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Tips for Aquarium Lighting April 3, 2009

Posted by Dr. Z Bulbs in cfl, compact fluorescent, Definitions about product., How to about lighting, LED Lights, light bulb, List Article.
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Hey guys! Fish need better light!

Hey guys! Fish need better light!

ZOinks! Its me Dr Z! I have said before and I’ll say it again… Everybody needs better light and that everyone includes our finny fishy friends that reside in aquariums! Below are some great tips on good lighting for fish! Enjoy!

Dr Z



Aquarium Lighting – Fish Tank Lighting

One important aspect of keeping tropical fish is aquarium lighting. This is an often overlooked area that can sometimes be confusing for a beginner to aquariums. The confusion may come from the many available types of fish tank lighting that you can use to light your tank. The main types of light are:

  • regular fluorescent lights,
  • compact flourescent,
  • high output (ho) flourescent,
  • very high output (vho) flourescent
  • metal halide
  • LED – Light Emitting Diodes

The type of light you need for your tank really depends on what you plan on keeping in your tank. This article is a very general introduction into aquarium lighting and below we discuss the various types of lighting needs based on aquarium type. These are general recommendations and we encourage you to research your livestock’s lighting requirements for best results.


Light Spectrum
Spectrum of visible light expressed in nanometers (nm).Aquarium Light Types

Regular Flourescent Light
These are the type of lights that come with most starter tanks and are very affordable. They typically range from 15 to 40 watts and have Kelvin ratings from 3,000° to 10,000°. Kelvin is the scale used to measure the color temperature. They are very cheap to run and replace.Compact Flourescent Light Bulb
These are a step up from the regular flourescent lights. They typically range from 10 to 100 watts and have Kelvin ratings from 5,000° to 10,000°. They offer really bright and intense light but they do put off some heat that may raise the tank water temperature. Running power compact lights will require special hoods and because of the heat produced, they often come with installed fans in the hood.

High Output (HO) Flourescent Light
HO flourescent lights typically range from 20-60 watts and have Kelvin ratings from 6,000° to 11,000°. They are more expensive than regular flourescents and usually last longer. These lights require a T5 light fixture.

Very High Output (VHO) Flourescent Light
VHO flourescent lights typically range from 75-160 watts and have Kelvin ratings from 10,000° to 20,000°. These lights are very expensive and produce a lot of heat. They require a ballast and/or special fixture especially for VHO lights. They have fans incorporated into the lighting unit to help keep the lights and aquarium cool. Even though they come with fans you may need to equip your tank with an aquarium chiller to prevent your tank water from overheating.

Metal Halide Light Bulb
Metal Halide lamps typically range from 175-1000 watts and have Kelvin ratings from 5,000° to 20,000°. This type of light is closest to the sun in terms of luminousity but they are very expensive to buy, operate and replace. They produce a lot of heat and usually must be fan cooled. Ballasts with fan units included are widely available. This is often the preferred method of lighting a reef tank setup with anemones and corals that need higher intensity lighting.

LED Aquarium Lights
Is this what we have in store for the future of aquarium lighting systems? Prices as of 2007 are still very high and they will need to drop significantly in price before more hobbyists will transition to them. They offer many advantages over previously mentioned lights. Some of the advantages of LED lights over convential flourescents and metal halides include:

  • LED lights run much cooler than standard flourescents and metal halides
  • LED lights consume less energy than the other lights
  • They have a much longer life span
  • There is no filament to break, so they could be considered more durable
  • They can be configured in many ways due to their small size.

Many of the light fixtures being sold now include moon lights which are LEDs. So we’re starting to see them more often, but even though these LED’s are very promising we are probably still a few years away from using them as the primary light source on most home aquariums. 

Freshwater Aquarium Light – Fish Only
For a freshwater tank with no live plants you can get by with the low watt flourescent lights. These lights are typically between 18 and 40 watts and should last for a year or longer before they burn out.

