Simple DIY Heater Failsafe.....? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 03:10 PM Thread Starter
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Simple DIY Heater Failsafe.....?

No, I haven't built one yet. I am looking for some Guidance.......before I burn the house down!

this thread has got me thinking:

bad-heaters-am-i-only-one

I have used dimmer switches to control heat lights and heat pads/strips for yrs with reptiles. I am doing it now.

The wiring is simple, so I'm just wondering about the actual functioning of the Aquarium Heaters themselves.......?

Some Dimmer Switches are only made for "Light"-type of applications--In other words, they are NOT Safe to be used with motorized objects such as ceiling fans, etc.

Any body know that much about the Type-of-Electrical draw that an Aquarium Heater uses?

I think it would work. Set the Dimmer Switch (with Heater full-on) for 3-5F above Your Set-point and then adjust the Heater itself down to your set-point. Heater should click on and off normally, but if it fails on---the dimmer switch will limit the electric going in and therefore the temp. The heater may receive less electricity, because of the dimmer switch--but it will just run longer and draw less watts....

Any Thoughts on this........?


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Last edited by Naja002; 10-18-2006 at 08:09 PM.
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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 03:24 PM
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That's a very simple heater controller.

The commercial models have a temperature probe in the tank/sump and turn the heater on/off as needed. Many of them can control two devices. Heaters and chillers.
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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 03:54 PM Thread Starter
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Hi Rex,

I'm assuming:

Quote:
That's a very simple heater controller.
Means You think it would work....? And be Safe???

I am currently using the Via Aqua Titanium and Stainless Steel Heaters. I found some Not-So-Positive Reviews about them---failing full-on. They have the External Probe and External Heater setting/controller. The controller is simply full-on/full-off. They maintain very stable temps and work Great! But now I am very concerned with a Full-on failure.

I have built quite a few of these dimmer switches for about $6 over the yrs. They normally handle about 600w max, if memory serves. One between the wall outlet and the heater controller should do the trick. My main question is the Safety Factor......

Anybody know if an aquarium heater is just a heat-emitting light bulb?


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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 04:22 PM
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Theoratically it might work. Will it? Not sure. Would you want to run the risk of killing fish/plants due to improper temps to test it? Heater controllers are you safest bet if you're really concerned about failing heaters. Luckily for me, over 10 years of the aquarium hobby, the only heater that failed on be was the glass one I broke on tank as I was tearing it down many years ago. Other than than, all my current glass, stainless steel, titanium, and inline heaters work like a champ.


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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 04:54 PM Thread Starter
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Other than than, all my current glass, stainless steel, titanium, and inline heaters work like a champ.
I agree. Over the last on and off 30+yrs I have never had a failure either. But right now, I have probably getting close to $1K invested in my A. javanicus---not including the countless hrs of Thought and Work, and the difficulty in replacing the animal. Also are my Chinese watersnakes which are common in their native habitat, but extremely difficult(at best) to find outside of there.


Quote:
Would you want to run the risk of killing fish/plants due to improper temps to test it?
Dimmer Switch, 5g bucket, 2g of water, thermometer and a cheap heater. I already have all 5 and I am going to test it. BUT, because I don't know if these dimmer switches are "Safe" with an Aquarium heater---I will only be able to test it initially--when I am around to supervise it. Which will be quite a bit today and tomorrow, then it will go on-hold until next week.

Still looking for the Knowledge:

Anybody know if an aquarium heater is just a heat-emitting light bulb?


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Last edited by Naja002; 10-18-2006 at 07:48 PM.
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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 04:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Naja002 View Post
Anybody know if an aquarium heater is just a heat-emitting light bulb?
Actually It's more like a toaster, or the heating coils on hair dryer.
I'm pretty sure it's nothing more than a controlled short.

Walter

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--May the floor under your tank always be dry, and your glass clear!!!
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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 05:01 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
I'm pretty sure it's nothing more than a controlled short.
Ok, so is that the same principle of an incandescent light bulb?

A toaster I don't know about. But a Blow Dyer has the Blower Motor, so It would not be safe.....Just a thought.


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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 06:10 PM
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You don't have to worry about using heaters with dimmers. No problem at all. It is just a resistive load, a wire with a particular resistance, just like Taz described.

However, I am confused by your term "dimmer switch". The dimmer will regulate the voltage (and therefore, the wattage) of your heater. So if you have a 300W heater, and put it on a dimmer, it might turn into a 100W heater. There is no "switch" part at all, and this would have nothing to do with a controller (as your title implies). If your heater thermostat fails, your tank will still overheat, just on a slower rate, and max out at a lower temperature.

