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FAQs about Electricity and Aquarium Systems:  Generation, Back-Up

Related Articles: Marine ElectricalSurviving extended power outages: how to keep your aquarium alive! By Mike Maddox and Merritt Adkins Marine Aquarium Light Fixtures and CanopiesGFCIs and Marine Aquariums

Related FAQs:  Electricity 1, Electricity 2, Electricity 3, Energy Consumption/Conservation, Electrical Consumption Measure, Electricity Back-up/Generation, Lighting Costs, Pump Energy Use, Heating/Chilling Costs, Shorts/Shocks, Dangers! Grounding Probes, Power Outages, GFCIs and Marine AquariumsSurge Devices, Grounding Probes,  


Battery back up 3/15/12
Hi Crew,
<Hello Jim>
I bought a AZoo Battery back up yesterday. I hooked it up and put micro bubbles all over my tank. So its for sale now. My question I have is, I have very large Dolphin amp master external pumps. I want to find some kind of battery back up system to keep at least my closed loop system going in case of a power failure. Could you please recommend something?
<You would need to get a APC Uninterrupted Power Supply capable of handling the pumps rated current and amps per hour needed.  Could be a little pricey.  Your other option would be a small AC generator which is the way I would go if I were to do this.>
<You're welcome.  James (Salty Dog)>
Re Battery back up 3/15/12

Hi James,
I have a generator. I am mostly worried about the night time when I am catching some Zzzzz's. Something that will kick on and last at 6hrs. I am on the on eBay hunting.
<You will have to go with an APS UPS.  It senses loss of power and automatically transfers to battery power and reverses when power is restored.>
Thanks for that. How things been going?
<Not too bad.>
Have not seen you on in a while.
 If you send me your email address I will send you the link to my video of my tank.
<I have a policy not to give out my email address to queriors.  You can send a pic here.>
 I just dont want nobody to see it on wwm (especially Bob. He might not respond to my emails no more. lol) because everybody will bash on it because it so overstocked like the Marine Angel tank that was put on there. Everything is doing really good though.
<Good.  James (Salty Dog)>

Electricity And A Saltwater Aquarium 3/13/10
<Hello Shawn>
I have a few questions relative to electricity and the saltwater aquarium.
I have a Smart UPS that I am using to provide power and back up a 30 gallon fish and invertebrate aquarium. I have the UPS plugged into a GFCI outlet and various submersible pumps and a heater plugged into the UPS outlets.
Is this the proper setup when using a UPS? I am not sure if the UPS outlets are in turn protected by the GFCI outlet.
<Anything plugged into the GFCI outlet will be protected. Do ensure that your UPS has the capability of handling the wattage/current of the devices plugged into it.>
I have also measured stray voltage to be around 40Vac by using a multimeter with 1 probe in the sump water and the other in the ground of an outlet.
Is this considered a normal reading?
<You should read 0 providing there is indeed a ground wire hooked up to the outlet ground. If your home is an older home, the old two prong outlets may have been replaced with grounded outlets to avoid the use of adapters and it is possible that no ground wire is connected to the ground terminal.
I would recommend the use of a ground probe even though you are using a GFCI. Sounds like one of your devices has a voltage/current leak and I'm sure this device had this problem before you plugged it into the GFCI and is the reason why the GFCI did not trip. GFCI circuitry measures current going into the device on the hot leg and looks for the same current on the return leg (common). If the slightest change occurs, it will trip. If the device was defective/leaking before you plugged it into the GFCI, (and this is why I recommend a ground probe in addition to the GFCI) it would not know the device is defective as it sees no current change going into and out of it. If the device went bad/leaked while plugged into the GFCI, it would trip, as it would sense a current change going into and out of the device.>
I do not have a ground probe and have seen much debate on whether they actually provide additional safety. Would you recommend a ground probe?
The tank has been running for 1 year with this voltage present.
<You need to set up your multimeter in the manner you mentioned above, then unplug one device at a time until you read 0 voltage, once the culprit device is found, I would strongly recommend replacing it. Do make sure your multimeter is set to AC voltage and select volts, do not use the millivolt setting. If you were grounded when you placed your hands in the tank, the GFCI would instantly trip as it would sense a loss of current, as much of it would be going through you to ground.>
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

