Editorial: October 2005

My editorial last month brought some interesting responses,
which underscore the issues and problems I raised. The
statements, to come, illustrate issues with electricity I have
run into – safety versus practicality. With the help of
Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong will) the problem with GFIs is
that a minor problem can cause a disruption of power to a vital
pump, and just when the reef keeper is away, who then comes
home to find his treasured animals dead. On the other hand,
failure to use these protective devices can permit much more
dire consequences.

It is my hope that this editorial will continue to provoke
more discussion on this very important subject, and by people
who are much more knowledgeable than I on this subject. I
suspect there is a way to have both safety and protection for
one’s captive reef.

Mr. Siegel:

Let me start off by saying that I really
enjoy reading your articles each month in Advanced Aquarist.
This month’s article on electricity and aquariums was very
interesting, and I am very sorry to hear of the loss to the
family. I am a firm believer in the use of GFIs. In fact when I
upgraded my lighting and added a chiller I had to run separate
lines for each. I am no certified electrician but I have dealt
with electricity for many years. When I did the wiring I
calculated the max load and the normal load of watts and
amperes of each line and wired so that the normal breaker would
trip out between the normal and max load. I also installed GFIs
at the plugs that are only rated for the normal load. This way
anything out of the ordinary will cause a trip at the GFI first
and then hit the breaker next. I love my tanks but I love my
family more, if I lose a fish or a coral it can be replaced,
but my children will never be replaced.

One thing that I noticed in the article was the fact that
you never mentioned anything about voltage. I feel that this is
a factor that should be mentioned and deserves notice. The
reason being is that in the US we basically have 3 types: 110
(120) volts or common house hold voltage. 240 volts, also
common in every house hold, and last 480 volts which is usually
dedicated to the industrial side, but may be in some homes that
have certain equipment. The reason that I wanted to bring up
the voltage aspect is because unlike 110v that will normally
trip a breaker with a short due to moisture, 240 – 480 volts
will not and will continue to energize even if submerged under
water. Ex. Most well pumps run off 240v and are totally under
water and are not water proof. Some of the larger pumps and
chillers we use also require 240v and if wired improperly could
not only pose a fire risk but also a health risk by
electrocution.

These higher voltages usually take a major short to trip
the breaker, a splash of water in this socket could cause an
ark that may result in a fire, or worse yet, energize the plug
so that when you grab the plug you get electrocuted, and never
trip the breaker. Granted most hobbyists will never deal with
such high voltages but there are a few that will, and I feel
that they must understand what they are dealing with to be
safe. People need to understand that if the breaker keeps
tripping, most likely they have too great of load on that
circuit. We hear it all the time at Christmas; don’t plug too
many lights into one socket, and yet as aquarists, we seem to
want to see just how many pumps and lights we “can” plug into
that one socket. This was a point well worth pointing out. We
seem to forget about the mundane things that are so critical
for not only our hobby but for our well being too.

Being a member of the General Electric, Emergency
Response Team, safety is my business, so I wanted to add my 2
cents worth.

Thanks for listening and keep up the good work.

My prayers go out for the family loss.

David Mahaffey

Terry,

I can’t totally disagree with you on GFCIs, but I do not
use them after a nearly complete loss of a 120G reef over a
long weekend vacation. Recently, after a few years, I
concluded that a now very leaky (AC-wise) submersible power
head tripped the GFCI that Labor Day weekend (for the first
time). Too high a price for too trivial an issue for
me.

Thanks for a great magazine Terry! (We had dinner
together at MACNA in Chicago a while ago.)

Best regards,

Mike Larsen

Wisconsin

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group.jpg

I certainly would not want to lose these animals, many of
which I have had for 20 or more years, but on the other hand I
wouldn’t want to have a fire or be electrocuted either.

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 Terry Siegel

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