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Does Your Aquarium Have The Right Lighting System
Finding the best lighting for your aquarium should not be that difficult for you now since I have
covered the four main types of lighting:
Compact Fluorescent Lighting
Metal Halide Lighting
What you need to do now is to take your home aquarium to the next level—give your aquarium a
complete lighting system. To do that, first we must understand what makes up an aquarium lighting
What Makes Up An Aquarium Lighting System?
The basic aquarium setup usually comprises a tank, hood and lighting. The lighting system alone
comprises different components. These are sold separately or combined in various permutations.
Before purchasing these items, consider carefully the purposes they are intended for, the options
available, and the pros and cons of each item.
Hoods: As most aquariums require regular maintenance, a full hood that opens up with ease would
be a practical choice.
Glass hoods are suitable for those using a more sophisticated mix-and-match lighting systems.
Metal halide lamps generally produce high emissions of heat and harmful UV radiation. If such lights
are used, they are best fitted in hoods that come with built-in fans and UV-absorbent filters.
Hi-tech lighting hoods are sleek, compact and efficient in design—and more expensive, of course.
Most are designed for customized bulb sizes that are not easily available.
Timers: Lighting hoods fitted with electronic ballasts can be operated by timers which automatically
turn the lighting system on and off at the same time every day.
Reflectors: When light strikes the water surface, it enters the water and gets absorbed by
particles or is reflected (depending on the angle of the light rays). This is where reflectors come
in—these devices direct light where it is needed. There are two basic types of reflectors: divergent
and convergent, which either scatter or focus light rays into the aquarium.
Shields: A shield is a useful piece of glass separating the bulbs and the aquarium surface. It keeps
water away from the bulbs, which could shatter or explode if rapidly cooled while running. It helps
prevent glass from falling into the aquarium if a bulb should break. It helps to keep heat away from
the water and reduce the harmfulness of UV emissions.
Shields should be cleaned regularly as they reflect or refract light rays, thus affecting the direction
and amount of light striking the water surface.
Ballasts: Hoods may be fitted with ballasts, which come in a variety of shapes, sizes and designs.
Select one appropriate for the particular bulb and wattage used, otherwise a burn-out lamp or even
a fire could result!
A ballast is necessary to regulate the voltage from the power source in your house levels that will
enable the lighting to operate properly. It comprises a transformer and capacitor, and converts
electrical energy from the power outlet into bulb energy. Ballasts and bulbs are rated in milliamps.
Fluorescent Lighting vs. Compact Fluorescent Lighting
There are advantages and disadvantage to each type of aquarium lighting. Some may be more
suitable for particular types of aquariums than others.
For a standard aquarium kept in a living room, fluorescent bulbs are probably the most practical
choice. Energy-efficient and safe, they are a staple for hobbyists who intend to keep only tropical
Those with reef and planted freshwater aquariums, however, may find it more effective to use
multiple fluorescent bulbs or a combination of different types of lighting to achieve the desired result.
The human eye and plants respond to light differently, so a good mix of different types of bulbs would
help get the best results for plant growth and at the same time create the desired visual impact.
The bulbs are basically long glass tubes which contain phosphor bits. When an electrical current runs
through the tube, these phosphors heat up and activated to emit visible light. Different mixture of
phosphors will give different spectrum, intensity, and color properties.
Fluorescent bulbs come in different colors, wattages, and lengths. Bulbs are rated according to
milliamp. Most are inexpensive and have a relatively long bulb life.
Regular output: about 400 milliamps
High output (HO): about 800 milliamps
Very high output (VHO): about 1200 milliamps
VHO fluorescent bulbs give great results in lumen production (the brightness of light as perceived by
human eyes) and keep a low running heat. Another advantage is that the bulbs are available in many
color renditions, so it’s easy to mix and match.
Compact Fluorescent Lighting
This form of lighting can be simply described as fluorescent light on steroids. Powerful and
energy-efficient, it is an economical source of high-intensity light.
Compact fluorescent lights are smaller than fluorescent tubes but produce much more light. This
means they offer high efficacy in deeper tanks, as light intensity diminishes significantly with every
inch of water it has to penetrate.
Incandescent Lighting vs. Metal Halide Lighting
This is a continuation article from the previous aquarium lighting series—Fluorescent Lighting vs.
Compact Fluorescent Lighting.
These types of lights are inexpensive and versatile, and suitable for both big and small aquariums.
In smaller aquariums, there is an advantage of being able to fit many different types of these bulbs
into a smaller-sized aquarium hood. However, in deeper aquariums, such lighting may be inefficient
as the bulb life is short and lumen (brightness of light) output inadequate.
When shopping for incandescent bulbs, bear in mind factors like colors, wattage, connector type and
Incandescent lights can produce a significant amount of heat. This can be helpful or detrimental
depending on how and where the lights are used. More often than not, they are detrimental to
smaller aquariums as smaller bodies of water are more vulnerable to temperature fluctuations
(caused when lights are switched on and off).
To lessen the impact of the heat produced, ensure that proper circulation and/or ventilation is
Metal Halide Lighting
These types of lights are more compact and aesthetically appealing than fluorescent lights. They are
particularly popular with reef or planted aquarium hobbyist as an intensive light source. They are
“sun-like”, as they can create the pretty dancing and rippling effects often seen when sunlight is
reflected off the surface of a body of water.
When buying metal halide lighting, first bear in mind the fish and plants you intend to keep in the
aquarium so that you can determine how bright the bulb should be, and which colors your would like
The bulbs come in a variety of colors and temperatures. Temperatures are indicated by “degree
Kelvin” of “K”. the lower the degree K, the whiter or more yellowish the light appears; the higher it is,
the more bluish the light.
Enthusiasts with freshwater planted aquariums may prefer a lower K bulb (around the 5,500 to 6,500
K range), whereas those with saltwater reef aquariums may prefer bulbs within the higher range
(10,000 to 20,000 K range).
Like incandescent lights, metal halide lightings can also produce a considerable amount of heat and
thus raise the temperature of the aquarium water. Besides providing adequate ventilation, some
tanks – especially reef aquariums which require strict temperature parameters – may also require a
chiller unit to cool the water.
These bulbs also come with various fittings, such as pendant lamps, independent bulb hoods,
ventilated hoods, combination (fluorescent, compact, halide) or hi-tech hoods.
(article by Mermaid）