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FAQs about Fluorescent Light and Lighting for Marine Systems, Ballast Selection

Related FAQs: Fluorescent Light 1, Fluorescent Light 2, Fluorescent Light 3, Normal Output (NO), High Output (HO), Very High Output (VHO), Compact Fluorescents (CFs, PCs)Compact Fluorescents 2T5, TN Fluorescent Lighting, & FAQs on Fluorescent: Fixture Selection, End Caps, Regular and High-Output Lamp Selection, PC Lamp Selection, T-5 Lamp Selection, Lamp Life-Span Issues, Power Consumption Issues, Installation-Wiring, Troubleshooting/Repairing, By Make/Model/Manufacturer: & Metal Halide Lighting, Lighting Marine Invertebrates LR LightingTridacnid LightingSmall System Lighting,

Related Articles: Fluorescent Light & LightingSpectral Quality of Various Fluorescent Lamps by Dana Riddle, T5 Fluorescent Lighting, Coral System Lighting

Whose (ground) fault is it anyway if there's electrical leakage?

T5s/Fluorescent Ballasts 9/15/11
<Hello David>
I've got 3 aquariums, 2 of which have the old type T8 light units (will update to the T5s when they break down), but for the 3rd tank I'm setting up I didn't have a light unit so I got a T5, I wasn't informed then what I was told today when I bought it that you have to have the right unit output size for the length of tube you want (I've never had a problem with my T8s),
<Two different worlds.>
my 3rd tank is 3ft, I was thinking of getting an 11 to 18 inch tube but was told that because my unit has an output of 54watts it would be too much power for tubes that small, it looks like I'd have to get a 46 inch tube (much too big for tank), I phoned the shop where I got the unit from & he said he doesn't know & can't keep up with the new information & said I can take it back but I would like it confirmed if this is true! Do I have to change my unit & get one with less output?
My new unit takes 2 tubes!
<As long as the ballast is an electronic ballast, it should work for the 39 watt T5 HO lamps.
Depending on the ballast, you may have to wire the lamps differently.
There usually is a wiring diagram on the ballast.
The brand and model number of the ballast would have helped here.>
Thanks for any help that may be forth coming
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

Low Output Ballasts?/Lighting 8/18/09
Hello everyone,
<Hi Mark>
I recently purchased a VHO ballast and VHO bulbs for a frag tank which I grow corals in to sell to the LFS to help finance my addiction to the hobby. The output of the new bulbs didn't appear any different than the standard 40 watt ones I was using before, so I checked the wattage with a meter I own. It is one of those that just plugs inline on the power cord.
It is dead on when I check my metal halides or T-5's on my main tank. It says the ballast is only putting out around 90 watts total (45 per bulb), far below the 220 advertised. It also tests for amperage and it is down considerably as well. They are definitely wired correctly as they were bought as a retro-fit kit from Hello Lights. They are clueless about what the problem could be and said if they light up there is nothing wrong with them. I disagree.
<What you are reading on the primary side of the ballast isn't indicative of the power the ballast is supplying to the lamp itself.
A magnetic ballast works something like an inductor, a coil of wire in a circuit which may be wound around a piece of metal (core). When current flows through the wire, it generates a magnetic field. Positioning the wire in concentric loops amplifies this field, and the ballast in tandem with a transformer controls the amount of current going to the lamps. Newer ballast designs such as ARO's, use advanced electronics to more precisely regulate the current flowing through the electrical circuit. Since they use a higher cycle rate, you don't generally notice a flicker or humming noise coming from an electronic ballast. Do not compare your current readings to MH and T-5 lighting. Different lamps require specialized ballasts designed to maintain the specific voltage and current levels needed for a particular lamp. If the ballast were defective, you would likely see flickering, or no light at all.>
Is it possible they are selling cheap ballasts not really putting out what they claim on the packaging?
<ARO is a reputable brand of ballast, the 220 watts/1.82 amps, strictly refers to the maximum power/current the ballast is capable of handling.>
I always had decent luck in the past with them so I'm not criticizing, just wondering if ballast brands could make that much of a difference.
The brands and specs are as follows: ARO electronic ballasts model AS-220 and URI T-12 48" VHO bulbs (110 watt each). Have you heard anything negative about either of these brands?
Any advice you can give to what may be the problem would be greatly appreciated. Your site is a huge benefit to the hobby.
<As above.>
Thanks again.
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