Electrical generator figuring   9/26/06 Hi Crew. Due to all of your help and fine articles, all of my 4 FW aquariums are now under control and nitrates are at 10 or less for 3 mos. now! Wow! I thank you for your help. Now to a strange question that one of you might be able to answer? Our rural electricity goes out from time to time during bad storms and am about to buy a gasoline generator for the winter months. I have no idea how many watts I need for the following and hope you can give me some idea? <Mmm, can "add up" the watts/wattage (volts, likely 120 maximum times rated amps/amperage equals watts...) for each item as if all might be "on" at a time... and get something with a capacity higher than this...> A 29 gal. bow with emperor 280 and heater...A 75 gal. with two emperor 400's with 2 -100 watt heaters...A 100 gal. with two emperor 400's with two 170 watt heaters....All tanks kept at 78-80 deg. The 4th is a QT tank of 10gal. The lighting is...29 gal. 20 watt fluorescent...75 gal. has two 40 watt fluorescents and the 100 gal. has two 24in. 20 watt fluorescents. Do any of you have an opinion on this? Thanks again...DR <Likely the smallest of consumer units... something about 3,800 watts, will do for you for your tanks here... You'll need more should you want to run large electrical appliances (washer, stove)... Bob Fenner>

UPS and GFCI?  - 09/14/06 Hi folks- <Jake> My fishy endeavours have led me to the realization during the hurricane season here in the Carolina's I'd greatly prefer not to have a wipeout of my 29G due to an electrical power loss. We generally have a very stable power grid here except during the season and the week or two of ice storms. Last weekend I dug out my old APC Back-UPS 300 and purchased a new battery for it. I promptly discovered while attaching the electrical lifeblood of my tank that one of my magnetic drive Hagen powerheads chattered something fierce while running on battery. <Can> I have two questions: 1) Do you think it would be OK to put my GFCI between the UPS and the power strip feeding the tank? <Mmm, I do think this will be okay> I know it will have zero efficacy before the UPS, but am now concerned about harmonics and the 'squarish' wave output affecting it's efficacy. <Should not be a factor... am given to understand that the basic principle of these devices is electron "counting", not a measure of wave differential> 2) My plan is to run only the Emperor 280 and one Hagen 30 175 GPH powerhead on the UPS and split everything else off to a separate strip. <Good idea...> I figure there is no need to run lighting, skimmer, etc. in emergency situations. <Mmm, not as much... but may need to add insulation, some source of heat/ing> I may run the skimmer for short periods for increased aeration only. Does this make sense or should I simply run the filter? <I'd measure the total amp-life capacity here and run as much as you can for the supposed duration it may have to> Another concern is during the winter months the heater will need to run more often than usual as the tank is in my lab/home office which normally is 27C due to all the computing equipment with the tank holding steady at 78F. Ultimately power will be less of an issue when I get out of this apartment and back into a house with a planned 5KVA UPS for the room and a whole house generator. <Wow!> Time permitting, my plans are to dry-run the UPS tomorrow to check the runtime under load. Charts be damned, <Our sentiments agree here> the only way to really know is to run under load. Somehow this all smells of an upgrade to the UPS.... <Why oh why didn't I invest in the stocks of these companies when I knew of their impending utility, likely sales volume? Booo hooooo!> Thanks very much for the investment of your personal time, and the invaluable information which the site provides us all. Regards- Jake <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Re: UPS and GFCI?   9/15/06 Thank you, Bob. <Welcome Jake> I agree that considering heating is critical and am still trying to figure out how to calculate the requirements as the heater is 150W but not on all the time. <Mmm, best to set some sort of recording wattage meter on... average per ambient temp., time...> Unfortunately the UPS got a trial run before I had planned. I woke up to it squawking yesterday and am not sure how long the power was out. It was running everything, chattering powerheads, lighting, heater, and all, so it was not a valid test. I plan to test it over the weekend now that the correct items are plugged in and it has had time to recharge. Yes I too wish I had purchased certain stocks in retrospect, especially a little company by the name of Microsoft my IBM rep told me about in the '80s for a mere $18.... hindsight.... <Or the Andy Grove beginnings of Intel... If memory serves 0.25 dollar a share in '73... or the 5k I could've given to Saul Price (had I had it...) in 78 to be part of the original 100 investors in CostCo.... or, or... BobF> Thanks again. Regards- Jake

