Heater Stuck On - Killed All Fish Including Several Discus

Elliott03

Member
I made an unfortunate discovery today. I did a routine daily water change last night on my 60 gallon aquarium and then went to bed. This morning, I found every one of my fish dead, including several Discus I've been growing out for many months. My thermometer read 105F. I have no idea what went wrong. I confirmed I didn't bump the temperature setting, and I know that the heater stayed submerged during the water change. I'm in a bit of shock trying to wrap my head around what I could have done to prevent this crash from happening. It really sucks thinking that these wonderful fish I've had were suffering in their final hours while I was asleep in bed.

I'm heavily discouraged, and am likely going to step back from the hobby for a while. I've had the same tank and several of the fish since the week after I got married about 5 years ago. But, while it's fresh, I want your opinions on what I did wrong or how I could have prevented this from happening. I'm hoping to take this knowledge into future tank builds whenever I'm back on my feet and wanting to try again.

I was using a Titanium 500W Heater (Finnex HMA-500S) that was well reviewed on Amazon which I bought about ~3 years ago. Your advice is appreciated.
 
Best Answer - View faydout's answer

Dippiedee

Member
I'm so sorry for your losses. I dont think you should blame yourself, a technical malfunction is impossible to predict and is definitely not your fault. I dont think you did anything wrong.

In terms of the future the only thing I can think of is replacing heaters annually? Although that doesnt guarantee it wont be faulty, things don't need to be old to malfunction. Maybe there is some sort of fail safe product somebody else can recommend; I dont personally know of any but I wanted to reply with something. Dont be too hard on yourself
 

Dennis57

Member
So sorry about your loss, remember it was not your fault.

Hi, I have heard of that brand having problems with the temperature rising.

It actually happened to my neighbor a few years back, but luckily he was home to see it.
 

Charlie’s Dad

Member
I am very sorry for your losses. It is very difficult trying to replay the the time prior to making the discovery.

I truly do not think you are at fault. As we all know there are really no guarantees on the components we use in our hobby. Especially the tank heater.

I encourage you to invest and begin using the Inkbird temp controller. You can set alarms for too hot and too cold.

Again I am very sorry for your losses. Don't blame yourself.
 

Dennis57

Member
I have been using the blueline heaters in all my tanks for many years and never had a problem.
 

JettsPapa

Member
I'm also sorry that happened to you. I believe some heaters, like Eheim-Jager, have secondary thermostats that will shut them off if the temperature reaches a certain level.
 

mattgirl

Member
I feel your pain and totally understand how you are feeling. I went through this about 10 years ago. I lost all but one little cory. I shut down my tank and didn't set it back up for almost 6 years.

Neither you nor I did anything wrong. It was equipment failure plain and simple. It wasn't something we could have predicted thus prevented. At least we didn't know at the time what we could have done to prevent it. It sounds like there is something we can do now to keep it from happening again. This inkbird sounds very interesting and something I will look into.

I hope this isn't going to keep you out of the hobby if it is something you enjoy.
 

lojack

Member
Sorry to hear that happened. About 10 years ago I was cycling a new tank and one day I walked by and could feel the heat radiating from it. The heater malfunctioned and it was over 100 degrees in there. Thankfully I didn’t have any fish in that tank yet.

It wasn’t your fault and don’t beat yourself up about it. Equipment failures happen and it sucks.
 
  • Thread Starter

Elliott03

Member
Thank you to everyone for the kind words and helpful suggestions. Whenever I do get back in the hobby, I'll look at picking up one of these Inkbird controllers. Can the probe be directly submerged in freshwater?
 

TClare

Member
So very sorry, it must have been devastating to find your fish dead. Just a thought for the future, 500W is perhaps too much for a 60 gallon tank. It may be safer to have 2 x 200W or even 2 x 150, depending on the room temperature. That way you have a backup if one fails, and if one gets stuck in the on position it would take longer to reach a dangerous temperature, perhaps giving more time to notice the problem.
 

Utar

Member
So sorry to hear about losing your fish, that is hard. I read reviews on amazon about heaters malfunctioning like this, so it has happened to others before. I think just about all brands of heaters can malfunction, just hope it never happens to me.

I just wanted to add, no matter what when water changing always unplug the heater, just to be safe. Then wait at least thirty minutes after the water change to plug the heater back in, because it needs time to adjust to the new water temp.
 
  • Thread Starter

Elliott03

Member
Utar said:
So sorry to hear about losing your fish, that is hard. I read reviews on amazon about heaters malfunctioning like this, so it has happened to others before. I think just about all brands of heaters can malfunction, just hope it never happens to me.

