How to Prevent Aquarium Heater Disasters

Don't Let This Happen to You!

Aquarium heater
  mtreasure / Getty Images

The following message was received from a reader:

"Walked by the tank this morning and found everything laying belly-up. The thermostat for the heater got stuck and the water temp was 92.6F."

The general response to this "Everythings Dead" message posted in the forums by Paul (psedio) is one of extreme sadness, and we agree. It is heart-wrenching to lose everything in your tank from something like a heater going haywire, and because this situation is one that does occur, here are some simple things to do which could help prevent this same type of disaster from happening to you.

  • Consider an aquarium heater to be a critical piece of equipment, just as you would a filter or other piece of equipment that is essential to the livelihood of your tank inhabitants.
  • Purchase a top quality unit. Too often the heater is thought of as a simple and inexpensive device, and one tends to cheap out when buying one. What costs more, losing everything in your tank, or spending a little more money on a better heater to start with?
  • Heater temperatures should be confirmed by using a thermometer. From under $2.00 for a basic thermometer, up to $40.00 or more for a quality unit with automatic alerts and other features, this is a simple piece of equipment that should be included in every aquarium.
  • Consider investing in a heater/chiller temperature controller, or another type of device that automatically monitors, controls, and alerts you to equipment and aquarium functions.
  • Follow instructions to make sure the heater is not only properly set up but used correctly as well.
    • From Andy (darwindog): "I have the same one, they are a little susceptible to salt creep and burn out. You have to make sure you have all the proper drip loops as the manual says. Other than that mine is 2 years old and no problems."
  • Clean the heater and any other components regularly, particularly to keep it free of salt creep.
    • From Andy (darwindog): "My first one went after a week as I hadn't set it up correctly. When I unplugged the unit it was caked in salt on the control box. Luckily for me, it just stopped working and didn't heat up."
  • To protect from overheating that can cause damage, always unplug the heater when doing aquarium water changes or removing it from the water, and maintain the level of the water in the tank to keep any particular type of heater submersed properly as instructed.
  • Don't try to repair or use a broken heater. Discard it and get a new one!

In the end, a quality heater (or 2) will cost you much less than one (or more) of the fish in your tank. It is a cheap investment that will save you money and a lot of disappointment in the long run.