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Innovative Marine Aquariums
  • Lighting Options

    Christopher Marks

    Lighting is one of the most important aspects of a nano reef. Like all reef aquariums, it is necessary to have relatively high intensity lighting for your corals. There are many different ways to achieve proper lighting on a nano reef.


    Powercompact Lamps


    Powercompact lamps are arguably the best light source when it comes to nano reefs. Although they are very small, they pack a lot of power. These are superior to other fluorescent lamps because they come in short lengths that can easily fit across small aquariums. The following chart shows the various lamps and their approximate lengths.




    Lamp Wattage: Lamp Length (rounded up)

    • 9 W: 7.5"
    • 13 W: 7.5"
    • 27 W: 7.5"
    • 28/32 W: 13"
    • 36 W: 16.5"
    • 55/65 W: 23"
    • 96 W: 18"


    There are more powercompact lamps and sizes available, but those are the ones that are most commonly used. The 27 and 96 watt lamps are called a quad lamps. They have four parallel tubes instead of just two on each bulb. Those are very useful when a lot of light is needed in a small amount of space. Powercompact lamps come in many different color temperatures so you can have the proper spectrum lighting in all size lamps. If you are limited for space, there are new lamps out called "smart bulbs" that have one tube actinic blue and the other tube of the lamp daylight white. Most powercompact lamps are rated to burn for 14 months.


    Very High Output Fluorescent



    VHO lamps have always been a very good choice of lighting for reef aquariums. Although they don't come in many small sizes, they can still be used on the larger nano reefs. The lights provide as good of light as powercompacts and have a long burn life when run on good ballasts. The only bulb lengths that are practical for most nano reefs are the 24" lamps. These also come in various color temperatures for proper lighting spectrum.


    Metal Halide Lighting



    At one point, metal halide lighting was thought to be far too intense for our small and shallow nano reefs. Through some experimentation and an advance in technologies, a wide range of metal halide systems are available for use on nano reefs. The new smaller sizes, such as HQI double ended 70w lamps, are now available in the proper color spectrums needed for our corals. These are great over a nano reef as they are not extremely intense. When used in conjunction with actinic blue VHO or PC lamps, you can create a very effective lighting system for your reef. Many people even use the brighter lamps all the way up to 400 watts, but be aware that this is not something for a beginner to try, and recommended for use on tanks smaller than 20 gallons. If you do decide to use MH lamps with your system, keep in mind that they do require a separate ballast and they will generate a lot of heat. You must use high power fans in your canopy to keep the heat from transferring to your water.


    Purchasing Your Lighting System


    There is a seemingly infinite number options in purchasing your lighting system. Fully assembled units can be purchased ready to be placed on top of your aquarium. Some companies will even build custom ordered systems with your choice of lighting. Retro-fit kits can be purchased complete with all the bulbs, cables, wiring, and reflectors ready to be mounted inside a custom hood or canopy of your own. If you are a more adverturous do-it-yourselfer, bulbs, end caps, reflectors, and ballasts can be purchased separately to be wired into your own custom creation. Browse through our sponsors' online catalogs and see what options are available!


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    Great article as far as it goes. When will it be updated to include LEDs? There is a lot of "tribal" knowledge in the forums but nothing really definitive or proven.

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