What if my heater fails?

Mii

When heaters fail, is it usually a catestrophic fail like blowing up and leaching poison into the water, or getting stuck on and boiling your fish? Or is it usually more or a stop heating and then you check your thermometer and go "my tank is cold, the heater must be out"?

Also do they usually give any warning that they'll fail, or do they just do it randomly? Is there a certain age at which heaters should just be replaced?
 

carsonsgjs

It can be any of the above really. I’ve only ever had one heater fail which I think was down to my fault (forgot to switch it off when doing a water change so it cracked when the new water went in).

The price difference between a cheap unreliable heater and a good reliable heater isn’t that much, so I’d always go for the latter considering it is such a vital piece of equipment. Thinking the likes of eheim, fluval etc. I also keep a few spare heaters stored away just in case.
 

BigManAquatics

Because nothing is built to last, no matter the price/brand of heater, they all fail at some point. I try to replace mine every 3-4 years. Proactive instead of reactive.
 

RayClem

I have kept fish tanks for over 60 years. I have learned that sooner or later all heaters will fail. It does not matter whether they are inexpensive or premium brands. The question is when they will fail, not if.

There are several possible modes of failure.
1. If they have a glass tube, the tube can crack or break. I have had that happen.
2. The seal on a submersible heater can fail allowing moisture to get into the tube.
3. The thermostat can stick in the ON position causing the heater to overheat.
4. The thermostat can stick in the OFF position allowing the tank to cool. If you do not catch the issue in time, this can trigger a variety of illnesses in the fish.

I have had all four of these failures occur over the years.

My recommendations are as follows:
A. Always plug your heater into a Ground Fault Circuit Interupter (GFCI). If the tube breaks or water gets into the tube, this can pose a shock hazard for you and your fish. The GFCI will minimize that risk.
B. Rather than purchasing a single heater properly sized for your tank, purchase two heaters slightly undersized. For example, if your tank needs a 200 watt heater, purchase two 150 watt heaters. Under normal conditions, you tank will be kept at the desired temperature. If one of the heaters sticks in the ON position, the tank might become slightly warmer than normal, but not hot enough to kill the fish. If one of the heaters fails in the OFF position, the other heater might not be sufficient to maintain the tank temperature at a normal level, but the temperature will drop only slightly.

I might not always use two heaters in a smaller tank (10 gallons and under), but I always do it in larger tanks.
 

Redshark1

My heater in my main 6ft tank is around 10 years old.

I think they are made better these days (I've been using heaters for 51 years).

I buy a reliable brand rather than the cheapest.

I use one heater, it's less hassle (I used to use two).

I have a tiny stick - on thermometer in the corner of the glass to warn me.

Eventually the seal goes and moisture can be seen in the heater before they fail.

The heater may stick on but I have one which would take a day or more to overheat the tank.

The heater may stop working but my tank cools slowly and if I didn't look at the thermometer my fish behaviour would warn me as they did before I fitted the thermometer.

The regular type of heater is best.

My brand comes with a free heater guard. I would always fit one to avoid burning my (which happened once).

Always have a spare heater in reserve.
 

RayClem

My heater in my main 6ft tank is around 10 years old.

I think they are made better these days (I've been using heaters for 51 years).

I buy a reliable brand rather than the cheapest.

I use one heater, it's less hassle (I used to use two).

I have a tiny stick - on thermometer in the corner of the glass to warn me.

Eventually the seal goes and moisture can be seen in the heater before they fail.

The heater may stick on but I have one which would take a day or more to overheat the tank.

The heater may stop working but my tank cools slowly and if I didn't look at the thermometer my fish behaviour would warn me as they did before I fitted the thermometer.

The regular type of heater is best.

My brand comes with a free heater guard. I would always fit one to avoid burning my (which happened once).

Always have a spare heater in reserve.

One of the most expensive heaters I ever purchased was a Marineland Stealth Pro heater. Marineland is a reputable name in aquarium products. Yet the heater failed prematurely. In fact, Marineland recalled some 1.2 million Stealth and Stealth Pro heaters in 2011 due to a potential fire hazard. Thus, not even purchasing brand name heaters is a guarantee you will avoid failure.

