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Aquarium Lighting Questions
Why should I use Metal Halide for my Reef Aquarium?
What are HQI Metal Halides?
How much light do I need for my Aquarium Tank?
Do I need a Pulse Start Ballast?
What is Kelvin Temp?
What type of Metal Halide should I use - 6.5K, 10k, 20K?
How long do I keep my Aquarium Lights on?
What is the electricity cost of running Metal Halides?
How high should my lights be above the tank?
How often should I change my Metal Halide bulbs?
Should I supplement Metal Halide with fluorescent bulbs?
In what ratio should I mix Fluorescent Bulbs?
What are T5 HO Fluorescents?

Why Metal Halide for your Reef Aquarium?

Metal Halide lighting is a special type of lighting called HID (High Intensity Discharge) lighting, that is much more intense than any other lamp available. Metal Halide has become the number one choice for experienced reef keeping aquarist for a number of reasons. First and foremost is the energy efficiency. HID Lighting does a much better job at converting electricity into light available for photosynthesis (the ability to convert light to food). This means happier tanks, faster growth and better coloration. Secondly, point light sources such as Metal Halide are currently the best way to get sun like light out of a common electrical lamp. Metal Halide is also known for the brilliant nature-like shimmer it spreads over the surfaces in the tank. Metal Halide is chosen above all else for its high output and it visually stunning spectrum.

Can I mix my ballast type & wattage?

HID lighting requires a special ballast or transformer to ignite the bulb or lamp. It is important to always match your ballast and lamp wattage:use a 175W Ballast with a 175W Lamp. Do not use a 400 Metal Halide lamp with a 250 Metal Halide ballast. This may fire up the lamp but could cause the lamp to explode or will reduce its life.

What do I need to setup a complete Metal Halide Aquarium Light System?
A complete metal halide aquarium light system would consist of a ballast, reflector and light bulb.You can purchase either complete aquarium light systems that include everything you need to get started or select your ballast, reflector and bulb separately. We carry a wide selection of Metal Halide ballasts, Reflectors and Lamps to accommodate all size tanks, from the smallest tanks, to the largest public aquarium displays. Lighting a reef tank can be very subjective, with light recommendations varying according to personal taste, intended livestock and affordability.

Do I need a Pulse Start Ballast?
Pulse start ballasts are needed to fire up certain German bulbs: 175W and 400W Ushio 10,000K, and both 250W and 400W Radium 20,000Ks. The standard magnetic ballast will not properly ignite these bulbs. The Pulse-start metal halide ballasts provide a higher starting voltage and ignitor designed specifically to ignite pulse-start lamps. The ignitor starts the lamp and the ballasts' core and coil operates the lamp, allowing for optimization of both lamp and ballast performance.

How Much Light do I need for my Aquarium Tank?
The amount of light needed depends on many factors: Tank Size/depth, intended livestock and personal taste. 175 Watt works very well for shallow tanks 18 " or less with mixed reef corals and sps and clams when placed higher in the tank. 250 watt works very well for tanks up to 24" deep with mixed reef and more concentration on sps and clams. 400 watt works very well for tanks up to 48" deep and is usually used for dedicated SPS and clam tanks. For large aquariums 1000W lamps are available. It has become commonplace for one lamp to be applied to every 24 square inches in the tank. So for a tank 48 inches long, 20 inches deep, and 20 inches tall, two 250w systems would be a good choice, although more can be used (wattage & bulbs) depending on what you want. You could also use the 3-5 watts per gallon rule as shown here.

3-5 Watts Per Gallon
Watts based on Tank Depth
55 Gallons 165 - 275
75 Gallons 225-375
150 Gallons 450-750
Tank Depth
up to 18" 175
up to 24" 250
24" and up 400

Which type of Metal Halide Should I use?
Metal Halide bulbs are rated in Kelvins. The 'k' stands for Kelvin (a measurement of temperature), and is a reference to what we perceive when we look at a heated black body (a star is a common example). The K rating in a lamp model is a generalized form of addressing the color output of a lamp, also known as the Correlated Color Temperature (CCT). The hotter the k temperature gets, the bluer. You should always choose a bulb with a kelvin rating that is at least 6500K. Kelvin ratings that are lower that this are going to emit a yellow light that is not visually appealing. We carry only the highest quality metal halide lamps on the market from many different manufacturers such as Radium, Ushio & Eye Iwasaki insuring the lamp has been tested, and is represented accurately as color temperature. As industry standards have yet to be instituted, it's the best way we can quantify the appearance of the light. 10k lamps seem to be a nice crisp white, while higher k can go from a blue/white to very blue and lower k seem more like that of sunlight (6500k). Metal Halide aquarium bulbs go up to 20,000K providing the bluest light.

