Mechanical Auto Top Off - The Reef Tank



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Old 09-06-2013, 11:53 AM   #1
Brassaxe
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Mechanical Auto Top Off


Latest Version Is At The Bottom

In the ever continuing pursuit to make use of what I have laying around the house I made a mechanical auto top off. Most auto top off systems will utilize some sort of electrical micro switch, float switch, or optical sensor. The micro switch type will just have its switch attached to a float. When the float falls, the switch will close, kicking on a relay that in turn will activate a top off pump. An optical sensor is usually a cone shaped acrylic sensor with a photocell and some sort of led of infrared light emitting device inside. The light/led is inside the cone on one side and the photocell is on the other. When the cone is submerged, the refractive properties of the cone change, letting the light simply dissipate into the water. When the cone is out of the water, the light no longer escapes. It reflects off the inside of the cone and makes its way back to the photocell. Once the light is sensed, some sort of controller will kick on the top off pump. Now… These are fine.. But sitting at home all I had in front of me was an aqua lifter and an Eshopps float valve.

I’m upgrading from my 36 gallon setup to a 75 gallon setup. The Eshopps float valve and bracket assembly were originally attached to the top of my 36 gallon setup. There was a nalgene bottle attached to the top, filled with fresh water. This was a cheap and effective way to automatically top off my tank. But at 1100ml a day just for a 36 gallon tank, I knew I would need more for a 75 gallon. So, I purchased an aqua lifter from my LFS and made a mechanical top off system.

My idea was to use the aqua lifter to supply water to the float valve in my tank, but when the float valve is closed the aqua lifter is still working. Not knowing how it was designed and how well it could take this I found a workaround. Under my tank is a 5 gallon bucket. A line runs from the bucket to the aqua lifter above it. Then from the aqua lifter a line runs up to the top of the tank and to the float valve. Here is where the key to this system is. At the top level of the float valve is a T-fitting.. The line goes into the T, and continues out and up above the tank. It loops around and back down all the way to the bucket. If the T wasn’t there it would just be a line running up and looping around about 6 inches above the tank. BUT.. It’s T’d off… At the top of the float valve bracket the T takes water at a right angle over to the actual float valve. So, here is how it works..

As the aqua lifter pumps water up –

If the float valve is low and the valve is open – water flows out of the T, through the valve and into the tank.

If the valve is high and closed – water must push itself up an additional 6 inches and thus continues around the loop and back down to the bucket.

There needs to be this loop above the valve. If the line were T’d off at the very top of the loop, the water would never get to the valve. This is because the water running back to the bucket would actually have enough force to pull air back though the valve and there would just be water coming up, bubbly water going back to the bucket, and never any water coming out of the float valve. The Loop provides enough head pressure to keep this from happening. It takes less force for the water to exit via the float since it’s not as high as the top of the loop. So if the float is open, that’s where the water goes. If the float is closed, it just a loop of water.

I like this setup.. It’s simple, effective and cheap. The aqua lifter is only 3w max and there is no electronic controller, just a float valve. It’s not possible to back siphon out of the tank since the float valve opening is above the water level. I don’t see how it would ever fail unless the tubes get disconnected. The float valve can’t really get jammed open unless you sit something on top of it. And even if it gets dirty and leaky, the higher the water level gets the more leverage it has to jam the valve closed.

All in all it probably cost me less than $60.

$30 Eshopps float valve
$20 Aqua lifter
$10 Tubing and fittings

Note: I think using a bucket return line that’s larger in diameter than everything else will make this system even better.

As long as there is always water in the bucket I think it’ll work just fine.. And the bonus is that this entire setup is cheaper than just a JBJ controller alone.…

I will add pictures later today when I get the chance.

Thank you

Last edited by Brassaxe; 01-04-2014 at 01:45 AM..
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Old 09-06-2013, 08:33 PM   #2
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Here was the original setup on the 36 gallon system.












Here is the new setup.



Under tank view.



Original test ATO as descibed above.



New improved mechanical ATO with larger return hose.



Hope someone finds this information useful.

Thanks
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Old 09-07-2013, 01:58 AM   #3
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So far accuracy of the improved DIY Mechanical ATO is around 1/8 of an inch. It could be even less, but moving the float 1/8" gave me definitive results.

This measurement works out to be about +/- 0.44 gallons within my 75 gallon tank.

Doing the math.... This maintains the salinity within the tank to under +/- 0.0002 of original specific gravity.. Or, under +/-0.3ppt of original parts per thousand.