I presume your 6 ft tank is over 100 gallons. That is an advantage because if the heater fails, the tank will gain or lose heat more slowly than a smaller tank. If you check the temperature routinely, you should catch it before significant harm is done. However, tanks over 100 gallons often require two heaters anyway unless the tank is maintained only a few degrees above room temperature. Although aquarium heaters of up to 800 watts are available for large tanks, I would far rather 2 - 3 smaller heaters than one large one.
 

KingOscar

If you are really concerned about failure, you can get a thermometer with an alarm feature. It will alert you with beeps if temp gets too low or too high.

I recently installed a 25-30 year old 100W Ebo Jager as auxiliary to my new 300W Fluval E in my 75 gallon tank. Apparently the FE is only designed for up to 10 degree difference in room to tank temp according to the manufacture! Since we keep our house at 62 it couldn't keep up. So far with both it's good.
 

Noroomforshoe

I have also read that any heater however expensive it is, has a thermostat inside it that is delicate and imperfect and will break eventually. I paid 35 bucks for an ink bird alarm system and It was well worth the price. It has never needed to alarm me yet, but knowing the accurate temp, and not having to adjust the dial of the heater that is in the tank, along with my piece of mind that my fish are safe, are priceless. I keep a mercury thermometer in the tank as well. It is also a good idea to keep 2 smaller lower wattage heaters, then to keep one heater with a lot of wattages. Because if the large heater malfunctions, it is more likely to overheat the tank than if a smaller heater malfunctions.
 

CHJ

Here are the last say 10 years dead heaters. I probably have 7-8 Aqueon Pros a few Hydors, a few Aquatops, and 2 scary expensive Titanium reef heaters to add to that pile since I took the pic. I can't tell if the 3 silica filled reef heaters are in there.

Heaters549.jpg
Modern hearers are trash. I don't care who makes them. Well OK I have 2 Hygers I got last year which are not dead yet so I can't write off Hyger.
Avoid Aqueon products at ALL COSTS. They rescind and do not honor their warranties. They also want you to ship things both ways for them to service stuff.
Hydor seems best so far but I only run small ones in SPEC tanks so that may have something to do with their longevity.
The expensive titanium reef heaters lasted less than a year. 10-15$ aquatops last a lot longer than that. The silica reef heaters went about as fast as the titaniums.

In my experience I'd say roughly 80% go cold. 10% go Crockpot, and 10% go electric chair.
Inkbird and multiple heaters can deal with cold and crockpot. GFI can deal with electric chair.
A fish room that is at the proper temp for all your fish is the best solution.. Unless half your collection are things like Red Tailed Squirrel loaches and Green Ottos temp fish (<70F) and the other half are Discus/pleco/betta temp (~84F) fishes. Then you need 2 fish rooms.

Aquarium Co-op talks about the internal thermostat failing as the reason for heater deaths and how putting them at an angle should help with that. In my experience that is a guess that is not correct. My heaters with external probes seem to die much faster than ones with internal thermometers and with an external probe I can sit those well away from the heater so they cannot get cooked.

So on a budget for 25-30$ do you get a second heater or an inkbird? Both is better but sometime you can't afford both.
As 80% go cold my first thought is 2nd heater if the tank is in a place like my bed room where if the heater dies the tank will hit fatal temps for its fish.
If the tank is in a room where your tank will only drop say 5-10 degrees and the fish will be uncomfortable but not dead, I'd go Inkbird.
GFI is a great idea if you have the skills to install one. For all my heaters that have gone electric chair, I have never lost a fish to it, I just get a mild-nasty surprise when I stick my arm in the tank.

If you have the funds GFI for every tank, inkbird for every tank, 2 or 3 heaters per tank depending on your paranoia. Or count up all your tanks, multiply by all those costs, price out a new tank and buy it planning for your "next" purchase to be all the heating stuff.

