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Choosing a Heater for your Tropical Fish Aquarium | Home Fish Aquarium Guide

Home Fish Aquarium Guide

Fishkeeping Information and Resources for the Home Aquarium



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Choosing a Heater for your Tropical Fish Aquarium


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With a Tropical Fish Aquarium there are few accessories as important as a heater. Of course, the filter system is the number one priority, but if you cannot maintain a good temperature you will put your fish through a fair amount of stress. Our Zebra Danio tends to like things in the 74-76 degree Fahrenheit range and each type of fish may have it’s own requirements. Be sure to research and if necessary ask for advice from your local fish store. If you have multiple species in the same tank you will want to be careful to select species that can tolerate the same range of temperatures (or at least have a good range of overlap.) The heater itself though can be tricky. If room temperature is 70 degrees vs. 65 degree room temperature you will need more power to maintain a 74-76 degree range.


Let me clarify….. it you want your tank to be around 75 degrees Fahrenheit, but your room temperature hovers in the range of 65 degrees it will take more heater to do so than if your room temperature is 70 degrees. Since a relatively stable temperature is an important consideration I have come to the following conclusion for our situation. Overbuy on the heater. Our first try at keeping a pet fish we went for a small tank (5 gallon) and the heater was rated for a 2.5 up to 5 gallon tank. The temperature fluctuated wildly. Why? Well, the tank was in a room that the temperature ranged anywhere from 65-75 degrees normally. Sometimes it was able to keep up, other times the room temperature was just “too much to fight” and the temperature would swing quite a bit.

When we got the tank back out and worked at setting it up again, I gave a lot of thought to the heater and now that our home heating situation has changed I knew that the room where the fish tank is would spend more time (during the winter) at the low end of the 65-75 degree range…. I knew we would need something more powerful to keep just those 5 gallons at a stable temperature. So, I went with an aquarium heater made by penn plax that is called cascade heat. It is made for a tank up to 10 gallons and actually has a thermostat on it. It claims to be accurate to 1 degree and of course is fully submersible. (The adjustment for the thermostat is at the top and there’s a nice sturdy looking rubber seal around it. It’s about 7 inches long and is listed as a 50 watt heater.

This has been a fantastic improvement on our first tank heater for a number of reasons. For starters, our first heater had no thermostat adjustment capabilities. It was either on or off. Second, given that it is rated for a 10 gallon tank it has enough output to heat our 5 gallon even if the room temperature is low. It will cycle off when the tank temperature meets the desired (set) temperature on the thermostat.

In addition to the heater I have also made use of a stick on thermometer (one of those that the color fills in the background behind the temperature number. (It ranges between 64 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit to give an indication of the current tank temperature. The main problem I’ve had with some of the cheap submersible bulb thermometers is that the paint flakes off and goes away with continued usage. If you can’t read the temperature it’s fairly useless and the paste on thermometer has really seemed to do just fine for an accurate reading.

I should note that getting used to reading the paste on thermometers takes a bit of practice. For instance ours right now has color (blue) under 74 degrees and a greenish yellow under 76. From what I recall the blue background is the color that is closest to the internal temperature so I’m thinking it’s closer to 74 currently. Although since the heater has been running it is probably warming up towards 76.

Now if you live in a warmer climate where you may not expect room temperature ever to diverge more than a couple degrees from your desired water temperature you may not wish to overbuy on the heater for your tank. However, there may always be those strange weather (or home heating) events during which you’ll be thankful you spent an extra $20 or so for the bigger heater that could maintain your pet fish tank at a nice comfortable temperature.

Another good note to make is that when treating fish for certain problems there are suggestions to increase the tank temperature. (If I recall the life cycle of parasites is quicker under higher temperatures). This increase in temperature can help the medicine that you may use to treat with have a better chance of catching the parasites in the part of their lifecycle where they are most vulnerable. (Seems like we had a bad case of anchor worms and I seem to recall the life cycle included a phase where the young were in the gravel and vulnerable.) Anyway, I remember during that treatment I was thankful to have the capability of making things a bit warmer to speed the treatment along. You never know when you need the extra tank heat and you’ll be glad to have the capability when you really need it. So…. I’d overbuy on the tank heater just in case.

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January 8, 2010 - 4:05 PM
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