Nano Tank Heater Module (56K)
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Old 03-02-2010, 12:35 AM   #1
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Nano Tank Heater Module (56K)

Ive posted this on another forum so if this is a repeat for you I apologize. But I wanted to post it here because I want to use some of this as an example for some other DIY projects and wasnt sure about posting links to other forums.
I find planted Nano tanks very intriguing yet when viewing the various photos of tanks that are posted Im always disturbed by all the equipment stuck inside the tank. Especially the great big honking heater!!

Ive played around with a couple of these tanks, the first being the 3 gallon Picotope and currently the 4 gallon Finnex and my new 1 foot Cube tank. I see where they make smaller light fixtures, HOB filters and even small canister filters (Im using the ZooMed 501). But why cant they make a small 2 or 3 heater that would be easy to conceal in the tank. I know the technology is out there but Id guess that the demand is not great enough. So those of us with Nano tanks that need heaters have to put a great big honking heater it the tank and try somehow to hide part or most of it. Ive purchased at least four different 25-50 watt heaters in the quest to find that perfect one for a Nano tank. So lets start there and then Ill show you how I hope to get it out of the tank.

The best heater that Ive found for a Nano tank is the 50W Catalina Aquariums Titanium heater. This heater is the smallest one that Ive found that also gives you complete control of the temperature. There are some small heaters out there that are preset and you dont have any control over the tank temp, but I wanted that control. This heater is only about 5 long and a little over in diameter. The temperature dial is integrated into the plug so there is no knob to twist in the tank. Ive found that once set this heater is very accurate but the temperature is not exactly what you read on the dial, its usually within a degree or two. So this is the heater that will be the subject of my DIY.

DIY Building a Nano Tank Heater Module

Lets start with the materials that Im using for this project. Most center around 2 PVC fitting that you should be able to purchase and any large hardware store such as Lowes or Home Depot. Ill provide a link for the parts that I couldnt get from my local stores.

Materials list one each required unless noted:
2 PVC coupling (slip/slip)
2 PVC plug (slip)
2 PVC Male Adaptor (slip/threaded)
2 PVC Cap (threaded)
2 PVC pipe (only needed a 3 long piece)
3/8 x Nylon hose barb elbow, the barbed end fits OD tubing and the threaded end is male pipe thread. You will need two of these.
Heyco M4516 Liquid Tight Cordgrip,, I ordered mine from a local distributor, cost 45 cents each.
4 small zip ties
Medium bodied PVC cement
Aquarium safe Silicone Sealer
Teflon tape

First I glued the PVC plug into one end of the PVC coupling. I use lots of the PVC cement on both surfaces and slide the joint together a far as it can go. I use paper towels to immediately wipe off all excess glue both inside and outside.

Next I drilled with a 7/16 bit I drill three holes; two located in the PVC cap and one in the side of the PVC coupling/plug. Youll have to use the pictures as a guide as I didnt measure these except to be sure that there was clearance on the cap for both threaded fittings. These holes were then tapped with a pipe tap which I found at the hardware store for about $5.00. I just got the tap lined up straight and turned it with an adjustable crescent wrench. Taps are designed to be used with an oil lubricant so I just used some vegetable oil because I knew I could clean it easily with soap and water.

Once the holes were tapped and all the oil was washed off I installed the three threaded fittings. I applied a small amount of the Aquarium Silicone to the threads and then threaded the fitting into the holes as far as theyd go. Be sure not to cross thread or go too far and strip the threads. I figured when cured the silicone would form a water proof thread lock. For the cap be sure to install the barbed elbow before the cord grip, if you do it the other way youll quickly find out why.

Next I glued the 3 section of PVC pipe into the other side of the coupling, again being sure to wipe off all the excess glue. The glued the male adaptor onto that whole assembly. Check out the next two pictures to see where Im at.

Now I move on to the fun part; the cord grip fitting has a hole through it and I need to get either the heater through it or the plug though it. Ive seen other heater module DIYs where they buy a cord grip that is large enough for the heater tube but when I started thinking about this project I was thinking on keeping the size smaller. So I only had two ways to get that cord though the cord grip. One would be to cut the cord and thread it through and then splice the wires in the right order back together. I looked at this method; there were four wires in the cord, a black, a white and two red one. Id have to keep track of the red ones to be sure to get them back together the same as they were before the cut. Not hard, could be done, but would look like a cord that was cut and spliced.

Option 2 (the one I took), disassemble and reassemble. The plastic enclosure around the plug is translucent and I could see that it was not glued together and that there were four solder joints to the printed circuit board. Ive got a little electronics skills and a decent soldering iron so it came down to being able to open the plastic plug enclosure. I donned the 3X reading glasses and went at figuring out how to pop open the two halves of the enclosure. With some careful squeezing and prying I was able to get the case apart without any damage at all.

