Why You Need an Automatic Top Off System for Your Aquarium

Whether you have a small fresh water aquarium or a room-sized reef aquarium, the key to keeping your livestock happy is stability in their environment. By using an automatic top off system (ATO), you can ensure that the environment in your setup remains in good condition, even if you don’t check your aquarium for a week.What Is an Automatic Top Off System?An ATO system is a device that regularly pumps fresh water from a separate reservoir into your aquarium. With an ATO system, you accomplish two important items. First, you no longer have to watch the levels of your aquarium and haul heavy buckets of water to replace liquid lost through natural evaporation. Instead, the ATO system is programmed to turn on and pump new water into the aquarium automatically, whenever water levels reach a lower limit chosen by you.The second advantage you receive from operating with an ATO system is stability in the environment of your aquarium, especially if it’s a salt water aquarium. In an aquarium system lacking an ATO system, as water evaporates, the salinity of the water increases. This can place great stress upon your livestock, because water salinity determines how much osmotic pressure is available for the respiration of your fish, corals, and plants. The ATO system replaces the evaporated water with fresh water, maintaining the salinity level that’s proper for your setup.Features to Look for in an Automatic Top Off SystemWhen choosing the right ATO system for you, there are a few features to consider. First, you want a system that has some redundancy built into it, so that it can still work even if some part of the system fails. This way, the automatic top off still occurs, helping out your aquarium, but the system shuts off when the proper level is reached, preventing a major flood in your home.Second, the better quality systems bypass the normal float switch that can fail mechanically. Instead, look for a system that is triggered by sensors instead of moving parts. These sensors can be temperature-based, which heat up when out of water and turn on the top off system; optical-based, which has an electronic sensor that perceives the water level; or a sensor-based involving conductivity, which uses two probes to measure the level of the water between the probes. Each of these sensors lack moving parts, so there is much less of a chance for mechanical failure when your back is turned.The third item to look for in a good ATO system is an automatic timer that runs at regular intervals for minor top offs. The benefit of this feature is that the system adds smaller amounts of fresh water at preset intervals. The aquarium salinity remains steady, instead of waiting for the water levels to reach the critical lower limit, and then pumping in a large batch of fresh water in one shot.Some Examples of Good Automatic Top Off SystemsFrom the inventor of the ATO system comes the Tunze Osmolator Universal Water Level Regulator 3155. This easy-to-install system uses an optic eye to measure water levels precisely, and can even sense the motion of waves as fish swim by. As part of its security system, this unit also has a safety float that stops the water flow and sounds an alarm if the optic eye malfunctions. Better yet, if both the optic eye and the safety float fail, the circuitry of the entire ATO system shuts down after 10 minutes. This Tunze unit also comes with a programmable automatic timer. The system sends out easy-to-read LED messages, and any safety problems are indicated by alarms.The Elos OsmoController Digital Water Level Controller takes the idea of a failsafe system to a new level. This unit uses a patent pending sensor to determine the water level. If this sensor should detect a problem in the aquarium, such as an empty water reservoir, the microprocessor in the unit shuts down the system and uses an LED alarm to warn the owner. After the problem is fixed, the system can be reset to operate once again. This ATO system also has a manual button that converts it into a pump for those occasional water changes.In the category of incredibly small but highly effective, count on the AutoAqua Smart ATO-Automatic Top Off System for Aquariums. This ATO makes a golf ball look big, which makes it fairly unnoticeable when attached to the side of your aquarium or sump. This unit can read through as much as ½ inch of glass or acrylic. With no moving parts, the AutoAqua Smart has no reason to fail. Best yet is the ease of use. Simply move the outside controller to the level you want your aquarium water to be, and walk away. This unit does the rest.

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