Budget dual stage CO2 regulator build - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-22-2019, 06:29 AM Thread Starter
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Budget dual stage CO2 regulator build

I've been researching for hours trying to get all this straight. I'm trying to work out a budget dual stage CO2 setup, but I'm a bit overwhelmed by all the options. Here's my current understanding:

In the case of regulators made for aquariums, like this GLA model, the term "regulator" is used to mean the regulator body (component that drops from tank pressure to working pressure), solenoid, needle valve, and bubble counter. If you buy an aquarium regulator, you're good to go - all you need is hoses and a diffuser/reactor.

Strictly speaking though, the regulator is just the regulator body (component that drops from tank pressure to working pressure), although it often also includes gauges to show tank and/or working pressure. Industrial regulators, like this one, use this terminology.

If you buy an industrial regulator, you need to also buy the solenoid, needle valve, and bubble counter, along with some various fittings. All these components except the bubble counter can be found as a "post-body kit", or everything can be bought separately. People talk about "building" regulators all the time, but making a DIY regulator is really just a factor of screwing all these components together. You're not actually buying a regulator housing, springs, diaphragms, etc., and building the regulator itself (regulator body?).

Am I correct so far, or do I have that wrong?

The first option is to buy a pre-assembled aquarium regulator. This is most expensive, but easiest. It can be cheap as $150 for this very questionable dual-stage model, but more realistically you're looking at about $500 like for the previously-linked GLA model.

Alternatively, as @jeffkrol suggested to me in another thread, you can buy a nice, new, dual-stage regulator for $200, add in $90 for a post-body kit, $10 for a CGA-320 nut and nipple (if reg isn't already this thread), and probably $10 more for a bubble counter. For just over $300, you have a DIY regulator that should be superior to GLA's $500 unit. (?)

Next, you can do the above but with a used regulator. There are so many different models I don't even know where to start, but I'm reading you can find them for $50-$100 on fleabay. That brings you in at $150-$200 for the whole setup, but finding a good used regulator can be tricky.

I found this extremely-helpful post which gives some guidance to finding a used regulator. I've also read to beware of regs with gauges that don't read zero when disconnected, as this indicates damage.
Quote:
Originally Posted by kevmo911 View Post
It's really hard to be specific about what models will work, and what won't. Generally, you want a max outlet puressure in the 45-100 range (which is complicated by the fact that stock LP gauges will show a 50-100% higher range than the max pressure). Looking for a gauge that reads 60-200 is usually safe, assuming the gauge hasn't been replaced. The inlet nipple and nut can be replaced, and are generally 1/4" NPT, though certain older models use 1/2-27 threads, not a big deal, you can find them.

Common models:
Victor
HPT/GPT 270/272
VTS 250/450 (200 and 400 are very old models)
Concoa
212/312/315/332/412/432, followed by 2 or 3 as the next number (that's the outlet pressure digit)
Airgas
Y12/E12
Matheson
8
3121/3122
3104
3800 (old, and I've had bad luck with these SS models)
Harris
GP402
9296
55850 (VWR, but looks to be identical to 9296 + handle)

Those are some more common ones. There are lots of others. Further complicating matters is that retail companies often rebrand manufacturers' products, putting their sticker on the handle. Even further complicating matters is that sometimes these rebranding companies change the model numbers.

Harris/Fisher/Smith/Scott/Matheson is the same manufacturer.
So is Concoa/Praxair.
And the others all have aliases as well.

Anyway, that should give you enough choices to pick something workable and cheap. No need to spend more than $100 shipped.

Bump: One other thing - the VTS450 and 3104C are really big. They work fine, but they're just massive.
Another thing - most older Mathesons, and the Victor VTS's are an odd, bulbous shape. The rest are longer and symmetrical.
Lastly, you could have someone build you a DIY regulator. I have no idea where that comes in cost-wise, and I'm guessing that's typically done to achieve a fully-loaded, ultra-premium regulator, not a budget model. I read that some members of the forum sell DIY regs, and I specifically saw a recommendation for @Joshism.


My BoM has me way over budget on my upcoming build, so I'd like to keep it under $200. I'm leaning toward the DIY, used regulator option - I feel like going with a quality, used dual-stage is a pretty reasonable compromise between a crappy single-stage and a fancy new dual-stage.

Is my understanding of all this right? I'd love to hear your corrections and suggestions.
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post #2 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-22-2019, 06:50 AM
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You got all of it right.

GLA has mixed reviews and the price is at the top end. One benefit of DIY is learning how it works. When something goes wrong (and it will) you can trouble shoot and fix it yourself, without having to wait days for a reply to an email / post with, too ofthen, clueless recommendations.
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post #3 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-22-2019, 07:11 AM
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Yup. Your understanding is quite correct. I have no doubt that you will be able to build your own given your ability to figure out everything that you have already. Used may be very gently used sometimes on fleabay. Just takes patience, a little practice identifying the good ones and a little luck to catch the right one that comes along for a good price.


