Is my heater broken? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 01:10 AM Thread Starter
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Is my heater broken?

Please help, I don't want my fish to die.
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post #2 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 01:35 AM
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Appearance means very little in this case so we need to move on to some other points. Does it heat up? One way to do a quick test is to put it in a small quantity of water like a vase of cool water. Add a thermometer and see if it gets warmer. If this is hard to do with no vase, etc. or something, a bit more daring method is to put it in the tank and carefully move a hand closer to the heater. Careful because they can definitely get too hot to handle. Then if it is found to be heating, try using warmer water to test that it does shut off near the preferred temp.
If it does that, it can be said that it works for right now.

Last edited by PlantedRich; 11-29-2017 at 01:37 AM. Reason: correct typos
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post #3 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 03:32 AM Thread Starter
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Thank you! I will try your suggestion!
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post #4 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 04:47 AM
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I partly disagree with @PlantedRich on the heater. I see what looks like some burn marks on the inside, and the white stuff looks like some water got in or some component burned up. For the amount a heater costs verses the possible losses if it is or goes bad, I'd replace the heater. It's cheep insurance, and peace of mind.

When it comes to heaters, when in doubt, throw it out.
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post #5 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 05:46 AM
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Always a good idea to have at least one spare heater on hand at any rate.


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post #6 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 02:33 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveK View Post
I partly disagree with @PlantedRich on the heater. I see what looks like some burn marks on the inside, and the white stuff looks like some water got in or some component burned up. For the amount a heater costs verses the possible losses if it is or goes bad, I'd replace the heater. It's cheep insurance, and peace of mind.

When it comes to heaters, when in doubt, throw it out.
Fine to disagree. We never learn anything if we all agree. So may I add a bit to what we both have said? Heaters are very prone to failure and they are also very prone to killing fish if they stick on. They are less prone to killing fish if they stop heating as we have a better shot at noting there is a problem when tanks cool. They often cool slowly and may take a day to reach a critical point where the fish are chilled. When chilled, fish may need treatment (meds?) to recover and that is to be avoided if possible.
But a far greater hazard is the heater that sticks on as a large heater can heat a tank to killing point in less than 8 hours. Even a 50 watt, which tends to be one of the lower wattages, can easily overheat a ten gallon tank in the time we are sleeping or gone to work. I've lost three full tanks to heaters sticking!
So rather than try to determine when a heater will fail, I go with a much safer as well as less expensive method. I keep a spare heater on the shelf for when they fail to heat, but for true safety, I also run a temperature controller that I buy off the auction for under $15. That controller will alert me if the temperature goes low and will shut off power to the heater if it sticks on and goes high. Spending the money on a controller rather than heaters, which might be thrown out too soon because they look bad gives me more use from the heater as well as far more protection when they do fail.
My advise of the day? Get a controller. Winter is coming and those heaters are going to start failing!
Controller $15
Meds for cold fish $20
Replacing all the fish that get hot? I don't even want to think of that!
DaveK, DaveK, blackbirds and 1 others like this.
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post #7 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 04:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Oohweeh View Post
Please help, I don't want my fish to die.
i would start looking for a new heater.

