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Important Aquarium Lighting Terms You Need to Know

Aquarium lighting is a confusing subject for many aquarium hobbyists, but if you understand the basic terms it does not have to be. Find the option that fits your needs with this basic lighting overview.


aquarium xs 18565953When it comes to aquarium lighting, many novice hobbyists assume that the bulb that comes with their tank hood is all they will need. While this type of lighting may indeed work for a short period of time, you will eventually need to purchase a replacement bulb. Aquarium lighting is a confusing subject for many aquarium hobbyists, but if you understand the basic terms it does not have to be. Terms like “wattage,” “full-spectrum” and “metal halide” might seem like gibberish, but if you take the time to learn the basics of aquarium lighting you will find that it is not such a complicated subject after all.

Common Aquarium Lighting Terms

Watt – The watt is a unit of power used to measure the rate of energy conversion. In terms of aquarium lighting, the size or brightness of a bulb is described in watts. Bulbs having higher wattages typically put out brighter light than bulbs with low wattages.

sunlight in water xs 9899053Full-Spectrum – The term full spectrum, when applied to light bulbs, simply means that the bulb emits light from all the wavelengths of visible light. These bulbs are also called daylight bulbs because the light they produce is similar to natural daylight.

Color-Enhancing – This term is used to describe a type of specialty bulb which emits light from the warmer end of the spectrum. This light helps to enrich the color of aquarium fish.

50/50 – This term is another name used to describe actinic white bulbs. These bulbs produce a blend of blue and white light that is ideal for marine aquariums. This type of lighting helps to promote photosynthetic coral growth.

Actinic – Bulbs that produce light in the blue spectrum are described as actinic. Because blue light is better able to penetrate deep water than white light, actinic bulbs are often recommended for saltwater reef tanks.

Types of Lighting

Incandescent – If you have a lamp or overhead light in your home, the chances are good that the bulbs are incandescent. Incandescent bulbs produce soft, natural light but they may also produce a great deal of heat. For this reason, incandescent bulbs are usually not recommended for aquariums.

light xs 21606922Fluorescent – The most commonly used type of aquarium lighting, fluorescent bulbs are available in a variety of sizes and wattages. Not only are they widely available and easy to use, but fluorescent bulbs tend to be fairly inexpensive and some varieties are highly energy efficient. Compact fluorescent bulbs, for example, are very small but produce high-intensity light and require less energy than standard bulbs.

Metal-Halide – These bulbs put out high intensity, wide spectrum light ranging from 70 to 1000 watts. Metal Halide bulbs are ideal for reef tanks and larger aquariums but because they put out so much heat, they should be used only in conjunction with an auxiliary fan or chiller. Metal Halide lights are typically available in two styles having either a single- or double-ended screw base.

lights led xs 21391586LED – One of the more energy efficient options in aquarium lighting, LED lights are gaining popularity in the aquarium trade. Though they require little energy, these lights put out bright light at a low wattage. The low wattage makes them perfect for nocturnal tank inhabitants, though they can be used in virtually any type of aquarium. In addition to being energy efficient, LED lights have a longer life-span than flourescent bulbs. The initial cost for LED fixtures, however, is much higher than flourescent fixtures.

T-5 HO – This type of aquairum lighting is one of the most advanced options available to aquarium hobbyists and it employs the use of thin fluorescent bulbs which measure about 5/8” in diameter. T-5 HO, or High Output, lamps produce light that is almost twice as bright as standard fluorescent bulbs and it also offers greater longevity. These lights are particularly recommended for planted tanks and, because they run cool, they do not require a fan. T-5 lighting is a popular choice used by many aquarium hobbyists.

VHO – This acronym stands for Very High Output and it is used to describe a type of specialty fluorescent bulb which produces up to three times more light than standard fluorescent bulbs. In order to produce such intense light, VHO bulbs require special fixtures and ballast – they may also require the use of a chiller because they can produce a great deal of heat. VHO bulbs are available in a wide range of sizes and wattages and can be found anywhere between 75 and 165 watts.

With the latest advancements in technology providing an array of choices in aquarium lighting, there's surely an option to fit your needs.

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