The technology used in aquarium lights has advanced a great deal in the past few years. For anyone who purchased his or her aquarium lighting system more than a few years ago, it may be time for an update. While the initial investment may seem prohibitive, many of the lights now on the market will quickly pay for themselves in saved energy costs and increased control over the lighting conditions in your tank. The correct lighting system is one of the most important fish tank accessories you will need to purchase. Navigating the available aquarium light options can seem impossible, but with a basic understanding of the technology they employ, it is possible for anyone to make an informed decision on the best way to light their fish tank.
Traditional fluorescent aquarium light bulbs are still among the most widely used ways to light an aquarium. They remain popular due to their low cost and ease of replacement. They can be purchased almost anywhere and, in some fixtures, any type of fluorescent bulb may be used, even those not specifically designed for use in fish tanks. The oblong shape of the bulb allows for distribution of the light over the full length of the tank and gives fish tank fish a more consistently lit environment. These aquarium lights will not produce much heat, so they may be installed in a hood without cooling systems. However, some more experienced aquarists have abandoned fluorescent bulbs because they tend to be low wattage, making it difficult for a fluorescent lighting plan to support tanks that are planted. Though they are available in a number of color spectrums, the distinct wash that fluorescent lights cast is something that many people do not care for.
To update fluorescent lights, consider making the switch to T5 aquarium lighting. The name refers to the diameter of the bulb, which is 5/8ths of an inch. This diameter is smaller than that of many traditional fluorescent bulbs, but T5 lights are up to 3 times more powerful. They allow aquarium owners all the benefits of even light distribution that fluorescent bulbs provide, but are more than powerful enough to easily support both fish and plant life and, depending on the depth of the tank, may be used for reef aquarium lighting as well. Their increased intensity does bring with it more heat generation, so it will be necessary to monitor the temperature of a tank after installation. In most cases, it will not be necessary to install a cooling system, but it may be wise to shorten the amount of time that lights run per day. They are available in the standard 48” aquarium light length, and can fit well with most aquarium sizes.
The most energy efficient options now available are in LED aquarium lights. Until recently, LED lights have been used almost exclusively for nocturnal illumination. Their low cost to run, the soft light they cast and their blue color spectrum make them the ideal choice for lunar lighting. Typically, their fixtures are small and can easily be added to the outside of any tank. Recently though, high intensity aquarium LED lighting systems have become available. These lights may be used as the primary light source during the day, and will inexpensively provide the artificial sunlight necessary for your aquatic ecosystem to thrive. In a cost per aquarium light bulb comparison, LED lights will appear to be much more expensive than fluorescent bulbs with similar wattage; however, after factoring in the savings that will be seen in utility bills as well as the longer life of the bulb, many feel that LED lights make good economic sense.
The last lighting advance of note is metal halide aquarium lighting. Metal halide lights are extremely high intensity, and were first employed as outdoor lighting for stadiums and other events, which required near daylight conditions. A metal halide aquarium light will provide the same intensity, but on a much smaller scale to your tank. These lights are not ideal for fish only tanks that require only 2-3 watts per gallon, but may be the best way to give you saltwater reef the up to 12 watts per gallon it requires to thrive. These lights will require special installation of aquarium light fixtures and a cooling system, and may need to be tweaked for a period after they are added. Metal halide aquarium lights will light an aquarium with a pointed beam of light, so it is important to make sure they are positioned in such a way that every corner of the tank is properly lit. If, after installation, it looks as though there are areas that your fish avoid, a few small adjustments to positioning should fix the problem.
Marine aquarium lighting does not need to be complicated. Most of the above-mentioned lighting systems can be purchased in kits that are easy to self-install with directions designed for those who have never installed lighting before. You can also purchase aquarium stands to hide the cables that will come from the bulbs to maintain an elegant look. Discussion forums are some of the best places to solicit the opinions of like-minded aquarium owners on which types of aquarium lights will work best with your other aquarium decorations.