There are many different components that go into installing a hydroponic system, from the water tank and water pumps, to using the perfect nutrient solution and maintaining the pH level; it can get quite overwhelming due to how complicated the logistics and procedure can be. However, one component that’s hardly addressed, or even mentioned, in hydroponic articles is water chillers.
Typically, soil substrates from the earth are much cooler than the atmospheric temperature. This suggests that the temperature of roots are generally the colder parts of a plant. As a result, this is where water chillers come into the picture because, as the name suggests, they help keep your hydroponic system’s nutrient solution cool and comfortable for your plants’ roots. Additionally, the myriad of tools and equipment like lights, water pumps, and even the surroundings involved in the irrigation circulation contribute to temperature fluctuations in the water for many deep water culture (DWC) systems.
In response, water chillers help stabilize water temperatures, proving their usefulness and importance in this process. There are mainly two categories of water chillers: the refrigeration unit and the solid-state thermoelectric version.
The refrigeration unit is typically compatible with the water pump located within the hydroponic reservoir. The pump transports the system’s nutrient solution through a tube to the refrigeration unit, thereby cooling down the solution before it is channeled back into the system flow.
On the other hand, the solid-state thermoelectric version channels nutrient solution to the water chiller through an inserted probe connected to the system reservoir and then cooling it with a fan before recirculating it back.
Keen about incorporating the water chiller into your hydroponic system? If so, continue reading to learn about the significance of water chillers and the benefits that they can bring to your system.
The Ideal Temperature Conditions
Before even purchasing a water chiller, a good hydroponic farmer or gardener should be well versed with the ideal temperature conditions for their plants. In general, there isn’t a single water temperature that’s best for all plants under hydroponics. Instead, each plant species has its own temperature preferences depending on their root zones and climate origins. Hence, it proves to be more sensible in maintaining a range of temperatures instead to accommodate differing temperature preferences in order to maximize plant growth.
A general rule of thumb would be to follow a range of 20-22 °C because that’s a common range for beginners whereas 24 °C is also possible for more experienced gardeners to cover a wider selection of plant types. While operating at a temperature marginally outside of the preferred range will not kill your plants, it doesn’t mean complacency to operate at diurnal temperatures on extreme ends either. Overheating can be very detrimental to plants by increasing their root tissue respiration rates and engendering the breeding of germs and fungi. Conversely, extremely cold temperatures would slow down your plant’s metabolism and stunt their growth.
Ultimately, it makes the most sense to group your plants appropriately according to their temperature types and house them in separate systems following those conditions.
The Pros and Cons of Water Chillers
Water chillers are probably the most efficient and reliable method of getting the job done. Due to the prevalence of sunlight and cooler temperatures at night, it’s arguably harder to maintain a cooler temperature during the day. It becomes troublesome to consistently monitor water temperature throughout the day and using manual tactics to lower the temperature can mess with the consistency and concentration of the nutrient solution. Thus, having a water chiller helps to alleviate these otherwise avoidable inconveniences.
Conversely, the ultimate con to water chillers is the high cost. It’s both expensive to acquire and subsequently maintain should it encounter mechanical faults. Additionally, due to its size and electrical components, it’s less feasible in outdoor and tight spaces.
If water chillers aren’t up your alley, try alternative measures to balance water temperature within your hydroponic system like:
- Size and Color of Reservoir
It’s recommended to have a larger reservoir size of a lighter color. A wider size correlates to a larger volume, thereby encouraging greater water circulation and thus temperature distribution. The lighter color then helps to reflect heat from the water.
Opt for a shadier or sheltered location (made with reflective material again) if possible. If your hydroponic system is indoors, relocate the reservoir to a separate room, channeling water flow through a larger tube for higher flow rates and hence, less concentrated heating. If the system is located outdoors, consider digging a hole for placing it in to cool down.
- Insulative Material
Insulation is also another great method to both preserve heat and prevent heat loss. Do so by using a larger picnic cooler or creating another reservoir container made with food-grade material. Remember to refrain from this method though if your water is already overheated because it’s ineffective for cooling it down. It’s more suitable for maintaining temperature consistency.
In conjunction with insulation, you can also ensure a constant maintenance of water level within the reservoir and increase aeration through it. Both these measures once again minimize heat concentration and distribute it more evenly.
- Literal Chilling
Last but not least, using literal ice packs or frozen bottles and putting them into the reservoir will undoubtedly help cool it down. Continuously swap them with freshly-frozen ones to maintain the process. If not, swamp coolers are also effective albeit the fact that they’re prone to exacerbating evaporation which might inadvertently affect nutrient concentration and its pH levels, ultimately contributing to surrounding humidity as a whole.
