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Power Consumption in the Fishroom

Recently I have been getting more and more questions relating to power consumption in the fish room, many of which pertain to cutting power costs related to tank upkeep and maintenance. I had previously written an article pertaining to this, but due to the recent influx of questions I determined it was time to update and expand on my initial article.

First, I would like to share a little of my background with you. I have been active in the hobby for about 4 years now and am currently keeping mostly African Rift Lake cichlids from Lake Malawi and Lake Tanganyika. I have a degree in Electrical Engineering Technologies and currently work for the world’s largest telecommunications provider. Electricity, electronics, and how it all works have always fascinated me.

The combination of my interest in electricity and my enjoyment of fish which require heat, filtration, and lighting made me really start to think about the power needs of our hobby. I, like many of you, thoroughly enjoy my fish and don’t want to spend a fortune in electricity bills to keep them. For these reasons, I would like to share some information with you that may be helpful in maintaining a budget while keeping the fish you love.

Let’s start off with a few electricity basics you may already know. A watt is a standard unit of measuring power. A Kilowatt (kW) is 1000 watts, and the Kilowatt hour (kWh) is the unit which your power provider measures your electricity consumption. As an example, a 1000 watt heater operating for 1 hour uses 1kWh. The cost per kWh varies wildly throughout the year and across the country. I know that where I live Commonwealth Edison charges $.08275 per kWh. You can find your own cost per kWh in your electric bill.

Every electrical device that you purchase comes with either a wattage rating or an amperage rating (I will discuss amps later). Once we have this information we can easily calculate the estimated cost of running any electrical device. You can find these ratings on either a sticker on the device or molded into the housing of the device. You can usually find the rating near where the cord enters the housing. All electronic devices sold in the United States have this as it is required by federal law.

Once you have found the wattage rating of your device, there is a simple formula for calculating what the device costs to run per month. There are a couple of things to keep in mind when using this information to budget your fish room: 1) This formula calculates the cost of running an appliance 24/7 for 30 days and not all of our aquarium equipment runs all day and all night, and 2) This formula is not 100% accurate as there are many variables that can have an effect on the actual amount of power that an appliance is drawing. As I said, this formula is not exact, but it will give you a good estimate of what each device is costing to run.

The formula is as follows: Wattage/1000 X your cost per kWh X 24hrs X 30 days per month equals the cost per month to run the appliance. As an example, I looked up the wattage rating of an AC110 hang on the back (HOB) filter. It uses 14 watts per hour of continuous use. So using the formula we get 14/1000 X 0.08275 X 24hrs X 30days = $0.83412. That’s about $.83 per month to run an AC110 which is rather cheap considering the filtration abilities behind this filter. To give you some other real world examples, I looked at a heater and some lighting that you may use in your fish room. A 300w heater comes out to be about $17.87 a month and that is if it stayed on 24/7, which we all know they don't. Some 48 inch light bulbs run about 32 watts each. That comes out to $1.90 a month if they are on 24/7.

If your device doesn’t give you a wattage rating, but instead gives you an Amperage (amp) rating, you can figure out the number of watts by multiplying the amps times 110v which is your average voltage from the power company. So if a pump gives you an amp rating of 0.4, you multiply that times 110v. So 0.4 X 110 = 44watts / 1000 X 0.08275 X 24 X 30 gives you a total cost of $2.62152 per month for this device.

Using these simple formulas you can figure out the average monthly cost of any electrical device in your fish room. Now, the wattage ratings listed on devices are most likely an average in prime conditions, as variables (such as the amount of muck in your filter) change than so can the amount of electricity you device draws. If you are curious as to the actual wattage that a certain device is using, there are wattage meters available on the internet for under $20. They are pretty accurate and will give you a good idea of how much power your devices are actually consuming.

Armed with this knowledge let’s look at how you can save some money and maintain a budget in your fish room.

Heating your tanks makes up the majority of the electrical expenses in the fish room. As you know, there are a few different ways we can accomplish this. One way is to heat the tanks individually; while not the most efficient method it does have its advantages. Another way to heat our tanks is to heat the room as a whole. The latter is a much more efficient way of heating because air requires less energy to heat than water. Insulating our fish rooms using a high R value insulation and a vapor barrier will help to keep the heat in the room. The higher the R value, the better the insulation is at keeping the heat inside the room. This requires the heater to work less thus increasing the efficiency of our fish room. Once the room starts to warm up, the water will follow and the insulation will help keep the temperature up and stable.

If you are unable to heat the room your tanks are in, you can individually insulate the tanks by using Styrofoam insulation. It can be cut and attached to the outside of your tanks. While not quite as effective as insulating and heating the room, it will help keep your tank heaters from working so hard. When using the typical submersible heaters, water circulation plays a part in how warm and how stable the temperature is in our tanks. Personally, I like to place all my heaters near the outflow of a filter. This way the water is warmed and then carried throughout the tank.

Filtration is another major electricity expense in our hobby. Having multiple tanks myself, I have found that using air driven sponge filters is much more economical than using multiple HOB and canister filters. The reason being is that air is easier to move than water. The air driven sponges don’t move as much water as an HOB filter, but they do move a fair amount. I use two air pumps that drive 22 sponges in 14 tanks. These two pumps combined require 53 watts per hour at a cost of $3.15 per month. I would only be able to use 3 AC110 filters for that amount of wattage and it would not even come close to servicing all of my tanks. So as you can see, the air driven sponges are an economical and effective way of filtering the water in your tanks while reducing power consumption.

Lighting is another major expense in the fish room. What I have found with lighting is that I only use it if I am working on the tank. Most of the fish we keep do not require a lot of lighting to make it through their day. Tank lighting is more for our benefit than for the fish. In my fish room, I reduce costs by having all of my tank lights on timers. My breeder tanks are on a single timer and my show tanks are on their own timer. In my breeding area only one tank has a light that comes on during the day, the rest are off until I need them. I keep one tank light on from the time I get up to the time I go to bed. This gives the fish a daylight cycle to get accustomed to. My show tanks are only on during the day and only when I am home. Lighting is more of a personal preference than a need unless you have planted or saltwater tanks.

Power consumption may not be a primary concern for some fish keepers, but I think you will agree that saving money and decreasing electricity use is a good thing. I hope that the information I have shared will help you to make your fish room a little more budget friendly. Spending less money maintaining our hobby frees up resources that can be used for other important things…like buying more tanks!

If you have any additional questions feel free to contact me at DragonKeeper1@me.com. I will gladly discuss your situation with you.

Shawn Kopinski

AKA DragonKeeper