Aquarium AC Control

Aquarium AC Control

White Board
White Board – Skimmer is relocated from what is shown here along with changes in type and number of controlled devices. But hey, ya gotta start somewhere. Everything starts off as a thought. An idea in the mind. From there it grows.


Well, the way I look at it is that it’s hard to build a computer controlled aquarium if there isn’t something to control. To fix this, I had to decide what I wanted to control.

      1. Well, there is the main pump. Most aquarium main pumps run 24/7, so do I really want to turn it on and off? Next to the lights, it draws the most current. So when is a valid time that one would want to turn off the main pump? If I had that ability, 99.9999% of the time the pump relay would be energized to keep the pump running. I searched my memory of my last half a dozen reef tanks or so, and for the life of me, couldn’t remember any time that it would have been of any benefit to have the pump switched off. Okay… pump stays on. One less thing on the list.
      2. Lights. Now we’re on to something. I remember I had one of those little timers that had a big round dial and it would turn on the lights at 7am and off at 10pm. So lights are on the list. My plan is it have three circuits. One will be for the “morning/evening lights and another for the noon. I plan to also add a small “moon” light to the system. This is actually an extra benefit since all the lights won’t be surging on and off at the same time, it will allow for a little less load on the switching circuit since it will be distributed over three instead of just one.
      3. Heaters. I have two. These little jewels have their own little temperature settings but I could run them full blast and let the computer do it using the water temperature sensor in the tank. If I’m paranoid, I could set the temp setting on the heater to less than full on and let it become a fail safe.
      4. UV Sterilizer. Frankly, I’m new to UV sterilizers and read that during night-night time, they can be switched off along with the protein skimmer. I don’t know about this, but it will get on the list and I can play around with it.

      5. ProteinSkimmerDiagProtein Skimmer. Protein skimmers are cool. They are wildly misunderstood even by me. Basically what I can derive from reading and watching it is that it froths up a sample of the tank water sorta like the foam on the shore at the beach. This froth contains proteins from the tank riding on the froth bubbles. These bubbles ooze over into a collection cup and are discarded. The brown smelly goo it removes from my aquarium has made a believer outta me. SO it is on the list of things to control.
      6. Top-off Tank. I have added something totally new this time around. It will requite two list items. To top off a saltwater aquarium, you do not add saltwater, but fresh water. When water sits around in anything for a while, it can become stale, stagnant and stinky. So one thing on the list to control would be an aerator to keep the water as fresh as I can. I do this by turning on air stones in the tank to bubble to keep the water moving and to add air to the water. according to what I’ve read, this could happen once a week at night or when people are away.
        The other control is obvious. We will read a sensor and turn on a little pump to add the water in the top-off tank to the main tank.
      7. Air Bubbles. What would an aquarium be without some bubbles coming up from the bottom.  Many thoughts would drift to a treasure chest opening and closing or some sort of little wheel turning. In most aquariums adding the air bubbles help oxygenate the water in the tank, but with a wet/dry filtration system like I have, the tank water gets plenty of oxygen through the filter so bubbles are pretty much aesthetics. But… I like em. And I will add them to the list of things we can turn on and off. :)
      8. Powerhead pumpPowerheads. Powerheads are small water pumps that can be placed inside the tank to direct water flow. They are instrumental in a mini-reef tank because they allow you to recreate water turbulence such as currents and waves. I plan to have two even though it’s only a 55 gallon tank. All my other aquariums only had one, so this will be something for me to play with. My idea is to have one high in the tank (waves) and another lower down to create a water current. My original plan only included one but having two may end up being too much, we’ll see.
      9. Chiller. Although at this time I do not have any room left to add a chiller, this may be something I will have to do to maintain the water temperature down the road. So I’m adding it to the list now to prepare, just in case. What is a Chiller? Chillers are just that. They are some sort of unit that will cool or chill the tank water if it becomes too warm. A chiller can be anything from a full blown refrigerator to a box with ice in it. I’ve seen where one guy built one simply out of some tubing in a box with a fan blowing air through and around the tubing. What you need depends largely on how much water you need to chill and how fast you need to get the temperature down along with what you are willing to pay.
Rack Mount Power Strip Front
I particularly liked this one since it has “MOR-PSH” on the front

I had to get some kind of control that would respond to the computer so I could turn on and off different items. I looked at many different options. There were big mega-buck AC controllers to simple little ones. But according to my plans, I needed twelve or so individually switched AC receptacles.

I looked all around on eBay and various other places and didn’t find exactly what I wanted. I decided that I liked the nineteen inch rack idea from one of the pages I looked at, so I definitely was leaning that direction, but since I wasn’t finding what I wanted, I endeared to remain “flexible.”

What I did find was a couple of rack mount power strips that had ten receptacles on the back. The units seemed deep enough to add the relays that the Arduino will control. I decided to outfit one with switches on all ten outlets and only eight on the other leaving two receptacles ‘HOT’ one for the pump that I decided to not switch and another for the Arduino since it doesn’t make any sense to turn it off. I do plan some sort of backup power for parts of the system in case of trouble.

So…what’s the total count so far?

  • 3 – Lights.
  • 2 – Heaters.
  • 1 – Sterilizer.
  • 1 – Protein skimmer.
  • 2 – Top-Off tank.
  • 2 – Air pumps.
  • 2 – Powerheads.
  • 1 – Chiller.

Grand total of fourteen switched AC receptacles needed.

As you can see I don’t have a need for twenty switched receptacles or eighteen for that matter. But it won’t hurt anything to have some extras. I might use one to automatically feed the tank and another to periodically dose the tank with vitamins or something. Who knows?


Click here to see how I modified the power strips to allow Arduino control.

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