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Lighting

LED LIGHTING FOR YOUR AQUARIUM

December 13, 2018 | By Tom Sarac

INTRODUCTION

LED lighting for aquariums has without a doubt become the preferred choice of many if not most aquarists and hobbyists. This is not surprising given the sleek slim fixtures that this technology makes possible. Today’s aquarium keeper expects style and good looks and has embraced the LED in many day-to-day lighting needs.

For those more technically inclined and less concerned about looks, LED technology is very interesting, thanks to greatly increased light control of numerous parameters, such as light spectrum, dimming, and special effects. By now, we all know LEDs are energy efficient and long-lasting, and in general, make a lot of sense in many lighting applications. That said, let’s have a look at the LED and your aquarium as there are some things you need to know and remember.

HUMIDITY, HEAT AND LEDS

Humidity and heat are the enemies of LEDs.

Humidity will shorten and degrade lifespan, while heat will not only directly reduce the amount of light LEDs produce, but furthermore, will cause premature failure.

Given that the top of an aquarium is both warm and humid, the obvious question is just how bad is it for your LED lighting system? Well, this depends on how well engineered your LED lighting system is and whether it has specific mounting instructions and precautions. Some LED aquarium lighting systems come with instructions to respect a minimum distance from water, and specific directions not to splash or spray the light fixture. Make sure you follow and respect them.

WHAT IS IP67?

IP67 is a water and dust ingress protection standard. This degree of protection is achieved when the light fixture can be submerged to a depth of one meter for a minimum of thirty minutes.

DID YOU KNOW?

All Fluval LED lighting systems carry an IP67 rating.

Given the sensitivity of an LED to water and humidity, this rating is good if it’s on the system you are using on your aquarium. All Fluval LED lighting systems carry an IP67 rating. Why would a manufacturer not want this when the intent is to use the lighting over the water’s surface? Beyond typical humidity exposure, a light fixture could accidently fall into an aquarium, and this makes one appreciate the safety and comfort that an IP67-rated LED aquarium light provides.

It is equally important to understand that if an aquarium LED light fixture warns against any water contact and there is a mishap where the light system gets sprayed or falls into the tank, you can consider the warranty to be void.

LED AND HEAT

Heat will not only cause an LED to fail, but it will dramatically lower the amount of light produced by the LED. This often goes unnoticed in poorly designed aquarium lighting as light output gradually diminishes as the unit heats up.

Many of us think LEDs do not produce heat. This is untrue. While the front projection end of the LED does not radiate much heat, the back end certainly does produce it. If an LED circuit board to which the LED is mounted is not effectively heat sunk, the LED will fail way before its rated lifespan.

So, just how do you know that the unit is properly engineered to quickly remove heat?

One way is to check the body of the fixture. If the housing consists of a finned extruded full aluminum design, you can safely assume this will contribute to quick and efficient heat removal. Additionally, if you notice plastic or stamped metal panels with a flat surface, you can rest assured that heat removal is not going to be as effective as it could be.

OTHER EQUIPMENT

Are LED lighting systems affected by other equipment on your aquarium? Metal halide and fluorescent lighting systems can potentially discharge interference strong enough to cause issues. Make sure to leave at least several feet of distance between your LED lighting and any other lighting that might be nearby.

MOUNTING OPTIONS

It is always a good thing to buy an LED lighting system that offers more than one mounting option even if they are sold separately. You never know when your lighting might have to accommodate another way of mounting, and knowing you have that flexibility is a plus.

If you plan on installing your LED lighting system in a cabinet-type top where you would use mounting clips to attach the light unit to a solid surface, it’s important to leave a gap between the light unit and the surface for heat to escape. In addition to the mounting gap you are also advised to ensure the cabinet top itself has a good-sized vent to allow heat and humidity to escape.

HOW MUCH POWER DO YOU NEED?

Knowing how much power you need is linked to what you are keeping in your aquarium. While an LED offers efficient point source lighting, you will still need to respect a guideline for how much light energy or light quantity is actually entering the aquarium. Obviously, if you were to measure the energy output of an LED light with fewer but higher power LEDs, the PAR value (measure of light energy) would be higher versus a lighting system that distributes the power over a larger area. Today’s LED lighting systems generally do give you PAR values so you could get an approximate idea based on what the general categories of coral (Soft vs LPS vs SPS) would require, thus guiding you in placing these animals at the right depth. Use the same approach for live plants.

If you do not keep corals or live plants and only have to meet the lighting needs of fish, then less power or approximately one watt per gallon (3.78 L) will be sufficient.

SPECTRUM VS. POWER

While knowing how much power you need from your lighting system is important, even more critical is ensuring that it delivers the right spectral output.

If you are keeping live coral or plants, there are specific parts of the spectrum that are much more important. A light with more power in the wrong part of the visible light spectrum will be far less useful to live plants and coral versus a unit with less power, but mostly in the right range. In short, spectrum is at least 50% of what is aquatically relevant in aquatic lighting.

Always pay attention to the spectrum graph provided with every Fluval lighting system and ensure the lighting has the right peaks and covers the most important part of the spectrum for the corals or plants you have in your aquarium.

MAINTAINING YOUR AQUATIC LED LIGHTING

Maintenance of a quality engineered IP67 lighting system is fortunately a pretty simple affair. Use a lens cleaning kit to spray the lens and fixture with, and give it a thorough drying with the supplied micro-fibre cloth. Allowing mineral or salt deposits to encrust the lens will significantly reduce light levels, so if you want to maintain consistent lighting, make sure to wipe down the lens and fixture weekly. Keeping the latter clean as well will help dissipate heat quickly, which is ultimately better for your LED.

SUMMARY

When it comes to LEDs and aquarium lighting, there are some special considerations to note.

Being a point source form of lighting, the characteristics of an LED are very different from fluorescent or incandescent lighting. The most important advantage LED technology has offered is digital controllability, and with this, the lighting game has really changed for the better.

Thanks to huge investments in LED technology, all consumers can benefit from constantly improving performance and efficiency. The future looks bright!

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