How to Choose a Good Lighting System for Your Aquarium

How to Choose a Good Lighting System for Your Aquarium

It’s easy to overlook lights when you go searching for an aquarium for sale. But it’s actually one of the most important components of any fish tank. And when it comes to lights, you have to know what your options are.

Choosing the wrong kind could mean you’re endangering your fish and every other living organism inside the aquarium. Put it this way, too much light? You risk growing excessive algae in the tank. And you know how hard it can be to remove algae from inside the aquarium. Too little light? You stunt the growth of fish, corals and plants.

So what to do? What should you look for in your aquarium light source? Should you consider natural light?

Here are the things you should consider:

  • What you’re buying the lights for – Reef tank? Planted aquarium?
  • How long you expect the light to last versus the price?
  • Will you need to use automatic controls for the lights?
  • Are you considering a fully assembled lighting fixture? Will a retrofit kit fit better?

Once you have answered those questions, it’s time to look at the many different kinds of aquarium lighting available.

1. LED Lights

LED lighting refers to those tiny diodes attached to circuit boards. You can purchase this type of lighting complete, or in light rails and tubes, flood lights and even single pendants. They can also have different colors and intensities.

The most common brands selling LED lights are Coralife and Marineland. The price can go anywhere from $10 for simple fixtures all the way up to $2500 for automatic ones on repeated schedules.

What’s to like about LED lights? They’re long-lasting, which means you won’t have to change them often and thus save money in the long-term. They’re also energy efficient and usually produces little heat.

What’s not to like? They can be expensive and aren’t really necessary for fish-only saltwater aquarium set-ups.

2. Normal Fluorescent Lighting

Generally more efficient than most standard incandescent bulbs, normal fluorescent lights also give off less heat and are a convenient option for both manufacturers and hobbyists. Fluorescent lights have come a long way from the first time they were introduced. Now they come in many color, wattage and Kelvin rating options.

The best thing about fluorescent lights? They’re convenient and good for fish only saltwater tanks.  

The downside? The lifespan is typically shorter than LED lights and some have compatibility issues.

The best brands to go for are Aqua Medic and Blueline. Expect to spend between $6 and $900 depending on what you decide on.

3. Compact Fluorescent Lights

If you have a small aquarium system, consider getting a compact fluorescent lighting system. You may even just construct your won instead of getting one that’s already ready-made. This type of lighting is low heat but gives off higher light intensity. They usually have a range of 10 to 100 watts and Kelvin ratings between 5000 and 10000 degrees.

Coralife, Zoo Med and Aquatic Life all have top-quality compact fluorescent lights. Prices range from a low $9 to a high $700.

Just be aware that this may have compatibility issues with bulbs and hoods.

4. Metal Halide Lights

If you need intense lighting for your reef aquarium, your best bet is a metal halide lighting system. These usually come in various color temperatures, too.

Unfortunately, the intense lights may require that you add a small fan to dissipate some of the heat from the water.

Coralife, Aqualight and Blueline all have metal halide lighting systems available. Prices range from $20 all the way up to $2700.

It may be prudent to combine different lighting systems instead of sticking with just one kind, though. That should allow you to get the right intensity and spectrum for your aquarium set up. At the same time, it will let you satisfy the needs of your fish and corals better while also giving a more pleasing aesthetic.

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