Re: UPS Query   9/15/06 Good morning Bob,   Was reading the query on the 5KVA Unregulated Power Supply this gent is planning on using. Wowsie is right.  This translates, at 120 volts, to a current rating of 41.6 amps.  <Yes... a whole lot of love, make that electrical power, for sure> Wondering how this guy is going to protect this, since 20 amp breakers are the largest you can put into one leg of the service. <Likely more than one breaker, eh?> He didn't mention, but I'm guessing this UPS he is considering must have a primary voltage of 220. Just thought I'd pass this along. <Mmm, possibly...> How was your trip, fun I'm sure.  Wife and daughter are going to Nassau this October.  Dad is going to work to foot the bill, but my daughter is paying the air fare.  She must be suffering from some sort of mental disorder:)  James <Heeee! Are you finding work easier? I do hope so. BobF>

Re: UPS Query  9/18/06 Bob,   Just injecting into my recent email to you.  See below. James  <Hotay. B> Re: UPS Query   9/15/06 Good morning Bob,   Was reading the query on the 5KVA Unregulated Power Supply this gent is planning on using. Wowsie is right.  This translates, at 120 volts, to a current rating of 41.6 amps.  <Yes... a whole lot of love, make that electrical power, for sure> Wondering how this guy is going to protect this, since 20 amp breakers are the largest you can put into one leg of the service. <Likely more than one breaker, eh?>   <<If this is indeed a 120 volt system, two breakers can be used, but is definitely a no no with the NEC.  And,  if the installer mounts a breaker on separate legs, the resulting voltage will be 220 volts...anyone for smoked ribs?     I'm pretty sure this subject unit has to be a 220 volt primary input or this unit would not get a UL approval.  And, I strongly suggest the breaker be a GFIC type.>>

- Dealing with Power Outages - Hello all: <And hello to you, JasonC here...> After experiencing a three-hour plus power failure last night, I was wondering how long fish can cope under these circumstances without jeopardizing their well-being.
<Not for too much longer than that, but there are variables - bioload, prevailing temperature and insulation of your home, etc.>
We have a 125G FOwoLR. When the power returned, most pumps, UV and heater operated normally. Only the pump on the protein skimmer did not come back on, which I will address when I get home from work tonight. I realize that there are battery-operated water circulating devices that can be used in the event of a power failure. What is your opinion of these?
<I've only seen battery powered air pumps, which would be worth having if the power stayed off too long. Having just moved out of New England, my pervasive fear was ice storms which would keep the power out for more than 24 hours - in those situations, a generator is really your best ally. Battery-powered devices tend to be low demand - or conversely, not high output... so on a system like yours, they will provide only a modicum of benefit. Oxygenation of the water is most important in these circumstances, followed by temperature control.> Thanks, Mitch <Cheers, J -- >

Electricity Dear Bob, I just wondered if you could give me some more detailed information that already is on your site about back-up electricity supply for my pumps. As you point out bacteria can be wiped out in a matter of minutes if circulation fails. Also where would I get this back-up gear (I live in the UK) and would it have to be constantly charged up? Your site is the best around keep up the good and unbiased work. Cheers, Massimo Hi Massimo, Craig answering your power supply question. The backup devices are in-line with your load and remain charged all the time until needed. The load (anything you want to run on a backup) is plugged into the backup and the backup plugged into the power outlet, thus it is energized at all times. Of course you will need a unit specifically rated for your power type, voltage etc. and for a specific time period and load you want to run. There are many such backups available on the internet, I would do a search for backup power supplies concentrating on vendors located in Great Britain or Europe. Please feel free to ask if you should have any further questions. Enjoy! Craig

He'll Take His Tank Shaken- Not Stirred Happy Monday! <And A Happy Monday to you, too! Scott F. with you today!> Hey guys.  Here's an off the cuff one that I woke up thinking about this morning.  I live in the Los Angeles area and every so often we have one of those ground movement things I think are called earthquakes. <Yup- they seriously suck...> If this happens, and assuming the tank survives, we could have an extended power outage.  I am trying to plan ahead as much as possible to have the necessary supplies ready.  How does one keep a marine FOWLR 55 gal. tank alive for an extended period without power?  Any suggestions would be very helpful. Thanks again! John <Well, Jon, there are actually a number of ways to cope...Several manufacturers make battery-operated air pumps that last anywhere from 12-24 hours, once fully charged. Yes, they won't put out a ton of year, but they can help oxygenate the water somewhat. Other hardcore fish nerds utilize back-up power systems, such as the gas-powered generators by manufacturers such as Honda, etc. Yes- these are quite pricey, but they can generate enough power to keep most major systems running for a couple of days, or until the power gets back up on line. Other steps that you can take are to always keep a supply of top-off water and extra salt mix available for emergencies...Unfortunately, it's back to the stone age for us when the power goes off, but with proper care, and a bit of luck, a system can come through a disaster relatively unscathed. You might want to ask some fellow LA fish nerds what they are doing to prepare for such emergencies...There are two great clubs in the LA area (Marine Aquarium Society of Los Angeles County and the Southern California Marine Aquarium Society), filled with fellow hobbyists that have tons of ideas...Check 'em out!. Regards, Scott F>

