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I think I finally found a solution for my aquarium heating problems. Aquarium heaters are notoriously unreliable, either boiling or freezing the fish when you are not looking. There is really not a single aquarium heater that I could unreservedly recommend to anybody.

Most of the problems occur in the thermostat part of the heater, and that's the only failure that can lead to boiling the fish, which will kill them a lot faster than a drop in temperature. That problem is comparatively easy to fix by bypassing the built-in thermostat by setting it to the maximum temperature and using a reliable external thermostat like the Ranco 111-000. I have been doing that for many years.

That still leaves you with heater failure, and recently I noticed three of my four 500W heaters had given up service. With only the last one working, the system was loosing about one degree in a day, because it could not keep the tank up to temperature. Being on continuously meant the heater was bound to fail soon as well.

On the internet, I came across the home brewing community, where people use heating elements from hole house hot water cylinders to heat whatever one has to heat in home brewing. That gave me the idea to install a heating element like that in my sump. I did that today, and so far it works a treat! Typical hot water cylinder heating elements are in the 2000-3000W range. I got a good deal on a second hand one from a home brewer, complete with the necessary nut for installation in a un-threaded hole. The element has 4500W, which is overkill, but hopefully not having to work very hard will further prolong the lifespan.

For a reasonably large tank with a sump into which you can drill a hole, this absolutely seems to be the way to go!


Tank 3m x 0.6m x 0.6m or 10' x 2' x 2'. The sump is not under the tank, but on the other side of the wall behind the tank, in a shed/crawl-space area.


Sump system. The tote with the yellow cover is level with the tank and contains the pump, which lifts the water above tank level into the barrels. The barrels are connected, and the water drains via an overflow into another identical tote behind the barrels, from where it returns to the tank.


4500W hole house hot water cylinder heating element.


Heater installed in the grey barrel.


View inside the barrel with the heater and two bulkheads connecting it to the barrel before and behind it.


Ranco 111-000 temperature controller.
 
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