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post #4 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-22-2019, 03:36 PM
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Generally all the above is correct but there is also some "added difficulty" at times and that very much depends on luck and how we are each setup for experience, tools and ability.
One tiny detail on buying a reg and changing the nipple and nut can get to a point that blows the whole deal. We have to be set to get the old nipple out and that can be easy or very nearly impossible. If you are the person setting in the living room floor, holding the reg between your legs, getting that nipple out can be a nightmare. I have a vise to clamp the reg, a wide variety of tools up to 14 inch pipe wrenches and I have had one that I finally ground out of the hole as it was not moving! If you pick up one of those, you can be just (--------)?
Point is to be realistic with yourself before committing.

Just to add mud to the water, I also like to mention the option of using a flowmeter, rather than a bubble counter as it does have some added value if you are running a tank that needs more bubbles per second than you can possibly count! Once past ten per second, forget counting what looks like a solid stream but with a flowmeter, you can get an actual number to refer to when checking or adjusting things.
One way to also save a few dollars is to find the parts involved in the "post body kit" and buy them off other sites like the auction.
But there is no one firm answer to fit us all. Know yourself, know the equipment, first before deciding?
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post #5 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-22-2019, 06:52 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks all for the advice.

Quote:
Originally Posted by OVT View Post
You got all of it right.

GLA has mixed reviews and the price is at the top end. One benefit of DIY is learning how it works. When something goes wrong (and it will) you can trouble shoot and fix it yourself, without having to wait days for a reply to an email / post with, too ofthen, clueless recommendations.
Yep, I'm a big believer in learning from DIY. Nice to be able to save some cash, too.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ipkiss View Post
Yup. Your understanding is quite correct. I have no doubt that you will be able to build your own given your ability to figure out everything that you have already. Used may be very gently used sometimes on fleabay. Just takes patience, a little practice identifying the good ones and a little luck to catch the right one that comes along for a good price.
Thanks. Any suggestions for which used regs to look for or avoid, or how to tell the good ones vs the bad ones?

Quote:
Originally Posted by PlantedRich View Post
Generally all the above is correct but there is also some "added difficulty" at times and that very much depends on luck and how we are each setup for experience, tools and ability.
One tiny detail on buying a reg and changing the nipple and nut can get to a point that blows the whole deal. We have to be set to get the old nipple out and that can be easy or very nearly impossible. If you are the person setting in the living room floor, holding the reg between your legs, getting that nipple out can be a nightmare. I have a vise to clamp the reg, a wide variety of tools up to 14 inch pipe wrenches and I have had one that I finally ground out of the hole as it was not moving! If you pick up one of those, you can be just (--------)?
Point is to be realistic with yourself before committing.

Just to add mud to the water, I also like to mention the option of using a flowmeter, rather than a bubble counter as it does have some added value if you are running a tank that needs more bubbles per second than you can possibly count! Once past ten per second, forget counting what looks like a solid stream but with a flowmeter, you can get an actual number to refer to when checking or adjusting things.
One way to also save a few dollars is to find the parts involved in the "post body kit" and buy them off other sites like the auction.
But there is no one firm answer to fit us all. Know yourself, know the equipment, first before deciding?
Thanks for the suggestions. I hadn't even thought about connections being that tight! I've budgeted for a whole list of tools for working on my car (finally moving into a place with a garage), so I'm fairly confident I can handle it, but it's good to know that possibility. (As an aside: have you ever tried an impact gun on one that's stuck?)

With potential issues in mind, is it still worth it to look for a used regulator body?

I've come across suggestions to use a flow meter, but I don't think my budget allows for it right now. Do you think my flowrate will be too high on a 64 to use a bubble counter?
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post #6 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-22-2019, 10:00 PM
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[QUOTE=

Thanks for the suggestions. I hadn't even thought about connections being that tight! I've budgeted for a whole list of tools for working on my car (finally moving into a place with a garage), so I'm fairly confident I can handle it, but it's good to know that possibility. (As an aside: have you ever tried an impact gun on one that's stuck?)

With potential issues in mind, is it still worth it to look for a used regulator body?