Freshwater Aquarium Plant Lighting
Live plant keepers will need to upgrade their lighting system. The light type you need depends on several factors:

  • Depth of the tank
  • Plant species you plan on keeping
  • Growth rate desired

Typically, plant keepers try to provide anywhere from 2-5 watts per aquarium gallon. Research the plants you want to keep beforehand to determine if you can provide the light needed.

Saltwater Aquarium Light – Fish Only
Fish only saltwater tanks will work fine with regular flourescent bulbs. Try to get a “full spectrum” light for your tank.

While tanks with live rock can get by with regular flourescent full spectrum lights they will do better with flourescents and actinic lights (blue light). It really depends on how well you want the coralline algae to grow. Certain types of coralline algae seems to grow better with higher amounts of actinic lighting.

Saltwater Reef Aquarium Light
Saltwater reef tanks with corals, clams and other light needing organisms will need the high output, very high output flourescent or metal halide lamps. Certain corals, anemones and clams require very intense lighting levels that can only be provided with VHO and metal halide light sources. A general rule of thumb for reef tanks is between 4 and 10 watts per aquarium gallon. Many reefers have lighting systems incorporating metal halides and VHO flourescent tubes. Research the species you want to keep because light requirements can vary. Because of the amount of heat these light units can produce, you may need to get an aquarium chiller to keep your tank water temperature in an acceptable range. The expense of lighting a reef tank may be just as high or higher than the cost of the live rock.

Photo Period – How long do you leave the lights on?
How long should the fish tank lights stay on for? We get this question frequently. A good range to aim for would be anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. Remember that fish like and need to rest just like other animals. Fish only setups could range from 6 to 12 hours, reef tank setups and freshwater planted aquariums could range from 10 to 12 hour photo periods. Leaving the lights on for longer time periods could contribute to nuisance algae growth (just one of the factors with algae growth), higher tank temperatures and quicker tank water evaporation. Be consistent and if you can afford it, invest in a light timer.

Aquarium Light Timer
You may also want to get an aquarium light timer. A light timer can help make running an aquarium that much more enjoyable because it’s one less thing you have to mess with. Most higher end fish tank hoods and fixtures have multiple power cords that are tied into the multiple light sockets within the hood. This allows you to setup your timer to turn on the various lights at different times.

For instance, a popular hood nowadays is the compact flourescent hood incorporating an actinic bulb, a full spectrum bulb and a moon light. You could set up the timer to turn on the actinic bulb to go on first and stay on for 12 hours, then have the full spectrum bulb come on an hour or so later and stay on for 10 hours. This could simulate dawn and dusk by having the actinic bulbs come on an hour early and stay on an hour later. Finally, you could have the moon lights turn on when the actinics turn off. Who knows, you may even start to see breeding behavior in certain species that may be more in tune with the light of the moon in this type of setup. Another side benefit of using a moon light is the super cool effect it creates in the aquarium when all the other lights in the room are off.

As you can see, the type of light you need really depends on they type of tank your running. Freshwater and Saltwater fish only tanks can usually get by with the regular flourescent lights whereas the freshwater plant keepers and saltwater reef tank keepers will need to invest in better light sources.

Please practice good aquarium electrical safety and be sure to use drip loops and gfci outlets!


Fish Lighting or Fish Need Good Lights To!-Aquarium article March 2, 2009

Posted by Dr. Z Bulbs in List Article.
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when fish don't get enough light..things can turn ugly

when fish don't get enough light..things can turn ugly


Zoinks! Its me Dr Z lover of all illumination devices and photon fanatic! Did you now that good lighting is important not only to humans but to plants and animals as well? Here is a great little article  by James M. Kostich. about the fluorescent lighting for fish aquariums! Fish need better light!