If you want an "Eww spendy!" thought, if you are running multiple heaters on your tanks that require heat, maybe you should run multiple chiller on the tanks that require cold.. Nah, at that point it is cheaper to AC the room.
 

Mii

Here are the last say 10 years dead heaters. I probably have 7-8 Aqueon Pros a few Hydors, a few Aquatops, and 2 scary expensive Titanium reef heaters to add to that pile since I took the pic. I can't tell if the 3 silica filled reef heaters are in there.

Heaters549.jpg
Modern hearers are trash. I don't care who makes them. Well OK I have 2 Hygers I got last year which are not dead yet so I can't write off Hyger.
Avoid Aqueon products at ALL COSTS. They rescind and do not honor their warranties. They also want you to ship things both ways for them to service stuff.
Hydor seems best so far but I only run small ones in SPEC tanks so that may have something to do with their longevity.
The expensive titanium reef heaters lasted less than a year. 10-15$ aquatops last a lot longer than that. The silica reef heaters went about as fast as the titaniums.

In my experience I'd say roughly 80% go cold. 10% go Crockpot, and 10% go electric chair.
Inkbird and multiple heaters can deal with cold and crockpot. GFI can deal with electric chair.
A fish room that is at the proper temp for all your fish is the best solution.. Unless half your collection are things like Red Tailed Squirrel loaches and Green Ottos temp fish (<70F) and the other half are Discus/pleco/betta temp (~84F) fishes. Then you need 2 fish rooms.

Aquarium Co-op talks about the internal thermostat failing as the reason for heater deaths and how putting them at an angle should help with that. In my experience that is a guess that is not correct. My heaters with external probes seem to die much faster than ones with internal thermometers and with an external probe I can sit those well away from the heater so they cannot get cooked.

So on a budget for 25-30$ do you get a second heater or an inkbird? Both is better but sometime you can't afford both.
As 80% go cold my first thought is 2nd heater if the tank is in a place like my bed room where if the heater dies the tank will hit fatal temps for its fish.
If the tank is in a room where your tank will only drop say 5-10 degrees and the fish will be uncomfortable but not dead, I'd go Inkbird.
GFI is a great idea if you have the skills to install one. For all my heaters that have gone electric chair, I have never lost a fish to it, I just get a mild-nasty surprise when I stick my arm in the tank.

If you have the funds GFI for every tank, inkbird for every tank, 2 or 3 heaters per tank depending on your paranoia. Or count up all your tanks, multiply by all those costs, price out a new tank and buy it planning for your "next" purchase to be all the heating stuff.

If you want an "Eww spendy!" thought, if you are running multiple heaters on your tanks that require heat, maybe you should run multiple chiller on the tanks that require cold.. Nah, at that point it is cheaper to AC the room.
I don't have a fish room they're in my bedroom which I refuse to keep at anything other than 64F. I'll do double heaters and get a GFI if I can, what on earth is an inkbird?
 

Kelvin12

I'll certainly recommend the ink bird controller as mentioned above. I have 2 of them now and having the low / high alarms are a real peace of mind. They can be wifi monitered although that stuff is a bit beyond me but the LED readouts, temp. pre set and tank temp. are great.

Something else in the past that always worried me was the variation of tank temperatures between the bottom and upper levels. With the ink bird controller there is the option of two sensors. Set one low in the tank and the other in the upper level overall peace of mind.
 

Mii

I'll certainly recommend the ink bird controller as mentioned above. I have 2 of them now and having the low / high alarms are a real peace of mind. They can be wifi monitered although that stuff is a bit beyond me but the LED readouts, temp. pre set and tank temp. are great.

Something else in the past that always worried me was the variation of tank temperatures between the bottom and upper levels. With the ink bird controller there is the option of two sensors. Set one low in the tank and the other in the upper level overall peace of mind.
Ok but WHAT IS AN INKBIRD???
 

Kelvin12

Temperature control device. Bit cheaper in the US if thats where you are. Definately recommend the dual temperature probes. Your heaters (2) plug into the device. The device then controls the temperatures rather than relying on the actual heater thermostats.
 

