produce their heat and they are biodegradable.
#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.
Just so you aren't surprised, please be aware that battery-powered aerators are usually pretty loud in operation.
Bait Aerators - 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 emergency. They cost about $7 each when I bought them from the fishing department of my local Meijer store.
#4: Duct Tape - Duct tape sticks everything else together to keep your aquarium warm
A roll of two-inch wide duct tape is what it takes to bring this kit together.
While any duct tape will work I prefer duct tape at least two inches wide. A roll even wider than two inches would work great, too. It is just easier to tape all 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.
General Cold Weather Tips for Tropical Fish
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. Hanging out in the room where you keep the tropical fish tank will also help slightly to keep it warm and make good use of your body heat.
An Uninterrupted Power Supply Can Protect Your Tropical Aquarium During Short Cold-Weather Power Outages
Or buy some time for you to take action if the power goes out while you're out
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. Then you can take other steps to keep your fish safe once you get home. The length of time your uninterrupted power supply will provide power during a blackout for 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.
However, 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 in heat.
Eight Outlet Battery Back-UPS - Four battery back-up outlets and four regular outlets
This uninterrupted power supply 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.
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.
© 2011 Kylyssa Shay