Before we introduce our recommendations, there are a few things to note.
Depending on the type of water chiller, you’ll need to individually purchase components accordingly that’s sold separately. For example, refrigeration-type chillers don’t come with water pumps, and tubing and solid-state thermoelectric types don’t come with temperature controllers.
Now without further ado, here are our top five recommendations for the current best water chillers in the market.
1. Hydrofarm Active Aqua Chiller
Active Aqua is one of the most reputable brands within the hydroponics scene. It’s known for its efficient yet cost-friendly chillers. It falls under the refrigeration unit category. More specifically, it’s equipped with a microcomputer control system that enables easy control and access to the chiller. Within the unit, it contains a titanium evaporator, compressor protection device, and temperature memory system and operates relatively quietly.
However, the most unique feature about this model has to be its boost function which accelerates cooling speed by up to three hours, thereby chilling your hydroponic reservoir efficiently.
2. EcoPlus Chiller
Like the Active Aqua, the EcoPlus is another chiller specific for hydroponics use. They offer a selection across three different models depending on the size of your reservoir: the EcoPlus Chiller 1/10 HP, the EcoPlus Chiller 1/4 HP, and the EcoPlus Chiller 1/2 HP. The models are listed in ascending order, from the smallest capacity (15-42 gallons) to the largest capacity (132 gallons).
As these models are refrigerator units, they come integrated with similar components as the Active Aqua like microcomputer, automatic temperature control, and overcurrent protection system function, titanium evaporator, and compressor and sensor circuit protection. Overall, EcoPlus is known for producing extremely efficient and effective hydroponic water chillers.
3. JBJ Aquarium Arctica Titanium Chiller
The Arctica Titanium Chiller is the most recent model from JBJ Lighting with a release of four models under this series — the 1/10 HP, 1/5 HP, 1/4 HP, and 1/3 HP, all in ascending order from smallest (130 gallons) to biggest capacity (340 gallons). It contains the basic refrigerator unit components like titanium evaporator, efficient condenser, and an auto digital temperature control system. However, it seems to be lacking a microcomputer, compressor, and circuit-protection function.
However, it’s redeemed by its unique titanium coil design entwined with its condenser that optimizes surface area exposed in the reservoir. Lastly, it’s relatively quiet and produces a minimal carbon footprint.
4. Hamilton Technology Aqua Euro Max-Chill Titanium Aquarium Water Chiller
Indeed, the Max-Chill water chiller is a formidable refrigeration-unit contender in the hydroponics market because of Hamilton’s state-of-the-art technology. Their water chillers are equipped similarly with all the necessary aforementioned components of refrigerator units but also come with an efficient condenser and a high BTU rating.
Under the company, they have produced five models within this selection: the 1/13, the 1/10, the 1/4, the 1/2, and the 1 HP Max-Chill. Once again, they are listed in ascending order from the smallest (34-68 gallons) to the largest capacity (264-528 gallons). Remarkably, this beast of a water chiller holds significantly more volume than models like the EcoPlus.
5. IceProbe Thermoelectric Aquarium Chiller
Next up on our list is the IceProbe Thermoelectric chiller. As the name suggests, this chiller falls under the other category of solid-state thermoelectric units. Water or nutrient solution from your reservoir undergoes continuous chilling for several hours in the unit before being re-circulated back.
Made by Novatec, while this model was made more geared towards aquariums, it’s still suitable for smaller reservoirs given their efficient yet quiet system, consuming only 50 watts of energy to cool down ten gallons of liquid down to as cold as 9 °C.
One disadvantage to the IceProbe however, is its small size. It won’t be able to cool down larger reservoirs as effectively. Additionally, they also need to be mounted on a platform either in the reservoir or above it to be operated.
Conclusion: Making the Right Choice
Even after reading all the above points, knowledge is one thing while execution is another. How then, can you find the factor that your system might be most affected by? Well, the main factors can be summarized in the following: the size of the reservoir, how susceptible to heat your grow room is, and lastly, the ideal temperature range mandated by your plants.
If you keep in mind these top three factors, it can definitely assist you in discerning the appropriate measures to take into account for your hydroponic system. After all, even if you modeled your hydroponic system off someone else’s, everyone’s environment is unique. Your environmental conditions are out of your control and definitely differs from one hydroponic farmer to the next. Therefore, it’s most important for you to be in tune with your surrounding conditions and adjust your system accordingly.