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Re: cheap substrate heating

Good idea! The what you have described is a basic heat exchanger. Think
of the radiator in your car. Silicone tubing would be good to run the
lines, but to "pickup" and release the heat energy from the ballast you
would need to use something more conductive to heat. Food grade copper
tubing, if it suitable for use in the aquarium, comes to mind. If not
copper any good heat conductor would work. The number of wraps around
the ballast and the water speed thorough the tubing would control your
temperature. Hot spots in the bed should not be a problem due to the
energy heat loss characteristics of a fluid in motion. If you use a
closed system you could substitute, for the water, one of many other
fluids with better energy exchange capacities. Good Luck, and let me
know how it turns out.

Mace Arnold