Avoiding electrical accidents in and around the aquarium

by Owen James

Today’s modern fish tank accessories are built with safety uppermost, but you should still take care to ensure you and your family are not exposed to risks. Water and electricity is a deadly mix. Not only could you be shocked directly, but water leaking from the aquarium into electrical sockets could cause a fire.

Warning: I am not an electrician, so check with your aquarium shop and equipment manufacturer as required, or ask a qualified electrician.

Set-up your tank with safety uppermost

Secure all cables in and around the aquarium out of the way behind the aquarium stand. The optimal set-up will use drip loops on any electrical cables coming out of the tank.

Using drip loops, the appliance cable loops down towards the floor before rising again and continuing on to the distant power supply. Water creeping from the tank for any reason therefore drips onto the floor before reaching the power supply. (How to fit a drip loop).

Electrical outlets mounted up the wall further reduce the risk of water creeping into the fittings. A more feasible option for already-wired homes is to connect electrical devices to an extension block, and to mount this higher up the wall before in turn connecting it the power supply.

Cut the power if you’re working on the tank

Always turn off the power at the mains when working on your tank – whether you’re putting your hands in the tank, or just doing maintenance work like securing the tank lights or adjusting the filters.

Check for the appropriate safety labels

These vary around the world, so check with your local jurisdiction to ensure any appliance you buy for your tank has been fully approved. Ask your pet shop to point out such notices on the equipment packaging if unsure.

Only use proper aquarium equipment

Some people create DIY lighting rigs, or use other sorts of jerry-rigged equipment on their aquarium. This is not recommended unless you’re an expert. Electrical equipment should be designed and approved for aquarium use. Old or even new equipment can fail at any time, so such approval is no excuse NOT to turn off the power at the mains.

Buy and use a circuit breaker

These are sold under different names and in slightly different forms, including fault-current breakers, earth leakage circuit breakers and ground fault circuit interrupters. In general they fit between your aquarium appliance and the wall socket. If a fault occurs they will cut the electrical current, which can be a lifesaver. You should still turn off the power at the wall to be safe, though, when working on the tank. Also watch out for them cutting power unseen and subsequent problems in your tank.

More information on circuit breakers:

Don’t attempt home repairs on electrical equipment

Repairing electrical equipment yourself is just not worth the risk. Return the device to the manufacturer, or if it’s out of warranty see if your pet store can help. It’s usually better and more affordable to replace aquarium devices that are damaged.

Check out Katy's Tropical Fish Guide for more aquarium info.

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