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Heat gradients and UGH

For the last 10 years, I have listened to the discussions about heating
cables, convective currents and the problems of "cold feet" of plants.
(those discussions even precede the APD<g>).  Several times I have
considered installing cables in one of my tanks. The closest I came was a
40 gallon tank using the Randall/Christensen UG plate, lift tubes and 7.5
watt heaters. After a year, I tore that tank down because I did not see a
noticeable difference. (anyone want 2 goldfish bowl heaters?) <g>. I still
would love to try heating cables -- to see if my plant growth can be
improved (hard to believe, but possible<g>). It could also help with
long-term tank stability and algae avoidance, but I am not disciplined
enough to use daily fertilizer, so my occasional screwups and neglect would
interfere with any such long-term experiment. I even have a brand new
commercial set with a transformer for a 40-50 gallon tank in one of my
closets. The real reason for not ever trying cables, however,  is that I
live in the South and during the summer, it is just TOO DAMN HOT. My tank
room stays several degrees warmer than the rest of the house, and the tanks
on the top rack can be in the mid to high 80's. I can't afford to have more
heat in those tanks. I have talked to some UGH beleivers who have installed
chillers, just to allow the use of UGH. To me that is an expense I can't
yet justify. Other people have suggested discontinuing it during the summer
which is a non-starter or running it for as little as 1-hr per day (this is
what some people told me about in Taiwan). From George's experience, I do
not doubt that UGH is useful and the right amount of heat is important. [I
would like to hear more if it helps with some plants more than others.]

Over the years I have actually been using another method to keep my
substrates warm. I have mentioned this before and it may already be in  the
FAQ, but it is easier to waste some more bandwidth that take the minute to
look for it <g>. First approach: I use 1/2 inch thermax insulation board
under the tank. I also use it on the back. THose are the 2 biggests
surfaces for heat loss, and this approach can save heating bucks in the
winter.  My tanks are on open metal frames, so this is easy to install
after the tank is in place... but it can also be done on any stand....
something people may do anyway to help cushion a large tank. The second and
probably more important approach: I have some plant tanks sitting directly
over the lighting  of another tank. The bulbs are generating heat which is
directly heating the substrate. I have never measured gradients, but it HAS
TO make the substrate warmer. So maybe I have some sort of UGH heating on
some of my tanks?? However, I don't have UGH or even insulation on other
tanks, and I am not dissapointed in those results either. As a footnote,
let me say that Takashi Amano does not use UGH.... at least he did not in
1995/6. He personally told me that his stainless steel undergravel plate
was designed only for aesthetic purposes - to assist with terracing AND to
conceal heaters. I took one home as a souvenier along with some neat
Japanese heating elements which use external thermostats. All are still in
their boxes. <g>. Other Amano-like aquatic plant fanciers in Japan also do
not use UGH. In fact one, does not use any heat and allows the temps in his
tanks to cycle up and down  (as in nature). Go figure <g>.

So the bottom line is that while UGH very well may make a difference (and
may give the techno-geeks a lot of pleasure and something to write about on
the APD) it would be the VERY LAST THING I would consider adding to a
setup... especially if it was my first large plant tank. To the newbies and
others without a lot of extra cash: you can have very nice success without