If you keep fish long enough, you will eventually experience a tank or filter failure that will inevitably leave you with a floor full of water. It WILL happen.
After nearly 20 years of personally avoiding such a disaster, my luck ran out this past weekend. I woke up Sunday morning and, like every other morning, went down to the basement where all but one of my show tanks are located. The basement is partially finished and partially carpeted.
Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, you have to turn left 180 degrees to see the the finished part of the basement. Doing so has you looking squarely at two 75-gallon tanks. The light switch for the basement den lights is at the bottom of the stairwell. Hitting the switch and rounding the corner, I could see both 75g tanks and easily see that the water levels were at the top.
You have to walk about eight feet forward and look around the corner of the stairwell to the left to see my 55g tank, which resides in one corner of the basement. Sadly, I heard the sound before I even rounded the corner. The sound of a struggling canister is unmistakable. Somehow, one of the canisters was still running, even though the water line was well below the intake of both canisters I was using. Staring at a 55g tank containing only about five inches of water is not pleasant because you know that water went somewhere it’s not supposed to.
To make this scenario even more perilous was the fact that I was flying out of town for business in just a few hours.
The 55g is my Malawi mbuna tank. It contains (or did contain) three adult cichlids – two yellow Labs and a hongi “red top.” The tank also contained a few dither fish and, thankfully, still held that five inches of water. Though I couldn’t see the fish for all the rock work and cover in the tank, I hoped they were just hiding.
Needless to say, brain and muscles engaged almost immediately. First order of business was to get the fish out if they were still alive. Then I needed to stop the remaining water from leaking, if possible. I quickly located all the fish, which were all alive, and I removed all the rocks and cover so I could more easily net them. I did so and moved them across the room to one of the two sid-by-side 75g tanks.
Both of those 75g tanks are Tanganyikan tanks. However, the one I moved the mbuna and dithers to is a shell dweller tank. Sadly, it presently only contains a single male L. signatus. If you’re familiar with mbuna and signatus, you’ll know the size differences in the two. Also, you’ll know the mbuna won’t bother the little shellie because they aren’t predators (they may want the space he’s in but they won’t eat him).
Next, I had to unhook the two canister filters and get them out of from under the 55g cabinet so I could remove the tank then get to the water underneath. I still couldn’t immediately tell exactly where the water was coming from. Water was dripping from under the tank shelf inside the cabinet so that instantly told me it wasn’t a canister seal failure or a canister hose failure at the pumphead. Now I knew it was either a tank seal failure or a hose failure at the tank top connector. But since water was well below both canister intakes, it had to be a tank seal failure.
After getting all the filter hoses and canister bodies removed, I needed to go after the remaining five inches of water. I quickly siphoned that out leaving little but the sand and a piece of egg crate. Next was to get the sand out, which was holding another inch to two inches of water – too much weight to lift the tank by myself to move it.
Pulling the egg crate and scooping the sand, I was able to get the tank off the stand and move it along with the stand to my workshop, which is just off the den. I carried the tank to the two sawhorses I already had set up a minute before. By now I had already placed more than a dozen towels around the stand and around the wall to try and quickly soak up as much water as possible.
Why not a shopvac you ask? Great question. I actually have two wet/dry vacs. However, strangely, the water hadn’t pooled such that I could suck it out of the carpet in an efficient manner. Towels were doing the job. I know you’re saying, “no way.” It clearly was a slower leak. Water was absorbing into the carpet and pad was just to the point of near saturation but then kept moving.
While towels were soaking up, I began moving the other objects nearby – a chair and floor lamp. I then put down more towels. Next, I started wiping down the underside of the tank now in the workshop, which still held about 1/8 inch water. I had removed enough sand that I could see the seals around the bottom of the tank. Yep, tank seal failure, right in the center.
Quickly, I went back to soaking up as much water as I could. Part of my basement, in addition to my workshop and finished den, is a framed but unfinished bathroom. That room is directly behind the wall where the tank sits. So I knew water would have traveled under that wall into the bathroom. Amazingly, it had only gotten to a few inches beyond the wall and into the bathroom itself.
The water was actually traveling along the wall toward the stairs. I opened the door to underneath the steps and could see water had made it underneath the right-side wall of the under-stairs storage area, which acts as another wall of the bathroom. Water had gotten into the storage area about three feet past that shared wall. Like a whirlwind, I emptied that under-stairs storage in about two minutes and was able to get some towels down to stop the water from creeping on across.
Now I had the water confined to a controllable area. My wife quickly ran to the local hardware store and purchased a couple of floor fans. I already had one, so now I had three that I could attack the carpet with along with the towels.
Inside the 55g tank, I had lots of rock work and some PVC, which I’m guessing was displacing probably close to 10 gallons. I haven’t calculated it, but I’m guessing five inches of water with all the rocks, sand, and such amounts to about 5 gallons, give or take. So, all told, I’m guessing I lost about 40 gallons of water. That’s a lot of water, but by now it was spread out over at least a 60 sq. ft. area.
In addition to the carpet, the wood in the base of the walls separating the bathroom from the rest of the den and under-stairs storage had soaked up some of the water. The sheetrock also soaked up some of the water. Nonetheless, I had to leave for the airport and left the remainder of the cleanup with my wife. Like a trooper, she kept laying down towel after towel after towel until she got nearly all the extractable water up.
Next was to fire up the dehumidifier. The main problem now is any lingering moisture, either in the carpet, the carpet pad, and/or walls. Drying everything up as quickly as possible will prevent the onset of mold and fungus.
So there you have it. My first story of dealing with a tank seal failure.