Posted: November 25, 2013, 12:15 p.m. EDT
Energy-efficient LED lights and flow-control pumps help customers conserve watts, leaving more money to spend in-store.
By Wendy Bedwell-Wilson
Thanks to innovations made by aquatic products manufacturers, freshwater and saltwater fishkeeping is becoming more affordable. Energy-efficient accessories, including LED lights and smaller flow-control pumps, lower fish hobbyists’ monthly electricity bills—which means they have more money to spend at their local fish dealer.
"There has been a lot of evolution in cost-effective technology used in reef tanks, and that has translated to freshwater tanks,” said Rick Preuss, co-owner of Preuss Pets in Lansing, Mich.
Savings are a big deal to salt- and freshwater fishkeepers, according to the American Pet Products Association 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey. Hobbyists report that equipment cost, and the cost of food, care and medicine, are some of the drawbacks to fish ownership.
But by promoting energy-efficient aquarium products, retailers can reap the rewards of loyal—and happy—customers.
Let There Be LEDs
One of the brightest trends in energy-efficient aquarium products is LED lights, according to industry insiders.
Because of their low energy use, the bright light they produce and their extra-long lifespan, LEDs work well as both supplemental and independent light sources in freshwater and saltwater tanks.
"Controllable LED lights are now affordable and are definitely the hot energy-efficient product,” said Ike Eigenbode, president of San Marcos, Calif.-based Ecoxotic, manufacturers of aquarium accessories. "Aquarium hobbyists really enjoy becoming more interactive with their aquarium lights using wireless remote control and dynamic lighting effects, such as cloud cover, color spectrums specific for fish or storms with lightning.”
These colorful light-emitting diodes are high-tech illuminators that use far less energy in an aquarium than their fluorescent and incandescent counterparts, Eigenbode said. His company, for instance, just released a new LED light system that uses more than half the electricity as T5 fluorescents.
"We are just now launching our new Orbit Marine LED lights that feature our Ramp Timer Pro LED controller,” he said. "The Orbit Marine produces the same amount of light as a T5 high-output fluorescent lamp yet consumes 60 percent less electricity. The combination of the Orbit Marine with the Ramp Timer Pro provides hobbyists amazing control over their light, including ramping sunrise, dimming sunsets, cloud cover and storms, even fading lunar lighting.”
To illustrate how much money customers can save when investing in energy-efficient lighting systems, Preuss Pets aquatics manager Steve Oberg calculates how much their current setup is costing per month in electricity and compares it to an upgraded system. He then determines how long it will take to pay for itself.
It’s a sales strategy that works well, Preuss said.
"The better lighting system usually pays for itself in two to four years,” he said. "Plus, the bulb replacements alone can cost up to $500 over five years.”
To promote LED lighting systems, Eigenbode first suggested that retailers understand how customers are interacting with their tanks.
"Retailers need to understand how consumers like interacting with their aquarium more when they can produce very cool, dynamic lighting effects,” he said. "It’s now a very simple, inexpensive technology.”
Eigenbode also recommended that retailers stay on top of the technology’s ongoing evolution.
"LED lighting technology changes very quickly, similar to a mobile phone,” he said. "So they really need to stay informed through online websites and trade shows of the latest technology.”
Finally, Eigenbode said retailers should showcase LEDs in-store.
"The best way to highlight an LED light is to display it with an aquarium,” he said. "Allowing the customer to play with the wireless remote, interact with the light and see its effects is an easy way to sell the lights.”
Aquarium pumps churning water around and in and out of a tank certainly consume energy, but pump manufacturers have moved toward designs with lower speeds that use fewer watts, reported industry experts.
One big reason: moving water with propellers rather than impellers, which allow fishkeepers to move larger volumes of water at a lower velocity.
"The pumps that run the water in and out of the cabinet, for instance, are smaller because the wave systems are moving water from side to side rather than up and down,” Preuss said. "Before this technology, we sold 50 or so powerheads a month. Now, we’re not selling any—but we are selling 30 to 50 wave circulators a month.”
Pumps that run at lower speeds mean lower watt consumption, said Chris Gunter, president of ReeFlo Pumps in Colorado Springs, Colo.
"Many aquarium pumps spin at 3,450 rpms,” he said. "This high speed allows for a more compact design and higher head pressures. However, the spin also results in geometrically higher watt draws. Our pumps spin at 1,725 rpms, and this lower speed results in watt consumption that is nearly half of the comparable high speed pumps.”
ReeFlo’s Dart pump, for example, is capable of pumping about 3,000 gallons per hour at five feet of head, but it consumes about 160 watts, according to Gunter. High-speed pumps, on the other hand, will produce about 2,000 gallons per hour but consume 365 watts.
"The difference in watt draw results in electric charge savings of approximately $200 annually,” he said. "In addition, the low speed results in quieter, cooler and longer-lasting motors.”
Another energy-efficient trend in aquarium pumps: allowing aquarists to control the flow, Eigenbode added.
"We also see more retailers and hobbyists moving toward 24VDC controllable pumps,” he said. "They are extremely energy efficient, and being able to control the flow of your pump is very popular.”
Gunter said that by allowing fishkeepers to match their pump’s power to their needs, these hybrid or controllable pumps will save electricity.
"Too much power (flow and pressure) is a waste of electricity,” he said. "Throttling back the flow of a pump that is too powerful does little to cut electricity use, which is why we include two different size impellers in our hybrid pumps. This allows the user to choose between two different flow rates and electricity draws by simply changing the impeller. A smaller impeller equals less drag on motor spin, which equals lower watt draw.”
To promote these energy-efficient pumps, Gunter first recommended that retailers understand how much energy they use and communicate that to their customers.
"Every electrical item has a label somewhere that shows the amp draw,” he said. "Retailers should become knowledgeable about the power draw of each major component to allow the customers to compare the costs and benefits.”
Product manufacturers can be a great source of information—and retailers should use them as a resource, Gunter added.
"Retailers should request technical information from product manufacturers and have it handy to bring value-added services,” he said.
Finally, Gunter suggested retailers contact their local electricity company for power usage charts and help customers understand how to calculate the cost of operating their fresh- or saltwater aquarium.
"Local electric companies will provide charts showing power costs and how to convert usage into energy costs,” he said. "Use these to make a sheet showing the annual cost of running each major component that you sell.”
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