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How to Protect a Reef Tank During Hot Weather Power Outages

Updated on March 3, 2016
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Kylyssa Shay has successfully kept aquatic creatures for decades. Her fish care advice has been published in Aquarium Fish Magazine.


You can protect stability in your reef tank during heatwave power outages by being prepared

Coral and saltwater fish are used to living in a very stable environment. The vastness of the ocean protects corals and other reef life from sudden drastic changes in temperature, oxygenation, and chemistry. However, the average reef aquarium falls extremely short of vast. When things are going right we can create a very suitable and stable environment for the corals and creatures in the small slice of transplanted ocean we call a reef tank. But when the power goes off, all bets are off and the temperature and stability of our reef aquarium could fluctuate far beyond the tolerances of the fish, live coral, and other invertebrates living there.

Since most reef enthusiasts have a lot of time, money, and love invested in their reef tanks it's a good idea to be prepared for power outages before they happen to avoid needless coral and animal deaths and a great deal of distress. I'd like to share my idea of how to protect your reef aquarium from a hot weather power outage.

What You Will Need for Your Reef Aquarium Hot-Weather Emergency Kit

Essentials for keeping your fish tank cool and aerated during a hot weatherwer outage

# An Uninterrupted Power Supply

# Gallon freezer bags full of frozen, de-chlorinated water

# Ice cubes made with de-chlorinated, PH adjusted water

# Instant Cold Packs

# Gallon Zipper Seal Bags

# Battery Powered Aerator

# Battery Powered Fan and Batteries

# Duct Tape

Your reef tank hot weather power outage emergency kit should include several frozen bottles of de-chlorinated, PH adjusted water, instant cold packs, large zipper seal food storage bags, a battery powered aerator, Mylar emergency blankets, and duct tape. There's quite a crossover with what items you need for a cold weather power outage kit for your reef aquarium so it couldn't hurt to have both uses in mind when shopping for the parts for a hot weather kit.

How To Use Your Reef Aquarium Emergency Kit

What to do to save your reef aquarium when the power goes out in hot weather

To protect your tropical fish from hot-weather power outages with these materials once the power has gone out start by connecting and turning on the battery powered air pump. Reef tanks over 55 gallons in size will benefit from having more than one battery powered aerator.

Remove the glass tops from your reef aquarium for better air circulation.

Place the battery powered fan on a stable surface where it has no danger of falling into the reef aquarium but will blow right across the top of the fish tank. If necessary, use duct tape to hold it firmly in place where you want it. Turn on the battery powered fan to start evaporative cooling right away.

Next, cover any windows in the room with Mylar emergency blankets, facing the shinier side out. If the windows are letting in cooler air, leave them open but use the Mylar blanket as a curtain or shade to reflect back heat. You should be able to tape up the Mylar blankets with the duct tape.

The gallon bags full of de-chlorinated water can be dropped into the tank, one at a time, or they can be laid flat against the outside of the aquarium and taped on with duct tape. If you don't have de-chlorinated water ice packs you can use regular ice or even self-activating ice packs stuffed into the gallon bags or regular and taped to the outside of the reef aquarium. Don't let any regular ice melt into your reef tank.

Due to the lack of lighting, the PH of your reef tank may drop too low due to coral or algae respiration of carbon dioxide. Ideally, you should test the PH using the PH test strips every several hours while the lights are out and the tank is above optimum temperature. If the PH has decreased outside the range you prefer, drop in a few of the ice cubes made with de-chlorinated, PH adjusted water to start with. The higher PH of the ice cubes with help to offset a drop in PH caused by the lack of light. The melting ice cubes will also very slightly cool the water and very slightly reduce its specific gravity. Cooler water with a lower specific gravity holds oxygen better than warmer water with a higher specific gravity.

An Uninterrupted Power Supply Can Protect Your Reef Aquarium During Short Power Outages

An uninterrupted power supply is a great investment for any reef tank owner. A UPS like this with eight outlets, four providing automatic battery backup and power surge protection and four providing only power surge protection allows you to intelligently choose which aquarium support equipment you want to keep going during a hot weather power outage. I recommend plugging power heads, protein skimmers, and filtration devices into the battery backup and allowing lights to go out during hot weather power outages. Any equipment that generates heat can be a liability to your reef tank during a hot weather power outage.

The downside is that a moderately priced UPS will usually not provide power for more than a few hours. The up side is that power will continue on, uninterrupted, because the UPS will cut in automatically when the power goes out. If you are at work when the power goes out, you won't have to worry about your reef aquarium taking harm before you can get to it.

