Using Electrical Devices Safely In Your Aquarium
Fish keeping is such a peaceful hobby that we don't tend to think of it as dangerous, but it certainly can be if we're not careful about electrical safety. Having water and electrical systems close together is always potentially risky. If water gets into your electrical devices or sockets it could start a fire. An electrical accident whilst you have your hands in the fish tank could lead to electrocution.
Electrical Devices In The AquariumMost modern aquariums incorporate several electrical devices. You'll probably have a pump, a heater and a lighting system at the very least. Each of these devices carries its own risks, but one of the biggest problems comes from the tangle of cables around the fish tank. This is especially problematic if you have children or pets who may pull them around. One of the most important - and easiest - safety improvements you can make is to properly secure all loose cables behind the aquarium stand. Routing them through a single extension plug before they connect to the mains means that if anything goes wrong you'll only have one plug to pull out. You should make sure this plug is clearly marked and that everybody in your household knows about it.
Any cables which come out of your aquarium and go into an extension cord or the mains should have drip loops. This means that they should reach down further towards the floor before coming back up to be plugged in. It may mean that you need to mount your extension block on the wall. A drip loop lets any water which escapes from the tank and runs down the cable gather at the bottom and drip onto the floor rather than finding its way into electrical circuitry. It's a simple thing to set up, but it could save your life.
PreparationAs with all electrical devices, it's important to be prepared in case something in your aquarium set-up malfunctions. In this event, circuit breakers are your best source of protection, shutting down power as soon as a problem develops. You may choose to install a main circuit breaker unit to provide extra protection for all the electrical devices in your house. Alternatively, your local hardware outlet or aquarium shop should be able to supply you with a smaller unit appropriate for use with your fish tank. This is relatively cheap and can drastically reduce the risk of fire.
As well as posing a fire risk, carelessly managed aquariums can cause electric shocks which are often painful and occasionally fatal. The most common cause of these is damage to the shielding around the element in a heater. If you have your hands in the water when such damage occurs, for instance when you're cleaning ornaments, you could get a nasty shock as the current travels down through your body to the ground. You are also at risk if you touch bare wires or switches on electrical devices whilst your hands are in the tank. If you decide you need more light, stop what you're doing and dry your hands before touching the light switch. To protect yourself from shocks you should turn off all electrical devices connected to the aquarium before you make contact with the water.
Keeping Your Fish SafeOf course, if you're a committed aquarist, risks to yourself won't be your only concern when it comes to electrical safety. You'll also want to make sure that your fish are safe, which includes making sure they don't suffer from the cold or lack of oxygen because the power has cut out. For this reason, many aquarists choose to provide their fish tanks with back-up generators. Your local fish shop can advise you about these. They're simple to set up and should be arranged following the same safety rules discussed above. You can wire these up so that the devices required by your aquarium switch over automatically to the generator as soon as the mains supply is interrupted. This means that your fish will be safe if there is a power cut while you're out. If you do this, don't forget to let people know that pulling the mains plug in an emergency will need to be followed by flicking the generator switch.
As we've seen, most aquarium safety rules are really quite simple and easy to implement - but you'd be surprised how many people ignore them! Play it safe and you and your fish can enjoy many more happy years together.