Hal Collier on Aquarium Chillers
Aquarium Chillers, Harleys and Taekwondo
Hal Collier is the owner of Tradewind, a company that makes some of the best chillers on the market today. When we say this, rest assured that we mean it based on our own first-hand experience, as Tradewind chillers are the only chillers we use at Blue Zoo Aquatics, and we have never had a problem. Hal, who has lived in California for most of his life, agreed recently to sit down with Blue Zoo News to talk about chillers, Harleys and Taekwondo.
BZN: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us, Hal. For starters, how did you get involved in the chiller business?
HC: It all started with a very long period in refrigeration where I owned a company with my father. I worked for 20 years at Reliable Refrigeration before embarking on small chiller manufacturing. When I got involved in small chiller manufacturing, I had been involved with two large chiller manufacturers in building and designing primarily ice bank chillers. I have installed 40-60 ton chillers in locations as varied as Bridgeport, Connecticut and Tecate, Mexico. Needing a change, I replied to an ad for someone to build aquarium chillers for what was then called Customsealife.
I had worked on just about everything in the refrigeration trade but did not know about aquariums needing chillers. With my background in making large chillers, making small chillers seemed easy. Six years later, we had the best chillers on the market; however, Customsealife chose to go another avenue and the company shut down.
BZN: And that’s when you started Tradewind?
HC: Yes, that’s when I began Tradewind. I made some modifications to the chillers to enhance their reliability such as premium strain relief fittings (never leak), well probes in evaporators to protect from barrel freeze ups, drop-in coils that were extremely flexible and nearly impossible to break, and covers that could be removed without disconnecting plumbing. We increased the model line to encompass nearly all situations. Tradewind has now been in business five years, and each year has been better than the one before.
BZN: To what do you owe that success?
I like to think we try harder since we have a vested interest in our company succeeding. My employees have worked with me over ten years and are very good at what they do.
BZN: Help us wrap our minds around the basic concept of a chiller. In really simplistic terms, will you tell us how an aquarium chiller works?
HC: Refrigeration is really quite a simple concept. Heat is absorbed from somewhere it is not wanted and then dispersed somewhere else. Mechanical refrigeration achieves this with a compressor, refrigerant (to absorb heat) and a condenser to dispel the heat.
BZN: Tradewind makes both in-line chillers and drop-in chillers; what’s the difference between the two?
HC: The main difference is that the drop-in chillers usually do not need a pump as they are generally placed in the sump and water flow through the sump is fine. There is the same amount of evaporator coil in the in-line as the drop in, so the performance is about the same. In line chillers will need water flowing through them to operate and unless there is freeze protection—like we have on Tradewind chillers—then there is the possibility of a barrel freeze-up. This can lead to a cracked barrel and expensive and time consuming repair. The drop-in must have good water flow for proper operation, if it is in a stagnant area of the sump the coil will produce a big ball of ice and have very little chilling effect. Due also to manufacturing restrictions, you can only go so large in building a chiller with drop in coils. For us this is at our compact ½ hp unit.
BZN: With the escalating cost of energy and concerns about global climate change, what has Tradewind done to make its chillers more energy efficient and environmentally friendly?
HC: We are limited to the technology of the compressor manufacturers as to energy savings, but they are concerned and are now working on more efficient compressors for the refrigeration type condensers. This is similar to what has taken place in air conditioning systems, which are now much more efficient. As an example, a standard 3/4 hp chiller will use the same amount of electric as a 1½ hp A/C type chiller. In terms of the environment, we have been using r-134-a in most of our chillers for years because 134-a refrigerant has a zero ozone depletion factor.
BZN: Deltec has released its Eco Cooler, which is described as “environmentally friendly and economical.” They claim that the Eco Cooler can achieve 950 watts of cooling with only 35 watts of electricity (compared to refrigerant cooling that may require up to 570 watts for the same amount of chilling power). What do you think about the Eco Cooler?
HC: I am familiar with the concept, but, for the same reason swamp coolers don't work well, these units may not perform well in humid conditions. Also they are pricy for what you get, in my opinion.
BZN: Mark Martin, the director of marine ornamental research here at Blue zoo Aquatics, claims that Tradewind chillers are “extremely solid.” He says, “They are the only chillers we have ever used here in the shop, and the original units are still functioning well after five years or so.” What is it that makes the Tradewind chillers so reliable, especially considering they cost, on average, 20% less expensive than the competition?
