Electrical safety in the aquarium
Aquarium Resources

Electrical safety in the aquarium

Electricity and water is always a risky combination and plugging in all sorts of electrical gadgets to a water filled aquarium is certainly no exception. It is therefore important for all aquarists to know at least basic electrical safety procedures and how to prevent electrical accidents from happening. It is also a very good idea to learn more about first aid. Electrical accidents can kill or injure pets as well as humans.

Turning off, or even better – unplugging, all electrical equipment before you carry out any maintenance work in your aquarium is naturally the safest course of action. It is however a bit of a hassle and sooner or later, most aquarists decide to skip it and start doing maintenance work while the equipment is still running. It is therefore extremely important to use electrical equipment that can be safely run in water. NEVER use anything that is not aquarium safe. It is also important to regularly check your equipment and make sure that it is still in prime condition.


Combining electricity and water naturally becomes much safer if you install a device that will sense problems and instantly turn of the electricity as soon as current starts to leak out of any aquarium gadget. If you know that you will put your hands in the aquarium without unplugging all your electrical gears, purchasing a so called ELCB is therefore a very good thing to do.

ELCB stands for core balance Earth Leakage Circuit Breaker and this device will break the electrical circuit as soon as it detects any significant leakage. Once you have installed the ELCB into the wiring system of your aquarium, it will continually monitor the current in both the active and neutral wires in search of leakage. When it detects a large enough current loss, the whole circuit will be cut off instantly, thus preventing electrical accidents from happening. Since different appliances have different natural current losses, the cut of level for ELCB:s normally varies from 10 milliamps to 30 milliamps. 30 milliamps is considered a good level for aquarium use.

Without an ELCB, a normal household switchboard with standard circuit breakers will normally not cut off the circuit when a low magnitude leakage to earth occurs. The problem is of course that even a low magnitude leakage can cause serious injury to humans. When you hock up your aquarium equipment to a 240 volts outlet, a current of no more than 50 milliamps can be fatal, and no more than 10 milliamps is needed to give the aquarists a serious, agonizing electrical shock.

Installing an ELCB is rather expensive and it is naturally tempting to spend the money on more appealing aquarium thingamajigs. Setting some money aside to safeguarding yourself, your family, your pets, and that kind neighbor who volunteered to care for your fish during your vacation, from electrical accidents is however the best course of action in the long run. Even a fairly insignificant electrical accident is a really agonizing experience that no one should have to go through.  

The portable ELCB
Portable ELCB:s are self-contained units that you simply plug into the standard socket before you plug in your aquarium equipment. It is normally a bit more expensive than the wall mounted ELCB, but you can on the other hand plug it in yourself without having to hire an electrician. You can also bring it along when you move to a new address or move your aquariums to a new room in your house. 

The wall mounted ELCB
A wall mounted unit is normally less expensive than a portable ELCB, but you might on the other hand have to hire an electrician to do the installation for you. If you feel confident to do it yourself, you should still check with local authorities and your insurance company before you give it a try. In many parts of the world, this type of installation can only be done by qualified personal, and your insurance company might also deny you compensation if an accident occurs in something that you installed yourself.

ELCB for the entire house
If you are willing to hire a qualified electrician, you can have an ELCB wired into the main switchboard of your home, thereby securing protection for all the power points in your house or apartment – not only the one you use for your aquarium. This is a bit more expensive than the two other alternatives, but you will on the other hand make every inch of your home where water and electricity is mixed much safer, e.g. the kitchen, the bathroom, the garden and so on.


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