A Beginner's Guide to Aquarium Lighting
The main purpose of aquarium lighting is to simulate day and nighttime conditions and provide light for marine plants such as coral. There are three major types of aquarium lighting: incandescent, fluorescent, and metal halide. When choosing a type of lighting it is important to consider the contents of the tank. For example, coral reef tanks have different lighting needs than tanks with only fish. The depth of the tank should also be taken into account. Some light fixtures will not penetrate deep water.
Inexpensive and versatile, incandescent lighting was once the most popular choice for aquariums; they are not energy efficient, however. It is also difficult to regulate the tanks temperature with the excess heat the lights emit which makes them an excellent choice for tanks with plants because of this excess heat.
Incandescent lights are available in different colors and a variety of different bulb strengths. They can be easily made into a custom hood making them a popular choice for smaller aquariums. They are cheaper initially; however, the long-term cost is more expensive because of the energy requirements. These lights also burn out frequently.
There are three different grades of fluorescent lighting: power compact fluorescent, normal output (NO), and very high output (VHO).
Normal output or standard, fluorescent lights are the perfect choice for fish only aquariums and those just starting out as aquarium hobbyists. They are usually found in hoods that come with aquariums and can fit just about any size aquarium. No special fixtures or ballasts are required for these lights, but their initial cost can be a bit expensive.
Very high output fluorescent lighting provides three times the light of a normal output light. It is usually used for deep aquariums that need light to penetrate all the way down such as coral reef aquariums. In order to work properly, they require specific ballasts, which tend to be on the expensive side.
Power compact fluorescent lighting offers similar results to that of VHO, but they do not require specialized ballasts, which reduces their cost. A major advantage of power compact lights is the ability for many of the different bulbs to fit in an incandescent socket.
Metal Halide Lighting
Metal halide lighting is an excellent choice for tanks with plant life because they produce a lot of heat. Metal halide also brings out the color in tropical tanks. However, they require special ballasts and fixtures and use quite a bit of energy.
Choosing aquarium lighting is a very important yet difficult decision. However, knowing the purpose of the lighting and the size of the tank can go a long way in alleviating any frustration.