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Beat the Heat

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  1. #1

    Default Beat the Heat


    With summer almost here and the temperatures rising, we need to be sure our tank temperatures don't get too hot. Most reefers maintain their temperature between 77-82-degrees Fahrenheit. While reefs can with withstand, temperatures outside of this range for short periods of time, overall health and growth will likely be affected if temperatures are maintained outside of this range.

    This article summarizes the most common methods reefers use to beat the heat. Using these options in combination with each other provides a more efficient and cost effective solution than just picking one method. Here is an outline of the options discussed in this article:

    1. Reconfiguring Equipment
    2. Minimizing Heat Sources
    3. Air Conditioning
    4. Fans
    5. Chiller
    6. Ice Packs

    Reconfiguring Equipment
    Lighting tends to be one of the bigger sources of heat for most reefers. You may be able to minimize the daily temperature swing by moving your photoperiod so that it is before or after the heat of the day. I often run a split photo period during the summer months...a few hours in the morning and a few in the evening.

    Increasing the set point of your reef's temperature also helps minimize the severity of the temperature swing. For example, if your tank normally runs at 78-degrees, but you are getting 82-degree spikes, you could try setting the temperature to 80-degrees so that the spike is only 2-degrees. (This may not work as well and result in a overall higher temperature as hot days get longer due to the fact you are loosing the 2-degree heat sink by starting at a higher temperature.)

    I personally believe that most reef animals can withstand temperature swings...as tides go in and out, they replace warmer water with cooler water. I believe it doesn't hurt to allow temperature variances in your reef as long as they are still in the acceptable temperature range. I think it is more problematic when animals are acclimated to a steady temperature for eight or nine months and then suddenly the temperature starts to fluctuate. For this reason, I build temperature swings into my reef in the winter (even though steady temperatures are easier to maintain) so that corals will be less affected in the summer. This can be achieved easily with a controller or by tweaking the heater set point in the winter to be lower than the temperature maintained with the lights on during the day.

    • Inexpensive...no additional equipment, potentially less energy consumption.

    • Tedious to get the timer/thermostat settings just right.
    • May still not be enough to deal with extreme heat waves.

    Minimizing Heat Sources
    Pumps and lighting tend to be the bigger sources of heat in a reef system. It bears mentioning that a upgrading to a more efficient return pump or eplacing those 4 maxijets with one propeller style pump (tunze stream, vortech, hydor, seio, etc.) can save you a few degrees.

    Similarly, changing lights may be able to save you a few degrees. An obvious choice here is LED lights which don't produce as much heat as other lighting. Or perhaps replacing the halide with a few T5's could also help. Your mileage may vary so you will need to do the research to determine whether this is a suitable alternative.

    • May result in better overall energy efficiency.

    • Expensive as it involves replacing existing equipment.
    • May still not be enough to deal with extreme heat waves.

    Air Conditioning
    If your tank stays within the 77-82 range in the winter without the need for
    additional cooling equipment or countermeasures, you may simply be able to
    kick on the air conditioner to maintain your tank temperature.

    • Easy if you have central air.
    • Keeps you comfortable while you enjoy your reef.

    • Potentially expensive due to electricity cost.
    • Your significant other may not feel like being at the ideal temperature.
    • Expensive if you don't already have central air.

    Evaporative cooling is our friend in the reef keeping hobby. It is simple, easily implemented, and cheap. Depending on the individual tank (amount of heat from equipment, tank depth to surface ratio, size of fans, etc.), you may be able to achieve up to 5 degrees cooling from fans alone. Fans can be configured to blow across the sump and across the top of the tank (you'd need an open top tank or mesh top).

    • Inexpensive...a couple small fans will set you back $30 at your local department store.
    • Increasing evaporation can help with maintaining calcium/alkalinity levels if you drip kalk by allowing you to dose more with your top off water.

    • More equipment to deal with around the tank...more wires, outlets, etc.
    • Can be hard to conceal the fans if aesthesis are important.
    • Most fans only seem to last a season or two around the salt before they quit or become a safety issue.
    • May still not be enough to deal with extreme heat waves.

    Using a dedicated chiller is another common option. Chillers come in inline and drop in configurations. Most chillers have built in thermostats and controls but they can also be connected to an aquarium controller.

    • Allows precise cooling of your reef without affecting the ambient house temperature, as central air requires.
    • After installation, it's mostly a set it and forget it operation.
    • Potentially cheaper than cooling an entire house.

    • Requires space near your tank.
    • Adds noise to the system.
    • Adds ambient heat to the room.
    • Adds complexity to the aquarium system.more equipment, cords, etc.

    Ice Packs
    This is not really a very feasible method of maintaining a safe temperature,
    but I'm including it as it is a method to deal with a severe heat wave. Keeping ice or icepacks frozen and available can help you deal with a temperature emergency. You'll want to double bag ice and icepacks to prevent any leakage or fresh water or chemical into your tank.

    • Inexpensive
    • Easy...in the sense that you put some ice in a bag and throw it in the tank or sump.

    • Labor intensive.
    • Not reliable if you are on vacation.
    • Not very efficient.
    • May still not be enough to deal with extreme heat waves.

    Short of moving to the north pole, there probably isn't an ideal solution to dealing with high tempertures in a reef tank. Each option has a trade off...heck even moving to the north pole would qualify as a trade off!

    Each reefer, system, budget, and circumstance is different. There is no one right way to solve heat issues. Hopefully this article provides some ideas regarding the options that are available to manage heat. I would like to stress more often than not we end up using several options outlined in this article in combination with each other to provide the solution best tailored to our individual reefs.

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    Last edited by jimsflies; 03-09-2012 at 05:23 PM.

  2. #2
    Sir Patrick - Reefkeeper A2 Club Coordinator
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    UofM territory
    Awards Monthly Giveaway Winner


    Sweet write up!!

  3. #3


    Glad you liked it!

  4. #4
    ReeferRob - Reefkeeper CR Member
    Join Date
    Sep 2009
    Awards Photo of the Month


    Very very nice article Jim, well done.
    "We shouldn't think of an environment where livestock can survive, we should ensure an environment where livestock can thrive."-Rabidgoose
    "If it's gonna be that kinda party, Ima stick my ........ in the mashed potatoes!"-Beastie Boys

  5. #5
    MizTanks - Reefkeeper
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    U.P. of Michigan.
    Awards Photo of the Month - October 2012 Photo of the Month Post and Reply Award - Winner of the first PAR Contest. Monthly Giveaway Winner

    Default Beat the Heat

    Thanks Jim-more goodies for the newbs!!!!
    There's nothing like being a Reefer! www.upmmas.com

  6. #6
    kgood1 - Reefkeeper CR Member
    Join Date
    Mar 2010
    Lake Orion


    Good info,,

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