these things tend to break easier than other equipment. most likely its on the last leg standing.
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post #8 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 09:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PlantedRich View Post
Fine to disagree. We never learn anything if we all agree. So may I add a bit to what we both have said? Heaters are very prone to failure and they are also very prone to killing fish if they stick on. They are less prone to killing fish if they stop heating as we have a better shot at noting there is a problem when tanks cool. They often cool slowly and may take a day to reach a critical point where the fish are chilled. When chilled, fish may need treatment (meds?) to recover and that is to be avoided if possible.
But a far greater hazard is the heater that sticks on as a large heater can heat a tank to killing point in less than 8 hours. Even a 50 watt, which tends to be one of the lower wattages, can easily overheat a ten gallon tank in the time we are sleeping or gone to work. I've lost three full tanks to heaters sticking!
So rather than try to determine when a heater will fail, I go with a much safer as well as less expensive method. I keep a spare heater on the shelf for when they fail to heat, but for true safety, I also run a temperature controller that I buy off the auction for under $15. That controller will alert me if the temperature goes low and will shut off power to the heater if it sticks on and goes high. Spending the money on a controller rather than heaters, which might be thrown out too soon because they look bad gives me more use from the heater as well as far more protection when they do fail.
My advise of the day? Get a controller. Winter is coming and those heaters are going to start failing!
Controller $15
Meds for cold fish $20
Replacing all the fish that get hot? I don't even want to think of that!
On getting a controller I quite agree. It's cheep insurance to a failing heater, plus most of them have digital displays so you can see the tank's temp at a glance.

As a historical note. Heaters haven't changed too much in the last 50 years. You'd have thought that by now every heater being sold would come with a controller. Controllers today are very reasonable in price and would solve a lot of the problems we see in typical aquarium heaters.

The other area where I see a lot of people get into trouble with heaters is that they way over size them. Unless your keeping the tank in an unheated basement or garage you only need about 2w per gal of water to maintain the tanks temp. Also too large a heater will do a lot more short cycles giving it a lot more chances to fail.
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post #9 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 11:25 PM
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Just popping in to say thanks, this was a really helpful post. I'm off to order a controller and a lower wattage heater (I have a 50w in my 5.5gal right now, because the place where I bought it said it would be okay for 5 to 15 gallons). I can give this heater to my mom for the 10gal she is starting up.

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post #10 of 10 (permalink) Old 11-29-2017, 11:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DaveK View Post
On getting a controller I quite agree. It's cheep insurance to a failing heater, plus most of them have digital displays so you can see the tank's temp at a glance.

As a historical note. Heaters haven't changed too much in the last 50 years. You'd have thought that by now every heater being sold would come with a controller. Controllers today are very reasonable in price and would solve a lot of the problems we see in typical aquarium heaters.

The other area where I see a lot of people get into trouble with heaters is that they way over size them. Unless your keeping the tank in an unheated basement or garage you only need about 2w per gal of water to maintain the tanks temp. Also too large a heater will do a lot more short cycles giving it a lot more chances to fail.
This has been one of my more nagging items with the hobby. We all see the ratings and they are often used to size our heaters. But then when I look at the how and why heaters fail and stick on, it really makes me wonder about the ethics of companies who insist larger is better.
I do a lot of "autopsies" on failing equipment and much of it involves electro- mech stuff so tearing down a failed heater just comes natural for me. Here is my spin on some often overlooked points about sizing heaters.
What makes the "click" we often hear when heaters cycle? It is some form of contacts closing. In the cheapest type it is just a bi-metal spring which warps as the temp changes. In more expensive it can be a relay closing. But in both cases, there will be a tiny set of metal contacts slapping together and pulling apart. You can see a small arc as this happens if looking at some glass heaters. Every time this arc happens, it makes a tiny burn on those metal contacts. As the contacts get older the burn gets bigger. The mechanical sorts that work on older cars with points in the distributer know what happens when that burn spot gets big enough. They weld themselves together! The next step is the tank overheats.
So if we put a really big heater in a small tank, the thermostat will turn the heater on/off much more frequently making those contacts burn much more quickly than if it is a small heater that takes much longer to do a very gradual temperature rise.
So just to use random numbers, you may get a 300watt heater operating/burning those contacts 4 times and hour where a 50 watt may only operate one time and stay pulled for much longer. Since heater failures are most often in the controls rather than the heating element, small heaters that come on and stay on will tend to last longer than high wattages heaters.
We all can agree that we need enough heater to maintain the tank temperature in that room under the normal temperature but given a chance, try using the smallest heater that will get the job done as it will often last longer.
Like incandescent light bulbs, they don't normal "burn out" but fail when turned on or off.
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