I love the site! (coral quarantine, coral disease, electrical power) That is, www.wetwebmedia.com <we do too... of course, if we don't say that, Bob affects an accent like a Catholic nun and raps us across the knuckles with a wooden ruler. Anthony> Could I trouble you with a few questions that do not appear to be answered in the Quarantine FAQs? <sure...> 1) If I buy a number of pieces of coral together, from the same dealer, and probably from the same tank, can I quarantine those items TOGETHER ? On the grounds that if they have pathogens, they've ALL ALREADY got them from being together at the dealers? I realize that for FISH you want to reduce stress and not have them fighting each other, but if CORAL are well out of the reach of each other is it valid to put them in the same tank? <nope...same problem with coral...actually worse. The close confines trigger chemical receptors and escalate allelopathy (chemical warfare). It will be a truly hostile environment. It can be reduced by only tanking like organisms separately (Zoantharians, SPS, Alcyoniids, etc> 1b) Dealers connect all their tanks together, surely? Doesn't a pathogen on one fish just swim through the pipes to the next tank?  <possibly, but such systems should be bare bottoms, skimmed heavy, ozonized and UV sterilized which can really produce quite good water quality of properly supported with biological filtration> And if dealers get new fish all the time, doesn't this mean that there is always a risk from a dealer that his fish have something?  <more or less...yes. A fish sitting in your dealers tank is not two weeks quarantined if a new shipment of fish arrived the day before your purchase.. then you have a "One day old" fish from quarantine> Which is obviously why we quarantine,  <exactly> but it just goes to show that surely a dealer who says his stock are healthy and don't need quarantining is lying,  <well...lets call it selectively representing the truth (hehe... how Clintonesque)> unless he has had NO deliveries of fish at all for 2-4 weeks! <you are very intuitive indeed...seriously! I wish more fish friends thought things out this far> 2) The coral is going to be in the quarantine tank for some time. It will place a bioload on the water. I guess I can't use live rock or sand as filtration, because if the coral IS infected then so then is the rock and sand and I'd spend my whole life throwing out 'infected' sand and rock!  <no not really... invertebrates are rarely plagued with contagious or pathogenic infections (although there are some nasty ones)... it is more a matter of screening for pests, predators, and nuisance organisms> Also, I guess any copper (for fish) or other medication I put in will taint the rock or kill the nitrifying bacteria.  <yes...ruined> So, I guess I need a skimmer and a wet-dry filter.  <a good coarse sponge filter usually works fine considering the water changes you will be doing to the QT anyway. A foam filter is under twenty dollars (for large/XL) and very efficient. Can you get a wet/dry that cheap <wink>> But must I discard the filter media after each occupant? And do I then bleach the tank and filter housing afterwards?  <a nice thought...very thorough> I read the bit on your website http://www.wetwebmedia.com/clnornart.htm, but that didn't mention filter media. I would worry about chlorinating the filter media and then putting it back in my main tank sump to get all the bacteria back. Or, do I only need to CLEAN the quarantine tank if something actually got sick in there?  <exactly> How DO you clean the bio media correctly, and more important, if you use a toxic cleaner, how do you get it out of the media afterwards? Is de-chlorinator really good enough?  <yes...completely dechlorinates bleach,,, and not much bleach is ever necessary> Can you condition fresh bio media (with bacteria) by just throwing it in my main tank sump for a few weeks, and filling the quarantine tank with water from the main tank? <that would be fine> 3) I have had no success with Euphyllia coral. Every single other coral has been a breeze, but Euphyllia (all sorts) have just died on me, but after about 8 weeks by which time quarantine was over and it was in the main tank. After buying 3 pieces over 2 years, I stopped buying them. Why continue to kill stuff by accident?  <good thinking> I think it was a protozoan, brown gunky kind of infection. <yes...they are prone to it... your suppliers were likely getting Indonesian coral.. perhaps transshipped> Anyway, someone has suggested that I use a prophylactic dose of Metronidazole the next time I quarantine some of this stuff. True or false? And how much? <not for this infection...iodine and Tetracycline have had an impact on "brown jelly" infections...even freshwater dips for coral! (written about in my book and many places in the net I suppose) 4) When I move across country in about a week, I need to pack and take my two Clownfishes with me. I intend to keep them dark before packing them and to keep them separate and each in a dark bag with water and a large space above which I will fill with pure oxygen.  <agreed and fast 48 hours before hand> I saw the comment about adding Hydrogen Peroxide to the shipping solutions, but decided that oxygen above would be safer.  <O2 will be more than enough> Then they will each go in a padded pelican case and CAREFULLY carried by me by hand. They are each about an inch long. How much water should I put in vis a vis oxygen space?  <1/3 water , 2/3 O2 or air> I was thinking of about half a gallon of each tank water, and oxygen. They will be traveling for approximately 10-12 hours,  <easy move...they suffer far worse on import> and I already have a (quarantine) tank ready and warmed up for them in England. I know this is a lot of effort for two tiny fish, but they were presents! I will acclimatize them as your guerilla thingy says - Methylene blue and an airstone. <a noble effort...you sound like an admirable and intuitive aquarist> Incidentally, on the subject of UPS, I am just moving from the US to the UK where the voltage AND FREQUENCY is different. I have solved this problem for my fish tanks by purchasing a pair of SPS-2450 power supplies from Samlex (http://www.samlexamerica.com/sps2450B.htm) and a TrippLite PV2400FC Inverter. These two together will convert continuous 2400watts from 50hz to 60Hz and will deliver a peak of 4800watts, which is more than enough to power my metal halides and chiller. Best of all, the SPS-2450 come with connections for 200 Amp marine batteries, which means that the entire assembly will keep running for several hours in the case of power failure, certainly more than enough for someone to come round and turn the lights off, when it will last for DAYS. <nice tip thank you!> Thanks for a great book and website! <kind regards, Anthony>