I've come across suggestions to use a flow meter, but I don't think my budget allows for it right now. Do you think my flowrate will be too high on a 64 to use a bubble counter?[/QUOTE]

An impact tool is not one I've tried and it might be something to break the bond that might have on some. Most of the time, it doesn't take too much but just a point to worry us about??? Good to prep/worry first rather than later. Heat is often my first thought for stuck metal but then the reg has a rubbery type diaphragm inside and I'm not sure I wanted to heat that part.
On used, I am not too terribly concerned but I like to look for those which are nice and shiny, like come out of a lab, hospital, etc. as the ones used in industry was where I got my education on regs and some of those I used are NOT the one to buy as we used them outside and they got flooded or frozen and thawed with torches and all manner of obscene abuse! Some shopping can turn up some real bargains on auction or industrial surplus sites. An hour or so of careful looking for bargains can turn up some real buys!
Pointer on reg shopping might be to find a specific model for sale at the right price and then go to the web to search out PSI that it can output and if adjustable. Too high PSI is not a problem but there may be some which are limited to 15 PSI, etc. and that can limit the value for us. Not a killer if using a reactor but just not as good value as one that can be adjusted higher.
I have used bubble counters on 75 gallon and it was "okay" but about the limit of how many bubbles to count but that also very much depends on small points like how much the plants are using and how much we are losing out the top with splashing from filters, etc. How many bubbles we put in is a combo of what we use as well as what we lose? Consider the Fluval inline bubble counter as a cheaper alternate than one mounted at the reg? One can actually make a bubble counter but I never got one that I did not want to spend the $8-9 to replace with something better!
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post #7 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-22-2019, 10:46 PM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PlantedRich View Post
An impact tool is not one I've tried and it might be something to break the bond that might have on some. Most of the time, it doesn't take too much but just a point to worry us about??? Good to prep/worry first rather than later. Heat is often my first thought for stuck metal but then the reg has a rubbery type diaphragm inside and I'm not sure I wanted to heat that part.
On used, I am not too terribly concerned but I like to look for those which are nice and shiny, like come out of a lab, hospital, etc. as the ones used in industry was where I got my education on regs and some of those I used are NOT the one to buy as we used them outside and they got flooded or frozen and thawed with torches and all manner of obscene abuse! Some shopping can turn up some real bargains on auction or industrial surplus sites. An hour or so of careful looking for bargains can turn up some real buys!
Pointer on reg shopping might be to find a specific model for sale at the right price and then go to the web to search out PSI that it can output and if adjustable. Too high PSI is not a problem but there may be some which are limited to 15 PSI, etc. and that can limit the value for us. Not a killer if using a reactor but just not as good value as one that can be adjusted higher.
I have used bubble counters on 75 gallon and it was "okay" but about the limit of how many bubbles to count but that also very much depends on small points like how much the plants are using and how much we are losing out the top with splashing from filters, etc. How many bubbles we put in is a combo of what we use as well as what we lose? Consider the Fluval inline bubble counter as a cheaper alternate than one mounted at the reg? One can actually make a bubble counter but I never got one that I did not want to spend the $8-9 to replace with something better!
A torch was the first thing to pop into my mind too but I realized that wouldn't do well with the rubber diaphragm as well. I almost enjoy when a bolt won't come off my car, because that's an opportunity to break out the torch. I've yet to meet a fastener that the combination of torch and impact won't remove.

Thanks for the tips! I'll start looking for deals.
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post #8 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-22-2019, 11:40 PM
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Oh my! A man with a torch! You can figure a way to kick a reg apart. I mention it because there are often folks who really have not touched much more than a pair of pliers and that can get really hard if they run into a tough one.
Another small point on shopping might be worth a thought. There may be some regs show up with bent needle/internal parts on gauges. That can leave them really needing to sell it, no matter how cheap, so a person who really wants to do a bit of extra can often find a bargain on the reg that cuts in enough savings to make replacing the gauge reasonable as the guages are not all that expensive in the under $20 range for sure. Nothing CO2 specific but there are a couple points to consider as some have different size and left or right hand threads. Lots depends on how /where you can get parts like that.
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post #9 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-23-2019, 12:07 AM
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I just went through this process. After I bought my regulator (A rebranded Victor 270A) I was told it can only do 15 psi. This is not an issue for me since I always planned to use a reactor. But if you plan to use a diffuser definitely look into the models capabilities before purchasing.

My rule of thumb was that I wanted to pay less then 50$ shipped. I also wanted a regulator that was at least plated nickle if not stainless steel. The reason being that they are supposed to be beefier and they are definitely very shiny! There is no real justification for this though and the brass ones work just fine according to well.. pretty much everyone.

Victor rebranded a bunch of their regulators. My regulator for instance is a "trigas". I found that these rebranded regulators were being sold cheaper on ebay then the victor branded regulators of the same model number.

As you do searches for model numbers like "270 regulator" you will come across a number of brands and be able to go from there.