I just wanted to add, no matter what when water changing always unplug the heater, just to be safe. Then wait at least thirty minutes after the water change to plug the heater back in, because it needs time to adjust to the new water temp.
I hadn't heard this piece of advice before. I will certainly do that in future tanks. Thank you.
 
  • Thread Starter

Elliott03

Member
TClare said:
So very sorry, it must have been devastating to find your fish dead. Just a thought for the future, 500W is perhaps too much for a 60 gallon tank. It may be safer to have 2 x 200W or even 2 x 150, depending on the room temperature. That way you have a backup if one fails, and if one gets stuck in the on position it would take longer to reach a dangerous temperature, perhaps giving more time to notice the problem.
This was one of the only things I had heard before but decided against getting two new heaters when the one I had was working fine. Hindsight is 20/20, but in the future I'll obviously be playing it safer.
 

mattgirl

Member
Utar said:
I just wanted to add, no matter what when water changing always unplug the heater, just to be safe. Then wait at least thirty minutes after the water change to plug the heater back in, because it needs time to adjust to the new water temp.
I don't want to seem argumentative but if we temp match the fresh water to the water in the tank (and it should be) I can't see this being necessary. Personally if I had to wait 30 minutes to plug mine back in I would more than likely forget to plug it back in.

My water change buckets sit in front of the outlet I have my heater plugged into. When I get my buckets I unplug the heater. When I replace the buckets I plug the heater back in.
 

Derek88242

Member
You should get a temperature controller. You set your desired temperature and the controller shuts off power to the heater when it reaches temp. Sorry for your loss.
 

RayClem

Member
I am sorry for your most unfortunate loss. I can understand your discouragement, but in life things happen. Learn from the situation and move forward. I have been in the hobby for many decades; I have had many disappointments over that time, but still enjoy tending aquariums.

No matter which heater you buy, it will fail, sooner or later. If the heater fails to come on, the tank will get too cold and fish could get sick. If the heater thermostat sticks closed, the tank will get too hot and fish can die.

For larger tanks 50 gallons and over, it is always best to get two heaters, neither of which will overheat the tank if they get stuck. The size heater you need depends upon the lowest room temperature and your desired tank temperature. If in winter, your home is 65 degrees F at night and you want a tank temperature of 80 degrees F, you will need a larger heater than if you keep your home at a constant 72 degrees and maintain a water temperature of 75 degrees. With discus, your tank needs to be on the warmer side.

For a typical 10 degree temperature rise, a 60 gallon tank will normally require a 250 watt heater. Your 500 watt heater was seriously oversized for the tank. Thus, when the thermostat stuck, the tank got excessively hot. If you had a 250 watt heater, the temperature might have gotten warmer than ideal, but it is unlikely your fish would have died. Since discus like water warmer than most fish, a 300 watt heater might have been OK, but having two 250 watt heaters for the tank would have been even better. An extra heater does cost a few dollars extra, but that is far less expensive than losing your prized fish.
 

Bettybrown922

Member
I just wanted to say that I'm so sorry this happened to you and your fish. I hope you're able to continue with the hobby - but, I can certainly understand how this event might discourage you.
 

jmaldo

Member
:( What a shame.
The "Trials" of keeping "Wet Pets".
More than likely they passed due to the low level of oxygen at the higher temp.
Rest assured not much anyone could have done with a heater malfunction (stuck on).
As tough and discouraging as it seems right now.
Keep your head up.

Thanks for sharing.
 

Utar

Member
mattgirl said:
I don't want to seem argumentative but if we temp match the fresh water to the water in the tank (and it should be) I can't see this being necessary. Personally if I had to wait 30 minutes to plug mine back in I would more than likely forget to plug it back in.

My water change buckets sit in front of the outlet I have my heater plugged into. When I get my buckets I unplug the heater. When I replace the buckets I plug the heater back in.
Cutting corners and not doing things that a person should be for caution's sake doesn't always lead to disaster. Its like speeding down the same highway for years and never getting caught , and then one day a cop car just happens to catch you speeding and you get a ticket.
 

Utar

Member
I tried to delete this accidental post, but could not figure out how. I accedentally quoted my last post when I just wanted to edit it. I changed it to this writing to ask. How do I delete posts?
 

Pfrozen

Member
yea, i dont turn off anything during water changes now, i just open the drilled valve and dump a bucket of same temperature water in. no point in turning off the heater and filter unless you go below the minimum water level
 

Utar

Member
Pfrozen said:
yea, i dont turn off anything during water changes now, i just open the drilled valve and dump a bucket of same temperature water in. no point in turning off the heater and filter unless you go below the minimum water level
I don't know, what a minimum water level is, because I change 50% or more every time. So the water level always drops below the heater so I have to unplug mine, and I turn off the filters every time to clean. Since i started doing this I have not lost a fish yet, knock on wood. But to be hoest with ya, I don't use a heater much anyway, because the weather where I live doesn't get that cold except for a couple of months out of the year.
 

