Fish Tank Power Outage - Planted Tank Mates
air stone power outage

Fish Tank Power Outage


If you’re new to the hobby, a fish tank power outage can be a little daunting.  Especially when everything in the home is dark, it’s another thing to think about and accommodate.  It can happen at any time and the duration will vary, but with a little preparation your aquariums will be just fine.  The loss of power to your filtration, heating, lighting will not equate to an immediate breakdown of the ecosystem.  See the recommendations below on what to consider during a power outage and how you can be prepared.  Do a little homework and have a game plan ready.

Short Power Outage (1-2 hours)

During the first few hours of a power outage, you really don’t have to do anything.  It takes a while for the oxygen in your tank to deplete and for the organics in the aquarium to decay.  If you have a smaller tank and are concerned, you can always drop in a USB air pump and plug that into a small power bank or laptop.  Having USB back ups is always a great alternative especially since there are so many portable ways to charge and keep it operating.  For small tanks,  you can go with the simple mini USB air pumps which are super quiet and operate at a low intensity.

nano usb air pump
Nano USB Air Pump – available on Amazon

If you have a larger tank or require more air intensity, consider a unit that allows you to toggle the flow control.  Units like this one allow you to plug it into your electrical outlet as your everyday air pump.  When the power goes out, it automatically switches to battery mode and starts to operate without interruption.  Again, look for the ones with a USB plug that you can always recharge on a portable power bank.

powered and portable USB air pump
Powered Portable USB Air Pump – available on Amazon

Moderate Power Outage (3-6 hours)

Once you pass the 2 hour mark, start to take a little action, but not too much.  Drop in those air pumps and let it run intermittently every hour.  For those with hang on back filters, take out the media and submerge it directly into your tank to keep the bacteria alive and oxygenated.  In the event that your USB air pumps run out of juice or weren’t fully charged, whip out those battery operated pumps.  Note that most of the battery operated pumps require the large C-batteries and do not have flow adjustment capability.  If you have multiple tanks and fewer pumps, you can transition them from one another while the other is resting.  

battery operated air pump
Battery-operated air pump – available on Amazon

Long Power Outage (6+ hours)

If you live in an area with overhead power lines, power outages can be a more frequent issue.  Deteriorated power poles or weather damaged transformers can set a neighborhood without power for days.  If you only have one small tank, a long term power outage is still easy to manage.  For those with 30+ gallon tanks, canister filters, sumps, or fish rooms, you really need to be prepared.  

Invest in multiple USB or battery operated pumps.  Have enough to rotate around when one runs out of charge or batteries.  Power stations like the ones used for camping is another great investment.  They’re light enough to mobilize around and do not make any noise.  For those with canister filters or sumps, plug that into the power unit intermittently as well to keep things moving.  Confirm the wattage on your equipment to see if your power source can handle it.  Most air pumps operate less than 5 watts and canister filters can range from 15-30 watts.

power station for power outage
Portable Power Station – available on Amazon

If you have multiple large tanks or other general devices at home that may need power, consider a generator.  Gasoline generators are exceptionally strong and can even power a refrigerator, but they’re loud and must be used outside.  If you have one of those handy, run an extension cord into the house and plug in your tanks.  An alternative is an electric generator.  Although they can get heavy, they can operate indoors and are relatively quiet.  With larger units, you can power your internet and some will include jacks to connect solar panels.

electric generator with solar panels
Portable Solar Electric Generator – available on Amazon

What if the power goes out and you’re not home?

Not being home can get a little tricky.  Especially if you travel a lot and have your fish food on automatic feeders.  One of the best things you can do is have a family, neighbor or friend with access to your home to help out.  Educate them in advance on where your supplies are and what to do.  Maybe even have printed instructions ready and tape it to the back side of your cabinet door.  Another device you can invest in is an uninterrupted power supply that’s often used for computers, also known as a UPS (not the delivery service).  These are bulky surge protectors that you plug your devices into and they have an internal battery that kicks in when the power is out.  Like any battery device, they have a limited capacity and time, so only plug the important elements like the filter into the backup outlet.  Unimportant items like the light fixture can plug into the regular outlet and can be left off in a power outage.

UPS uninterrupted power supply aquarium power outage
UPS battery backup & surge protector – available on Amazon

All things considered

Don’t panic.  Also, don’t feed your tanks and introduce excessive nitrates.  Without proper circulation and flow, stagnant water will start to get polluted.  Don’t worry about your livestock starving to death; most will be fine without food for a day or two.  In the case of a prolonged power outage, feed manually and keep to a minimum.  

The main goal is to keep your water and filter media oxygenated.  You don’t have to oxygenate it the entire time the power is out, but the more the better.  Depending on the quantity and type of livestock, you’ll need to make observations and exercise a little judgment.

Invest in USB or battery operated air pumps.  Keep your battery banks charged and ready to use.  To state the obvious, always have extra batteries handy.  Look into power stations and electric generators that can mobilize inside the house.  These larger power units can easily power an LED light bulb and keep you out of the dark.  Similar to having emergency kits ready for your family and home, have a game plan ready for your tanks.   


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