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Neptune AquaController 2

By Bill Esposito. Saturday the 3rd of March 2001.

I've owned the AquaController 2 by Neptune Systems for six months now and I figured it was time to write something about my experiences with it.

What is it and what do you need to buy?

It's a mini computer which can be programmed to control X-10 Home Automation controllers, and which can monitor temperature, pH, and ORP. It is quite expensive once you get all the accessories. The basic controller runs about US$299 for the backlit version (I recommend getting the backlight). The basic controller is useless unless you also purchase some probes. Temperature, pH, and ORP probes run about US$50 each. Next, if you intend to use the AquaController 2 for more than just monitoring, you will need to purchase some X-10 equipment. As a minimum you will need the Control Interface which allows the AquaController to talk to the X-10 modules, and some modules to control. I recommend buying the probes and the initial X-10 stuff from the same place you get the controller from by purchasing one of the "combo" packages. I found that at least initially, the "combo" provides the best deal, I purchased mine at Reefers . Once you've made your initial purchase, you can get any other X-10 accessories you may need from www.smarthome.com . Appliance modules can be had there for as little as US$5 each. You will also most likely need a power strip or two which is designed for transformers. The X-10 modules are large and you will need the room. Lastly, if you wish to monitor all of this on your PC, you will need to buy software. Right now I know of two programs which are available, AquaNotes by Neptune Systems and my program, JAqua .

Installation

I installed the AquaController right on my tank. I bought some waterproof velcro at Walmart and mounted it on the side of my tank by the corner overflow. Whenever you use velcro to mount anything, you must first clean both surfaces with alcohol, and then allow the velcro to cure for 24 hours before putting any weight on it.

The installation of the probes is straight forward, just plug them in and place them in your tank or sump. Remember that the temperature probe cannot be submerged. I placed my ORP and pH probes in my sump at different ends, and my temp probe is in my overflow. The only probe that requires calibration is the pH probe. Caution, turn OFF the temperature compensation while calibrating the pH probe. There is a bug in the firmware in the controller which will reset the AquaController when you attempt to calibrate it with the temperature compensation on. I know, this is one of the reasons I bought the controller, so I wouldn't have to worry about the temperature while calibrating the probe. Hopefully that bug will be fixed.

X-10 installation is also easy. Just connect the X-10 interface to the AquaController via the supplied phone cord and plug it in. You are now ready to control the modules.

The last thing to do, and the most tedious, is to reprogram the controller for your needs. I wont go into that here except to say that the language is simple.

Operation

Once it's all set up, you can begin controlling your tank. You may right off the bat run into a problem with this. Some lighting ballasts create noise on the AC power line. The AC power line is what's used by X-10 to transmit commands to it's modules. If you have excessive noise on the lines, the modules will either not work at all, or operate erratically. What you have to do is determine just what is causing the problem. Start with the lights, turn them off and see if things improve. If not, keep searching for the offending appliance or appliances. Once you've isolated your problem, and lets assume it's the lights, the resolution is simple. I said simple, but not free. You will have to purchase noise blocking filters. These filters cost about US$26 each delivered and can be found at www.smarthome.com . I've used the 5 amp plug in versions, model AF100, and they work well, although I would not run them at their rated maximum wattage.

Once things are working, you can connect up your pumps, heaters, lights, etc... Here's some examples of what I control:

Feed Cycle

The AquaController has what is called a Feed Cycle. Basically it's a timed "off" which starts when you press the down arrow on the controller, or via the programming language. I have assigned my powerheads to this Feed Cycle. When I want to feed the tank, I press the button, and my powerheads turn off for five minutes. It's great, no more forgetting to turn the pumps back on.

Heaters

If there's one item in the tank that really worries me it's the heaters. I have two heaters, one in my tank and one in my sump. Because I worry about boiling my tank, the last thing I wanted to do was to adjust the heater thermostat so that it was always on, and then use the AquaController and the X-10 modules to turn it on and off because if the module failed, the heater would stay on. So what I did was leave the heater's thermostat adjusted as normal, and then set the on/off temperature of the X-10 modules for the maximum and minimum limits I want for temperature. So basically my heaters are set for 80F and my modules bracket that setting and are set for 79F and 82F. This provides double security. As long as the thermostat in the heaters are operating normally, the AquaController doesn't do anything. If a heater sticks on, then the AquaController turns it off at the maximum temperature. If the heater sticks off, then the AquaController alarms when the low temperature threshold is exceeded.

Lights

I had some nice Walmart electronic timers for my lights so there was no need to discard them. What I've done is plug my lights into a control module, and that module is always on unless the tank temperature exceeds 86F, then the lights are switched off to reduce the heat being generated. One of the features of the AquaController which I don't use is the Seasonal Variation. If you control your lights by the AquaController, it can change the lighting duration to coincide with normal seasonal variations.

Moon Light

I connected a 25 watt blue GE Party bulb to a module which is controlled by the moon cycle. For this to operate properly, you must use an incandescent lamp X-10 module. These modules allow for dimming and the moon cycle of the AquaController simulates the phase of the moon by adjusting the intensity of the bulb. It works very well.

WaveMaker

The last thing you want to do is to use the AquaController as a wavemaker. While it will perform this function flawlessly, the X-10 modules contain a very large relay and when they switch on and off, they make a very loud click. In a wavemaker it will drive you nuts.

Nilsen Kalk Reactor

I just use the AquaController for a timer here. When the lights are out, I turn on my Nilsen Reactor.

Fans

I connect my sump fan and a room fan to modules. Whenever my tank temperature exceeds 82 degrees, my sump fan turns on, and turns off when the temp drops again. The room fan turns on at 84 degrees.

X-10 Modules

To end this section let me just remind you that you must use the 15 amp appliance modules for everything with the exception of incandescent bulbs. With the low prices available on www.smarthome.com , that should not be a cost impact.

Conclusion

Well, that's about it. I love my AquaController. It's expensive and you can live without it, but I would buy one again. If you have any questions please feel free to email me at bespo@cereal.mv.com .

URL's

Neptune Systems

SmartHome

Reefers

JAqua

My reef page

Created by liquid
Reefs.org
Last modified 2006-11-24 18:41
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