Dr Z



Advances in Aquarium Lighting:
the New Fluorescents

Aquarium enthusiasts have looked for different features in aquarium lighting over the last century. Window light gave way to electric fixtures in the early years of the hobby to provide consistency and convenience. In the 1960’s, fluorescent lights overtook incandescent because they ran cooler and cheaper. The seventies and eighties gave us an assortment of “show” and “grow” spectrums to pick from to grow plants, appeal to the eye, and make that swordtail look really, really red. In the 1990’s, we just sought more power, as multi-bulb fixtures and metal halide lamps brought vitality to reef tanks around the globe. With the dawn of the new millennium upon us, it seems only natural that another change awaits – by government decree if necessary.

As a result of the Energy Policy Act of 1992 (EPACT) and its implementation through the United States Department of Energy, Americans will eventually be saying goodbye to many of today’s commonplace fluorescent lighting fixtures – including some of those used on aquariums. Over the next decade, many of today’s standards will be slowly phased out in favor of technologically advanced units that produce more light while using less energy. Since lighting accounts for about 20%-25% of our nation’s electrical energy usage, the ramifications of these plans could have a huge impact on our overall energy consumption.

Saving a couple of watts on a single aquarium hood doesn’t add up to much for the home aquarist – probably not more than a few pennies per month on the utility bill. But upgrading a wall full of fixtures in the aquarium room can lead to substantial savings for the pet store, particularly when multiple bulbs are run off each electronic ballast. The dealer might also be eligible for additional savings in the form of rebates from his local electric utility, reducing the payback time for the installation of the new fixtures.

And of course, Uncle Sam is looking at the big picture, where thousands upon thousands of households and businesses are each saving just a few watts, but the nation as a whole is reducing its need for energy. The most cynical among us might also point out that lighting manufacturers, who were allowed to help write the Act, might also benefit from upgrading millions of fixtures across the continent. Regardless of any political implications, new lighting standards are already being implemented, and aquarium dealers will need to understand the basics of the latest technology.

For aquarium use, the most likely lighting designs to benefit from the new government standards are the T8 and Compact Fluorescent fixtures. Both have a sufficient lumen/watt ratio to make the EPACT cutoff, and are designed to use cooler-running electronic ballasts that save even more energy. Aquarium versions often use special phosphors for higher output and better color rendition.

Energy efficient “T8″ bulbs should not be confused with standard, run-of-the-mill lamps that just happen to have the T8 diameter (for example, the F15T8 bulb that comes in most standard 10 gallon aquarium hoods). T8 does indeed refer to the 1″ diameter (the T-number is basically in 1/8ths of an inch, so T8=1″, T12=1.5” and so on), but the new T8s use less electricity for the same or greater light output. They are also designed for use with electronic ballasts that can save even more electricity over standard magnetic ballasts. The energy savings in most common sizes is in the 15% – 20% range; e.g. the commonplace 4-foot 40 watt lamp can be replaced by a 4-foot 32 watt version, 3-footers are 25 watts instead of 30, and 2-footers are 17 instead of 20.

T8 lamps and fixtures will likely find their place in standard aquarium setups, since they produce about the same amount of light per foot of bulb as their standard fluorescent counterparts. There are currently very few producers of T8 aquarium bulbs, and a limited selection of lamps as compared to seemingly endless array of standard fluorescent lamps. However, the basic four alternatives – plant grow, daylight, actinic and 50/50 – are all readily available at prices comparable to good quality standard fluorescents. And as lamp manufacturers continue to gear up their factories to meet the EPACT standards, there will likely be a wider assortment available at even better prices in the near future.

T8s are also becoming popular with some do-it-yourself aquatic plant enthusiasts, who often use many bulbs over an aquarium for optimum plant growth. Since an electronic ballast to run 4 lamps is nearly the same price as a single lamp ballast, it’s fairly cost effective for them to build a multi-bulb enclosure. They also take advantage of the energy efficiency, cooler running temperature, and even the reduced bulb diameter to cram as many bulbs as possible into the fixture.

