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How Do I Choose the Best Incubator Thermostat?

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  • Written By: Mal Baxter
  • Edited By: Daniel Lindley
  • Last Modified Date: 13 October 2014
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Choosing an incubator thermostat to permit optimal control accuracy and temperature consistency requires careful understanding of your existing incubator setup. Incubators can range from small homemade boxes or cabinets to large professional-grade units. Ease of installation is influenced by the thermostat type, be it a mountable electronics component or independent digital device. Technical factors can include voltage and power source requirements, temperature ranges, automation, ease of control, and numerous design features.

An incubator is an apparatus used in hatching poultry or reptile eggs, or in the cultivation of microorganisms, by maintaining an artificial heat temperature. From sole hobbyist to laboratory or commercial production facilities, numerous types of incubator thermostat exist to fill a wide range of needs. An incubator thermostat is an automatic device that regulates temperature, typically by responses to heat expansions of materials such as metals, liquids, and gases. Thermostats are set to desired temperature ranges to carefully maintain optimal growth conditions despite external changes from light or environmental thermal conditions.

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Essentially, a thermometer measures existing conditions while a thermostat activates and deactivates heating elements based on thermometer or hygrometer readings to maintain a specific temperature range. A thermo-regulator, by comparison, may function like a cross between a thermometer and an electronic relay switch. Thermostats sometimes come assembled in fan heater combination kits, or may be calibrated to an independent thermometer. Some also offer key lock features to prohibit accidental changes to temperature. Developing organisms are sensitive to subtle temperature changes, and these changes sometimes have a delayed effect from ambient temperatures, so it is important that the thermostat be easily and accurately programmable to minimize undesirable variations.

Types of incubator thermostat can include preset electric varieties, wafer thermostats, bimetal or mechanical thermostats, and digital electronic units with remote sensors. Others are installed as all-in-one kits to convert any box, cooler, or enclosure into an incubator. These might be constructed with a heating element and fan, adjustment knobs, power cords, and mounting plates. This type of all-in-one unit might be especially useful for classroom projects.

Prices can range from the very cheap hand-assembled electronics component to expensive high-technology digital devices. With sensitivity to even subtle temperature changes, it's important to consider what type of eggs or organisms the thermostat is to cultivate in order to avoid accidental overheating. Some thermostats are placed outside the incubator, with a remote sensor that reads the interior; whether this sensor can be placed near the eggs as opposed to reading the temperature at the top of the cabinet can make a vital difference. Other devices require hand calibration by turning a potentiometer when the interior reaches the desired temperature.

Contemporary digital thermostats permit scientific precision, which may be achieved, for example, with a bimetallic thermostat. These devices sometimes measure temperature uniformity, as well as ambient, interior, and exterior temperatures. Whether digital or analog, an incubator thermostat may sometimes be accompanied by a separate power switch and controller. Units are often customized with or without a manufacturer's warranty, so decide whether your project equipment needs this feature.

Standard voltages and power consumption may factor into your choice, as well as size and incubator capacity. Another feature might be the use of environmentally friendly materials. Automatic or semi-automatic tuning, ease of operation, and temperature scale conversions may also be important. The value afforded by these devices will be determined not only by price, but also by the success rate of hatching.

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