PFO ballast convert PC to VHO 12/28/08 Hello, <Hello Lenny. Minh at your service.> I currently have a 55gal (48 X 17 X 15)reef tank I purchased from a friend who came over and set it up the way he had it. The pumps that I am using are RIO 17 HF for the return (he had a Gen-x 4100. I couldn't stand the noise from that thing so it was changed) and a Gen-x 1000 for the skimmer. The lighting is a PFO-EL 2-2 ballast running 2 33" 96 watt PC 50/50. This canopy setup has the PC's 8.5" above the top of the tank. I would like to change to VHO's which this ballast is capable of. The main concern for my choice to do this is my tank seems to run on the warm side around 82 and that is with 2 fans in the canopy and one more in the sump. I've read and was able to feel myself that the PC's ran hotter than the VHO's. <This has also been my experience.> I have searched for the quick connects that are already wired to the end caps with no luck. I have emailed PFO and was told basically sorry, we don't have any but good luck. I can find some 3pc T12 end caps through aquacave.com(thanks to your site) but can not find a wiring diagram for my ballast. <From my research, it appears that the PFO-EL 2-2 consists of a PFO enclosure and Fulham Workhorse 7 ballasts. You may need to open up the ballast enclosure to verify this information. The Fulham Workhorse 7 ballast wiring diagram can be found here: http://www.fulham.com/Find_Process.php.> Also, not sure how long the bulbs would need to be if needed to be longer than the current bulbs. <The Workhorse 7 is capable of running up to 220W. You can review the specifications on the VHO bulb you are interested in running for the optimal power/length configuration for this ballast.> Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated. <If the above suggestion does not pan out for you. You can also contact the folks at DIY Reef (http://diyreef.com/shop/index.php) or HelloLights (http://www.hellolights.com), they are both very knowledgeable in fluorescent lighting.> Lenny <Good luck. Cheers, Minh Huynh.  

Re: PFO ballast convert PC to VHO  12/30/08 My previous email to PFO, finally they sent back an answer that was more helpful. They replied that my ballast uses the workhorse 5 which I confirmed once I opened it. After your response I went to the Fulham website to look for the wiring diagram needed for the type of bulbs used. They only show for the workhorse 7 or 8. Do I still use this even though this is not my specific ballast? <After reviewing Fulham's website, it appears that they only recommend the Workhorse 5 ballast be used with certain bulb combinations. For example, when using their diagram tool, "T5 Linear HO with a bulb set 2xF24 HO" will give you a Workhorse 5 wiring diagram but not with the T12 VHO bulb combination. It is best to err on the side of caution and contact Fulham to get their full recommendation on what you'd like to achieve with the Workhorse 5 and VHO combination.> Lenny <Good luck, Minh Huynh.>

PC Ballasts Going Bad 9/12/08 Hello all, long time no ask :-) Hope the members of the wet web crew are all well. <As far as I am aware, yes.> I have a 65 gallon reef tank (18" deep by 36" long by 24" tall). I have a 4x96 power compact lighting fixture from a well known lighting vendor providing the light for the tank- I will omit the name. I run 4 different types of bulbs in my 4x96 - 10,000K daylight, 6700K daylight, 420nm and 460nm actinics. I try to change them about every nine months (thanks to your advice, I stagger the change out of bulbs, to not shock the corals). Last year I lost a bulb, and when I went to change it out, realized after the new one failed to work, and swapping some bulbs, that I had a bad ballast. <Dang!> I purchased a new ballast, and installed (not too hard, just a pain to get to and get all the wires packed back in). About a week ago, I lost a bulb again (I don't exactly remember, but I'm fairly certain it's not the same ballast). Turns out I lost another ballast. My question is, do you feel that this is fairly common, because it's extremely frustrating? <Definitively not unheard of, but not an everyday occurrence either.> The light itself is about 2 years old. I think it's ridiculous that I've lost two ballasts already. They are not cheap! <Nope.> Not sure if I'm doing anything wrong. The light sits directly on top of my glass tank lid. The light came with legs for the light canopy, but the instructions also stated that the legs were not required and that the light could sit on top of the tank. The fans in the light housing are operating. I have my actinics on for about 12hrs per day, and the daylight lamps on for around 11 hrs. They are on an automatic timer. Any thoughts? <A few, first you could just chalk this up to plain old dumb luck. But, two things to look at that may help. First, I would raise this fixture a bit (just 1' or so) to allow some air circulation around the entire fixture; maybe even a small fan blowing on it if you. This will all of course keep things a bit cooler. The other thing you should look at are any signs of corrosion/moisture inside (or outside, it is indicative of the moisture getting to it) the fixture. This can drastically limit the life of a ballast, or even flat out kill it if the moisture makes it to the wrong places.> Thanks, I owe my healthy tank and coral success to your website and the amazing information within. <Awesome!> Chris
<Welcome, Scott V.>

