Just about every aquarium and reef tank owner know that leveling the tank water is simply one of those things you have to do. What else can you do? It’s the nature of water that they evaporate, and it is part of your job to replenish the water that you’ve lost.
But just in case no one’s ever told you, there’s actually such a thing as an automatic self-leveling controller for your fish tank.
What is an Auto Top Off System?
An auto top off (ATO) system automatically detects the water level in your reef tank, and then it also automatically replaces the lost water so that the water goes back to the optimum level.
It relieves you of this bothersome daily chore, as it can take a lot of effort lifting buckets of water and wiping down spills. The salinity is kept stable so your fish remain healthy, and it also keeps your pumps from running dry.
It also sets your mind at ease when you go on vacation. There’s no point in going to the Bahamas after setting an automatic fish feeder when you just come back to corpses of fish ion a barren wasteland of a tank.
Factors to Consider when Buying
The first thing you need to check is what’s included in the purchase. The basic kit is the self-leveling controller, two sensors (one to sense that the water is too low and needs replenishing, and the other to sense when the water level is good so the water us shut off), and mounting implements.
The complete package will include the pump as well as the hoses that will depend on the pump you use. And then there’s also the water reservoir where the replacement water will come from. You will still need to replace this water in the reservoir, but at least it won’t be daily.
Then once you have a system, what you need to check for is build quality or effectiveness. These ATO systems can fail in several ways. It may fail to sense the low water level, so you end up with a dry tank. It may not sense that the water level is high enough, so you end up with water all over your floor.
The pump may fail and not add water, or there may be a power outage and your system doesn’t turn on back automatically. It may even be just a case of forgetting to refill the reservoir. A good quality unit can be relied on to work flawlessly.
Then you need to consider the ease of installation and use. This should easy and quick. Finally there’s the overall price to consider, although it’s more accurate to say that value for money is more important.
Top rated Aquarium ATO
With these factors in mind, let’s take a look at some like candidates for your tank:
1. JBJ Automatic Top Off Water Level Controller
With this ATO, you get the basic setup of the controller, the two float sensors, and two brackets.
You’ll have to get your own reservoir, pump, and tubing. The JBJ receptacle can handle pumps up to 2amps.
It comes with several additional features, besides the automatic refilling and leveling off. It has an Audible Alert, and it also has a “Float Fail-Safe”.
This failsafe turns off the power to the pump after 3 minutes and 45 seconds of refilling, so that you won’t overfill the tank in case the sensors fail. You’ll then need to restart the controller by resetting the float sensors.
- It works simply when all you want to do is to replace the evaporated water when you’re gone for a long vacation. When the water level reaches the low sensor, it will fill up. When the water then reaches the top sensor, it’ll stop.
- It can work really well, especially when you also get your tubing and pump from JBJ. There’s no better compatibility than products made by a single manufacturer.
- That float failsafe may be too short of a time period, and unfortunately there’s no easy way to change this. Theoretically, you can set it for up to 14 minutes, and it involves opening the box to turn a dial. Don’t they have engineers who can give us a dial on the outside?
- The audible alert can also be turned off. Again, you have to open the box.
- There are too many reports of breakdowns and failures when you read the reviews online. If you’re lucky, you can get one that works like a charm, but if not you end with broken sensors.
2. Autoaqua Smart Automatic Top Off System
Now this isn’t just an automatic top off system. It’s a smart ATO. It includes the pump and the tubing, which can pump at 74 gph to a height of 6.5 feet. It has a universal holder too.
In addition, it uses a unique contactless digital sensor. It also has built in AFS (Auto Feedback Security) technology for real time failsafe protection.
- Since it already comes with a pump, all you really need is a bucket for your reservoir water.
- The sensor contains no moving parts and there’s absolutely no chance of leaking voltage.
- It gives an alert if it doesn’t fill up, or if the fill up time takes too long.
- It also comes with a 2-year warranty.
- You’ll find the same problem with the Autoaqua Smart—it’s not all that reliable. It may work for a while, and then it may not.
- And then in about a year or 18 months, you may have some rust issues.
3. Tunze Osmolator Universal 3155
This is the gold standard, although it’s also the priciest. It’s the price that may tempt you to look elsewhere, but Tunze has been making automatic self-leveling controller units since 1983.
This also uses a safety float sensor, but only as a backup. Instead, it mainly uses an optic mini sensor. It also includes a pump as well.
- This very rarely fails—if ever. It really is that good.
- The installation is very easy.
- It’s reasonably quiet.
- It’s expensive. However, if your tank is less than 55 gallons, there’s a version for that size and it has a nice price.
There’s no question about it—get the Tunze Osmolator. You really get what you pay for, and you can really depend on it. In the end, that reliability is the most crucial factor of them all.
If you think there’s something better out there, chime in and gives us your ATO recommendations!