Category Archives: lighting

Does your aquarium have too much light?

I suspect in many cases it does.

The market is definitely light obsessed and that is a guarantee. Whilst I would agree the more light you have the potential for better growth exists, you have to balance that off with everything else going on in your tank at the moment.

Let’s look into powerful lighting now and what might be causing you issues. LEDs are pummelling the market and rightly so – they are very effective, cheap to run and pack a punch in terms of lighting, but the BIG question is how much light does your tank need and when you pummel your tank with light, are you increasing everything else like fertilisers, CO2, water changes, water circulation etc? I know when I first started using more powerful lighting, I didn’t make this correlation and very quickly ran into troubles, and I’m keen for you to avoid the mistakes I initially made.

Before I go into this a little more, let’s take a trip down memory lane. In the days before modern lighting, hobbyists would illuminate their tanks with T12 lights – that sounds funny just writing it! T12s were clunky, chunky and not particularly effective and were soon superseded by T8s which are still sold in the market today. When Takashi Amano (google his name if you don’t know who he is) was creating wonderful aquascapes in the late 80s and early 90s he used huge amounts of T8s over his tanks and I remember reading (being slightly astonished) that he was using 12 x T8s over a 200cm tank. I just couldn’t believe it. I was running 2 x T8s over my 120cm tank… But it probably won’t surprise you that back then, algae issues weren’t really there. Sure people got algae but it wasn’t anything like it is now. Saying that, I can bet you anything you have some sort of algae battle going on in your tank, whether it be hair algae, brush algae, brown algae – the list is endless. But I also suspect you may have quite a lot of light in your tank; you may have even introduced LED lighting hoping that was the answer to some of your aquascaping prayers in terms of plant growth. So the question begs – why weren’t hobbyists getting the algae issues back in the day that they are today? The simple answer is most probably down to lighting.

T8 lights are not particularly powerful and this is why to get real success, you had to use quite a few (in Takashi Amanos tank, 12). Today, the majority of hobbyists use T5s which are more powerful and as a result you need less of them. Juwel tanks for example use T5 lighting – this is what people want and Juwel have taken note and changed their manufacturing. We all want more light yet most of us struggle to handle it. T8s will struggle to penetrate water and if your tank is any more than 30cm you will be familiar with this. So is more light better? This really depends on what you are trying to achieve.

You only need to do a little browsing online to see lots of wonderful aquariums and some are super dooper – you know the type that really has the X factor. You look at it and think I WANT IT!!! You compare your tank to theirs and one main difference is the amount of light they have to yours. They’re probably using a lot of light, LEDs and T5s – some may even use metal halides. But the difference is, the tanks you see in magazines that impress you, the owners of these tanks aren’t new to the hobby. They have probably had a very rocky road to get to where they are now and they certainly know a lot more about lighting than they did at the beginning. They will have failed many times beforehand. They also know how to create a balancing act and that high lighting means high everything else because you can’t have one without the other.

You’re probably reading this wondering about your tank and if you do have too much light? If you are, you have one of two choices. You either reduce your lighting intensity by elevating the lighting from where it is now, or you crank things up a touch and you start raising your game.

High lighting is the equivalent of putting your foot on the accelerator. In a fast car, you need better than average breaks otherwise the higher the speed you are travelling at, the harder your breaks have to work in order to stop yourself from crashing. In the aquascaping world, you can crash very easily – your tank can quickly become full of algae – this happens fast because you have high lighting (fast car analogy). Slow things down a bit (take your foot off the gas) and you have more chance to react to any changes that you are making and how your plants are reacting to what you are or have done. Remember in this game we want to cruise – we want to arrive without crashing, we want to enjoy the journey, look out the window and appreciate the views. We’re not racing because we’re not in a rush and we know what happens if we go too fast right?!

So my final nugget of the day is this – high lighting is only suited to hobbyists who are experienced. Specifically those who have tried many times and failed and tried again. They got there in the end because they learnt so much and they know the balance is a fine one. They started slowly and so must you. Keep your lighting down to a minimum, make sure the intensity is not too high & that way you won’t be in for any surprises. Any changes that you do make will be slow and steady which is what the plants want anyway.


High light with low light plants = bad combo

You’ve got to get the levels right from the beginning and getting basics wrong like lighting just gives you a headache later on.

If you have high lighting, then the only way you will have success is if you have CO2, lots of ferts and great water distribution, and….lots of plants that like high light! Slow growers in high light tanks just doesn’t really work.

Low light plants are like that for a reason – they grow slowly and you can’t push them on quicker than their genetics allow them to. The classic example is moss – it will never grow quickly, no matter what. If you try and force it on with high lighting and lots of CO2, you’ll probably end up stressing it out and making it go yellow rather than the wonderful green you want it to.

So before you commit to high lighting, have a good hard think about the types of plants that you genuinely want to grow, and if you’re not sure, start with lower lighting – you can always build on that if and when your mind changes.

Giesemann T5 Powerchrome

If you’re a serious hobbyist who appreciates quality products for your planted aquarium then the Giesemann T5 Powerchrome range of lamps are just the ticket for you. Giesemann, for those of you not familiar with the brand are German with a phenomenal reputation for quality and these lights will not disappoint. We supply two different types which emit different lights colours – this is the primary difference between the two.

