AquaSense: Note, this product review was written for the September 2000 issue of Marine Fish Monthly.
(Written in 2003 - product no longer available)
One of the most time consuming task's aquarium hobbyists have to contend with is replenishing evaporated water. Evaporation makes it almost a daily chore! Too much evaporation without adequate replenishment will increase salinity levels and result in stressed aquarium inhabitants. Compounding that stress is the addition of too much makeup water at one time. Fortunately, aquarium product companies have produced a wide array of what is termed dosing equipment. These devices can be utilized to makeup for evaporation and/or dispense additives, e.g., Kalkwasser/trace elements.
Having equipment that will automatically meter adjustable amounts of water into the aquarium or sump reduces daily maintenance and produces a more stable environment. Some dosers can be set to provide constant drip rates, others will dispense various amounts at pre-determined times during the day or week. Some come fully equipped, but most require a separate air pump, timer, water pump or water holding container.
Need for this type equipment simply depends on how much time you have to monitor all the processes going on in the aquarium. With my schedules, my aquarium would not survive without dosing equipment.
When looking for dosing devices there are many factors that need to be thought about before purchasing it:
All those factors and more may pertain to your need, however, simplicity and precise control of the water level to be maintained is paramount. But what if you could simply purchase the control system and add whatever pumps and tubing is needed to exactly fit your own needs! What if you could purchase a dosing device that does not need maintenance! Anything that doesn't need maintenance is always high on my get list! What if you could purchase a dosing device that would be smart enough not to burnout a pump or overflow your system.
Well, think about it no longer as AquaSense will fill those requirements and more! AquaSense is an infrared water level controller. It senses water level by sending a harmless beam of infrared light downward toward the water surface to be maintained. When the water surface drops slightly (one-tenth of an inch) below its setting the sensor's relay unit sends power to the pump of your choice. Water is then pumped into the aquarium or sump. When it rises that tenth of an inch the sensor signals the relay unit to disconnect the power source to the equipment that is supplying the water.
What is so nice about AquaSense is that the infrared optical sensor can be located at the aquarium or sump "and" the source of the makeup water somewhere else in the home or business. This allows the hobbyist to select the size of the water pump needed to get the evaporation makeup water to its needed location. The only limitation is that the water pump must use less than 100 watts. Prior to such convenience the hobbyist was stuck with buying a product that usually had its own pump, one that may have been more or less than what was really needed.
There's also no limitation to the size or location of the reservoir. If the selected pump can deliver water fifty feet away, then the reservoir can be fifty feet away from the aquarium. It's that simple. Small Mag, Rio, and Ehime pumps can easily fit that need. And, water flow is on an as needed basis. With no float switches or any parts coming in contact with water there's nothing to corrode. Also, AquaSense will shutoff the supply of water if the circuit remains on for over two minutes thereby preventing a pump from burning out if the reservoir runs low or continuing to run if the aquarium or sump had a leak. To reinstate the program the unit must be unplugged and plugged back in.
This may all sound great, but there's even more. Since the Power Module will safely turn on/off any device plugged in up to 100 watts, a number of possibilities exist. If you already had a very large reservoir, yet were kind of forgetful when it came to refilling, an alarm could be plugged in that would activate when the reservoir is too low. Since the sensor can see through thin clear glass or acrylic, side mounting of the sensor head is possible, however, some precautions need be taken.
If the goal is to have the beam pass through a vertical clear side panel, the bottom of the Sensor must be flush with the material surface. If it were not the Sensor may receive a reflected signal off the outside surface of the material and not the water level inside the container. Also, condensation or salt deposits on the inside surface of the material could possibly reflect the infrared signal, interfering with its correct operation. Common sense mounting precautions and cleaning of the reservoir's internal surface where the beam penetrates is needed
Additional surge in the aquarium is also possible. A powerhead or two could be plugged into a multi-outlet strip that is in turn plugged into the relay unit. They would briefly operate and provide a surge effect when the aquarium/sump was being replenished.
