Part 1: Better Safe than Sorry… when it comes down to power outages and your reef

by | Mar 29, 2022 | Equipment | 1 comment

Originally published on Ellery’s Reef Notes Facebook page in 2/15/2019 but updated slightly for today.

The Tipping Point

When it comes down to things that can go wrong with a reef system, it is not a matter of “if” but “when”.
In 2019, I had experienced my first 3 day power outage from a freak wind storm. Historically and statistically, I could not justify investing in a portable generator. We never had an outage longer than 20 minutes in the 11 years I had lived in this house.
Even the 5,000 Watts of solar panels on my roof doesn’t help when there is no power supplying the inverter box. I have a grid tied system without any battery storage. That basically made the solar system useless.

A wood stove fireplace helped maintain heat, but only upstairs. Without power to the furnace circulation fans it did not spread to the basement where the reef was. Trying to warm jugs of warm water on the stove was not enough to keep the tank at the necessary temperature either.
Fortunately, I was lucky to temporarily sustain my system the first day with my UPS battery backup systems and an inverter connected to my car. Those solutions were bare minimums.

I was also lucky enough to borrow a generator from a fellow reefer who did not lose power on his street. This saved my 450-gallon system since the temperature had dropped to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. After this stressful experience, I implemented a plan I had created the previous year. I figured I would document it for others to learn from. By no means is this an ideal solution for everyone. For me, it was adequate and something worth sharing.

For this article, I outline some quick low-cost solutions I implemented on my system. They are currently used only for short power outages. If you know you have very reliable power sources, then these can be sufficient without making large investments.

Short Term Solution

This will power the very basic circulation pump or air pump as a bare minimum, but the duration is dependent on the size and rate of the power source. These had worked well for previous short outages prior to this event.

AC water pumps and air pumps:

  •  Items Needed – Highest rated Computer UPS Battery Backup system you can afford

For DC pumps:

  • 2 Options:
    • Multiple Small DC Battery UPS(s) chained in series (as in my DIY Power packs seen below)
    • A larger marine deep cycle battery with trickle charger to maintain it

Caution: For deep cycle batteries, be sure to store in a well ventilated area. Gas emitted from the charging marine battery can be harmful. Store in an acid safe battery box.

Medium Grade Solution

I ran a small 400-watt inverter for 11 hours the first night with my not so fuel efficient car (Subaru STI). Surprisingly it only used 1/8 of a tank of gas while idling. This was an OK short-term solution but not something I wanted to do for longer periods of time. I decided to upgrade the 400-watt inverter to a 4000-watt peak/2000 watt continuous inverter. This size gave me some more latitude with higher power consumption devices even if it is only for a few hours.

  • Items Needed – Automobile, 2000-watt continuous power inverter and a long enough extension cord that can reach from the garage to your tank
    • Pros: This system will power a few more items like small heaters and larger AC/DC pumps more reliably.
    • Cons: Keep an eye on the car and ensure the garage door is open for proper exhaust ventilation or have the exhaust piped outside.

In Part 2, I will go through my long term solution which incorporates a more realistic approach that can handle almost my entire house for less than $1500 originally in 2019. (Update: 2022 price ~ $2500)

Till the next time, happy reefing!

  • Ellery Wong

    Ellery is a mechanical systems engineer at a Fortune 500 technology company. He has automation experience in the automotive, appliance, printing and robotics industries as a product development professional but also has over 35 years of saltwater aquarium experience as a hobbyist. He currently maintains a 9 tank / 540 gallon SPS/LPS/Mixed systems. DIY is his forte!

1 Comment

  1. Brian O’Toole

    They say the new Ford F-150 Lightning can power your house during a blackout for several days. So if you’re into Reefing and concerned about power outage you could drop $60,000 for a new vehicle.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Upcoming Events