Should I Supplement Metal Halides with Fluorescents?
If you are using a 10,000K Metal Halide bulb or higher supplementation is usually not necessary. However to achieve the best colors from fish and corals the way they would appear in the ocean you could supplement based on these guidelines:

Metal Halide Bulb Can Be Used Alone? Supplement with:
5500K No Actinic
6500K Yes Actinic enhances the spectrum
10,000K Yes Actinic enhances the spectrum
14,000K Yes None Needed
20,000K No Daylight or 50/50

How Long do I keep my Aquarium Lights on?
Type Hours per Day
Actinics/Fluorescents 12 Hours
Metal Halide supplemented with actinics 6 -10 Hours
Metal Halide Alone 12 Hours

How often should I change my bulbs?
Metal halide bulbs should be replaced after 8-10 months of use or after 3000 hours of use. Although the lamp will continue to light beyond this they will have lost up to 30 percent or more of their lumen output while consuming the same amount of electricity.

Tek Light T5 High Output Fluorescent Lighting

T5 lighting is a relatively new light source in the United States which seems to quickly be gaining in popularity, much in part due to the apparent success of European reefkeepers who have had access to the systems over the last couple years. Sunlight Supply recently became acquainted with them and decided through in house testing that these light sources, if from a quality manufacturer, may prove to be one of the best choices in lighting technology for captive reefs. At the very least they will be a good step forward in increasing light levels in tanks which plan on utilizing fluorescent sources. The T stands for 'Tube' and the 5 stands for the diameter of the lamp in 1/8ths of an inch making them 5/8" diameter rather than the standard 1½" diameter. This slim profile makes T5 fluorescent bulbs more efficient than standard fluorescent tubes. T-5 lamps have some very distinct advantages over their predecessor fluorescent lighting sources such as Compact fluorescents, T-12, T12 VHO and T8. These benefits include lamp life, power efficiency, output per watt and small size (which lends itself for easy redirection). We carry a full line of German-made A.T.I. T5 lamps including Blue, Sun, Aquablue and True Actinic in 2, 3, 4 & 5' tubes. These T5 fluorescent lamps are ideal for our Tek-Light T5 aquarium lighting fixtures. Sunlight Supply's new line of T5 high output fluorescent aquarium lighting systems have a sleek profile at just 2½" high. Choose from 2, 4, 6, & 8 lamp configurations. This fluorescent aquarium light system is easy to hang with optional cable hanging system. We also carry T5 Retrofit Kits, reflectors and ballasts.

In what Ratio should I Mix Fluorescents?
ATI German T5 Blue: Use 10k or 6500k metal halide lamps to encourage bluing in SPS. Other preferred ratios include 1:1 with Sun Lamps, or 2:1:1 Sun/Blue/Actinic for best blend of bluing and fluorescence.
ATI German T5 HO Sun Full Spectrum 6500K: ideally suited to full spectrum use for growth of SPS and also works great when used in a 1:1 ratio with either the Actinic, or Blue supplementary lamps.
ATI German T5 True Actinic
: spikes at 420 nanometers for ultimate fluorescence of capable corals. Use in a 1:1 ratio with either the Sun Full Spectrum 6500K or Blue supplementary lamps.
ATI German Aquablue Full Spectrum 11,000K: has 60% Actinic and 40% white spectrum. The color temperature is approx. 11,000K crisp color as a stand-alone lamp. The aquablue is ideally suited to be used as a standalone, or when used in a 2:1 or 3:1 fashion with Blue or Actinic lamps.

How high should my lights be above the tank?
Metal Halide pendants should hang about 8-12" from the tanks surface. The higher you hang the Metal Halides the more intensity you lose. If your corals are new to Metal Halide aquarium lights you should hang the lights higher to start with at 12-18" to give them time to adjust. Metal Halides can also be installed into a covered canopy. Fluorescent lighting can be placed right on the tank to get the maximum light output on your corals.

What are HQI Metal Halides?
HQI double ended bulbs have been used in Europe for many years and are beginning to gain popularity in the U.S. HQI metal halide bulbs offer a more clean color spectrum and last longer than standard metal halide lamps. HQI bulbs require HQI ballasts to run and UV filters to prevent UV damage to corals. Click here for complete HQI aquarium systems.

Calculating your cost of electricity
To calculate how much it will cost to run different Metal Halide lamp wattages you will need to determine how much you pay for electricity per kilowatt hour. Refer to your electric bill to find this number and then refer to that number in column one. The costs here assume the lamp is running for 12 hours a day.

Cost per kilowatt hour 400W Lamp cost per day 400W Lamp cost per month 1000W Lamp cost per day 1000W Lamp cost per month
$0.04 $0.19 $5.76 $0.48 $14.40
$0.05 $0.24 $7.20 $0.60 $18.00
$0.06 $0.29 $8.64 $0.72 $21.60
$0.07 $0.34 $10.08 $0.84 $25.20
$0.08 $0.38 $11.52 $0.96 $28.80
$0.09 $0.43 $12.96 $1.02 $32.40
$0.10 $0.48 $14.40 $1.20 $36.00

If you would like to calculate the formula for other variables: 1,000 watts = 1KW and a 1,000 watt lamp running for one hour = 1 KW. A 400 watt lamp running for one hour = 0.4 kW

 1000W - Cost per KWH X 1 X Hours per day = Cost per day
 400W - Cost per KWH X .4 X Hours per Day = Cost per day

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