I have been using my new temperature controller, the Inkbird ITC-308, for 5 months now on our Spec V aquarium. I think it’s time to report how the unit has worked for me, explain what all it does, compare it to my home build DIY temperature controller (that uses the STC-1000 / ITC-1000), and tell of any shortcomings. Here we go. . .
Who needs a Temperature Controller:
Temperature controllers like the STC-1000 (that you wire yourself) or the Inkbird ITC-308 are used to control external heating and/or cooling devices. They have a probe that detects temperature; when the temperature is below a setpoint, it energizes one electrical outlet, when the temperature is above a setpoint, it energizes another outlet. It is up to you to plug whatever you want controlled into the two outlet plugs from the controller.
Homebrew aficionados use temperature controllers during the fermentation process. I’m not into homebrewing, but I gather you need a temperature controller to keep a constant temperature during fermentation. They can also be used to control temperature in a keezer or kegerator.
Using a temperature controller for an aquarium is much more near and dear to my heart. Most aquarium heaters come with their own internal thermostat and controls. The quality and accuracy of these controls varies greatly from unit to unit. However, they all put you at risk for failure – if the thermostat or controller acts up, you risk the heater going bezerk (by failing in the ‘on’ condition) and killing all your aquarium inhabitants with high heat.
A temperature controller takes over and removes the heater electronics from the equation. With its own probe and controls, it dictates when the heater turns on. If the probe temperature gets below the setpoint, the outlet is energized and the heater turns on. When the probe temperature rises above the setpoint, it kills power to the outlet and the heater can’t turn on. You just have to set the thermostat on the aquarium heater very high to ensure it calls for heating anytime power is applied, thus removing its role in control. The mode of failure when using a temperature controller is no heat, which I think is better than having it locked into a heating mode.
A temperature controller like the ITC-308 also has an outlet for controlling a cooling device if the temperature rises above the setpoint. For aquariums, this can energize a chiller or an evaporative fan.
For myself, using a temperature controller (controlling a heater and a fan) on our little aquarium has been a revelation – temperatures stay rock solid, not varying more than half a degree (celsius) in all seasons.
Features and Specifications of the Inkbird ITC-308:
The Inkbird 308 works similarly to the bare-bones ITC-1000 (or older STC-1000) but adds a few very notable features.
- All in one unit – nothing to wire like the DIY temperature controllers.
- Dual Relay – this unit has separate on/off control for two outlets; one for heating and one for cooling.
- 10 Amp Capacity – This means the controller can have a maximum 10 Amp load connected to the cooling and heating outlets. Since they are never on at the same time, this works for both cooling and heating (in other words, you can have a 10 amp load on the heating outlet and 10 amp load on the cooling outlet). For the 110V version, this works out to 1,100 Watts.
- It has a temperature control range from -50°C to 99°C (-58°F to 210.2°F).
- It can work in ambient conditions from -30°C to 75°C (-22°F to 167°F). This is talking about the environment that the controller electronics are housed in (not the environment you are measuring at the probe.
- Operation in Celsius and Fahrenheit. I’ll discuss this more later on.
- Listed temperature resolution (what is displayed) of 0.1°C.
- Listed temperature accuracy of +/- 1°C.
- Two lines of display that shows your setpoint (or target temperature) and the current measured temperature. This is very useful and a setup up from the ITC-1000 which only has one line of LCD display that normally shows the current measured temperature; you have to dig around with button presses to reveal what the setpoint is.
- High and low temperature alarms. Again, an added feature above what comes with the older ITC-1000. This lets you set a (optional) temperature, both high and low, that will result in an audible notification (beeping) if it is crossed.
- Separate cord with outlet connections. The receptacles where you plug your heating and cooling sources into are separate from the controller body (like a ‘dongle’ connection). This is handy in that you have some freedom in laying out plugs in tight quarters.
- The body of the unit has a hole for wall mounting.
- The socket box also has a mounting screw hole at the back
Dimensions of the ITC-308:
I know many projects that people take on are tight on space. Here are some dimensions that may be helpful in planning your project. My measurements might be different than what is listed on the manufacturer information, but I’m just passing along what I observe. I measure in metric and convert to the nearest tenth of an inch.
- Controller length = 135 mm (5.3 in.) (excludes wall hanging mount and flexible cord exits)
- Controller width = 68 mm (2.7 in.)
- Controller thickness = 33 mm (1.3 in.)
- Power cord length = 136 cm (53.5 in.) (this is the cord from the outlet to the controller)
- Socket box length = 90 mm (3.5 in.) (this is the separate dual outlet box where you plug in your heat and cold devices) (excludes the flexible cord exit)
- Socket box width = 43 mm (1.7 in.)
- Socket box thickness = 24 mm (0.9 in.)
