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Fluorescent Aquarium Lighting - Types and Specifications

Aquarium lighting is very important to the basic function of an aquarium and its inhabitants. Originally, aquarists utilized aquarium lighting as accessories with which to observe but lights have proven to be far more useful than that. Plants benefit from specific regions of the light spectrum resulting in enhanced growth. Corals and invertebrates feed on algae that gain support from light for their photosynthetic processes. The colors of fish are enhanced by the warm end of the color spectrum allowing their natural colors to stand out. Fish rely on light to influence their mood and behavior making light a vitally important feature in the maintenance of their health. Different lights sources are available in a wide spectrum of colors and brightness, customizable to fit the needs of your aquarium. Light naturally gives off heat which is one of the things you need to take into consideration when choosing the correct lighting system. Fluorescent lights run coolest and are by far the most efficient to utilize.

Fluorescent light bulbs come in a variety of lighting conditions. From full spectrum to specific coloration, fluorescent lighting is fully customizable to the needs of your aquarium. Fluorescent lights do not emit as much heat as some of the other lighting options available to you. Although cooling fans are available to help maintain the heat output of aquarium lighting it would be better to not have to deal with it if it was unnecessary. Heat output and energy efficiency are the main reasons fluorescent lights are preferred over incandescent and metal halide lights. The incandescent and metal halide lights emit higher heat using more electricity with not that bright a radiance. The life of each incandescent bulb is considerably shorter than a fluorescent bulb. Over time you could end up spending more on electricity and incandescent light bulbs than they are worth. Fluorescent light fixtures and bulbs are priced higher than incandescent light bulbs and fixtures but the energy efficiency and life of each bulb will save you money in the long run. With Metal halide lighting, there are special fixtures and ballasts to purchase. Many times, the metal halide lighting fixtures also come complete with fluorescent lighting options for backup. Metal halide lights run hotter and less energy efficient than fluorescents. There are potentially a lot of electrical problems and fire hazards involved with the use of metal halide lighting. The only reason these lights are even used is because of the positive effects it has on aquarium life.

Types of fluorescent lights

There are many choices when it comes to picking the right fluorescent light fixture and type of bulb. There is the standard fluorescent lighting also known as “normal output” or “NO”. This type of light is the most commonly used by aquarists. “High output” or “HO” commonly comes in the T5 size. These bulbs have the potential to give off more light than “VHO” light bulbs and they can be very energy efficient when paired with an electrical ballast. “Very high output” or “VHO” is the fluorescent lighting used most by aquarists with planted aquariums or reef aquariums. A special light fixture is required for the use of these bulbs but the light is far more intense than that of the “NO” fluorescent lights. Compact fluorescent lights are the third option in fluorescent lighting systems. These bulbs put out a light intensity equivalent to the “VHO” bulbs but they do so from a smaller casing. These bulbs can be found in different forms compatible for use in different light fixtures. The only problem with that is you need to be careful not to exceed the wattage limits of the fixtures in use. Be sure to compare your light fixtures maximum watts capacity to the wattage amount of your light bulb.

Normal Output Fluorescent lights

“Normal output” fluorescent lights are easy to use as well as energy efficient. This type of lighting can be used for freshwater and saltwater aquariums but are best in fish only tanks. The type of light emitted by “NO” bulbs is not the kind of light that helps plants and coral thrive. The key is to create the best lighting possible to suit the needs of the aquarium’s residents. This means replicating, to the best of your ability, the light in which the tank residents would naturally live in. When an aquarium houses plants and corals, it needs to provide light with which photosynthetic processes can take place.

High output fluorescent lights

T5 “high output” fluorescent light bulbs are becoming more and more popular among aquarists. T5 refers to the size of the fluorescent bulb meaning it has a .625” diameter. There is a T8 bulb that has a 1” diameter and a T12 bulb that has a 1.5” diameter. The T5 bulbs are more commonly used than the T8 and T12 bulbs because the smaller size of the T5 allows more bulbs to be incorporated into the size of the fixture allowing more light to penetrate deeper into the water. Additionally, the T5 is a great option for deeper aquariums because the glass is thinner than compact fluorescent lights making it a brighter, more efficient light. T5s are “high output” or “HO” yet they run brighter and more efficient than “Very High Output” bulbs. Using an electrical ballast allows the T5 bulbs to run cooler and last longer because it is so energy efficient. The role of the electrical ballast is to limit the amount of electrical current running into the electronic device. Without the ballast the excess energy would otherwise be wasted. Fluorescent lighting fixtures that come pre-equipped with an electrical ballast are available for purchase.

Very high output fluorescent lights

“Very high output” or “VHO” light bulbs are commonly used among aquarists who keep densely planted tanks. These lights penetrate through deeper waters than normal fluorescents. It is for this very reason; aquarists also use them for aquariums deeper than 24” and also on reef aquariums. The problem with this lighting system is the extravagant cost. The “VHO” ballasts, fixtures and bulbs are extremely costly in comparison to the alternatives.

Compact fluorescent lights

Compact fluorescent lights are cheaper alternatives to the “VHO” bulbs. Compact fluorescent bulbs illuminate 300% more than “NO” fluorescents yet are not as large or costly as “VHO” bulbs. These bulbs are sold in versatile configurations so that they may be used in variously configured light fixtures. The fixtures for compact fluorescents are either two pin, linear or square as are the bulbs. They also come in the same screw on format as incandescent light bulbs so that they may be used in incandescent light fixtures. You must be careful not to exceed the maximum wattage that the light fixture is made to handle or it could be a hazardous match.

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