Mounting locations for ballasts in a canopy 7/24/08 Hello WWM crew, <Hello Leslie!> Thank you for the wonderful service you provide to us fellow hobbyists! I hope you can provide an answer to my questions on lighting and ballast location. <I am sure we can.> First, a little background. I recently purchased a 75 gallon tank (48" L x 18" W x 20" H) with stand and canopy to upgrade and consolidate my current 29 gallon and 14 gallon systems. I only have Mushrooms, Xenia, and Zoanthids, with no plans to advance to SPS or LPS at this time. I have purchased 2 (2x54W) T5 retrofit kits with individual bulb reflectors, 2 AquaBlue+ (15K) bulbs, 1 pure actinic bulb, and 1 actinic+ bulb (all Giesemann brand) and two blue LED moon lights to install in my canopy. A picture is attached to show the inside of the canopy with the lights in approximate place. <Looks nice.> I plan on purchasing two cooling fans to be installed on the left inside of the canopy as well. <Generally a good idea.> I understand that ballasts should be mounted away from water, and if mounted inside the canopy can contribute extra heat above the tank. <Not to mention moisture accumulation on the ballast, leading to corrosion or worse.> The lights don't leave much room inside the canopy for ballast installation anyway! Is it reasonable to mount the ballasts on the outside lip of the back of the canopy if the wires will be covered by wire loom? <This is actually where I mount my VHO ballast. Just a few precautions doing this. First, use something waterproof at least on the wire connections, something like the common black electricians tape. Next, do form a drip loop. You do not want any moisture accumulation that may happen to lead back into the ballast or the electrical plug it uses. Your fans will help out here too, keeping fresh air moving through, preventing some, if not most, of the condensation. Last, keep an eye on it! If you notice any moisture on the ballast you will need to move it, and by all means, unplug it before you touch anything. > This lip is about 2.5" tall, and just fits the ballast size. If that location is not recommended, what would be my next best (and safe) option? <Ideally the ballasts should be mounted away from any moisture. Not in the canopy or stand. A lot, if not most, do anyway.> My local reef club lighting gurus recommend mounting them on top of the canopy and covering with a homemade "top", but I prefer a seamless look on the tank. <This is a good mounting option, but I too do not like having anything showing.> Thank you again! Leslie in sunny Florida <Welcome, Scott V. in overly sunny California.>

Re: Mounting locations for ballasts in a canopy 7/26/08 Hello again WWM (Scott V), <Welcome!> Thanks for your prompt reply to my question about ballast mounting locations! One more quick related question: How far away from the back wall should the ballasts be situated to safely prevent overheating or melting of the paint from the wall? I would think at least 6 inches, but that leaves a pretty large space at the back of the tank. If this proves to be the case, I will probably mount them remotely at the side of the tank. <Ah, for these ballasts an inch or two will do. The fact that you will have exhaust fans in the canopy will keep things at a reasonable temperature. I assume you will have them blowing in and flowing out the back where the ballasts will be? Even if you have the fans blowing out of the canopy, air will still flow over the ballasts.> Thanks,
<Welcome, have fun, Scott V.>

