Celebrating the Awesome Beauty of the Lord's Tropical Reef in a Home Marine Aquarium

Electrical Control Center Mod


The tank and cherry stained stand arrived on Novmber 7, 2003.  My first goal was to design and create an electrical control system that was easy and safe for the family to use.  The design criteria were to co-locate all the power receptacles in one location away from the sump in the stand and provide an easily accessed electrical switching panel to permit convenient control of all the system's electrical components.

Before I could really start I needed an accurate, scaled drawing of the entire setup as well as an electrical schematic to layout the wiring for all the components.  The two graphics were created to assist me in the layout and design of all the components and structure I needed to complete the setup.  Note: The final complete configuration is slightly different than what is on the drawings since I had to make a few adjustments during construction.

First, I needed to select a electrical switch panel before I could accurately design the layout. I began a search at Reef Central for switch panel ideas and came across a thread where another reefer was using American DJ PC-100A Power Centers (Front, Back) for his control panels and I knew right away they were perfect for our setup!  Now that I had a design, the stand, and the components needed, I began the mod.

Step 1:  Design and create the support structure for the American DJ Power Centers and mount them in the stand.

I started with 3/4" hardwood plywood (red oak) since I wanted all the additional structure to "look" like the original stand.  After building a support frame, I installed it in place for a trial fit to see if it would allow room for the switches to fit squarely within the door opening... and it fit like it belonged there!

Step 2:  Design and build the support panel for the ten standard household 15 amp receptacles and mount it into the stand.

Again I used all hardwood plywood (red oak) for construction of the panel and it's support structure.  Refering to my PaintShop Pro graphic (linked above), I knew the general dimensions for the panel and the basic arrangement of the receptacles.  First I layed out the panel and dimensioned it for cutting.  Then, after designing and building a support structure for the panel, I installed it into the stand (Pic 1, Pic 2) to check for proper fit and that it was positioned properly for accessibility and adequate spacing for the plumbing.  Note the raised plywood channel installed on the bottom of the stand from front to back and attached to the electrical panel vertical support structure.  This is the bottom guide for the plexiglas barrier I made to keep water from splashing from the sump onto the electrical components.

Once the basic panel and support structure were completed, I arranged the receptacles on the panel, marked their locations, and screwed them in place (Pic 1, Pic 2).  Once completed, I installed the entire setup and verified everything was positioned well.  Now that I was satisfied that all the support structures were completed and positioned well, I disassembled everything and applied a couple coats of stain.  Here are a couple, shots (Pic 1, Pic 2, Pic 3) of all the support structure completely stained and installed, ready for wiring.

Step 3:  Install all the wiring from the power centers to the receptacles, including the timer receptacles.

At this stage I was interested in two things; esthetics and safety.  I wanted to be certain all the electrical wiring was routed out of the way to the extent possible so it couldn't inadvertently get snagged when working in the stand as well as totally away from any source of water.  Due to the proximity of plumbing immediately behind the receptacle panel I wanted to be certain the wire bundles were routed away from potential problems down the road.

Part of my design criteria was to match the location of a receptacle on the electrical panel inline as close as possible with it's respective switch on the power centers (PCs).   That's to say that the top power center aligns with the top row of receptacles and the LH PC switch aligns with the top row LH receptacle, and so on.  That said, I started by working from the longest wire runs down to the shortest, i.e., I started wiring the lower row of receptacles moving from left to right (Pic1, Pic2).  I'd first take a long piece of wire and lay it out from the PC location around the right side of the stand and over to the receptacle.  Once I was happy with the length I'd cut equal lengths of the 14 guage stranded black, green and white wire.  I then installed the Leviton plug on one end and wired the other end to the receptacle.  At this point I needed to be certain which receptacles were joined (both outlets working in parallel) or separated so I knew which brass tabs to snip off (Pic1, Pic2).

Once all the receptacle wire runs were completed, including the three timer receptacles on the right side of the stand, I was ready to do the final routing and bundling (Pic1, Pic2, Pic3).  I used plenty of wire wraps to make the bundles tight and secure.

Step 4: Perform operational checkout of electrical panel and power centers.

Now that everything was connected I plugged the power centers in and tested each outlet to see if they were powered and wired correctly.  Fortunately everything was OK and I didn't have to do any rework. 

Although this piece of the project took me a while to complete it was very satisfying since I'd never done anything like it before.  I just goes to show that desire coupled with access to helpful information can lead to great success. And I would be remiss if I didn't give glory to my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!  This entire project is an act of worship for me... a way to express my love for the Lord by using the gifts and talents He gave me to bring glory to His name!  He guided me along this path as a way to bring my family closer together and for that I praise Him!