Page 1 of 1

Aquarium Lighting

PostPosted: Sat Nov 29, 2008 11:05 am
by Crazygar
Aquarium Lighting Basics

Aquarium lighting has several purposes, first and perhaps foremost for the pleasure of the fish-keeper, it illuminates the aquarium or tank if you prefer, for the viewing of the inhabitants. Second and most important for the tropical fish you may keep, (or wish to keep) it provides the aquarium occupants with a potential for a natural sense of day and night, setting the stage or rhythm for a natural life cycle more in tune with that of the surroundings from which they may have once came. The last of the three major reasons for proper aquarium lighting of course is that it provides the necessary source of light for photosynthesis in plants and or invertebrates.

An aquarium, which has improper lighting can be the cause of, or help to promote algae growth, cause unnatural or sluggish behavior in your tropical fish as well as unhealthy aquatic plants. Poor lighting can also affect anemones, corals, and or other invertebrates in unhealthy ways. Of course the correct lighting will make the tropical fish and the decoration of your tank appear to be more colorful, plants will be of a lush deep green color and much healthier. Marine invertebrates have been known to thrive under the proper aquatic lighting conditions in the home aquarium. Of the two choices the conscious fish-keeper or hobbyist will always tend to give the best care available to the tropical fish in his or her care. Because of this, the quick primer on lighting found below has been created to help you learn and understand the sometimes-confusing world of aquarium lighting.

The Major Divisions or Types of Lighting

The most common of the available choices is the very often seen inexpensive florescent lighting. It is widely used by all manufactures of current tanks and hoods. They are very energy efficient, cool operating, yet can be very bright and are available in a variety of lengths, wattages and special spectral outputs. They are satisfactory for use on many planted tanks and or reef aquariums. Due to most, or many hoods having at least two sockets for multiple tubes, various types can be used together in conjunction to create and or provide different lighting spectrums for enhanced lighting results. This type of lighting is available in many different fixture types. From the basic economy single (try for at least a dual) tube fixture to those housing several tubes per fixture. There is also a market for retro-fit fixtures and a thriving DIY (do it yourself) project instructions for those wishing to assemble their own from end caps, reflective panels and ballasts, the components are available from hardware stores and or lighting shops. Many tanks sets can be upgraded to a dual tube setup at purchase if you know to ask for it, or may be upgraded later if you so wish.

Next are the Compact Fluorescents, these are the next generation in fluorescent lighting technology. Being fluorescents they have the ability to compare to VHO in their light output, without the high-energy consumption and associated heat problems. Advantages of compact fluorescents are the inherent efficiency and associated low cost per unit, as well as the average life of the bulb or tube is up to sixteen months long. Compact Fluorescents differ from the above noted or normal Fluorescents in as that they are single ended in their power connection point. Size also contributes to their use in tight applications. As with many technologies there are two distinct connections types, the European and the Japanese style, the difference being in the shape of the pin connection styles. (Four pins in the shape of a small square for the European style vs. four pins in a single long row for the Japanese type.) They do not interchange so be sure your fixture is mated with the correct style tubes. One four-pin type or style is not necessarily preferred over the other at this time. Of course the various vendors will quibble over this, just knowing there is a choice and whatit is will help you.

Some may argue that the Metal Halide lighting is perhaps the best possible lighting on the market for planted freshwater aquariums and saltwater reef systems. The bulbs in this type of system have the familiar screw-in base, typical of household light bulbs. There the similarity ends however, as these produce a very high quality, extremely bright light. They may be purchased in several Kelvin ratings, 4300K, 5500K, 6500K and 10,000K being the most common at this time. (Kelvin is a method of rating and measuring the spectral output of the bulb in question.) The use of 4300K and or 5500K bulbs are more common for freshwater-planted tanks, 5500K and up for reef aquariums with and without added actinic fluorescent tubes used in conjunction. See your local vendor or dealer for specifics in this area. Metal Halide fixtures most usually hang above the tank or aquarium due to the high heat generated by the bulb(s). Heat may need to be dissipated, to keep same from impacting and or radiating into your aquatic system. Custom hoods with fans can be procured to provide a more compact hooded system if desired.

