How to Care for Your Aquarium During Power Outages

A power outage in many cases just means that there is a small outage, which can cause electronics, equipment, and other items to stop running for a short time period. As long as the outage doesn't last an extended timeframe (normally anything after a few hours), your aquarium including equipment and nitrogen cycle should be fine once the power returns. In order to help prepare for some of these extended outages, there are some steps that an aquarium owner can take to make sure that the most critical aquarium equipment is kept running for those highly sensitive species held within aquariums.

Types of Power Outages

Without going into a greater level of detail, it is important to understand that there are different types of power outages - ones that can be related to just the specific outlet that your aquarium equipment is plugged into, or local/regional power outages where multiple houses are affected. For any aquariums that have any highly sensitive species housed within, it is highly recommended that you have a power detection alarm when the power goes out to them an alarm is triggered.

For the first type, when it comes to identifying power outages that are related to an outlet, it's just as easy as checking the breaker that is within your electrical panel within your house - or it can be as easy as just making sure that the power strips that are being used as turned on and functioning as expected (in some power surge cases, some power strips have an internal fuse that blows to prevent any damage to the electronics that are connected - but will require a full replacement of the power strip to function again).

For the second type, this power loss normally results in an extended timeframe and will require updates from your power service provider. On average, the power loss from these types of events only lasts a few minutes up to an hour, however, in rare cases, there can be extremely long outages that will require an external power source to be provided. If you live within a region that is known for these types of outages (commonly called brownouts), or in an area that is known for having natural disasters, it is highly recommended to purchase a universal power supply (or called UPS) which can power electronic devices for a timeframe of a few minutes, hours, or up to a few days. These devices range in price, and the timeframe that they can supply power is highly dependent on the amount of power required for your critical aquarium equipment (so in general, having low-powered equipment for backups such as a water maker to mix the water and promote gas exchange or a lower rated heater that can keep your water within an acceptable range is ideal).

In general, for any major type of extended power outage, there are a few critical things that need to be tracked and handled in order to make sure that there is enough oxygenation, temperature is kept correctly, and others to prevent any fatalities.

Maintaining Water Requirements

Whenever there is a power outage, any heat or chilling aspects that the aquarium normally has, will not function. In colder climates, this can mean that the water temperature will drop significantly over time and can cause species to go outside of their acceptable range and end up slowly dying. Likewise, in warmer climates, this can mean that the water gets too warm and can speed up metabolisms, or end up causing a slow death over time from being outside of the acceptable range. To minimize any heat loss, it is highly recommended to put blankets around the sides and top of the tank to completely cover it to keep any heat within and to prevent it from escaping. To make sure that the water can get warm again if there is any method in order to heat water, you can place hot water within bags and place them in the aquarium to heat the surrounding water to act like a makeshift aquarium heater. To maximize heat loss, when the water is getting too warm, it is recommended to place ice packs that are housed within your freezer (if you have any, or to use ice) to keep the water cool. As the ice melts, it will slowly mix with the aquarium water and gravitate to the bottom (cooler temperatures will always sink as the warmer temperatures rise), so the only care needed is to make sure that the ice hasn't fully melted or that the ice pack isn't warm and is still cold to the touch.

Without any filter running, the oxygen supply that is generated will slowly come to a halt as there is no surface movement in the aquarium. If there is no battery backup air pump or battery backup filter, you can always mix the water by hand using a cup every 15-30 minutes to encourage oxygen to be put into the water and to make sure that any CO2 can be expelled. Although this option may not generate a lot of oxygen and remove a lot of the other gases, it is better than nothing when it comes to the survival of your species.

Additional Items of Concern

The other common things that are recommended to avoid doing when it comes to a power outage include the following;

  1. Do not feed any of the fish or species - many, if not all, species can go multiple days without food if they are given the proper diet. Any rotting food and waste generated by the species during this time will create ammonia, which will cause an ammonia spike with no nitrogen cycle being run through the filter to remove such chemicals.
  2. Do not move any of the substrate, or disturb any of the items within the aquarium. By mixing substrate, or mixing around the bottom of the water, you can increase the waste and chemicals being broken down into the water accidentally. If mixing the top surface of the water is mixing any of the substrates, it is recommended to perform 30-50% water changes once a day (if the power outage extends into multiple days) to reduce any ammonia, waste, and mix in oxygen into the water column itself.

As a reminder, any power outage can seem like a simple thing that an aquarium can handle, but if it ends up becoming an extended power outage, this can become fatal. Making sure that there are some precautions taken, can minimize and reduce any negative effect on all types of aquariums, ranging from freshwater to saltwater, and allow for the most sensitive species to survive with minimal damage done.