Monday, July 6, 2015

Aquarium woes

Last night we had what I suppose could be called an adventure, though I would have gladly foregone it. First of all, let me explain the layout. Ellen and I sleep in a basement bedroom. Paul finished off the basement of his home a couple of years ago or so, to create a bedroom, a full bath, and what I guess you could call a den - it is a large room that houses a large flat-screen TV, a couch and chair, an exercise bike, a work table, a kitchenette (that's fairly new), and an aquarium. (There is also a furnace room, and three closets.

             Our bedroom

The whole complex is sort of a little apartment, or what you might call a mother-in-law suite. It is below grade, but has three large windows with window wells outside - two in the den and one in the bedroom.

In earlier years when we came to visit Paul and Jenny, we slept in a guest bedroom upstairs (where there are three bedrooms - one for P&J, one for Max, and one for guests), but since Paul finished off the basement, we have made the basement bedroom our home. The guest bedroom has since become something of a store room. In winter, the basement bedroom is pretty cold and we have had to use a little space heater to be comfortable in it. In summer, it is surprisingly cool. We are sleeping right now under two quilts, even when it's been in the high 80's outside during the day. I should say that the temperature cools down at night in Alpine, so with the window open, you get nice cool air at night; but still, the room stays cool all day long.

When we arrived last Monday, we learned that Max had been having trouble sleeping in his upstairs bedroom, which tended to get hot and stuffy during the day. Paul's house has AC, but he doesn't like running it if he doesn't have to, and he has to cool the entire house to cool one room. So it was decided that Max would sleep on an inflatable mattress in the den area of the basement. That was fine with us. And Max has actually slept very well there since we have arrived. 

           Max's pad in the den

The aquarium is in the same room where Max is sleeping. It can either be illuminated or not, and it makes sort of a gentle gurgling sound, created by the filter pump.

   The aquarium is over in the corner 

       The aquarium illuminated

Now all of that is background for last night's adventure. We were up pretty late, Max got to use his sparklers after it got dark (see yesterday's post), and then, just about the time we and Max were going to bed, a thunder storm rumbled through. Max is not too happy with thunder or lightening, but Ellen calmed him down and he settled into his sleeping bag and all seemed to be well. But then, for just a second or two, the power went off. And pretty soon, Max was in our bedroom complaining that there was a " funny noise" in his room. Ellen went into the den and sure enough, there was a rattling noise coming from the aquarium. She and Max went upstairs and he ended up sleeping in his own bedroom- it was a cool evening and that was fine. 

The rattling noise - which was coming from the filter motor on the aquarium - was not terribly loud, but loud enough that we had to shut our bedroom door. As we were going to sleep, I wondered  what had happened to cause that noise, and whether the power interruption might have damaged the motor. But I went to sleep. 

At two-thirty a.m., I woke up and the noise was really loud. I opened our door and went into the den, and wow! that motor was really grinding and rattling. Then I began to worry - what if it was about to burn out? Noise like that means friction, friction means heat, if it gets hot enough, it will set the plastic housing on fire, and that will create toxic smoke. I really should turn it off. But then what will happen to the fish? How long can they last in unfiltered water? Ellen was sound asleep, Paul and Jenny were asleep upstairs, no one to ask. I knew nothing about aquariums, I have never had one and had paid little to no attention to this one. But suddenly I felt a moral responsibility for the lives of five humans and about a dozen fish! So I got the iPhone and went online. I got a crash course on aquariums and filters. I learned that this was an HOB filter (hang on back), and that its purpose is to oxygenate the water, filter out wastes and prevent ammonia build-up, control temperature, and maintain bacteria levels. 

              The HOB filter

Fish vary as to how long they can survive, depending on species, and also how heavily the aquarium is stocked - more fish per gallon of water, less survival time. I knew none of this. I found a site on what to do with an aquarium in a power outage. That seemed similar to this problem. The general recommendation was - if you have an aquarium, you should have an emergency generator! A short outage is ok but over three hours, you should take steps to insure your fishes' survival. If I turned off the filter, it would be way more than 3 hours before anything could be done for it. And what could we do? The nearest store was probably in Idaho Falls.

I didn't know what to do and was in a quandry! So I woke up Ellen. She at least had been feeding the fish. Maybe she knew something I didn't know. Poor thing, i had to wake her out of a sound sleep at what was now about 4a.m. I explained my quandry and she went out to look at the aquarium and noticed something I hadn't - the pump motor was running and making a huge racket, but it wasn't actually pumping any water! It wasn't doing the fish any good anyway, so turning it off wouldn't make any difference! So we pulled the plug. And since there was nothing to be done for it at that hour, we went back to bed. At least it was quiet! But my adrenalin was pumping very well and it took me a Xanax and an hour or so to get back to sleep.

Ellen got up when Paul got up this morning and reported the situation. Turns out it wasn't what I thought at all. The water level had dropped and the pump was pumping air! As soon as Paul added water, the pump was quiet as could be, and the aquarium was gently gurgling again.

Paul felt very, very badly that he had allowed this to happen and caused us distress in the night. He said this had happened before and that the fish can survive for a couple of days without filtration. But what is amazing to me is that the power outage had nothing to do with it - the timing of the power outage and the start of the motor rattling was just a coincidence! That still has me scratching my head. 

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