When we keep aquariums, we sometimes don’t think about the dangers that can come along with them. Take a look at your aquarium and what do you see? - A lot of wires connected to an electrical source.
When it comes to electricity and water, they are a risky combination. Water is a great conductor for electricity, and if your wet hands touch the electric, you become the perfect path for electricity to become grounded.
Having any faulty equipment or touching power supplies, especially when your hands are wet, is very dangerous, could cause fish death, or harm yourself and others in the house - even your four-legged friends.
The amount of electricity to cause an electric shock is dangerously low. Most power sockets will provide a voltage supply of 240W. A current of as little as 10 milliamps is enough for your body to feel a shock, 50 milliamps or more is enough to be fatal. That is not a lot, as most 200W heaters draw up to 800 milliamps - now are you considering turning off power supplies before touching the aquarium water? I know I would be!
Even though the possibility of failure in commercial aquarium equipment is low, the risk is still there. In Australia, so far there have been no cases of fatal electric shocks from an aquarium, but there have been cases both in the UK and US. It is handy to educate yourself and other members of your household on basic first aid, if an accident was to happen.
Below we have put together 5 top tips on how you can keep both your fish, yourself, and others safe!
1. USE EARTH LEAKAGE CIRCUIT BREAKERS (ELCB)
This one goes at the top, as in my opinion, it is the most important out of the bunch!
ELCBs are amazing pieces of equipment and should be on every aquarium hobbyists to-buy list. As soon as they detect any significant water leakage, it will break the electrical circuit. It does this by constantly monitoring both the active and neutral currents in the wires. When it detects current loss, it will shut off the system, preventing any accidents.
Without ELCBs, a normal household switchboard with standard circuit breakers will usually not be able to detect this problem. - And as mentioned above, even a small amount of electricity can become hazardous, if not fatal.
Installing an ELCB is expensive, but can you really put a price on you, your family, your pets, or even your friendly neighbour that may be looking after your fish when you go on holiday?
There are 3 types of ELCBs:
- Portable ELCB
These are self-contained that you can plug into any socket before plugging in your aquarium equipment. Even though this is expensive, it doesn’t require an electrician to fit it, and you can take it with you if you need to move house or temporarily move the aquarium if you are going on holiday for a long period of time.
- Wall-mounted ELCB
This is cheaper than the portable version, but they usually require hiring an electrician to fit them.
- ELCB for your entire house
If you have a large budget, I would recommend protecting the whole house. But it will 100% require an electrical technician to fix it. By installing this ELCB, you will have every power socket covered, making your home super safe for everyone!
2. DROOPING WIRES ARE THE WAY FORWARD!
If you do not have a lid on top of your tank, some water splash is common - either from your fish or from your filtration system.
When deciding where the wire travels from the socket, it is recommended that you slightly droop them - do not droop it too much as this becomes a potential tripping hazard, and you don’t want to create more hazards! - To prevent this you can use wall clips to hold the wire into place, or non-conductive electrical tape.
By slightly drooping the wire, it prevents the water from directly travelling into the socket. Instead, if water does drip onto the wire it will travel down and go on the floor - I know I would prefer a wet floor than to create a potential fire hazard!
3. REGULARLY CHECK AND REPLACE EQUIPMENT IF NEEDED
Regular checking of equipment should already be hammered into your brain by now as an aquarium hobbyist. Heaters fail most commonly!
Saltwater is highly corrosive, and over time it can break both the power cord or points where your equipment is connected. This could cause the power to leak into the tank, and with the high voltage, most likely kill your fish.
When you clean your tank, always inspect for loose connections and that the wires are not exposed. Most pieces of equipment are covered by warranty, if you do experience a problem, contact the manufacturer.
4. TURN OFF ALL POWER BEFORE YOU STICK YOUR HAND IN THE AQUARIUM WITH A FAULTY DEVICE.
How many of you have put your hand in your tank without turning off the power? - I know I am guilty of this, and I doubt anyone adheres to this 100% of the time…
As mentioned before the wattage you are powering your tank can be very dangerous, so to maximise safety, always switch off the power supply before roaming inside the water with your hands.
Aquarium lights are also a potential hazard, when changing any bulbs, remove the light system to prevent dropping them into the water - but you should have already cut the power, right?
So, remember, unplugging any equipment or cutting the power to the power strip is the best safety precaution when carrying out any maintenance or cleaning that requires your hands to get wet.
5. UNDERSTAND YOUR ELECTRICITY SET UP AT HOME & CAPACITY OF THE POWER OUTLETS
When keeping an aquarium, or generally living in a house, it is always good to understand the basics of your electrical system.
Firstly, locate the circuit breaker unit. This switches off when it notices a break in a power system and causes it to ‘trip’. Most breaker units nowadays have labels indicating which room they are connected to. If it doesn’t, you can test which switch goes to which room or plug by plugging in a lamp - then you can label the unit yourself to quickly identify next time if the power was to trip.
Electricity in our homes has advanced, and even though electric is highly dangerous, risks of potential harm from electrocution and house fires have decreased over the years.
- Do not overload your circuits or plugs - try to avoid using extension cords.
- Make your household familiar with any external electrical sources that connect to your aquarium, and educate yourself and others on first aid if an accident was to occur.
- Only use aquarium safe and high-quality equipment that can safely be run through water.
- Regularly check your equipment and perform out maintenance when required.
Don’t forget to join our “Help & Advice” support group on Facebook. We offer FREE support from a qualified marine biologist!
Thank you for reading. We hope to see you soon, have a ‘fintastic’ day!