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Power Failure - What to do


Staff member
Moderator (Staff)
Nov 20, 2002
Dallas Texas
With all the power failures, winter and summer, all octo keepers need an emergency plan in case of such a power outage.

If the power goes out, you need to worry about oxygen and heat, but mostly likely the power will be back on before filtration becomes a problem. Light is not a problem.

The easiest solution is to have an auxiliary power supply for your powerhead (and heater, if necessary) There are also battery-operated bubblers, but you'd have the problem of bubbles in the octo tank. Other equiment is also available, such as battery-operated pumps.

Here's what you can do if you don't have this extra equipment:

If you have a bimac, it will tolerate lower temperatures (at least the upper 50's), so it's the summer power failure that's a problem for that species. For our tropical octopuses. heat needs to be retained.

You can insulate the tank with newspaper, using duct tape to hold it around the tank. This will prevent further heat loss.

As I've mentioned before, you can add heat by using plastic bottles or jugs full of very hot water (best to use salt water or buffered RO/DI water, just in case some escapes). Most people have some form of auxiliary heat, such as a gas grill or a propane stove or even a fire in the fireplace, so that the water for the bottles can be heated. Then float the bottles in the tank. You can spoon water over the bottles to facilitate heat transfer and add some oxygen. Remember that you can add oxygen by scooping out a cup of water and pouring it back into the tank - the more distance you pour, the more you oxygenate.

In case of a summer power failure, you can fill the bottles with ice water from your refrigerator. I keep on hand some ice cubes made of distilled water to use for making cold water to float. The newspaper insulation works for retaining cold as well as heat.

AboutSaltwater has a number of articles for handling reef tanks during power failures, including references to where you can buy plain and fancy back up equipment. Sart here with manual oxygenation:

Please feel free to contribute your own solutions to handling a power failure.

Thanks Nancy -- I went ahead and stuck this thread to give it front page promotion. Power is the kind of thing we take for granted; it's in our ceph's best interests for us to plan ahead!
Being prepared is the key.

Do you have a power inverter or a generator? Do you know how to use them? Do you know what you will hook up to it/them and how? I think disaster planning is just as important as a GFI.

I don't think there is much you can really do about temp if you have no power, but there is an easy fix for 02 and circulation. PennPlaxx makes a battery operated air pump that switches itself on in the event of a power failure, and it will run for days on two D batteries that costs about 12 bucks US. For octos, I would make an 'air lift' to move water from the bottom of the tank to the top and to supply 02. An air lift is basically the tubes in under gravel filters - a large tube that is open at the bottom and has air line from a air pump in it. As the bubbles go up the big tube they draw water through and up the tube. Voila - and occy an bubbly issues are mitigated. Just build it and leave it in your tank all the time, or, since it is an emergency thing, just run some ridgid air line down into the tank and hope that there won't be any bubble occy issues.

Link to pump:
Sometimes people ask about using a battery backup--in fact I had a roomate who bought a 125 system from someone that came with one. This is actually pretty problematic. Most systems don't do a very good job emulating the voltage sine wave of 120V AC power--instead they approximate it using a square or stepped wave. This is fine for light bulbs and computers but can burn out an aquarium pump in short order. How long? Who knows--it probably won't happen in an hour or two, but we're not worried about power outages that short. And to be honest the battery doesn't usually last for more than a couple hours anyway.

If you live in a place prone to power failures (the hurricane belt or, well, Seattle) a generator might be a good idea. You can get a 1000W 2-stroke camping generator for less than $150. A better solution for a bit more money would be a 4-stroke, 3500W generator which could also keep your refrigerator running (You and your family are eating popsicles while Mad Max is unfolding outside!)

If someone wants to put an old battery backup to use in a longer power failure the best thing to do might be to hook it up to a small powerhead that only draws 20 or 30 watts to keep water circulating near the ceph's den, perhaps a few hours on and a few hours off.

The bigger the tank, the longer you can go without power! If your tank and filter can barely keep up with your animal, you're in trouble.

...hence all the harping on about using larger tanks.

I just have a genny as a backup...never had to use it, but nice to know it is there.
Thanks for the information Nancy! So far, I have only had short power outages (an hour or two...) and the cuttles have survived fine so far. The last power outage in my neighborhood was cause by a tree on my property falling across the road and knocking down a power line... oops :oops: .
For UK visitors -

B&Q (A DIY store) is currently selling generators ran on petrol for less than £50, never checked the rating on it but it would at least keep the filters and heaters going in an emergency.

In the last 10 years or so can only remember the power being off for overnight once or twice but that just depends on where you stay, more remote places have more problems.

A good tip for adding air to the tank is to use a bicycle wheel or a car wheel and attach a valve to it with some airline and a regulator (clamp). It would require some preplanning to attach the valve but it would add bubbles to the water for hours in an emergency.


I wanted to add that you can oxygenate your tank by adding hydrogen Peroxide to your water, you can add 1 teaspoon (5ml) per 50 gallons of water.


eisaiasjr;115113 said:

I wanted to add that you can oxygenate your tank by adding hydrogen Peroxide to your water, you can add 1 teaspoon (5ml) per 50 gallons of water.


I wouldn't do this unless you also ran a DO meter to tell you how often to add it and how much it is adding.

I would agree with you, but its a last resort move in the event of a prolonged outtage; I would definetly recommend people doing some research online to get exact measurements and times before attempting something like this.



(salifert oxigen kits are a big help)
Hi guys, this is my first post here. I dont have any cephalopods yet but this is based on what i do for my salt and reef tanks. My area has a powergrid held together by bubble gum and masking tape. What i did is buy these battery airpumps that plug in to the wall and turn on when the power goes out. For water circulation i either use a cup or recently i bought a paint mixing attachment that i put on a battery powered drill. For temperature i use a few water bottles that i freeze. In the winter i just wrap the tank in blankets it works better then newspaper. Now i have a generator but luckily i havent had to use it.
I think you have solved the problem...

eisaiasjr;115230 said:

I would agree with you, but its a last resort move in the event of a prolonged outtage; I would definetly recommend people doing some research online to get exact measurements and times before attempting something like this.



(salifert oxigen kits are a big help)

The Salifert testing is the way to go--you can get 50 tests for about $20.

From the fish wiki:

If you are using 3% hydrogen peroxide, each 1 ml added per 30 Litres (8 US gallons) will increase total peroxide levels by 1 mg/l. 15mg/l per 48 hours is thought by many to be a fish safe concentration.

Given that we are talking emergency here, since the ceph is going to have a higher metabolic demand than a fish you would want to darken the tank as well.
Be careful with the heating you use. Back in 1998 Maine got hit with this awful icestorm and I lost power for several days. I've had a gecko for years (he's now about 16 years old) and because I didn't want to lose him to the cold I put a small kerosene heater next to his tank. It's a very good thing lizards don't live in water because it cracked the tank from top to bottom.

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