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Aquarium lighting fixtures FAQ

Aquarium lighting if used correctly can create an outstanding effect and show off everything in your tank. Most aquariums nowadays are supplied with the lighting already fitted but when buying a second hand tank this may not always be the case. A lighting system is not all that complicated and is very easy to fit into the hood of the aquarium. Basically there are three main components to a lighting system.

Once these three items are matched together and fitted correctly you will have a great display in your aquarium and in the case of planted tanks, the lighting will encourage the plant growth.

How do I create an aquarium light?

As mentioned above you will need to purchase the three main items to set up your lighting fixture. The first thing that you need to do is measure the length of your tank to ensure that you are getting the correct length of tubes for your lighting. The tubes sold will be slightly smaller than the tank length and will be rated in watts. They are attached to the hood by the means of brackets and the end connectors will simply click on. The ballast should be the same wattage rating as the tubes and the wires from the connectors will be attached to this.

What is the lighting ballast?

Basically the ballast box stabilises the current going to the tubes. This prevents surges which will blow the tubes and allows the tubes to perform at a steady wattage. If your tubes are rated at 24 watts then the ballast must be rated the same. This rule applies to all sizes of tubes. Modern lighting units will have internal ballast units already fitted. If you are building your own unit, the ballast needs to be hidden away at the back of the tank.

Where can I purchase a ballast box?

These are readily available from any reputable pet store or even an online supplier. They vary in price depending on the size or quality of lighting you are setting up, but for a basic set up, ballasts are relatively cheap, 10-20 pounds (20-40 dollars) and this is all that is needed. Bear in mind that some kits are available where the ballast is built into aquarium hoods; this is a good away of keeping everything tidy and hidden away.

Which is the cheapest option for aquarium lighting?

A lot of the newer systems use the high powered tubes that can fetch a good price, however if you just use the standard tubes that are fitted into household lighting etc. these come a lot cheaper but they do take up more room in the hood. With smaller tanks it is often enough just to fit a system that uses the pygmy light bulbs, these are found in fridges etc. and are a standard fitting that the bulb plugs into. For a 10-15 gallon tank, these are ideal.

I have set my lighting up but it looks dim, how can I improve it?

In a commercial lighting unit there will be reflectors that, as the name suggests, reflect even more light from the tubes into the aquarium. These can be purchased separately and they simply slide behind the tube or bulb so that all of the light is aimed downwards. A cheaper way of doing this is to attach aluminium foil inside the hood of the aquarium and it will do the same job.

There are various colour spectrums of tubes, change to one that produces more white light to brighten up the tank.

How much lighting do I need for aquarium plants?

If you have a planted tank, lighting can be crucial. For most planted tanks you will require at least 2 watts per gallon of water for them to be effective with the plant growth. Fluorescent tubes must be used in these tanks; ordinary bulbs are not strong enough. In deep planted tanks some keepers have even resorted to using mercury vapour lamps. There are some plants that do not require bright lighting, researching the plant profiles will let you know which do and which don’t.

How many hours do I need to have my lights on for?

With an ordinary aquarium most keepers will keep their lights on for 10 hours, this need to be extended to 12 hours for a planted tank. This is not a black and white rule, all tanks are different, if algae is starting to appear in the tank then reduce the lighting by one hour. The best way of controlling your lights is to invest in a timer so that the lights automatically switch themselves on and off without you having to do it yourself. This will also give the plants and fish a steady routine everyday and the aquarium will benefit.

Recommended reading about Lighting

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