Aquarium lighting has definitely brightened up since the days of the clear tungsten lamp which any old stager will still tell you was the best for plant growth, forgetting it was the only artificial lighting available then.
The fact that two bare lamps projecting barely an inch above the water and was probably the most lethal piece of equipment in the home meant nothing, and I clearly remember a knockout punch between the shoulder blades when the uncoated wire handle of a net came into contact with a DIY dimmer's uninsulated connection under the propped up hood!

Jumping fish and splashing water frequently blew the lamps creating a further hazard in extracting the shattered pieces of glass from the bottom of the tank and amongst the plants. The effects of condensation in the lamp holder were not even considered worth worrying about. All a sure sign that there was no Euro Big Brother in control (Ah! the good old days).

Then, along came fluorescent tubes and cover glasses and problems with growing plants, until specialist tubes appeared years later.


Now you can have light tubes in most ranges of the spectrum and brighter lighting with the latest T5 compacts or even floodlighting if you are happy to throw away your cover hood and have two or three heat-exuding, meter-turning, ugly looking shades dangling from the ceiling. But perhaps that's more for the marine enthusiasts.

The problems with fluorescent lighting are the ballast units, usually one for each tube and a minimum of two tubes being required and more if you want to duplicate sunrise and sunset with half a dozen tubes on timers.
That's one hot and heavy unit and two leads per tube to lose somewhere with a reasonable airflow to keep them cool; T5 ballasts run even hotter.

Another problem, it is said that tubes lose their intensity within a short period of life so it's either back to the shop for another expensive tube or another parcel of plants. Yet another, a four foot tube will not fit under the cover of a four foot tank so a three foot tube has to suffice leaving a dark spot area end and this difficulty follows all the way down the line of 'standard' tank sizes.
Depending upon the tanks construction, the only suitable space available will be along the back and the front to leave the centre clear for maintenance.
If the lights are built into the hood as on other designs, what happens when you need to perform some unrestricted maintenance on the bottom of the tank?
Take the hood off - and you cannot see the bottom! (Those ugly floodlights have an advantage here although you'll probably need Ray-Bans on to clean the tank!)

Try finding suitable lighting and arranging it above a corner tank that has greater depth than the longest side of a triangular surface area.
Three sixteen inch Tri Plus Compacts will just go above my tank but where do I lose three large heat generators required to power them?

When low energy lamps arrived upon the scene an idea was born, one standard lamp holder per lamp, only one twin lead per lamp, they can be individually fed and switched if desired, and afford flexibility in siting.


Experiment number one was launched and soon after went down like a cast-iron lifejacket. Four of the first low energy 20W (100W equivalent) lamps turned out to be quite bulky, but still an advantage over the tube, however, the intensity of light proved to be insufficient to promote plant growth and the experiment came to a halt, albeit temporarily. Currently, experiment number two is under way and looking very promising.

Initially I discovered a new type of low-energy lamp offered in one of those junk mail booklets that frequently arrive with the post.

The Daylight LE lamp,
20Watt spiral,
instantly full on,
no warming up period,
and brighter than any
standard LE lamp.

Price: 24.99 for 4+4
working out at just over 3 each.

They are now installed in practically every room and I started off with two above the corner tank to supplement the one 16 T5 compact that was insufficient alone. A new parcel of plants put in there grew steadily for a month or so and has now been transferred to a four-foot bow front tank desperately in need of some plant life. Two three-foot fluorescent tubes above that tank have now been replaced with four 20W Daylight LE's and plants are growing well so far.


There had to be a downside to this which came when going back to buy replacements, I found the junk mail shop no longer stocks them.
However, a Google search (how did we live without it?) revealed a number of sites although the prices are considerably higher.
The best for price of all those I viewed offers Pro-Lite Daylight helix compact fluorescent in either 18W or 25W at 3.99 and 4.50 respectively, discounted for an order of ten.
Eleven, fifteen and thirty-watt lamps are also available in either ES or BC fitting and priced accordingly. All prices plus VAT of course.
An order for six 25W placed on Friday online arrived standard mail on Monday. There's no minimum order but postage at 3.50 for six makes it expensive for one only.

These lamps are supposedly effective for people who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Adjustment Disorder) and certainly cheaper than some treatment lamps I have seen advertised. I have yet to install these in place of the 20W, and juggling with a combination of 20's, 25's and possibly 18's is all a part of this ongoing experiment.

So far, the possibilities look very promising and if successful in getting rid of the dreaded tubes it will be the best thing since frozen fish (food).
Maybe a follow up should be waterproof lamp holders and a few ideas on mounting them for manoeuvrability and independent of the lid.

In case anyone else should fancy having a go, here are a few details about Pro-Lite helix compact fluorescents (do they deteriorate as quickly as tubes I wonder?)

Model: 6400K Helix
Voltage: 220-240V/50Hz
Base: BC
Wattage: 25
Overall length 148mm. inc BC
Diameter at the base app. 60mm
Average life 8000 Hrs

Added blurb on the box: Even distribution of 6400K light 360 Degrees
Integral rapid start electronic circuit
Long Life: 8 times longer than standard light bulb
Suitable for indoor and outdoor enclosed light fittings
Unsuitable for use with dimming circuits

My source of supply:

Ricamstore Limited, The 'Manse' Balnald, Kirkmichael,
Near Blairgowrie, Perthshire, PH10 7NA
website: Ricamstore Limited

Service Excellent, also many PC leads, connectors and interesting gear available here. Managed to find a 6.3mm. adaptor jack to 3.5mm socket so now I hope to convert my collected LP's to CD (While the lighting does its bit)!

I know there is at least one other Ilford member experimenting with lighting, although he's going backwards, not sure if its incandescent, gas or candles (don't knock it till you know it doesn't work)!


I have to say that a sequel is long overdue in that the original intention was for lighting a four foot bow front Seabray tank.


It took a while to establish that four 20/25watt Daylight low energy lamps could not spread enough light in the required area, reflectors being appropriate sized pieces of kitchen foil (cheapskate!) and I have now succumbed and reverted to a Hagen twin tube choke and three foot tubes for this particular tank.
Siting for extra low energy lamps was possible but then the efficiency/cost/balance came into focus.

However, the secondhand Seabray corner tank donated to the club and acquired by my sole bid, proved to be a different lighting kettle of fish, if you will pardon the pun.

Maximum available distance would allow three of the new T5 16" compact tubes but brings the problem of three larger, much hotter starters. I already had four home made aluminium angle brackets from a previous lighting experiment and siliconed these inside the lighting cavity to take standard lampholders and four low energy lamps.

From the photos you can see a T5 loosely laid across the centre, two coiled 125Watt Daylight lamps and two 15Watt standard LE lamps.
The two latter ones are not currently in use as the other three appear to be sufficient for plant growth.
Heat was a problem - the lid, a flat piece of Contiplas board, soon started bowing with the heat trapped under it.


I then built the lid you see. Ventilation holes in the back two edges and polished aluminium sheet on standoff battens from inside the top, edges are tapered down to reveal the vent holes. The top of this now remains comfortably warm with lights on around eight hours, which now can be reduced.
I now need to devise something different for the T5 which obstructs the tank opening, but I do not want anything attached to the hood - giving me the opportunity to remove it completely for maintenance.

Adapted with permission, from Ilford & D A & P.S. website

Last updated September 2007

                  TOP OF PAGE