Temperature controller prices have come down considerably, for about $30 you can get some additional peace of mind...


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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 06:27 PM
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I have a controller for my reptiles that woud work. It works on a thermostat I guess you could set it to the MAX you wantthe tank to goto if the heater failed... I'm sure this is how the regular controllers work as stated above. I also have an industrial one made by "Ranco" (you have to do all the wiring.)that will do the same thing... Not sure how many tanks it could control though...

Steve X.
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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 06:44 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
However, I am confused by your term "dimmer switch". The dimmer will regulate the voltage (and therefore, the wattage) of your heater. So if you have a 300W heater, and put it on a dimmer, it might turn into a 100W heater. There is no "switch" part at all, and this would have nothing to do with a controller (as your title implies). If your heater thermostat fails, your tank will still overheat, just on a slower rate, and max out at a lower temperature.
"Dimmer Switch" isn't my term---its just what they are called. And You're right: There is no "Switch".

Quote:
So if you have a 300W heater, and put it on a dimmer, it might turn into a 100W heater.
Right, so if a Tank has a 300w heater, but really only needs a 100w heater, set according to my description--it would become, say a 125w heater by the dimmer switch. When the heater kicks on by the heater thermostat--it will run at 125w. Then off again when the thermostat reads the cut-off temp. So, in theory, you would be running a 300w heater at 125w on a tank that only needs 100w to maintain your set-point temp. And the dimmer would restrict the wattage to the 125w.

My Theory is this:

My A. javanicus temp is set at 84F. I calibrate the heaters/dimmer switch with the heaters full on to 90F (the snake can handle 90F). Once I determine where the dimmer switch setting is that maintains a max temp of 90F with the heaters full-on--I secure that setting with a simple piece of scotch tape (done it with reptile dimmers many times before--works Great).

Than I leave the dimmer set and taped and reduce the heaters to 84F. They kick on and off normally as they are originally designed---until there is a full-on failure. At that time, the dimmer is still limiting the electric supply to output only enough energy to heat the tank to 90F.

The biggest problem here is setting the dimmer. It would be setup specific and would have to be calibrated in place on the system. I cannot use 400w of heaters in a 5g bucket and then transfer the "Calibrated" setup to the tank. It would have to be setup---in place. But I can raised the temps to 86-87F for calibration--NP. That would give me an even larger over-heat buffer.

Have ya got any links to some decent controllers in the $30 range, besides the Otto in the other thread? The ones I found were $50-$200+........


Quote:
I have a controller for my reptiles that woud work. It works on a thermostat I guess you could set it to the MAX you wantthe tank to goto if the heater failed... I'm sure this is how the regular controllers work as stated above. I also have an industrial one made by "Ranco" (you have to do all the wiring.)that will do the same thing... Not sure how many tanks it could control though...
Hi Steve,

Thanx for the info. I have a couple of Helix proportional controllers left over from the reptile days. I am looking for something inexpensive and effective---key word being inexpensive. I can build a Dimmer module like above with a niffty sliding switch for probably $10--and I already have some from when I started building racks, because I was going to get back into reptile breeding about 3-4yrs ago. I also have the junction boxes, extension cords, etc. and I have a rotary dimmer module already setup not being used. There's lots of options, but it comes down to $$$$$$$

My Helix were about $100 each, not including options.....


BTW, a proportional controller is basically just a dimmer that is controlled by a microchip. It just adjusts the wattage up and down until the correct amount is located. When the environment changes in a way that affects the temp(summer/winter)---the PPC just adjusts the wattage up and down again until it locates the correct amount again.


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post #11 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 07:09 PM
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The Helix is roughly the same as teh Ranco... Yes, Expensive! The "Dimmer switch" I dea prolly isn't the best for the situation... There is no way to monitor the temp in the tank for it to shut down. As stated earlier, if the thermostat in your heater kicks, it will still over heat your tank! Just at a slower rate. I had one heater already do this to me. Luckily, I was there & saw the Temp had gone up to 85deg. Since then I have bought a Won Bros Titanium heater & have not had a problem since!

Steve X.
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post #12 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 07:32 PM Thread Starter
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As stated earlier, if the thermostat in your heater kicks, it will still over heat your tank!
Ok, Sorry, but Your not getting it.......

Its simple physics. It takes X amount of energy to heat X amount of water to an X temp located in X environment.