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Redshark1

One of the most expensive heaters I ever purchased was a Marineland Stealth Pro heater. Marineland is a reputable name in aquarium products. Yet the heater failed prematurely. In fact, Marineland recalled some 1.2 million Stealth and Stealth Pro heaters in 2011 due to a potential fire hazard. Thus, not even purchasing brand name heaters is a guarantee you will avoid failure.

I presume your 6 ft tank is over 100 gallons. That is an advantage because if the heater fails, the tank will gain or lose heat more slowly than a smaller tank. If you check the temperature routinely, you should catch it before significant harm is done. However, tanks over 100 gallons often require two heaters anyway unless the tank is maintained only a few degrees above room temperature. Although aquarium heaters of up to 800 watts are available for large tanks, I would far rather 2 - 3 smaller heaters than one large one.
I said buy a reliable heater not an expensive one. There's a difference. A reliable one is less likely to break down. There are surveys of such things to guide us and I followed one such survey in the Aquarium magazine I read which was unequivocal when it came to the best heater available.

I'm fine with a single 300W heater. I'm settled with how I heat my aquarium following plenty of experimentation but if a new idea comes up I'm still listening.
 

RayClem

I said buy a reliable heater not an expensive one. There's a difference.

How are you supposed to know which heaters are reliable until your try them out for 5-10 years? I thought by purchasing the top of the line heater Stealth Pro from a reputable supplier like Marineland that I would get a reliable heater. For one thing, it did not have a glass tube to break. Since I planned to use it in a reef aquarium with some very large fish, I was worried glass would break. However, in the long run, the Stealth Pro heater was less reliable than many I have used over the years.

My recent purchases have been moderately priced ViaAqua heaters made in China. They have been as reliable as any brand I have ever purchased.
 

Mii

Ok, I definitely can't afford GFI *and* Inkbird *and* dual heater, maybe I'll just go dual heaters since most either go cold or go croc pot, and try to install GFIs on at least *most* of my tanks tanks incase they go electric chair although I've heard some ppl claim their fish managed to survive being shocked a bit but it's still better to not shock them.
Also because GFI + power strip can handle multiple tanks.
 

ForceTen

Interesting discussion. The electrocuting claims had me thinking and looking at this a bit harder.
In order for a fish to get shocked or worse, the flow of current must pass through the fish.
In the aquarium that has no metal in its construction I cannot see how this can occur.
The fish would need to be introduced to a current and have a path to follow for electrical shock or electrocution. A complete circuit.
Think of a bird sitting on a high voltage power line. The bird does not get killed because there is no path for the current to pass/flow through the bird.
But, should the bird sitting on this wire touch the pole or the hardware holding up the wires, it would be instant death.
So IMHO this is an old wives tale with no science behind it.

As for GFCI. These devices are sold with human safety first and foremost. It will trip if it sense an imbalance in the heater circuit, or any other circuit fish tank or not.. So it would be very effective in warning the fish keeper as that circuit would be off/tripped.
But the catch is, if only the heater is plugged into a GFCI you would not know its off/tripped until the temp dropped. And your second issue is if everything is plugged into the GFCI, everything would be shut off including filters.
The GFCI is intended to protect us, not the fish and I highly recommend using GFCI in our hobby.. I would stick with proven aquarium technology to address heater loss. Not ground fault protection.
 

Mii

Interesting discussion. The electrocuting claims had me thinking and looking at this a bit harder.
In order for a fish to get shocked or worse, the flow of current must pass through the fish.
In the aquarium that has no metal in its construction I cannot see how this can occur.
The fish would need to be introduced to a current and have a path to follow for electrical shock or electrocution. A complete circuit.
Think of a bird sitting on a high voltage power line. The bird does not get killed because there is no path for the current to pass/flow through the bird.
But, should the bird sitting on this wire touch the pole or the hardware holding up the wires, it would be instant death.
So IMHO this is an old wives tale with no science behind it.