Probably most importantly of all you will also need to recognize what is a dual stage regulator and what is a single stage by sight alone. The dual stage regulator has a big ol knob on the back side of the regulator and the single stage regulator is flat on its back. This will be VERY important for your searches. Most regulators that are good deals are not listed as dual stage or 2 stage. They will just give whatever model number the seller can find on the regulator and thats it. This is because the seller has no clue what they have and just want it gone as fast as possible. If you limit your searches to only regulators advertised as "2 stage" or "dual stage" you will likely pay a lot more (2 to 3 times more is not uncommon I found).

You did a good job deciphering and explaining the whole "DIY regulator build" thing. It took me almost a day to figure out that when people said they are "building a regulator" they meant screwing parts onto an existing regulator.

Good luck on your search!
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post #10 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-23-2019, 12:47 AM
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133088937411

40psi max for"b" series..

Personally I've been shooting for "new in box"..
Cost has been around $100 but I pretend my odds are better..

"A man with a watch knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never sure."
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post #11 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-23-2019, 05:49 AM Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by PlantedRich View Post
Oh my! A man with a torch! You can figure a way to kick a reg apart. I mention it because there are often folks who really have not touched much more than a pair of pliers and that can get really hard if they run into a tough one.
Another small point on shopping might be worth a thought. There may be some regs show up with bent needle/internal parts on gauges. That can leave them really needing to sell it, no matter how cheap, so a person who really wants to do a bit of extra can often find a bargain on the reg that cuts in enough savings to make replacing the gauge reasonable as the guages are not all that expensive in the under $20 range for sure. Nothing CO2 specific but there are a couple points to consider as some have different size and left or right hand threads. Lots depends on how /where you can get parts like that.
Haha, cool. I suppose I should have mentioned in my first post that I'm pretty handy - definitely good to not assume that though when helping, though.

Good to know of the option of repairing broken regs - thanks.

Quote:
Originally Posted by minorhero View Post
I just went through this process. After I bought my regulator (A rebranded Victor 270A) I was told it can only do 15 psi. This is not an issue for me since I always planned to use a reactor. But if you plan to use a diffuser definitely look into the models capabilities before purchasing.

My rule of thumb was that I wanted to pay less then 50$ shipped. I also wanted a regulator that was at least plated nickle if not stainless steel. The reason being that they are supposed to be beefier and they are definitely very shiny! There is no real justification for this though and the brass ones work just fine according to well.. pretty much everyone.

Victor rebranded a bunch of their regulators. My regulator for instance is a "trigas". I found that these rebranded regulators were being sold cheaper on ebay then the victor branded regulators of the same model number.

As you do searches for model numbers like "270 regulator" you will come across a number of brands and be able to go from there.

Probably most importantly of all you will also need to recognize what is a dual stage regulator and what is a single stage by sight alone. The dual stage regulator has a big ol knob on the back side of the regulator and the single stage regulator is flat on its back. This will be VERY important for your searches. Most regulators that are good deals are not listed as dual stage or 2 stage. They will just give whatever model number the seller can find on the regulator and thats it. This is because the seller has no clue what they have and just want it gone as fast as possible. If you limit your searches to only regulators advertised as "2 stage" or "dual stage" you will likely pay a lot more (2 to 3 times more is not uncommon I found).

You did a good job deciphering and explaining the whole "DIY regulator build" thing. It took me almost a day to figure out that when people said they are "building a regulator" they meant screwing parts onto an existing regulator.

Good luck on your search!
Thanks for the info! I've come across a bunch of regs marketed as one brand but made as another, so it's helpful to know that those are still good quality. I'm planning to use a reactor (man the microbubbles annoy me), so pressure isn't too much of a concern.

Interesting tip on the regulators not being listed as "dual stage". I'll stop limiting my searches to that.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jeffkrol View Post
133088937411

40psi max for"b" series..

Personally I've been shooting for "new in box"..
Cost has been around $100 but I pretend my odds are better..
Thanks!

What's that long number? Google isn't finding a single result for it.
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post #12 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-23-2019, 06:07 AM
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Great write-up. I have been looking at regulators as well.

10 G / 20 G long, low-tech planted / 125 G, working on the aquascape and collecting hardware
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post #13 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-23-2019, 02:59 PM
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Long number is often a search term to use on an auction site which we are forbidden to mention? In this case it does lead to a reg offered for sale.
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post #14 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-23-2019, 05:16 PM
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shhhhhhhhhhhhh...

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post #15 of 31 (permalink) Old 06-23-2019, 11:53 PM
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Quote:
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Long number is often a search term to use on an auction site which we are forbidden to mention? In this case it does lead to a reg offered for sale.
Nothing wrong with mentioning eBay


Only problem is that links to the site are not allowed, as people have abused it in the past.
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