Product Review – IceProbe
(Written in 2002)
Recently I was going through a pet supply catalog and came across an interesting device that needed some exploration. It appeared like it would greatly benefit those having problems cooling small aquaria. And, it looked like a device that was fairly inexpensive and may not involve a major effort in plumbing.
The device is called IceProbe, and is manufactured by Coolworks, Inc.(1) and was first seen in the Pet Warehouse Summer 2001 catalog. The folks at Pet Warehouse were kind enough to give me the phone number of the manufacturing company. I called and introduced myself and explained the reason for my call. I was then given the opportunity to discuss IceProbe with the president of Coolworks, Ulf Moren, who explained the history of the device and it's many uses.
IceProbe is actually a small thermoelectric chiller that is about 4 inches square, has 1.5 inch thick main body, with a muffin fan attached to its top surface and a probe extending three inches from its lower body. Overall height of the unit is about 7 inches. The upper portion of the probe is threaded and contains a nylon nut and silicon washer so it can be mounted as you would any bulkhead fitting. If mounting it through the wall of any aquarium or sump, a 1.25 inch hole is needed to accommodate the probe.
He noted that the device has been used in a wide variety of cooling applications ranging from residential drinking water systems to scientific equipment and even home beer brewing systems. Other present uses include salmon and trout egg hatching systems, insulated bait boxes and specimen holding tanks, and now small reef aquaria.
Ulf was kind enough to send me a unit to checkout along with their Proportional Thermoelectric Controller and 12 VDC Power Station. Keep in mind this device is for small aquaria, generally under 55 gallons, not large systems such as my 180 gallon reef system. Since I wanted to test it on my system without making any holes, I built an eggcrate holder that would span the width of the aquarium's rear vertical sump. A hole in that bracket allowed the probe to pass through and sit into the water stream interring the sump. The Controllers temperature sensor was attached and placed into the aquarium water. The Controller and IceProbe power leads were connected to the Power Station and its power lead plugged into a wall outlet.
I should note the Proportional Thermoelectric Controller is an optional piece of equipment. It controls the amount of electricity being used to chill the probe in relation to the temperature of the water passing by the submergible temperature sensor. If little cooling is needed, wattage is reduced and this reduction in power usage can be visually seen as the speed of the muffin fan slows considerably. If the Controller is not used, the probe works continuously at its highest degree of cooling. Considering IceProbe only consumes about 50 watts, electrical usage is little, but the convenience of not having to monitor the device is well worth the cost of the Controller in my opinion. There is also an adjustable temperature setting on the Controller that allows for the majority of its cooling activity to fall within the temperature range needed. In fact, the range of the setting is from 65°F to 85°F. Actually, IceProbe never shuts off completely even with the Controller, yet at its low range of cooling, rotation of the muffin fan is very slow, indicating little electrical draw.
With the unit up and running at its highest degree of cooling there is no sound or vibration. The only way to know the unit is operating is by viewing the rotation of the muffin fan or actually feeling the probe itself. Ulf notes that one IceProbe will cool 10 gallons of water about 6°F, 20 gallons about 3°F, and 40 gallons about 1.5°F in a standard glass aquarium. Insulation can dramatically improve cooling differentials. In a fully insulated aquarium, one IceProbe can actually cool 10 gallons of water about 20°F below ambient. In many specimen tanks, they insulate the sides and back of the aquarium. For aquariums larger than 10 gallons, one or more units can be mounted in either a sump or through the aquarium wall. The cost of IceProbe is $99, with the Proportional Thermoelectric Controller costing $49. Details are available by contacting their website at www.coolworksinc.com or calling (415) 485-5552.
All in all, small reef systems that experience dangerously high temperatures during the hottest months of the year may now have a fairly simple approach to providing a way to gain a few degrees of cooling without great expense or cumbersome equipment. If drilling a hole to mount the bulkhead fitting would be too awkward, the eggcrate mounting bracket such as I concocted, might just be a more convenient way to utilize the product during peak needs. I repackaged IceProbe and sent it back to Coolworks with my 'thanks.' Coolworks" and "IceProbe" are registered trademarks of Coolworks Inc.
(1) Nova Tec Products., 819 A Street, San Rafael, CA 94901, (415.460.6890, fax 415.453.4490, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.