T8 bulbs are backward compatible, meaning they can be used in the older standard fixtures, but only to a limited extent. They use the same 2-pins on each end configuration, and come in the same standard lengths; in fact, some sizes are easier to get into and out of aquarium light units because of their smaller diameter. However, in low-end light fixtures with inexpensive or poor quality ballasts, T8 bulbs may not fire up at all, or may exhibit pulsing or waving effects that indicate insufficient start-up power. In higher quality fixtures, the lamps will actually use the full wattage of the ballast (for example, a 32 watt lamp will draw 40 watts), resulting in greater light output than either a normal 32 or 40 watt fixture. However, the trade-off is that lamp life may be greatly decreased. If the T8 bulb is installed in a water-resistant lamp holder meant for a T12 bulb, a rubber washer should be used to keep water out of the socket.

Compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) fixtures, on the other hand, are a completely different animal. Picture a standard fluorescent tube folded in half (don’t try this at home) so all the pins are on one end and you’ve got the concept – and almost the picture as well. You’ve probably seen the small 7-watt, 9-watt and 13-watt CFLs during the last few years at the hardware store, where they are sold as energy efficient replacements for incandescent bulbs. Larger lamps, mostly 28, 55 and 96 watt versions, have been available in a few high-end reef lighting systems for a few years, and are now starting to turn up in a few more standard high-output aquarium lights from leading aquarium manufacturers.

The big advantage of compact fluorescent lamps is a very high light output for their physical size and energy consumption. A 55 watt CFL with the proper ballast can put out as much light as TWO standard 40 watt fluorescent bulbs, using of course much less electricity and taking up about half the space. They are particularly useful in heavily planted aquariums and reef tanks, where many hobbyists want as much light as they can squeeze in above the tank. In addition to high output and energy efficiency, a CFL may also have a longer useful bulb life, and throws much less heat than standard fluorescent, high output fluorescent, and especially metal halide lighting.

Due to their innovative design, compact fluorescent lamps are not backward compatible with other fluorescent fixtures. As a matter of fact, there are even some incompatibilities within current bulb designs, with some models using 4 pins and others 2 pins. Compact fluorescent lamps also require an electronic ballast specifically matched to their wattage and pin configuration. The starting mechanism may be built into the ballast or, less commonly, the bulb itself. As such, “upgrading” an existing light fixture to CFL essentially means to replace all the working components.

Like the T8 fluorescents, CFL fixtures and lamps are currently available from only a few sources, and the selection of spectral choices is still a bit limited. But this situation is again likely to improve dramatically as lamp manufacturers continue to move away from the old technology. CFL aquarium fixtures typically sell for a little more than a double-tube fluorescent strip of the same physical size, even though they put out a lot more light.

As with any innovation, the disadvantages of the new fluorescent lighting systems may still outweigh the advantages for some users at the present time. For one thing, the technology is still new enough for there to be a certain amount of trial and error involved: one aquarium light manufacturer has already recalled a compact fluorescent fixture that had serious overheating problems. Similarly, there’s always a possibility that any new product will have unforeseen problems that didn’t show up in the pre-market testing. When our shop converted to “energy-saving” fluorescent ballasts about a decade ago, over 30% failed within 90 days (I guess that’s one way to save energy). It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if there were a few more bumps on this road as well.

In addition, standards for lamp design have not fully settled out, and there is a possibility that some models will have limited availability in the future. It’s unlikely that any fixture will become orphaned in the manner of “BETA” videocassettes, but there may be very few choices or price competition if you select a model with the wrong pin combination or wattage.

On the other hand, investing for too long in the older, doomed technology is no bargain either. In addition to paying higher energy costs all along, replacement lamps and parts will eventually become unavailable or overpriced, forcing an upgrade. While it’s unclear how soon the new regulations will have a major impact on the aquarium industry, it’s safe to say that change is inevitable.



good aquarium lighting makes for a happy fish!

good aquarium lighting makes for a happy fish!