As for GFCI. These devices are sold with human safety first and foremost. It will trip if it sense an imbalance in the heater circuit, or any other circuit fish tank or not.. So it would be very effective in warning the fish keeper as that circuit would be off/tripped.
But the catch is, if only the heater is plugged into a GFCI you would not know its off/tripped until the temp dropped. And your second issue is if everything is plugged into the GFCI, everything would be shut off including filters.
The GFCI is intended to protect us, not the fish and I highly recommend using GFCI in our hobby.. I would stick with proven aquarium technology to address heater loss. Not ground fault protection.
Hmmm, so maybe the fish aren't feeling anything and only the human gets shocked when they stick their hand in because they're touching the ground? I still don't see how a GFCI could hurt fish though.
 

ForceTen

Hmmm, so maybe the fish aren't feeling anything and only the human gets shocked when they stick their hand in because they're touching the ground? I still don't see how a GFCI could hurt fish though.
The GFCI will not hurt and I recommend it for the hobby. But should it trip while you are away all your equipment will shut down.
That is the only concern.
And you are correct. If there is a current in the water and you are in anyway touching something grounded you become the path for the electricity.
One more thing to keep in mind. Electricity is not always looking for an easy path to ground. Or path of least resistance. It is misinformation and not true. Electricity is always looking to return to its source no matter the pathway.
 

Mii

The GFCI will not hurt and I recommend it for the hobby. But should it trip while you are away all your equipment will shut down.
That is the only concern.
And you are correct. If there is a current in the water and you are in anyway touching something grounded you become the path for the electricity.
One more thing to keep in mind. Electricity is not always looking for an easy path to ground. Or path of least resistance. It is misinformation and not true. Electricity is always looking to return to its source no matter the pathway.
Oh wait yeah if I have a power strip on a GFCI, one tank goes out all tanks go out. That could be bad...
 

RayClem

Oh wait yeah if I have a power strip on a GFCI, one tank goes out all tanks go out. That could be bad...
That is why it is best to have a separate GFCI for each tank. I have used both GFCI outlets and GFCI plugs.
 

Mii

That is why it is best to have a separate GFCI for each tank. I have used both GFCI outlets and GFCI plugs.
Wait there are GFCI plugs? As in like something that plugs into the outlet?
 

ForceTen

Oh wait yeah if I have a power strip on a GFCI, one tank goes out all tanks go out. That could be bad...
If you have a GFCI power strip or a GFCI receptacle (plug) when it trips all go off and need to be reset once the fault is cleared. This is helpful . If the GFCI does trip, you can unplug each device one at a time to find your issue.
Like Ray said above you can pick and choose which devices to use GFCI on. Like just for the heater or heaters.
Wait there are GFCI plugs? As in like something that plugs into the outlet?
Yes. They are installed in place of any standard receptacle (plug/outlet). Anything plugged into the GFCI receptacle if it trips will stop working.
You can find GFCI receptacles, strips, breakers and even one you plug into a standard receptacle and requires no installation.
Like I said before, I am a big supporter of using GFCI is this hobby as water is involved. The reason they are required in bathrooms, outside, unfinished basements and certain other places in your home.
 

CHJ

Oh yeah, Dont run anything critical on the other outlet if you go GFI. If the heater goes and button pops you wouldn't want to have your air or filtration shut down. So no power strip with everything plugged into your GFI outlet.
 

BradleyH2O

+1 for the Inkbird.
 

jpm995

Older heaters had mechanical contacts that would 'stick' on and potentially fry your fish. Newer heaters all use electronic circuits to turn on/off the heating element. When they fail they usually just don't work and your tank goes to room temperature. If the heater glass breaks and water hits the circuitry you can have big problems including getting shocked if you touch the water. Thats the reason any electronic device used near water should be on a gfi outlet or breaker.
 

CHJ

Oh I have had modern heaters go crockpot, I wouldn't guarantee that they will not.
If the thermal sensor fails in such a way that it thinks the tank is cold, the heater will come on and stay on.
 

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