- Socket box cord length = 25 cm (9.8 in.) (the length of power cord from the controller to the socket box)
- Temperature probe diameter = 5 mm (0.2 in.)
- Temperature probe length = 58 mm (2.3 in.)
- Temperature probe cord length = 183 cm (72 in.)
- LCD display height = 13 mm (0.5 in.) (for each of two lines)
Setup, Use and Operation:
This temperature controller is very nice. It takes a bit more effort to program compared to the old STC-1000 that I used in the DIY version, but that is because it has more features.
The layout is much better than the DIY version I made; smaller, which is nice since it fits in my equipment box better. I like that where you plug the devices in is separate from the unit; being at the end of a short cord gives you flexibility to fit the whole thing in a small space.
I tested the two (old DIY and the ITC-308) side by side with the probes in the same spot in the aquarium. The indicated temperatures read extremely close every time I checked over the course of a week. They only varied by 0.2°C to 0.3°C and it was consistent with the new ITC-308 being higher.
There isn’t much to say about operation. Once I got everything set for our aquarium, it just worked. I honestly have not messed with it in 5 months. It has been mostly in cooling mode during that time, turning on and off the evaporative cooling fan. Just in the past few weeks it has gotten cold enough to energize the heater. No hiccups – it just works.
The improvements over the STC-1000 are very nice. I like the two line display. It is a big advantage to see the setpoint and the measured temperature all at once. I very much like the alarms for high and low. Temperature controllers are great insurance in avoiding a stuck heater and frying everything; however, they doesn’t alleviate the scenario of a heater that breaks and doesn’t come on. Now, if the heater fails and doesn’t come on in the middle of a cold night, I will get an alarm. I can get up, silence the alarm, put in my backup heater, and probably save some fish!
One feature that I thought would be nice is the ability to set the unit in either Celsius or Fahrenheit. Being an American, I do default to Fahrenheit and planned to use it in this mode. However, I found that when set in Fahrenheit, the unit no longer was programmable in tenths of a degree; it only allowed adjustment to the nearest degree. I do understand that tenths are not equivalent when converting between Celsius or Fahrenheit; however, knocking the resolution down to whole degrees gives up some level of control. I wish they would have compromised and made the Fahrenheit settings to the nearest half degree. At any rate, I have relented and use the device in Celsius.
The probe that came with the unit is unlike what came with the STC-1000. That unit came with a plastic housed probe. The probe with the ITC-308 is metal (stainless steel). It is also a bit larger than the STC-1000’s probe.
On first glance, the ITC-308 is a big jump up in price from the DIY version that I made. However, once I got to looking at the numbers, it’s not a bad deal at all. Here is how the two compare when actually built:
- ITC-308 = $35 USD
- ITC-1000 = $16 USD
- Project box = $10 USD
- Electrical Outlet = $3 USD
- Wall Plate = $1 USD
- Power Cord = $5 USD
- Total Price of DIY Build = 35 USD
I seriously did not jockey with the numbers to get them to match exactly at $35 – very surprising. I’m sure some people can make/find the items for less. However, you can’t deny the savings in time by not having to build and wire. The DIY version has its place, but I’m so glad we now have this ready made version that I can recommend.
Programming the Inkbird ITC-308:
I’m not gonna go through the entire process of programming. I will say that it does help greatly to read the instructions. They aren’t the greatest, but the setup flow diagram is very helpful. Inkbird’s instructions are here, or I have instructions here on my site as well.
The most important part of programming is to remember that when you have finished with the settings you want to make, you have to press and hold the set button for 3 seconds. This exits programming mode and makes all your changes final. If you don’t finish with this step, your changes are not saved.
To enter programming mode, hold down ‘Set’ for three seconds. The two digit code for what you are setting is on the top line; the value you set is on the bottom line. If you are going to change from Celsius to Fahrenheit, do it first (for some reason, it’s last in the menu order). The items to program (in order) are as follows:
- TS: Temperature set value. This is what temperature you are trying to target. For my aquarium, I set this to 24.6°C (76.3°F). (I don’t know why, on my unit, it has an indecipherable letter and S.) You can set this anywhere from -50°C to 99.9°C.
- HD: Heating Differential Value. This is how far the temperature can drift downward before the heater circuit energizes. This can be set from a minimum of 0.3°C to a maximum of 15°C. Because I want the temperature control as tight as possible, I set this at the minimum value of 0.3°C.
- CD: Cooling Differential Value. Similar to heating differential value, this is how far the temperature can drift upwards before the cooling circuit energizes. This can also be set from a minimum of 0.3°C to a maximum of 15°C. I set this at the minimum value of 0.3°C.
- AH: Alarm High Limit. This is the temperature, when equal to or exceeding, the unit will sound a notifying alarm. It can be set from -50°C to 99.9°C. I set mine at 29.0°C. This gives a bit of margin so that it doesn’t alarm if the tank gets a bit hot during the summer or if I put water in that is too warm during a water change.
