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Hello TRT members, this forum covers a guidline to building a cheap, affordable DIY ATO system. I had searched the forum for one but could not find one so i thought i would share some insight on my design. Please refer to the photographs as I will try to explain what I did in a step by step manner. First off I will list the parts needed for this project including prices.

1. Liquid Water Level Sensor Horizontal Float Switch as listed on eBay (under $3)
2. TOM aqua lifter ($21 on Amazon.com including shipping)
3. A small piece of acrylic 2"x6" ($3 at Home Depot)
4. Extension cord with 2 distinct wires ($2 at Walmart)
5. 5 gallon bucket w/ lid ($4 at Home Depot)
6. Air line tubing ($2 at LFS)
7. Wood clamp with rubber ends

Start first by determining whether the float switch you have floats via the top or bottom of the float mechanism (in my case it was at the top of the float but each model is different in their own respect).

Fill your sump to the desired water level. Clamp the small piece of acrylic on the outside of the sump flush with the top of the sump.

Hold the float in the sump until the float it all the way up and mark a line on the attached acrylic where you will need to make a bend.

Once you have the line marked on the piece of acrylic, find a small candle and light it. Run the acrylic back and forth on the line you created until it becomes flexible. Bend the acrylic to a 90 degree angle and hold in place until the acrylic dries. I was originally going to drill a hole in the acrylic where the float would attach but that didnt work out due to the fragile nature of the plastic :doh: I instead decided to once again hold the acrylic under the candle in the same place, took a nail and created a hole wide enough to mount the float(it's not the prettiest piece but it serves the same purpose).

Once you have the hole in your acrylic, attach your float switch to it.

We can now move onto fusing some wires together :D

Plug your extension cord in the slot it will be when everything is said and done (measuring purposes only). Move the middle of the wire where it will meet up with the float switch wires(in my case it was about half the length of the cord) When you have the length determined mark the section with a sharpie.

Unplug your wire and bring it along with the float switch that is attached to your acrylic to a soldering station.

On the marked location of the extension cord split the wire in half with a razor(be sure not to cut into the insulation) and pull the wires apart. Cut of the detached wires(does not matter which one) and strip the ends. Strip down the wires of your float switch.

You now have 4 exposed ends of wires. Take one end of the float and twist it to one end of the exposed extension cord(doesn't matter which one) Twist the other float switch wire to the remaining exposed extension cord wire. Solder them up!!!...this step is not necessary but extremely recommended! When you're all done tape it up real good!

Clamp your float switch attached to the acrylic in the desired location of your sump with the wood clamp and plug in the extension cord. DON'T FORGET TO CREATE A DRIP LOOP!(preferably BEFORE where the tape is)

Take out your bucket and drill 2 holes the size of your airline tube(one is a carb to eliminate stress on your pump). shove some tubing in one of the holes to the bottom of your bucket and fill it up with RO/DI water. Put the tube coming from the rodi water to the input of the pump. Run an airline from the output directly into your sump.

Plug in the pump into the extension cord and you're done! :rotflmao:

The basis of this is simple. When the float is all the way up there is no power going to your pump. Once the float drops to a certain level it completes the circuit in the extension cord to your pump and viola! your pump turns on until the float reaches the desired level and cuts off the pump.

Hope this was helpful, any questions about the project are welcomed!
 

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Discussion Starter · #2 · (Edited)

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Looks great, but....(dont you hate those buts :))


I want to warn you about those cheap float switches... you may want to get a couple more of them if you plan on staying with the cheap ones...just trying to warn you.

Personally, I will only use Madison float switches, I havent ever had one fail on me in my tank (I have only had one fail on me at work after several years in a caustic solution)... Spend the extra few dollars and buy quality float switches. Your tank inhabitants, equipment and property arent worth saving a couple of dollars...once again... just trying to warn you....
 

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I use the Madison M8000 float switches. they are usually between $8-12 depending on where you get them
 

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I dont recomend using the float switch directly to the 120v source. The current running even a lil pump can toast the switch fast. And ur adding 120v to tank if somthing fails. I just never liked it. I use a common 12v relay you find at auto parts store. cheap insurance. Just my 2 cents. But the best thing i ever did was to build one for my tank. So easy. Just fill the top off container once every 4-5 days... So nice. always the same level in sump....
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
That sounds like a great idea :p how did you go about wiring the relay to the system without adding other additional components? most 12v relay switches have 4 prongs on them, do you just wire it directly to the switch? Also if you're worried about stray voltage there are always grounding probes, not sure if that would help the situation..
 

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I dont recomend using the float switch directly to the 120v source. The current running even a lil pump can toast the switch fast. And ur adding 120v to tank if somthing fails. I just never liked it. I use a common 12v relay you find at auto parts store. cheap insurance. Just my 2 cents. But the best thing i ever did was to build one for my tank. So easy. Just fill the top off container once every 4-5 days... So nice. always the same level in sump....
+1. 120 V and salt water can make for a really REALLY bad day, not just for the fish!!!
12 v dc? Oh yeah WAY better
 

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Agreed, I would not recommend using 120 through the switches either. Low voltage only around the tank. I have even eliminated all voltage sources in my systems due to the current leakage (I use vortechs and and external return pump, no heater).

As for a ATO system... I have found the setups over at http://www.autotopoff.com/ to be extremely affordable and well constructed...and if I were not doing a way more advanced ATO setup (with waterchange and fertilizer dosing for my recently converted system to Iwagumi planted freshwater)... i would have probably went with them since I could not build it for really any less than they are selling them for :)
 
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