Full spectrum fluorescents and electronic ballasts Dear Bob, <Howdy> Greetings from Central Indiana (land of pig farms and redneck sports). I have been thinking of using a normal output, full spectrum, fluorescent lamp to simulate morning and evening lighting periods over my aquarium. In reading your lighting article, you greatly recommended the vita-lite ( among some other, more commercial brands ). <Need to modify the article, thanks for reminding me. The manufacturer, Dura Corporation, is out of business> I happened to stop by Menards on the way home to see if I could find some of these more commercial brands that you listed. I found a Westinghouse ReaLite model 36516 with a CRI of 98 and 6500k. It is used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).  <Neat! I use such lamps on my photographic light tables when away from the tropics too long (or spelunkering). Really cheers me up> Anyway the lamp was 8 bucks. Do you know of any who have experimented with this lamp and if so, do they keep their color and intensity? <Should be fine for the intended use> Also you mentioned the ability to use H.O. and VHO ballast formats with N.O. Tubes. I have had my eye on the Ice Cap 440 and 660 electronic ballasts but their kinda salty (no pun intended...) Do you know of a lower cost, true electronic ballast that will match the Ice Cap's performance? <Unfortunately no... Bear and grin with Perry.T at Champion is my advice.> Thank You Greatly, in Advance. jS <Be chatting, Bob Fenner>

VHO Ballast Good morning WWM staff. Once again, I have a question that is burning a hole in my mouth. <Most of my questions revolve around burning a hole in my wallet.> I'm in the planning stage of a DIY lighting project. I have a 24" deep 120 gallon FOWLR that I would like to add some soft corals and anemones to. <By anemones, I am hoping you mean mushrooms anemones or colonial anemones/Zoanthids and not clownfish host anemones as these are extremely difficult and I, in good conscience, can only recommend them to individuals dedicated to unlocking the secrets to their success.> Would the IceCap 660 ballast work for this tank? <Yes, you would be able to grow some soft corals, mushrooms, and polyps.> I haven't found much information on it but it sounds like it should put out 96x4. <I think you are a bit confused with the terminology. Your subject was VHO ballasts but the wattage you described, 96 is typical for Power Compact/Compact Fluorescent lamps.> Assuming this will work, what type of bulbs would you suggest? <2-3 full spectrum lamps with 1-2 actinics.> How about two 20,000's and two 50/50's? <Ok, but I prefer to use the spectral analysis provided with some lamps to make my decision vs. color temperature or other more marketing directed terminology/descriptors.> I'm not a huge fan of the super blue tint but I know that it's necessary. <We have a tremendous number of FAQ's in regards to lighting issues on www.WetWebMedia.com I would advise you to continue on in your education and read some of them.> Thank you. <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

VHO Ballast Hello, I am shopping for VHO lighting for my 125 gallon salt tank. I've arrived at having to decide between Icecap from Champion Lighting & Supply or for about $70 to $100 cheaper Hello Lights brand from hellolights.com. I've seen the many posts citing Icecap as reliable. Also, I've seen www.WetWebMedia.com staff praise the customer service (not necessarily the product). I can find nothing about the Hello Lights. Are electronic ballasts pretty much equal, or would I be taking a sizable risk with the off-brand ballast? Do you know anything about these Hello Lights ballasts? <I have no experience with Hello Lights. I would ask your fellow hobbyists on the message boards for opinions/feedback.>: http://wetwebfotos.com/talk/index.jsp http://www.reefcentral.com/ http://www.reefs.org/ Cheers, Byron <Have a nice day! -Steven Pro>

