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Educate me on: Probes and Testing


BobcatReefer
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As I make the transition from fowlr to mixed reef, I'm learning more and more about water parameters and livestock tolerances, how and what needs to be monitored, what can be automatically controlled, and so on. I haven't had a test kit in probably 12yrs and my monitoring toolbox consists of a floating thermo/hydrometer and a hydrometer.

What probes should I be looking at? pH, salinity, temp seems like the baseline, yes?

What should I be testing for? Calcium? Magnesium? Nitrates? Nitrites? Phosphate? Ammonia?

Types? Brands? Methods?

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in a FOWLR, your test load should be pretty light. Salinity with a refractometer every few days (or at water changes if they're on something like a weekly basis). Temp should be monitored all the time. The fastest way to kill your tank is to overheat it. I'm a proponent of having a secondary temperature controller like an apex or a ranco or something to doublecheck my heater. To a lesser extent chilling, but again in a FOWLR, that's not as critical because your stock are more tolerant than a strict reef tank. pH is mildly important, but unless you're doing something really weird (dosing, etc) your pH should be in a happy range for fish/inverts.

I like neptune apexs' because they achieve almost all of the above parameters and you can view/control them from your phone. But I'm a nerd so...

As far as the rest of the parameters, in your scenario I wouldn't worry about testing unless you have an algae issue. Calcium is for coral, magnesium is for coral, phosphate is for algae, nitrate/nitrites/ammonia shouldn't be an issue if your tank is cycled. Alkalinity is also very important for reef tanks.

Unless you're planning to go full reef later, I don't think you need probes unless you're just a tech junkie like me. In which case, get pH, salinity and temp with an apex :)

For future reference, I like calcium/magnesium with salifert. Alkalinity/phosphate with hanna checkers. I only tested nitrogenous compounds when I was cycling my tank.

If anything I might test nitrate like once a month or two to check for nutrient creep (i.e., you need a water change, feed less, something died, etc.)

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Getting an Apex is worth every penny. Through the Apex, I'm monitoring pH, Conductivity (salinity), ORP, temp (multiple). Of those, the ones I actually care about are Temp, and pH. I pretty much ignore the conductivity as it's unreliable (tiny air bubbles screw it up), and ORP doesn't really give you actionable data unless something insanely catastrophic happens.

I personally check Alk every morning and lately with my Magnesium problems I've been checking that every morning as well. I check Nitrates and Calcium once a week, and phosphate occasionally (I have yet to have any reading over 0). All my test kits are Salifert. Figure it's good enough.

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Yeah, ORP is a waste IMO, unless you're running ozone. Conductivity requires a quiet place to house it, but I actually really like the data it provides. I don't know that I'd allow it to control anything like topoff, but it's reliability has grown on me over time.

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FWIW, ORP is super, super complicated. At it's heart, it's really about the relationship of TWO analytes and their redox chemistry. Reef tank water has many, many redox pairs, of which the ORP probe is only a gross generalization of one pair. Water doesn't have an ORP. A related pair of two dissolved constituents in water have an ORP and using an ORP probe as an analogue is suspect IMO.

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  • 4 months later...

So, measuring salinity has been a challenge lately. Use a refractometer I picked up about 2 months ago, but haven't been calibrating it.

Very proud of myself that I got all 3 tanks (display, QT, new mix) to 35 the other day before getting a bunch of new livestock. Had to return a starfish and brought a water sample for them to check - first thing was the salinity was up around 40+

Tested again w/ a hydrometer when I got home and all 3 tanks had different measurements, display tank definitely high.

Picked up some calibration fluid today (refractometer hit 35 on the line) and did multiple tests. Seems like the refractometer is consistently +1 over the hydrometer.

Other than a probe, what are you using to measure salinity? How confident are you in that tool?

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I have 3 refractometers, 2 optical, 1 digital. I also have a conductivity probe but only use that as a catastrophe check. I calibrate them occasionally, but mostly just use the digital now...

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I think salinity probes are more pain than value. I can never get one to hold calibration for any length of time and finally just gave up ...

Good old refractometer with calibration fluid that you trust is the way to go!

I *love* this calibration fluid:

http://www.amazon.com/FTCo-Refractometer-Salinity-Calibration-Solution/dp/B00OHYRB02?ie=UTF8&keywords=refractometer%20calibration%20fluid&qid=1459605326&ref_=sr_1_2&sr=8-2

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I use a Reef Angel controller. I've heard good things about the Apex. Avoid the Reef Keeper.

In an established reef, you need to test for salinity on all water going in, Alk and Ca if you dose or have a calcium reactor and temp if you have a tank below 150g. Refractometers cost $20 on Amazon.com and they're worth the money. If you test for Alk then go with Hanna. If you test for calcium then any test will do since they're notoriously inaccurate and you just need to stay within a range. The rest of the tests are unnecessary unless you're troubleshooting. I would recommend an aquarium controller and pH probe if you use a calcium reactor.

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I test alk 2x/week, calcium weekly, mg every other week (this is based on "movement" i've seen over time). I test nitrates weekly as well. ammonia/nitrites only when I see something is acting off (how i caught my RO/DI's low feed pressure issue a couple months back). I test salinity w/ a refractometer of the tank water before a water change, as well as the new water. A couple hrs after the water change, i check the tank's again. I also have 2 hydrometers i keep around just to cuss at, stupid @#$%@#$5 things. I test ph monthly as well.