The numbers themselves are not correct, but follow along anyway:

Example: 200w Heater

If it takes 100w to heat your 20g to 79F in your living room with the A/c set at 76F--then it takes 100W. Period.

If it takes 150w to heat your same 20g to 85F in your living room with the A/c set at 76F--then it takes 150W. Period.

So, you add a Dimmer on a 200w aquarium heater. The Heater is set to Full-On (200w). The Dimmer is used to decrease the wattage to 150w(=85F). Then the the aquarium heater is taken off of its Highest setting (Full-On) and set to the temp you seek (79F=100w). The heater runs normally, on/off, on/off, on/off maintaining your 79F---until it fails=then it runs at Full-On which is limited by the dimmer to 150w (not 200w) and temps climb to 85F.

X amount of energy out (environment) requires X amount of energy in (heater) to maintain a stable temp.

Quote:
I dea prolly isn't the best for the situation...
Your Right, but the Best are expensive.......


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post #13 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 08:00 PM
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IF you look at it that way (environment being constant temp) then you are right, Period. But, most heaters with temp control are used in an environment of changing temperatures. If your room cools down to 65F at night, then maybe the dimmed heater will not be able to keep the temps in your tank steady. Or, if someone turns off the a/c, it will still overheat the tank, IF the heater control fails.

Here is one for $38 (the one without display), with a little patience you can probably dig one up on sale/ebay for a bit less.


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post #14 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 08:42 PM Thread Starter
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Ok, I changed the Title from "Controller" to "Failsafe", because, Your Right, that's what this is about: Failsafe.

Quote:
If your room cools down to 65F at night, then maybe the dimmed heater will not be able to keep the temps in your tank steady.
You're Absolutely Right. But something as simple as tossing in an extra 50w heater for the winter isn't that big of a deal.....Also, minor adjustments for summer/winter with corresponding marks for future reference are easily accomplished over time. I do this now for the 2 non-aquatic snakes that I have that have heat pads/strips.

Quote:
Or, if someone turns off the a/c, it will still overheat the tank, IF the heater control fails.
You're Right again. But I can get struck by lighting on a clear day without a cloud in the sky....so I'm missing the point. Many things can happen. Hoppy is/was/has worked out mixing hot and cold water for his auto-water change system. But what happens when someone takes a shower? Flushes the toilet? Does Laundry? Runs the Dishwasher? There are more real issues with that, than here (not about affect, but the theory behind it). Many things are possible.

My thoughts are based on what I consider to be an average household in the USA, most of which have heat and a/c. And upon responsible aquarium owners that live in a functioning household where the members work together. And Most importantly for me: My Household and My particular setup.

I've emailed Levitron and AquaticEco. AquaticEco responded and said that the aquarium heater is like a toaster with a thermostat. I emailed them back to find out if that is the same concept as an incandescent light bulb.

Thanx for the link! My first question would be: Is it On/Off or Proportional? At that Price its on/off. So, in order to get the heater to work, one would need to set the heater above the controller. If the controller fails--the heater thermostat would save the day--in theory anyway. But the risk of complete failure would be low.

2 x $38=$76. 2 x $10=$20= $56 savings. But I already have everything, so out-of-pockect-expense for me=$0=$76 savings.

I've used these dimmers with heat sources for many yrs. I understand the ins-n-outs. The main difference is that reptiles can move away from the heat source--Aquatic animals can't. But over-heating is a big issue in the reptile world also. My only issue is whether they are safe to use with aquarium heaters.......

I'm not and never have been of the perspective that this is 100% "Failsafe". But it might save a setup, or buy enough extra hrs to save it......that's all. Even a High-End Proportional controller isn't a Failsafe--if the house burns down--the aquarium is still gunna overheat.....


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post #15 of 20 (permalink) Old 10-18-2006, 09:39 PM
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Right, it's just on/off, like Rancos ETC.

I have done what you are describing for a couple of years with my 100gal tank. I used a cable heater (it broke for some reason, so now I have a totally useless cable in my tank) on a dimmer, which was on a timer. The cable was 300W, and I dimmed it down to 30 or 40W, and the timer would turn it on in the evenings, and off again the next morning. Room temps would go down over night to about 65F, and the cable would keep the temps in the tank very even between November and March. Rest of the year no heater necessary.

But my household doesn't feature A/C, so if the temps in your house are even more even, you could skip the timer. Or, if lights heat up your tank, you could use the timer to turn on the heater only during the night. Many ways.


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