Pfrozen

Member
Utar said:
I don't know, what a minimum water level is, because I change 50% or more every time. So the water level always drops below the heater so I have to unplug mine, and I turn off the filters every time to clean. Since i started doing this I have not lost a fish yet, knock on wood. But to be hoest with ya, I don't use a heater much anyway, because the weather where I live doesn't get that cold except for a couple of months out of the year.
yea the heater is more of a precaution for me because its cool here year round, my house sits around 70 usually. a lot of people here dont use heaters from what i can gather
 

86 ssinit

Member
Sorry for your fish loss. I too use the finnex heaters. Upon reading this thread I went out and bought the ink bird. Nice device! Also I bought a lesser model the 306. It’s just for heating (most of us don’t cool). Also for water changing I mount my heater horizontally on the bottom of the tank. This way I don’t have to unplug them :).
 

jmaldo

Member
86 ssinit said:
Also for water changing I mount my heater horizontally on the bottom of the tank. This way I don’t have to unplug them :).
:emoji_thumbsup:Agree, best placement advice. Plus, easier to hide.
 

CHJ

Member
It sucks but in my experience all heaters fail so this was in no way your fault. Inkbird and multiple smaller heaters are safety precautions if you cannot just heat a fish room to the right temp (I one day hope to be able to do this). I'd hate to spend time in a fish room heated to discus temps.
This is why the Aqueon Pros heaters with Lifetime warranty seemed like such a good deal. Well I emailed them with the 5-6 that have died this year and found out Aqueon has out sourced their service dept and are not honoring their lifetime warranties. The Pro heaters now say "Limited warranty" rather than lifetime.
So Aqueon is on my "Never buy" list due to lack of ethics and enthusiastic boning of customers (not to mention horrific failure rate of their heaters).

So now I have a mismash of the few brands I haven't tried or been warned away from, in my Amazon cart. Fluval, Hygger, etc.
 

John58ford

Member
Condolences to all your lost water friends. I had a nano heater fail a bit more explosively last year. I was mowing the lawn when it happened, came inside and my grow out tank had black water like someone threw carbon in without rinsing it. When I tore it apart I figured out it wasn't due to the thermostat but a different circuit had failed. Fortunately my imediate fish loss was not significant, though several of that generation have not been the healthiest.

I'm so torn on all the things here, maybe some of these should be in our "unpopular opinions" or "myth busters" threads. Unplugging a heater during a temperature matched water change should not be considered crucial if your heater is in a location that is permanently submerged. An example is in my sump, I built a chamber that is impossible to pump dry, that is where the heaters live in that system, they haven't been unplugged for water, ever. My digital heaters in my qt and stand alone tanks have to be placed vertically so they do in fact get unplugged a since I do bigger water changes as a rule. Those heaters do not wait "30 minutes", they wait instead until any air-bubbles that may stick to them from being exposed and re submerged go away, or I just wipe them off. I think it is more important in fact to make sure they are cool to the touch before I drain the water around them, and that still is an educated opinion, and would vary by heater design, by no means a rule.

The inkbird is a cool tool, I do like them but I do not like using them as a primary themostatic control. They rely on a normally open relay being energized/closed to turn on the output power, and it opens to turn off power. This can wear out just like the one built into your heaters so you are just moving the problem. Your heaters (unless they are always on and designed specifically as a package with an external thermostat) have a themostatic relay that do the same thing, it cools down, the relay closes, it warms up the relay opens. If you use an inkbird as primary with a normal heater you are slamming 2 relays per power cycle instead of one, first the inkbird detects low temperature, send power to your heater, then your heater has to detect low temperature and turn on as well. With my heaters they go through a 30 second countdown/warm up everytime that happens too. The best way to use an inkbird in this scenario isn't as a primary switch but instead an overheat protection. Set the ink birds minimum to a couple degrees above your heaters target so it doesn't turn off the inkbird, ever, then set the inkbird max just a couple degrees higher yet so if your heaters thermostat stuck, then and only then does the inkbird shut down. The problem with this is again, the normally open nature of the inkbird, hold a normally open in the closed position too long and it may become normally closed. This would be the same failure but less likely as 2 different relays (the heater, and the inkbird) now must fail.

I hate being such a technical minded person, conversations like this one make me itch, but in the end hopefully everyone still manages to fish keep without being permanently stressed about failures. I have to echo the idea, use two or more heaters of smaller size in any tank where 100+ watts is recommended for peace of mind, it would take a heater 1/2 the wattage twice as long to cook your friends. I can't say that about 10 gallons and smaller though as I personally feel going to dual nano heaters is a step down in reliability over a traditional heater.
 

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