Back up power supply Bob, Have you ever or do you know anyone who has used a computer battery power back up supply to keep filters going during a power outage ? <A few folks> I purchased one at a Staples store, it is rated to keep a computer and monitor going for 52 minutes so I figured it should at least drive my Magnum 350 canister filter, I'm not so sure it would drive my wet/dry pump but I would settle for the Magnum to keep running for an hour, what's your thoughts on this. I paid $150.00 for the unit. <You can either check/calculate by the wattage, ampere hour rating of the devices to estimate how long they might work together... or better (what I would do) actually test them against the uninterruptible power supply. I suspect you will want to only run one item... maybe just an air pump and stone.... and drain the canister filter down to leave an air space if it's left off for more than an hour or so... and secure, store a thermal insulating blanket to wrap around the system for such an emergency. Bob Fenner> Thanks Fred

Power Problem in winter <<JasonC here, filling in while Bob is out diving.>> I am new and getting ready to setup my first tank. I will have the basics few fish 50 pounds live rock and cleaners. My problem though... I live in a small town and when we get an ice storm in the winter and power goes out, it sometimes is out for 2 or 3 days. <<that is a problem.>> My question with out buying a generator do you think I could get away with using a computer ups (uninterrupted power supply) and just hook my whisper filter up and the submerged heater? It says it will run a pc and monitor for like 20 min.s I figure I should be able to get more than that with just those 2 little things or is there a better way? <<a UPS [that's Uninterrupted Power Supply] suitable for a 2-3 day stint, even with only a small pump and heater would still be more expensive than a generator. I think you'd find the model you were looking at would last little more than a day, if that. With computer UPS, often the design is such to give you enough time to shut down the computer with risk of damage/loss of data - not meant to run the machine for days.>> Trying to plan ahead. <<Indeed - complicated issue, real problem.>> If it helps any its a 55 gal. Thanks Tim  <<Really think hard about what you are about to do - if this is a real issue where you live and something you can bank on [will happen without fail] then you might have to make one of two difficult decisions - either forgo the tank for the winter OR buy a generator, perhaps a small used one. Cheers, J -- >>

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