Just to put this all in perspective just a little bit, before I jumped into this project and purchased all the fittings I first figured out that I could get the enclosure open. So really this would be the first step.

Once open I quickly marked the wires and circuit board for their locations. A digital camera and inkjet printer are a big help when doing this. Then de-soldered the four wires and removed the wire guard which proved to not be all that easy.

I found that using a very small screwdriver and an ice pick helped to loosen it up so I could slide it off the cable. Once off a big sigh of relief, just had to push the wire through the cord grip (in the right direction of course) and reassemble in the reverse order. If you do this you must be very careful with the re-soldering as it just takes a tiny bit of solder. Plus be sure that you have the wires in the correct location.

Now to keep the heater relatively in the center of the module, this was easy at the top because the cord coming through the cap would keep it there. For the bottom, zip ties! Take a look at the pictures below, I put four of them together and then just tightened the one around the bottom of the heater and trimmed to the length so that the heater would stay near the center of the module.

At this point I just need to let the PVC glue and silicone cure before the water test. If that goes well then it will be hooked up to a tank. Stay tuned. . . More to come

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Old 03-02-2010, 12:41 AM   #2
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The next step is the water test. First to make sure there are no leaks and second to test the heating ability of the module. No better place to test than on the living room carpet behind the couch. Of course if you are not sure of yourself Id recommend testing in the bath tub or on a floor that doesnt matter if it gets wet. I was pretty sure of the seal and all so I wanted to test where I could get some decent pictures.

So first I wrapped the big threads on the male adaptor with Teflon thread seal tape. Commonly in the plumbing section of your hardware store and simply referred to as Teflon tape. About 4 or 5 wraps covering all the threads is all it takes. Wrap nice and smooth and I like to go in clockwise direction, the same direction as when I screw on the cap. Caution, do not overwrap and have too much build up of the tape, just 4 or 5 wraps around will do fine.

Next I simply screwed on the cap assembly with the heater installed in it. I only tightened this as tight as I could by hand. No need to over tighten with humongous pliers or wrenches, just really good hand tight will do.

For the test I used a 5 gallon bucket of water, a small water pump, and tubing the same size as will be used in the final install. I hooked it all up as in the pictures below and plugged in the water pump. In about 30 seconds the module had filled and water was flowing. No leaks, YAY!!

I waited 20 minutes or so, still no leaks so plugged in the heater, no sparks, no shock when I put my hand in the water, and the pilot light came on. All good so now to test if it heats and holds the temperature steady. The temperature of the water started out at 65 degrees Fahrenheit and now after about three hours is at 70 degrees. I set the dial on 74 so will see if it gets there and then of course holds the temp constant. I ran this test for several days both raising and lowering the temperature and found that I have a working DIY heater module. Here are the testing pictures:

If everything goes well for the next couple days the next step will be to hook it up to the ZooMed 501 and the tank.

Everything did go well and the heater module has been hooked up to my 4 gallon Finnex tank for about a month now. I've made a second module for my new cube tank and it is working great also. I haven't had time to get pictures yet but will in the next several days.
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Old 03-02-2010, 12:45 AM   #3
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What a cute little inline heater
Pretty cool stuff. Well done.
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Old 03-02-2010, 01:22 AM   #4
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Very nicely done.
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Old 03-02-2010, 10:14 PM   #5
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Nicely done and great DIY instructions!

I have a couple of these heaters and definitely recommend them although mine need to be calibrated (both are several degress optimistic).
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Edge Tuning: 26W lighting conversion - concealed pressurized CO2 - HOB CO2 injection - nano HOB heater - lunar lights
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Old 04-13-2010, 10:28 PM   #6
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very nice!
good instructions too
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Old 04-15-2010, 06:43 AM   #7
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Thanks guys, I've made another one of these just a little bit taller and added in a glass CO2 diffuser. It seems to be working great so far. I'll have pictures in about a week, I've had to go out of town for a few days.
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Old 07-28-2010, 05:10 AM   #8
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G'day mate. Fantastic idea and execution here, very cool!

I'm currently setting up a nano cube for a shrimp only tank at the moment and already have an Eden 501 filter which i think is what the call the ZooMed's over here in Aus. Just wondering how it goes all hooked in terms of flow and if you've lost any/much?

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Old 07-28-2010, 05:13 AM   #9
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Hey, Dean. How's the inline ceramic diffuser holding up for you?
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Old 11-29-2010, 04:57 AM   #10
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Has anybody thought of combining an inline heater and a CO2 reactor into one?
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