HC: It has a lot to do with the condensing unit. I have made over 13,000 chillers using Copeland Condensing units, and the failure rate of the compressor is extremely low for us—about .5%. That is well below the national average. Also, take into consideration that when compressors do fail it is usually because they did not have adequate ventilation—not because the Copeland condenser failed, per se.
In addition to the condensers, it is our business model, I think. In terms of our business, we first need to make a great product, and then we need to get our name known. Eventually we would like to be known as a company that makes a great product but also has a reasonable price. In part we can do this because we are a small company, and our overhead is less than others.
BZN: You make chillers with both single and dual stage electronic controllers. What is the difference between a single and dual stage controller? For what application is each appropriate?
HC: A single stage controller will only control one function, like either cooling or heating, but only one at a time. A dual stage controller will control two separate functions, like cooling and heating, or run two chillers. If you do not need a heater on your system then a single stage is all you need. If you want to heat and cool, it is best to have a dual stage as opposed to two single stage controllers, which may well give temperature readings that can cause an overlap and make the heater and chiller work against each other.
BZA: Tell us a little about your new compact 1/2 hp series of chillers.
HC: Our compact 1/2 hp series chillers are good because they are much smaller and can therefore be shipped via FedEx. They also have less btu output, but, because of proprietary engineering, the amp draw is less than our rated fla of 9.3 and works closer to 7 amps under full load.
BZA: How should someone determine the size and type of chiller they need?
HC: This is tough because each aquarium set-up is different, and each can have varying amounts of heat load. The ten degree rise is pretty much what we start with, and that works most of the time. However, when the heat load is higher, so are the btu’s required to remove that heat. Also, many people do not like their chiller to have a long run cycle, so they may go larger just to reduce the run time. Sometimes this can save electricity, but usually using a 1/3 hp chiller as opposed to a ¼ hp chiller will cost about the same.
BZA: I know that Tradewind only builds chillers, and all are built in the United States. Do you have any intention of expanding manufacturing beyond chillers?
HC: We intend to make only chillers, but sometimes we stray into other avenues requiring chilled water. We have made chillers to cool TIG welders (tungsten inert gas welders. –ed) and chillers to cool water for eyeglass manufacturing; we have also worked on chillers for cooling spas.
BZA: Is there a new Tradewind product or concept on the horizon that you can tell us a little bit about?
HC: We are working on heat pumps for larger applications but they are in the early stages. We are also working on some larger drop-in chillers such as 3/4 and 1 hp drop-in chillers. We’re always trying to fill a need. We also have the ability to modify, as needed, our basic chillers to configure to a desired size. For example, we can mount the evaporator in the front top or side to fit certain conditions required by the customer—that’s a pretty new concept in chiller design.
BZA: So in addition to your chillers being twenty-percent less expensive on average than the competition, you are truly a customer-centered company committed to building an excellent product right here in the USA—it’s hard to beat that logic! We assume you back up your confidence in a great product with a great warranty—are we correct?
HC: Our standard warranty is two years, and for a very small fee the customer can buy an additional three years of warranty. As far as I know, we are the only ones willing to offer this. Our condensing units and controller are standards in the refrigeration trade, so any qualified refrigeration technician should be familiar with its operation and be able to repair it. I’m sorry to say that the refrigeration trade has gotten extremely expensive, and I usually recommend that, in the case of a failure, the customer send the chiller back to me, where I can make a reasonable cost repair. Plus nobody knows my chillers like I do, and we are always trying to have satisfied customers, so we will always help when we can.
I’ve always believed in personally standing behind my products. Tradewind chillers even repaired several chillers that had been previously made by Customsealife. These were under warranty, but the company no longer existed, so I took it upon myself to repair them because the customer had nowhere else to turn. I was happy to do it, by the way.
BZN: That truly amazing! And it’s unfortunately rare these days with so much outsourcing in the marine aquarium industry. Okay, to wrap up, besides making great chillers, what do you do for fun?
HC: I ride Harley Davidson motorcycles, and I have taken some very long trips in the past. I also own a classic Corvette that I have had for 35 years. I’m also a second degree black belt in Taekwondo and have taught many students about safety awareness and techniques used on the street for average citizens. This has been most fulfilling.
BZN: I imagine that would be very fulfilling. Thank you very much, Hal, for your time and for the fantastic line of chillers you have provided to the aquarium industry. We would be glad to have you back at any time to share your knowledge or perspective with the readers of Blue Zoo News.
Published 17 June 2008. © Blue Zoo Aquatics