When I received AquaSense its packaging impressed me. Each component, i.e., the relay unit, sensor, controller, power module and bracket assembly were sandwiched in thick foam. Well protected would be an understatement. I first removed the instruction booklet and found it needing some revision. I understand it is being rewritten and a revised manual will be available soon. That however, did not deter me from connecting the components and getting the unit working.
As a test I decided to use a five gallon pail as a reservoir for a small Rio pump and stand it near my aquariums reservoir which is under the aquarium. My under aquarium reservoir is only a twenty gallon tank and when I go on long business trips its volume is only sufficient for a five day trip at maximum. Being away from home any longer requires my wife or a neighbor to come in and refill it. That's not something that gives me much peace of mind. However, AquaSense easily would allow for a temporary larger reservoir to replenish the small reservoir.
The sensor, one inch by three inches, was mounted a few inches above the 90% full mark on the reservoir under my aquarium. A Rio with some appropriate tubing was lowered into the pail and it was filled with RO/DI water. The Rio's plug was inserted into the AquaSense controller. The relay and power adapter was plugged in as necessary and the unit worked as advertised. Right? Not exactly!
When the unit was supplied with uninterrupted electrical power the unit worked as advertised. However, the difference between Salt Corner product reviews and those seen in other publications is that devices reviewed actually undergo rigorous use before you see a write up. In the case of AquaSense, it failed that degree of testing. Did that upset the maker of the product? Absolutely not, and in fact he was very glad to hear I actually tested the device and just didn't simply write something based on the product literature.
Besides a minor quality control item I discovered the device would not reset itself if there were a power loss. Imagine you're on a trip somewhere and you think AquaSense is caring for the evaporation in your system. But your home experiences a brief loss of power. Not a major problem for all your other equipment as they regain their operation when power is resumed. However that was not true for AquaSense! It was dead in the water so to speak. If the power loss occurred soon after you left home and you didn't return for another five days, your system would experience a major climb in salinity and/or some of your other equipment might not be functioning because of a low water level.
I packaged the test unit and sent it back to AquaSense. When the owner replicated the problem he immediately proceeded to rectify it. A new relay unit was substituted that not only cured the problem, it also took care of the minor quality control problem. The revised unit now controls the on/off operation of the powerhead as needed to maintain the level in my small reservoir, power loss or no power loss.
I should also note that the operating distance of the infrared sensor is three inches. Since the sensor is waterproof it can even be located where it would temporarily become submerged, such as on systems tuned to replicate the movement of the tides. On/off distance can be shortened by mounting the sensor at an angle of up to 30 degrees. The mounting bracket is slotted to accommodate various mounting heights. Also, the sensor should not be located where metal halide light will shine directly on it as that could interfere with its accuracy and/or where severe water surface disturbance would cause it to cycle more than it really needs to.
Since most situations involve pumping water to a higher location, keep in mind that the outlet of the water supply tube must be above the surface of the water it is going to so no siphon effect is experienced when the pump shuts off. If the water reservoir with the pump is above the area being replenished, the end of the supply line must not be below the water level in the reservoir or a siphon effect will be initiated. Bear in mind water will siphon through a water pump even if it is not running. Of course this is all common sense stuff, but I thought I would just mention it for what its worth.
AquaSense may not be what every hobbyist needs, but it is quite versatile and has more applications than most other dosing equipment on the market. In fact, by supplying your own pump and tubing, a dosing system can be customized for any type system whether that's a 10 gallon or 1000 gallon or larger system. I want to thank Natural Cycles and Dr. Yoshimitsu Morita for sending an AquaSense unit to checkout. The hobby is far better off with such useable equipment and those who really care about the quality of their products.
Natural Cycles, 17612 Beach Blvd. Ste 7-A, Huntington Beach, CA 92647, (714) 842-6677, fax (714) 444-4839.