- AL: Alarm Low Limit. Similarly, this is the temperature, when equal to or less than, the unit will sound a notifying alarm. It can also be set from -50°C to 99.9°C. I set mine at 20.0°C.
- PT: Compressor Delay. Refrigerant units need a time delay between cycling off and on in order to protect the compressor(s). This setting makes the unit wait for a time period (from 3 to 10 minutes) before the cooling circuit can energize again. Even though I utilize a simple fan for my aquarium cooling, I still decided to set this at 3 minutes. This helps keep the unit from ‘hunting’ (reacting too quickly and overshooting temperature control).
- CA: Temperature Calibration. you use this to make a correction to the unit temperature. See below for my calibration results. This value can be from -15°C to 15°C. (you can see an error in my unit as it doesn’t display ‘CA’ in the top line, similar to TS value. No idea if this is must my unit or widespread)
- CF: Display in Fahrenheit or Celsius (Centigrade). As mentioned, set this first if you are changing to Fahrenheit. Because of the aforementioned limitations in resolution for Fahrenheit, I use this unit in Celsius.
How to Calibrate your ITC-308:
Like I mentioned above, there is a setting in programming that allows you to correct the temperature reading of your ITC-308. The best way I know to do this is to check the unit reading in an ice bath.
I did the best I could to get a good ice bath, using crushed ice, densely packed into a cup. I placed the temperature probe in the direct center of the ice.
The reading, before calibration, fluctuated around 0.3°C and 0.4°C.
In this case, to get it to correctly read 0°C, I entered -0.4°C in to the CA value (where the minus is needed to bring the displayed temperature down).
After this calibration adjustment, the unit read 0.0°C in the ice water bath.
Final Thoughts on the Inkbird ITC-308 Temperature Controller:
I like it a lot. The DIY temperature controller I made worked very well, but I never felt it was a realistic product to suggest others use because of the work it took to wire and assemble it. Now that there is a product that is ready to go, I think it is a fantastic solution.
As I illustrated earlier, it isn’t much more expensive than the DIY version. I do understand that the cost does seem high, especially for those using this on inexpensive and small aquariums like the Fluval Spec. I also realize it is odd that the controller that I use cost twice as much as the heater I use. Despite the expense, I fully recommend a temperature controller like this one to anyone with an aquarium. The ability to control with such reliability the heating and cooling makes the temperature control as close to perfect as you can imagine. Season after season, it just keeps working; holding the tank temp to no more than a degree in variation.
I only have a few things that I would see as desiring improvement for the ITC-308:
- The resolution being limited to whole degrees when set in Fahrenheit. It basically eliminates the flexibility of dual units; I don’t want to give up the available resolution so it ends up being Celsius only for me.
- I wish the probe was plastic coated like the one that came with the STC-1000. The metal version is a bit sharp and It mars the plastic divider on the Fluval Spec’s filter system. The probe material is a slight compromise for me as a freshwater aquarist. I understand that marine aquarium keepers do not want stainless as it is not impervious to salt water; that would be a more serious shortfall for this probe. (EDIT: See addendum at the end of this article. Inkbird now has a version, the ITC-308S, with a plastic coated sensor. It works great in a saltwater aquarium.)
- The unit produces a very feint and high pitched whine. I noticed it when setting it up at the table (no competing noise and being very close to the unit). I honestly have not heard it after setting it in place next to the aquarium.
- The two outlets (heating and cooling) are arranged pretty well; however, they are spaced a bit too close. The AC/USB converter I use on the cooling circuit is almost too large for this setup and makes a tight fit for the adjacent heater plug. If you were plugging in large power bricks or timers, you would not have room anyway and would have to resort to a power cord extender. I do think if they spaced the outlets apart another centimeter that would allow most cords and devices to fit.
Other Inkbird Models:
There are a few other temperature controllers in the Inkbird lineup:
ITC-306T: Heating only and you can have unique heating setpoints for day and night (the times of which you program). It has two outlets to plug heating items into, but they both energize at the same time.
ITC-310T: Similar to the ITC-308 (cooling and heating control) but it also allows control of unique setpoints for up to 6 programmable time periods in a day. (I can’t imagine how much of a pain this thing would be to program)
Update: ITC-308S with Marine Capable Probe:
One complaint I have mentioned in this review is the stainless steel probe, which will be problematic in a marine (salt water) aquarium. Inkbird has now addressed this with a new version, the ITC-308S. It is modified over the version reviewed here as it has a temperature probe that can be disconnected (by way of a phone jack type connector). The temperature probe provided is plastic coated and will not corrode or react in salt water. I’d recommend this version to anyone, both for freshwater and saltwater.