All for $60...
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Old 10-07-2013, 11:06 PM   #4
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Update: The aqua lifter is too unreliable and has been removed.


I have a Peristaltic pump setup instead. And now if I want I can pump molasses through the ATO. Its a bit more expensive, but it is much more consistent and reliable. Also it can be programmed. I have the pump run for 2 minutes every half hour. I'll see if that works. And since it runs at a much higher pressure the return line turned into a siphon thus not pushing any water out of the ATO valve. I added some restriction at the end of the return to give me some positive pressure at the ATO valve, and now it works perfectly.


Here is the peristaltic on the system. Its a medical grade Johnson Diversey P400M

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Old 10-18-2013, 06:11 AM   #5
ellvas13
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why? why? whyyyyyyy?
All it takes is float switch ($1 on ebay), small water pump ($5 on ebay) and hose - that's it!!!
Why would you want to spend all that money on setup that (yes it works) looks... hmmmm... bad (estetics)
can You please explain what was the point of making it this way?
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Old 10-18-2013, 01:44 PM   #6
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Precision, single-point electronic failure reliability, and the main reason was simple fact that I just wanted to do it....

It one of those things that you get in your head and you just have to make work.. And its surpassed my original goals, I can no longer measure any rise or drop in the water level. Since it runs only for about 2 minutes every half hour you can imagine the tiny amount of water that evaporated in that half hour.

I put it on here not to have people go out and make this themselves. Its on here to give people inspiration for other things. Maybe it'll help people find solutions for their problems.
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Old 10-19-2013, 06:41 AM   #7
ellvas13
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fair enough. as long as it worked the way you want that all it counts.
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Old 10-19-2013, 07:31 AM   #8
mahmoud
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nice work
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Old 10-19-2013, 07:32 AM   #9
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can u send a picture of ur full tank, what is this green plant in there? is it in the sumb or the tank?
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Old 10-19-2013, 12:39 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mahmoud View Post
can u send a picture of ur full tank, what is this green plant in there? is it in the sumb or the tank?
The green plants were in my old tank. At one point there were live plants in there because it was a 16 gallon tank with 20 gallon half refugium on the side. Those plants are fake, I found that right now i'm not interested in maintaining plants. Just fish and live food. I have a FOWLR-LF you could say. That was my old setup though. My new setup can be seen >Here<

These pictures were taken just after I bought my 75 almost two months ago.
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Old 10-19-2013, 01:07 PM   #11
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Oh they looks gd i love the tank with the firefish
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Old 01-02-2014, 07:44 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brassaxe View Post
Update: The aqua lifter is too unreliable and has been removed.


I have a Peristaltic pump setup instead. And now if I want I can pump molasses through the ATO. Its a bit more expensive, but it is much more consistent and reliable. Also it can be programmed. I have the pump run for 2 minutes every half hour. I'll see if that works. And since it runs at a much higher pressure the return line turned into a siphon thus not pushing any water out of the ATO valve. I added some restriction at the end of the return to give me some positive pressure at the ATO valve, and now it works perfectly.


Here is the peristaltic on the system. Its a medical grade Johnson Diversey P400M


Where did you get the pump and how much was it? I'm all about accuracy, and I have heard that those aqua lifter pumps mess up from time to time.
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Old 01-04-2014, 01:57 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thenemoear View Post
Where did you get the pump and how much was it? I'm all about accuracy, and I have heard that those aqua lifter pumps mess up from time to time.
You can try searching Ebay like I did.

If you look under "Beta Technologies P410M-0" in Ebay or "Johnson P410M Peristaltic" you will find the one I bought, but they can run you up to $300 if there aren't any good deals. I got mine for $99 a few months back. You can get most any peristaltic in reality. $100 may sound like a lot, but when a $25 aqua lifter can blow out in a few months like mine did, it's worth it. Besides at most an aqualifter will last you 5 years. A peristaltic will last you your whole life. The only thing that needs replacing is the couple inches of flexible silicone or rubber hose. I just replaced the hose on mine. Less than a foot that'll last me a year or more. And I still have a 50 foot roll that I bought for $32...
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Old 01-27-2020, 03:55 PM   #14
Hoorayfordan
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Hey I’m new to this forum and realize I’m replying to an old thread but I’m trying to get some specs that I can’t seem to find anywhere on the interwebs. This thread mentioned the use of a Johnson peristaltic pump model p410m, do you know the max flow rate one of these pumps can put out, and max tube size? Thanks to anyone who has any information!
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