Aquaflora – a perfect lamp for increasing plant growth in your aquarium. These lamps emit colours which not only highlight the colours of your fish but also the plants. The brightness of these lamps is incredible and as soon as you place them in your aquarium, you will notice a big difference immediately. Plants which haven’t pearled before may suddenly pearl if you are using CO2.

Midday – A stunning 6000k lamp which produces a very natural light. Easy on the eye, this lamp is specifically designed for plant growth and similar to the Aquaflora, once installed you will be amazed at how bright the lamp in.

Should I mix the lamps? We recommend if you have 2 T5s lamps you should use 1 x Midday and 1 x Aquaflora for the best effect in bringing out colours of your fish and plants, along with incredible plant growth.

How often should I replace them? Like all lamps their output decreases from the minute you turn them on. A typical life span of a T5 lamp for a planted aquarium is 12 months – you may think that there is no difference in the output but there is. Without a light meter you would never know this. To the naked eye, you wouldn’t notice any difference either particularly as you look at your aquarium every day so any light decrease happens very gradually and is subtle. The difference is your plants will notice a big difference and if you looked at a new tube compared to one which is 12 months old, then you would see how one has aged. So if you change every 12 months, your plants remain happy and continue to grow as expected. Slow plant growth can be attributed to limited light output.

I’ve heard I shouldn’t change all my lamps together – is this true? Absolutely, and for the reasons mentioned above, lights deteriorate over time. If you replace all your lamps together the new lamps will be much brighter than the old one’s and this can stimulate algae growth as your plants will have adjusted to the old light levels over time. So when it comes to changing them, replace them one month apart to avoid mjaor disruption and algae outbreaks.

Can I use these T5s on my set up? Providing you are already using T5s then yes. Make sure you use lamps of the same length and you’ll be fine.

The best T5s on the market...

T5 Lighting For Small Aquariums

Small planted aquariums can be difficult to illuminate and as a result some tanks will be harder work than they should be. Getting the right sort of lighting first time round will save you time, money and hassle, so this blog post should direct you to the right place.

In the past your choice of lighting was slim for nano aquariums – some had units built into them which were nearly always insufficient (especially for growing plants) and they were also under powered making tricky foreground plants even harder. So what’s the solution without spending the earth? The Superfish Aqua Qube Light. These lights really are great and I will tell you for why:

  1. Different wattages to chose from
  2. Stylish
  3. Effective
  4. Affordable

That’s 4 great reasons. Not only that but the units are small and well made – one is 18W which is more powerful than any small T5 luminaire I have seen on the market. If you really wanted to max out then you can run 2 of the units side by side and it won’t cost the earth either. There is no reason why you cannot grow any type of plant assuming you’re running CO2…

Each unit is 28x6x6cm and finished in a silver plastic. It clips on neatly to the side of the aquarium and once you switch it on, you’ll be amazed at how much light it kicks out. To see the range visit this link.

Lighting In A Planted Aquarium

With the vast choice in lighting, it can be difficult to know exactly what sort of lighting you should choose. This section explains all and sifts through any confusion.
It is generally accepted that T8 and T5 tubes are the most standard type of lighting in aquariums at the moment.  T8 indicates the tube diameter which in this case is one inch. If you use T5 lights, the diameter is 5/12”. The most popular brands are Arcadia and Interpet. If you buy a Juwel tank for example, the chances are you have 2 x T5 tubes and you’re able to swap these lights over should you wish.

But what are the key points to look out for with lighting? The first point is make sure it is suitable for planted aquariums – this will be apparent from the description on the packaging. Quite often manufacturers will have wonderful graphics on the packaging which should catch your eye. But the next question is which one should you buy?
Before I explain more about which lighting to choose, it’s important to understand more about lighting. All light has colour and the colour temperature of light is measured in Kelvin, so when you see a description which states it has a particular K value (kelvin) it is referring to the colour of the light output. A low K rating would be 2500 and a high would be 18000. It is recommended that you aim for about 8000 K as this provides a pleasant colour output. But this is not to say that the lower K and higher K won’t grow your plants (on the contrary), it’s simply their light output is less desirable aesthetically to humans. A low K value is orange/yellow in colour – this tends to not do a great deal for the fish or plants in terms of how they look. At the opposite end of the spectrum, are 18000K which is a very bright white. This light output will grow your plants just as well as lower K tubes but it can give the appearance of your tank looking washed out. So this is why if you aim for lights with a K of about 8000k –  you will achieve a colour that is just about in the middle and normally the most pleasing to the eye. You can mix and match lights without any problems too so don’t rule that out.

There can be a temptation to purchase more powerful lights such as metal halides but this is not something that is recommended when you’re beginning. Higher lighting means everything in your aquarium needs to step up a level. By that we mean that your fertilising regime needs increasing, which in turn means you will be maintaining your tank more. In addition higher lighting requires the use of CO2.

Lighting Duration. An average tank needs approximately eight hours of light per day. Having your lights on longer than this is not necessary and it will help to keep most algae at bay. It’s worth putting your lights on a timer and have them come on when you’re at home to make the most out of it. When your tank is very new and plants are settling in, I recommend to only have six to seven hours of illumination for the first month or so and any changes need to be done slowly (perhaps half an hour extra per week).

The image below displays an Arcadia luminaire which is a great way to illuminate an aquarium. Also consider TMC Aquabeam LEDs which are small and economical LED lighting units which have become very popular recently – running costs are a mere £7 per year.