SALTWATER AQUARIUM LIGHTING AND HEATING

Written by Katherine Barrington Published February 23, 2012
Kind of lights you need. Type of heating equipment to use.
There are various kinds of tank lights available, but the type you need depends on what tank system you are running. For instance, fish only tanks can use a basic fluorescent light. When choosing a lamp make note of the "spectrum" of the lamp, which is the range of distribution of light. The rule of thumb for lighting is around 0.14W (1 Watt per gal) is a sufficient level to use.

Incandescent bulbs may provide many of the desired aspects of lighting needed by live plants. The least expensive fixtures are incandescent and take regular screw-in type light bulbs. The bulbs are also relatively inexpensive however, they need to be replaced much more often than other types of bulbs. Unfortunately, these bulbs put out a lot of heat, making it more difficult to regulate the temperature in your tank. Also these lights use more power for the light they give off than most other lighting, so you will have a higher power bill using this type of fixture.

While some types of metal halide bulbs produce desirable qualities of light at a low enough cost, they also drawbacks, namely that they are expensive to buy and generate too much ultraviolet radiation. If you do choose one of these units, make sure that it is designed for marine aquariums, and use an ultraviolet filter. Also be aware that these units get very hot and care needs to be taken to avoid getting burned.

Both metal halide and mercury vapor types of lighting share other drawbacks. They probably will require motorized fans, and need reflective mechanisms to direct and shield the light rays and are limited to high wattage's, most coming in a few to several hundred watt sizes, up.

Power Compact lighting is becoming very popular with live plant and reef enthusiasts. The power compact bulbs provide slightly more than three times the light of a N.O. bulb of similar length. Power compact fluorescent bulbs are available in two pin configurations, linear or square, so if you have purchased a power compact fixture, make sure that you purchase replacement bulbs with the same pin configuration. One advantage of power compact lights is that several varieties of bulbs are available as thread-in bulb, which fit most incandescent light fixtures. However, remember not to exceed the wattage recommendation for your light fixture, or you could risk starting a fire!

Full-Spectrum Fluorescent lighting has been and still is the best available lighting. It provides the best quality and quantity light at the lowest up front, operational and replacement costs. In addition, fixtures can be made or bought at reasonable cost. These lamps have functional life spans of about two years. The spectral shift and lumen depreciation is tractable and easy to adjust. V.H.O., or very high output fluorescent lighting, is a popular option for people keeping densely planted aquariums, very tall aquariums, or reef aquariums. These bulbs require special expensive ballasts to work properly. However, these lights provide nearly three times the light of a similar length N.O. bulb. Because of the extra expense of V.H.O. lighting, it is quickly giving way to power compact lighting, which can achieve similar results in less space and with less initial cost. For all fluorescent lighting, the amount of light put out is a function of the length of the bulb and the type of bulb, so if two bulbs are the same length and for the same fixture, they put out the same amount of light.

What Type of Heating Equipment Do I Use?

Heaters


Heating systems are a very important element in any tank system. Because they rely on external resources to help regulate their body temperature, ectothermic or cold-blooded animals, such as fish and invertebrates need an adequate source of heat to help maintain water temperature at sufficient levels. Even slight variations in temperature can adversely affect some of the more fragile tank inhabitants.

Typically, a heater and thermostat are used for fish tanks to ensure that the water temperature remains safe for the fish. The heater itself helps to maintain the fish's metabolism, keeping them healthy and happy.

The best rule of thumb when choosing a heater is this: you need about five watts of power per every gallon of water. For instance, if you have a 10-gallon tank, then you would need a 50-watt heater. Ideally it is best if you choose under the recommended wattage but never over or you will kill the fish. Keep in mind that different fish maintain different body temperatures so it wouldn't hurt to have someone at your local pet store help you determine the best heater to buy based on the fish you plan to keep.

Chillers

While not really a filtration system, saltwater aquarists occasionally have the need to lower the temperature of their aquarium water. The high light levels needed in reef systems cause a build up of excess heat. Use of a hood fan and removal of the ballast from the vicinity of the tank can help regulate water temperatures. However, additional cooling is often required, especially in warm climates. This can be achieved through the use of "freon" style cooler units (chillers) similar to home refrigerators. Maintaining an optimal tank temperature in the summer months can be a challenge. An aquarium chiller (also referred to as a cooler) is necessary for maintaining the temperature of the water in the tank. Although aquarium chillers can be quite expensive, they are quite economical for a couple of reasons:

1. Running an aquarium chiller can be cheaper than running your air conditioning in summer when you're not home or on vacation. This is especially true for situations where no one is home during the day and the air conditioning is being kept on to keep the house cool.

2. Aquarium chillers are low maintenance and high longevity products. The beauty of chillers is that they don't need to be cleaned and parts do not have to be replaced on a regular basis.

Thermometers

You can purchase an inexpensive thermostat from your local pet store. The easiest to use is one that attaches to the side of the fish tank with suction cups.A tank thermometer is something you will not want to be without. This is the only way you will know what temperature the water is. As stated before, some organisms are extremely sensitive to even slight variations in water temperature so being aware of water temperature is crucial. There are a number of models to choose from and they range from digital to floating thermometers. There are also multifunction remote digital sensor thermometers available that will allow you the ease of operation and convenience that other types of thermometers don't offer. For instance, with these types of thermometers the plastic probe is suspended in the water with the display located away from the water surface for easy reading.

Water Temperature

There are no set standards for tank temperature however, some aquarium owners say that a temperature range of 75-77 F works well whereas others feel that a range of 75-80F is better. Some even favor tank temperatures of around 80-85 F. Ideally, you need to know of what type of climate your tank inhabitants originated from because different types of fish enjoy different temperatures. For instance, sea temperature typically varies between 72-92 F. so that may be the range to set your sights on. But it is better to have a pet store employee help you determine the right temperature based on the type of fish who will inhabit your aquarium.


Alternately if you plan to have a reef system and add corals to it, they come from a variety of ocean environments where the temperature ranges from the low seventies to the low nineties. Since most reef aquariums have a variety of corals from different marine environments, sticking to the 75-82 degree range is a somewhat safe choice. In other words, knowing what kind of organisms you have and "where" they come from is an important factor when determining a tank temperature for your system. Rather than trying to run your temperatures high, you should reach a happy medium at about 79 degrees, because this temperature provides the largest margin of safety for the hobbyist, as corals have been shown to thrive in water several degrees on either side of this temperature.
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