Basic Lighting Needs in the Home Aquarium

In its simplest terms there are four main divisions for the use of proper lighting in the home aquarium. A freshwater tank with no plants or perhaps plastic plants and or decorations, a freshwater aquarium with live plants, a saltwater fish only tank and a reef or semi-reef aquarium with invertebrates and perhaps live corals.
The first of these four needs then is the freshwater, fish only system. Here basic single (always try for double tube) tube hoods and inexpensive systems are the norm. They may be procured with fluorescent tubes, which are, or can be enhanced for colors found in the home aquarium. Small tanks, less than ten gallons may come with incandescent lighting fixtures, single or dual bulbs. We advise using an inexpensive timer in conjunction with your hood/lighting fixture(s). This will be of help in providing the control for the proper amount of daily light for the tropical fish and aid in combating the growth of algae. Light alone is not guilty of the undesirable algae outbreaks of brown, black and or other types. Water quality is equality to blame, do your water changes and limit the amount of over feeding. (We will deal with these topics in another article.)

Our second type of need is for the freshwater-planted aquarium. Here we need to provide sufficient lighting to ensure that photosynthesis can occur. The two types of fluorescent, normal and compact fluorescents, along with metal halide can be used for this type of use or need. The fluorescents run cool and are efficient with electricity. Full spectrum tubes are recommended for most situations, in order to meet the light requirements of your plants. In deeper aquariums additional tubes and or wattage maybe required to meet the basic needs. (As a natural law, light dissipates in the needed photosynthesis strength as the depth of the aquarium increases.) You may run into HO (High Output) or VHO (Very High Output) tubes in you research for the perfect lighting for your tank. These two variations of the fluorescent tube require special fixtures and ballast to operate, much like the Compact Fluorescents, (CF) we noted above. They are fine to use but are beyond the limited scope of this introductory article on lighting. In addition the Metal Halide type system can be used for this style and type of freshwater tropical fish with plants aquarium. Heat dispersal being the main draw back, start with the 4300K bulbs. Consider a timer or other such system, as twelve hours is the normal maximum amount of light required by any system with plants.

Next we have the saltwater fish only aquariums. Here High Output (HO) or Very High Output (VHO) tubes may be in order, those tanks that are about twenty-four inches or more in depth should be watched for sufficient light reaching the lower extremes of the aquarium in quantities needed to grow green algae which can be used or consumed by fish, snails and or other grazers. Insufficient lighting can be a contributor to undesirable algae types. Natural systems have a day, night schedule and this should be taken into consideration for your home aquarium as well.

Our last general lighting need is for saltwater reef and or invertebrate aquariums systems. These higher end systems require a high quality intense lighting setup or systems. While small tanks may be sufficiently lit by several fluorescent tubes, larger aqua will require the use of Metal Halide, High Output (HO), or Very High Output (VHO) fluorescent tubes. Here once again we need photosynthesis to occur, and full spectrum lighting will be required. Your dealer or supplier, familiar with your individual needs should help advise you in the amount and proper number of tubes or fixtures. Improper lighting on a reef system can cause a host of problems, all of them expensive. Make sure you get the proper help if you are just starting out with one of these systems.

There are many major brand names producing lighting systems and several enticing bulb names to choose from, special tubes for reef, color, plants or even bulbs that are half of one spectrum and half of another type or spectrum. If people will buy it, someone will make it. Costs can vary greatly by type and or brand name. Kelvin ratings from 4300 K to 20,000 K in the common offerings. Even in the common fluorescent tube there are T-12 (standard kitchen size tube) and T-8’s, (one inch diamater tube) which are smaller and allow more tubes in a tighter space. Take some time to become familiar with the common types and then adsorb the rest as you go. There is no magic about it, just getting used to the jargon and the practical uses of different types of lighting setups. A short primer can help a lot as you go to the Local Fish Store (LFS) and delve into the wonderful world of plants and or reef aquariums. Please remember to consider a timer of some type for any of the above noted systems. As costs become important, remember there are several retrofit kits that you may be able to use on your existing hoods, and etc. The price per month to operate a very nice plant or coral setup can run from a low of aaround $15.00 to over $40.00 per month as a benchmark. Simple fluorescent setup's cost much less to purchase and operate.

Lighting is an essential part of the tropical fish, aquatic plant hobby, often not looked into until sometime later. With so many types and styles it often confuses the novice or even those who have kept fish for many years and now want to move into plants or corals. A little knowledge can go a long way, use this as a primer and expand as needed to fill the needs of your dream system. Proper lighting will save you a lot of trouble and or problems later, it will keep your plants and fish happy as well. We would like to help you create the best ecosystem you can for those in your care, for the duration of their lives.