I like my apex, its readings are pretty stable (probes mounted in the refugium at a 45degree angle, far enough away from any bubbles, close enough for decent flow). My salinity readings are pretty accurate. I don't depend on this probe 100%, i use it more to detect large swings. ph/temp work perfectly there. I calibrated the temp w/ a NIST calibrated temp probe. I then calibrated my chiller/heater controller to match (probe in sump). I calibrate the ph/ph2/temp/salinity/refractometer every 3-4 months. i also re-calibrate the temp when i see a larger gap between apex and chiller controller (only happened once).

Having a controller w/ probes is all about maint of the controller and probes. a proper cleaning and calibration schedule is good. testing the same values manually on a schedule to ensure your probes are still accurate is a good practice. Calibration of the salinity probe is a pain in the arse. At this point i make sure my refractometer is accurate, make sure im as close to 35 as possible, then calibrate the probe w/ solution. After that process (which sometimes takes 3-5 tries and a ton of shaking bubbles out), i purposefully edit the "Conductivity Compensation" on the salinity probe until its inline w/ the refractormeter's readings...kinda of a manual adjustment to save headaches. I check it for a couple days to ensure there is no drift, and BAM.. accuracy smile.png Now, because I do it this way, if I change my temp up or down, I need to redo this whole process again *lol*

Essentially, all this ensures redundant readings to ensure accuracy. Its a pain in the arse to read and think about, but once you find your groove, its nothing.

(i don't control chiller/heater off apex, I chose something w/ higher accuracy, and didnt want to waste outlet switch itterations (they do die out!) on the expensive EB8's. I use an STC-1000 controller w/ an open firmware made for homebrew folks which require precise measurements: this is much cheaper to replace than an EB8!)

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I use a Reef Angel controller. I've heard good things about the Apex. Avoid the Reef Keeper.

Saying avoid the reef keeper is a blanket statement that is quite wrong. I will put my 4 reef keeper lights up against any controller any time as far as stability is concerned. They have an uptime that can only be measured in months. I haven't haven't had to do anything with one for 2 years.

All controllers work. They all break eventually like all electronics.

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I use a Reef Angel controller. I've heard good things about the Apex. Avoid the Reef Keeper.

Saying avoid the reef keeper is a blanket statement that is quite wrong. I will put my 4 reef keeper lights up against any controller any time as far as stability is concerned. They have an uptime that can only be measured in months. I haven't haven't had to do anything with one for 2 years.

All controllers work. They all break eventually like all electronics.

That's true and I shouldn't have made such a general statement. I had a much longer post but deleted it. The result was too vague. I'd edit it, but my premium membership expired.

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I use a Reef Angel controller. I've heard good things about the Apex. Avoid the Reef Keeper.

Saying avoid the reef keeper is a blanket statement that is quite wrong. I will put my 4 reef keeper lights up against any controller any time as far as stability is concerned. They have an uptime that can only be measured in months. I haven't haven't had to do anything with one for 2 years.

All controllers work. They all break eventually like all electronics.

That's true and I shouldn't have made such a general statement. I had a much longer post but deleted it. The result was too vague. I'd edit it, but my premium membership expired.

W/ longer timeframes between apex's firmware updates, the same can be said for the apex with a proper configuration and no logging enabled. The only bug i've found so far they havnt fixed is the buffer overflow/reboot once the filesystem maxes out. enable logging on a couple things, watch for a reboot *lol* When they release new firmware, they dont have a full changelog, they just give us "new feature" list. a couple versions back they added some silly ajax loading image which broke the android apex app. no-where in the changelog was "added ajax loader image".. for instance. friggin annoying! (I have a fix for that if its bugging anyone else... simple edit of an html file before you upload the html files, yes, reported to neptune, they still havnt fixed it)

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  • 1 year later...

Been trying to find where my tank wants to live happily, w/ minimal involvement from me (adding dosing pumps) so I wanted to revisit this topic.  Last week, I took samples to 3 local shops to compare vs my home testing, and this is what came back:

HR0JRH4.jpg

Alk is all over the place and for some reason, the Dome always shows low on salt (this is the 3rd or 4th time I've had salinity checked there) for some reason.  I find that odd, given I have purchased hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of water from them over the years.  

I use Hanna for pH and Alk, Salifert for Ca and Mag, and a refractometer for salinity.  Will pick up Salifert for pH and Alk just for comparison.  Suggestions for alternate Ca and Mg test kits?

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Been trying to find where my tank wants to live happily, w/ minimal involvement from me (adding dosing pumps) so I wanted to revisit this topic.  Last week, I took samples to 3 local shops to compare vs my home testing, and this is what came back:

HR0JRH4.jpg

Alk is all over the place and for some reason, the Dome always shows low on salt (this is the 3rd or 4th time I've had salinity checked there) for some reason.  I find that odd, given I have purchased hundreds, if not thousands, of gallons of water from them over the years.  

I use Hanna for pH and Alk, Salifert for Ca and Mag, and a refractometer for salinity.  Will pick up Salifert for pH and Alk just for comparison.  Suggestions for alternate Ca and Mg test kits?

Just go with Hanna, Red Sea, or Salifert and you'll be set. I wouldn't get caught up trying to get values to match across the board. They are all using different test kits and potentially methodology (meaning one measures to the bottom of the meniscus while another measures to the top or one titrates until the initial color change and one titrates until the end of the color change). If your corals are happy (which you should bring up your Calcium if they aren't), then run with the numbers you get with your own tests. You are really wanting to recreate precision, not so much accuracy.

 

If your corals are happy at 7.5 dKh on your alk test, it doesnt matter if it really is 9.5 dKh, just as long as every time you test, you get about 7.5 dKh on your test kit, you're golden.

 

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