Don’t let a power outage kill your reef aquarium

Here in the midwest, I am not a stranger to power outages.  From thunderstorms, to tornadoes, to the electric company just not doing their job, to solar flares that threaten our power grids, I have had many power outages over the years since I have been keeping my aquariums.

Many years ago, around the summer of 1998, I lost a couple corals after an extended power outage and because of that I purchased a portable generator.  The generator worked well for the power outages that followed but it is not the easiest unit to use and for short outages, under eight hours, the time to get it hooked up and working isn’t worth it.

I was searching for a simple solution that I could easily hook up, didn’t need gas, has enough power to run a single pump in my aquarium for at least eight hours and didn’t cost a lot of money.

Sometimes simple is better

I had purchased a portable 12 volt auto battery starter a few years ago that is used to jump start cars and power small 12 volt devices.  This unit has a 12 volt receptacle for connecting the devices.  The unit that I use is at least six years old now and it is a Husky brand 400 amp battery jump starter.  There is a new unit available from Stanley Tools at Lowes but it is only a 300 amp (not an affiliate link) unit which may or may not be an issue and I assume would not have as much runtime as my device and you should make sure that you can return it if it doesn’t work for you.

I also use a Husky brand 175 watt power inverter which is no longer available but there is a 180 watt (not an affiliate link) unit from Energizer that looks similar to mine.  This unit plugs into the 12 volt receptacle on the jump starter and it has a single 120 volt outlet.  The pump plugs into the 120 volt outlet on the inverter.  There’s no need to do any type of special wiring, you just plug it in and it works.

 This is not an automatic backup that turns on when the power goes out but if you have someone at home, they can hook it up in a matter of minutes without any other skills than plugging the pump into the inverter.

It keeps the water flowing

I am using a fairly large Tunze pump which yields just over eight hours of run time with the above setup.  I had to use this setup recently after a large storm took out my power for just over six hours.

I have tested this same setup with my Mag 9 pump but it makes the pump chatter and I didn’t want to damage it.  I am assume that the Mag pump draws more than 175 watts so that might be the cause of the chatter.  The Tunze pump is silent until the battery runs down and it will start to make a slight chatter.  Just make sure to choose a pump of a lower wattage than what the power inverter outputs.

It haven’t tried this setup with a heater because I am guessing that the 200 watt heater I am using would drain the battery really fast.  I am going to test this out in the near future to see if it works and I will update this article once I have more information.

Low cost solution to short term reef aquarium saving power

The parts that I listed above cost about $110 USD from Lowes and I would assume that you might be able to find them online for less.  This seems like a small price to pay to save our fish and corals and the many thousands of dollars that many of us have invested in our aquariums.

Leave me a comment below if you use this type of setup and how it works for you.

Gravity Fed DIY Kalk Doser

Use a standard food safe container (such as one made by Anchor Hocking or Rubbermaid) which I purchased at Kmart for $5.99, a Medical Valu-pak gravity feeding set (made by Medline *part number DYND70510) – here is the phone number off of the package if you can’t find this product locally *847-949-3150*) which I purchased at a Walgreens medical supply store for $3.89, two wire ties and a two inch length of rigid airline tubing.

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Cut the feed bag off of the drip tube.  Then insert the rigid airline tube into the medical dripper and use wire ties or a small hose clamp to make a good seal between the two.  Then drill a small hole (smaller that the size of the rigid airline tubing) about one inch from the bottom of the container and insert the rigid airline tubing into the hole.  The rigid tubing is inserted about half and inch into the container.  I made the hole small enough so that I did not have to use any sealant around the hole but it would be a good idea to seal it (with reef safe sealant) so that it does not leak.   Cut the drip tube to the length that you need and fill the container with water to test for leaks.

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Remember this unit is gravity fed so it needs to be placed above the tank or sump where you are going to drip the kalk into.

This setup works well for me and the thumb wheel allows me to adjust the flow from less than a drop per second to full open.  Be sure to keep the doser clean because the kalk builds up inside the rigid airline tubing after a while.  I clean my doser every few days with hot water and have not had any problems.  You can use any size container but make sure that the plastic is rigid enough to allow you to insert the rigid airline tubing.  Do not push too hard on the container because they can crack.