Hot Summer, Cool Seahorses: Cooling The Seahorse Aquarium
Summer’s here, and seahorse aquarists are starting to see tank temperatures rise. Seahorses, are particularly vulnerable to warmer temperatures , so for many seahorse aquarists, even moderate heat can lead to a mad dash to lower the water temperature.
The consequences of warm water can be deadly for seahorses. Bacteria spread at a faster rate in warmer water, so the warmer it gets, the more likely you are to see illness pop up in your aquarium. Another often overlooked problem is that warmer water holds less oxygen, stressing out the inhabitants of your aquarium. This tends to be worse for seahorses than other fish due to their lobed gill structure.
Fans, your first line of defense
Often, open tops with fans blowing across the water is enough to drop temp a few degrees. This works by evaporative cooling. Removing tops, and placing a fan so it blows across the water will make the water evaporate much faster, cooling the tank.
You can easily drop a tank below the ambient temperature if you have enough evaporative cooling. Theoretically, you can drop as much as 18F degrees below ambient temperatures. Realistically, you are going to see a drop of between 3 and 5 degrees in a home aquarium. (More about evaporative cooling here.)
Ways to improve evaporative cooling is to have the fan blowing across the longest part of the tank. Aiding evaporation can be done by increasing surface movement. Position power heads and add air pumps to create more movement.
If you have a sump, you can help things out by placing a fan across the sump as well. Keeping the stand doors open will help heat from equipment dissipate.
Be sure if you have fish that could be jumpers that the tank has some form of mesh over the top to keep them from making their final leap. You can use egg crate to fashion a top, or pond mesh and aluminum window frames.
Do remember that with evaporative cooling, you will lose significantly more water through evaporation than normal. Keeping an eye on the tank, or even adding an auto top-off unit to replenish the tank will be necessary.
Evaporative cooling works best in dry climates. Someone in Arizona will have better results than someone in Florida. However, if air conditioning is being used, you have a dehumidifier build in, and can get to lower humidity levels to keep the tank cool.
Often when people think cooling a tank, they think they need to resort to a chiller. That’s not always the case! Often times it’s cheaper to get a room air conditioner and run it rather than buying a whole chiller. And for bonus points, you get a cool room.
Of course, it depends where you live, where your tank is set up, and what your electricity prices are like. But it’s always a good idea to at least consider air conditioning. Small units can be had for under $100.
If you have odd shaped windows you can get a portable air conditioner. Portable air conditioners carry warm air out via a hose that you connect to a window. They do take up floor space, and some people think they’re loud; but they provide an option for those of us with weird windows.
Check Your Equipment
There are many ways you can change your equipment setup to help remove heat. Reducing equipment, externalizing equipment, and even cleaning equipment can all help.
If you’re running several powerheads to keep water moving, a pump from the sump to the tank, and a pump for the skimmer, you could easily be dumping a large amount of heat into your aquarium. Reducing those items while keeping the water moving is a great way to lower the temperature of the tank. Multiple powerheads can be replaced with a single, well designed closed loop.
Older equipment is likely to draw more power mom less umph. The additional power translates to additional heat in the tank. Newer, low watt pumps can lower the overall energy consumption along with the heat output.
Don’t forget the lowly air pump! Most are low watt and can move around a substantial amount of water, even if it’s not in the way we’re used to in an aquarium. But they can work to keep the surface agitated with very little cost or heat addition.
Every piece of equipment in the tank adds to the heat overload. If you can externalize the pumps that are in your aquarium, you’re reducing a lot of the equipment heat. External sump pumps can be plumbed alongside your sump. Internal powerheads can be upgraded to those with external motors, such as a
VorTech (just be sure to use the foam covering to keep seahorse tails out).
Because our tanks are alkaline with a lot of minerals, calcium deposits occur inside our pump housing. This creates friction, and friction is heat. It may sound like a simple step, but cleaning your pumps every couple of months can help keep the temperature in check. A good vinegar soak followed by a thorough rinsing will remove calcium deposits with ease.
A chiller is often the nuclear option in high temperature situations. They are expensive and take up space. And you need to be sure you’ve chosen one that can cool your aquarium to the right temperature.
There are many low cost models out there that don’t cool as much as they purport to cool, so checking reviews is essential. Pet Education has a great article on choosing the right chiller
One way to go about a chiller on a budget is to make your own. While they are rarely pretty, they are an option for those on a budget or just like the challenge of building something themselves.
Most rely on a dorm fridge which can often be had for next to nothing, and a big coil of aquarium tubing where water passing through, is cooled, and passed back into the aquarium.
DIY Chiller ideas:
If you’re in a warm climate and air conditioning or a chiller isn’t an option, but have access to a basement, sometimes the reality is that it might be the best place for your aquarium.
Placing in the basement is not something you can do quickly during a heatwave, but if you’re deciding where to set up your aquarium, be sure to think of what the conditions are going to be like throughout the year. Sometimes placement in the basement is just a fact of life.
If you have a concrete floor, you can even take advantage of natural cooling by placing the aquarium sump directly on the concrete rather than raising it up to sit on wood inside the stand. It may take some clever modifications, or a custom built stand, but can be well worth the cooling effect of the concrete.
Ice in Emergencies
Keeping a couple bottles of ice in the freezer can be a lifesaver. They don’t take up much space, but in an emergency such as a/c or power outage in a heat wave, they could make all the difference in the world. The downside is that you don’t have much control over the cooling. But they could end up saving your seahorses.
If you don’t have bottles of ice, and need something FAST, regular ice can be used, but place it in a ziplock bag so it doesn’t melt into the tank. You don’t want it diluting the tank, only cooling.
In a prolonged emergency or unexpected heat wave, you can make a temporary chiller out of a cooler, ice, a coil of aquarium tubing (at least 75′) and a pump to push the water through the tubing coiled up in the cooler. A more detailed explanation.
Following the above advice should let you cool your seahorse aquarium to safe temperatures with ease, leaving you, and your seahorses to sleep better at night.
DIY Ice Air Conditioner
You can even make an air conditioner using a number of inexpensive parts if you’re really in a bind. The idea is to have a fan pushing cold air out of a container. The essentials are a small fan, ice, and a container for the ice. Youtube has a couple examples, one using a 5 gallon bucket, and another using a cooler.
I suspect neither would last long term, but they might be a good short term solution for cooling a room with aquariums rather than trying to cool each room. And they’re dirt cheap to build.