Fritz SeaChill 'Chiller' Product Review
By Bob Goemans
All aquarists understand the need for temperature control, as without it, too low or too high temps can cause severe animals problems. Being someone who has lived in both frigid and sweltering portions of this country, I know from past experience the need for precise temperature control in my aquariums. And the more I had invested in my aquariums, the more I wanted this aspect properly controlled.
Since we now live in Tucson Arizona, the heat factor is more troublesome than the cold factor. In fact, when we moved here many years ago we found summer daytime temps can and did reach 117 degrees! It was simply impossible to air-condition the entire home and maintain it low enough to keep my aquarium within its proper temperature range when the lighting system was lit for more than an hour or two! I did try low home temps, but it got to the point where I was afraid to look at the electric bill when it arrived! And in those days, the early nineties, a chiller was more something for a store that sold lobsters for human consumption. Yet I did try one of the first hobbyist models, a Baytech model, but it had its problems, besides being pricy! But over the last 15 years, with an assortment of powerheads, system pumps, metal halides and fluorescents adding heat to many of my systems; a chiller became a necessary equipment item. And the same is true for the majority of my local clients who have aquariums ranging in size up to 600 gallons.
When I received an email from Mike Noce with Fritz Industries, Inc., he wanted to know if I would be interested in testing a unit in their new line of TECO chillers, which were just beginning to be imported from Italy. He also noted the units can be equipped with optional heaters and UV sterilizers. Of course I was, and when writing back made him aware that when I test products, it's their choice if I return it. And if they don't want it back, I may use it or give it to a local client or aquarium store for their use. If the company wants it back, they pay for return shipping by providing a pick-up at my home. Furthermore, I'll need everything, e.g., pump, hoses, and fittings to accomplish the test for whatever size unit is sent. And I would like to have any optional equipment installed so it could be included in the test. As to results, I'll 'never' print a review of a defective device! But will tell the sending company of those defects and until remedied to my satisfaction, hold off doing anything further. And if that's agreeable, lets discuss it further. Well, with that agreed to, Mike wanted to know what size tank I would like to put it on, which was my old 180 gallon system. Mike sent the TECO SeaChill Model TR-15, which was rated for a system up to 210 gallons.
There are three models: the TR-10, - 1/8 HP unit consuming approximately 200 watts/hour and rated for systems up to 130 gallons. The TR-15, - 1/5 HP unit consuming approximately 350 watts/hour and rated for systems up to 210 gallons. And, the TR-20, - 1/3 HP unit consuming approximately 480 watts/hour and rated for systems up to 525 gallons. All units have a footprint of 17" (Side) x 10 5/8" (Front) x 17 3/4" (High). And all units contain the ecological friendly refrigerant R134a.
Within a couple of days the chiller was at my doorstep and when I unpacked it, found everything I needed but the instruction manual. Apparently the units are so new the manual had not yet been printed. Nevertheless, Mike emailed a pdf file of it and simply made a hard copy of it.
Even though there are three installation possibilities mentioned in the instructions, i.e., submersible pump with closed loop, external pump inline, or the canister filter method, I already had the supplied PondMaster 500 GPH pump, so decided to use the closed loop method and drop the pump into the sump tank. And since there was sufficient space under the cabinet right next to the aquarium's sump, decided to place the chiller there.
Before moving it into that space, I removed the screw on caps that cover its inflow and outflow ports. Inserted into each port is a white plastic plug, which are of course removed, but recommended in the instructions they be saved just incase you ever want to disconnect the unit and move it any distance, as they might help to keep any internal chiller water from spilling if the unit is laid on its side. An o-ring is found under each cap, which is then slid onto the insertion portion of each of two shutoff valves that come packed in the foam that surrounds the unit in its shipping box. Each shutoff is then inserted into a port and its screw-down compression nut snuggly tightened over those o-rings making for two watertight connections.