APC Back-UPS 550VA UPS Battery Backup & Surge Protector (BE550G)
APC Back-UPS 550VA UPS Battery Backup & Surge Protector (BE550G)

This model is similar to the UPS I own, but it's better. Mine only has four outlets, all of which are backed up. This one has four that only work while the power is on and four that run off the battery when the power goes out. The four that shut off allow you to have the lights and any other heat-generating equipment shut off if the power goes out to help delay overheating of the tank.


Mylar Emergency Blankets - Reflect heat out during hot weather blackouts

Mylar emergency blankets can be put up over windows or used to serve as window shades to keep your reef aquarium room cooler. One for each window the sun beats in through is all you need.

Get the larger sizes of Mylar blanket whenever possible to provide the most coverage wherever you need it.

Instant Cold Packs - Provide cooling power without electricity

Instant cold packs or self-activated cold packs will help extend the time your reef aquarium can withstand a hot weather power outage. They also provide a good alternative for people who don't have much room in the freezer for making regular ice because they can be stored right under the aquarium in most cases.

PH Test Strips - Allow you to conveniently monitor PH during power outages

PH tests strips will help you to tell if a hot weather blackout is causing your reef aquarium to drop in PH. I like the test strips as opposed to the test lab kits for this purpose because they are fast and easy to use. While I prefer to use a proper test kit for regular testing I think the sheer convenience of the strips during a situation in which you are dealing with a bunch of other stuff outweighs the desire for a slightly higher degree of accuracy. Their other upside is that they are easier to use, especially easier to read in poor lighting conditions or when using a flashlight for illumination. Also, if you find yourself giving someone else in your home instructions over the phone during a power outage, they should have no problem testing correctly when using a PH test strip.

Ph Test Strip
Ph Test Strip

I've had good luck using the API pH test strips and the results seem to very closely match the results I get when I use my API Master Test Kit. Store them in a cool, dry place and replace them when they reach their expiration date.


Duct Tape

Duct tape can help you to hang the Mylar emergency blankets, stabilize the battery-powered fan, and tape on the cold packs or ice bags. I like the pro-strength version of duct tape for taping things to glass. Duct tape is a wonder tool in all sorts of emergency situations.

De-Chlorinator - Makes water safe for use in your reef aquarium

Kordon AmQuel® Ammonia/Chloramine Remover - 16oz
Kordon AmQuel® Ammonia/Chloramine Remover - 16oz

A good dechlorinating product will remove or bind chlorine and chloramines to make tap water safe for use in your aquarium. Multipurpose products can also help to detoxify possible ammonia spikes caused by macro-algae or bacterial culture die-offs.


Battery Powered Aerator - Provides surface disturbance and some water movement

A good battery powered aerator is one of the most useful of emergency aquarium supplies. You can find battery powered aerators online and in the sporting department of most department stores. They are often sold as bait aerators so they can usually be found near the fishing supplies.

I like the purpose-made ones because they can be permanently set up and only turn on when the power goes out. They usually take two D cell batteries and the plug into an outlet to sense it if the power goes out. They do not draw power from the wall outlet, nor do they recharge the batteries, but they come on automatically if the power goes out which is a very nice feature. The battery powered air pumps that plug in and sense outages usually don't come with air stones so you'll have to check whichever model you buy and get the tubing and airstone separately if necessary. Many of the bait aerators come with a length of tubing and an air stone. Of course, none of them seem to come with batteries.

Battery Powered Fan

A battery powered fan can provide both air movement and help with evaporative cooling for your reef aquarium when the power goes out. Put a bag of ice between it and the reef aquarium to boost its cooling capacity.

O2-Cool 10-Inch Portable Fan
O2-Cool 10-Inch Portable Fan

I own an earlier model made by the same manufacturer as this one. I've used it only three times in emergencies, but I take it out and use the adapter to run it a few times every year just to make sure it still works. I have had it over ten years now and the new model looks just as sturdy to me.


Making PH Raising Ice Cubes

De-chlorinate tap water according to the instructions on your bottle of chlorine remover. Add one tablespoon of baking soda to each pint of water used to make ice cubes. Once the ice cubes freeze solid, store them in a tightly sealed and clearly labeled ziploc bag in your freezer. If the PH of your reef tank drops, add the PH increasing ice cubes one at a time until the PH stabilizes.

What Do You Have in Your Hot Weather Reef Tank Emergency Kit?

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    • FlynntheCat1 profile image

      FlynntheCat1 5 years ago

      My flatmate used to run around in absolute panic whenever we had powercuts; they've got an enormous tank now (nearly 2m long), so it holds the heat much better than the three small ones they had before.