Even though its possible to hard plumb the units with PVC pipe, flexible tubing is a much easier way to go. A nice thing about the unit's shutoffs is they accept either 5/8-inch or 3/4 ID inch tubing. It simply depends on how far you push the tubing into the shutoff valve nipple. Once the 3/4-inch ID tubing was pushed onto the nipples, (The 5/8 inch compression nuts are simply slid off, which makes way for the larger tubing to slide past this area.), its leak proof compression nuts were tightened over the lip of each individual length of tubing. With all the fittings facing in the right directions and tightened, the chiller was moved into place. Its outflow tubing was placed in the sump and where it went over the upper lip of the sump, was secured with some duct tape to prevent it from popping out and watering the floor. The end of the input tube was secured to the supplied PondMaster pump, which was then lowered into the sump. Couldn't be any simpler; in fact, just as easy as hooking up a canister filter!
It was now time to open the shutoff valves and start the PondMaster pump and leak-check all the connections. Everything was A-OK! Appropriate flow to this model chiller is anything between 135 to 790 gallons, which means a large number of simple pumps will work well with this unit. With water now flowing through the chiller, it was time to plug the chiller in, push its start switch and adjust its settings.
The factory setting is set at 77 degrees, but that was a little below the desired 79 degrees. To adjust, simply press the units LCD touch-sensitive screen 'set' button and then touch the up or down arrow buttons next to it to set desired temperature. I first set it at 85 degrees to see if the heater would function. Its operating light quickly came on indicating that the heater was operating. I then set the temperature for 75 and the heater light went out and the cooling light came on indicating the unit was now cooling the flowing water. I then set it to 79. After not touching the screen for five seconds, the unit accepts that last change and that's all there is to setting temperature or other settings. The temperature setting affects both the chilling temperature and the optional heater that was installed in this unit. The heater will automatically go on when water temperature drops about 1.5 degree below the present setting. And there are two indicator lights just above temp window so you know which is operating. This unit was also equipped with an optional UV Sterilizer, which can be turned on or off by simply pressing its touch button on the face of the control panel. An indicator light shows whether or not it's operating. That a nice feature, as it can be operated as needed, which might be infrequent in some systems, but nice if really needed! I left it on for the test. You can also change Fahrenheit to Centigrade if so desired. There's even a silent function, just in case you want to take a nap next to your aquarium and don't want to hear its ventilation fan rotating! It puts it into a slow mode, however, does cut down on the chillers ability to function normally, so it's recommended it not be used continuously. However, the unit is so quiet while operating that I see little or no need for it.
Maintenance-wise, there's none, or practically none! There's a simple pullout air filter under the unit that prevents dust from clogging its heat exchanger coils. It's recommended it be cleaned monthly, and in fact, if it ever becomes clogged, the flashing word "ALARM" will appear on the control panel. This is a great feature, as my old chiller needs its cover un-bolted to be removed. There's even a spare fuse located on the backside just incase its ever needed, which is another thoughtful item.
Having a sleek design/compact footprint is great, but the TECO SeaChill units have many other features. They include a titanium heat exchanger, fast disconnect valves, quick clean air filter, a touch-sensitive digital control panel, environmental friendly refrigerant, a super quite mode, and a two-year limited warranty. There's also integrated diagnostic software and a memory chip that resets the unit to the last set temp just incase the user experiences a power failure. Additionally, there's electrical surge protection built right in and all components are UL listed, which is a real plus as it insures the buyer that its not some cheap piece of junk from an out of the way place in the world that has no electrical safety regulations! And if the cover ever needs to be removed, maybe for replacing the heater or UV sterilizer somewhere down the line, gently pull on the lower front cover and simply lift it off! No bolts or screws to removed. Add to this an optional heater and UV sterilizer, along with its extremely easy installation, and you have an excellent product that should be checked out if you're in the market for a chiller.
Fritz Industries is the sole US importer and distributor of the product, and I want to thank them for allowing me to test their new, and very impressive TECO SeaChill units. To close, all I can say is - Wow; things have changed for the better since I bought my last chiller! For more information on TECO SeaChill units, visit their US website at www.tecous.com or in the U.K., Tropical Marine Centre Ltd., at www.tmc-ltd.co.uk.
Note: 2012 - These units are no longer available through Fritz, therefore, visit TECOUS.COM for availability.