Fluorescent Ballast Question Hello WWM Crew, Over my 55 gal tank, I have a 2 light 4 ft fluorescent shoplight.  I have a few plants, a few fish, and it's doing ok.  It's running on an ancient magnetic ballast.  Never had a problem with the ballast until I started using some of the newer T12 bulbs. In the past the ballast would hum when the lights first turned on but would eventually settle down. With the bulbs I'm using now, the ballast hums as long as the lights are on.  The hum isn't too bad, can't hear it over the TV.  My problem is I've discovered the lights aren't as bright as they could/should be. I have a 24 inch fixture that's using a 2 foot version of the same bulb in the shoplight and it's much brighter.  I'd like to put a T8 ballast into the shoplight, but I still have at least a couple year's worth of T12 tube's.  It's also easier for me to find 5000K and 6500K bulbs in T12 version at my local hardware stores. Until T8's become a little more common, I'd like to be able to make use both world's.  Have you had any experience with the combo ballasts that claim to run T8's and T12's?  None of the light shops I've spoken to sell them, but they've heard of them. Thanks for your help, Lewis <Sure, you are talking about Ice Cap 660's. They will drive anything from compact fluorescent to VHO and also NO T-12's. I imagine T-8's could be wired in as well. Check out the lighting section of any of the wetwebmedia.com sponsors that carry hard goods. Champion lighting has the most info on driving regular NO T-12's on Ice Cap ballasts. championlighting.com  Craig>

- Fluorescent Ballast Life - WWM Crew, I am trying to decide whether or not I should replace my bulbs or possibly need to replace my whole light fixture. The unit I'm confused about is a CSL 4 x 55 watt ABS hood( 2 8800 daylight + 2 actinic).  I bought it about 2 years ago and it was a used unit in good condition, so I really don't know exactly how old it is. I had been using it on a 90 gal reef tank that I just had a custom oak canopy made for with 4 x 110 watt VHO lighting, so I was now using this light on my 55 gal tank. Well I  realized my bulbs were due to be replaced. And as I was looking at the tank (55 gal mini-reef) it appeared that the left half of the tank seemed to be just a little bit brighter than the right side. I thought well that's because the bulbs just went past a year old and they need to be changed. Just to be sure it was a bulb problem, I decided to swap the bulbs on the left to the right and vice-versa. I was sure that now the right side would appear to be brighter. However that was not the case, the left side still appeared to be brighter. Then I thought it must be because the overflow box is on the left side or the LR is at an angle that reflects different, so I picked up the whole hood and swung it around 180 degrees and now the right side was indeed brighter. Also just to be sure this was not being caused by a dirty piece of plastic, I slid the plastic lens from the bottom of the hood.  Still no change the left half of the light is definitely a little brighter than the right. So my dilemma now is whether or not it's worth spending 100 dollars on new bulbs when there must be a problem with the ballast on the right half of the unit. I know bulbs are always in need of replacing but I've never heard of people replacing ballasts, nor do I know if that is even possible in a pre-manufactured ABS hood. <It is, you just need to disassemble it.> I would greatly appreciate any thought you might have on this matter. <Well... my thinking is in line with yours, that typically ballasts have a lifetime of at least ten years or better. Most modern ballasts are solid state so there's really not much that can/will age, but will instead just crap out. I'd at the very least pop some email to Custom SeaLife to see what they think about the whole thing.> Thanks again for your help,  Kevin <Cheers, J -- >

Buffering/lighting Hi Bob, My tap water does not have a lot of buffering capability. <Do you need, want more? Can be augmented easily> When I do my regular water changes (7 to 10days), the tank water has a pH of 7.8. I use Instant Ocean Salt and my replacement water has a pH around 8.2. I believe that the shift in pH after water changes is stressing my system.  <Good point.> I have started to use Kent Marine's Super Buffer and now my pH stays at 8.3 and. Alk = 4 mEq/l. Is this method of keeping up Alk/pH up a good idea or would the two part supplements be a better choice? <Two part would be better.> I did read the article in FAMA as requested by you about the Ice Cap ballast running NO fluorescence. I remembered reading that article years ago and another (same concept) with a plant tank. It really sounds like they are having tremendous results with NO tubes and VHO ballast. My main question here is with tube replacement. Ice Cap says 6x longer life. The recent article in FAMA state that regular replacement of the tubes have been unnecessary. Also in FAMA with the other article on the plant tank he state that he has been running the same tubes for years. Now what puzzles me is that this is exactly opposite of what most say. Hmmm? <The use of electronic ballasts in these cases does extend effective lamp life as far as I'm aware, but don't know about six times, definitely not indefinitely. You can test for intensity, spectral make-up over time... or just observe your plant livestock for changes. Bob  Brad

Lighting Question Hi Bob or Anthony, <tweedle-dum here...> Another quick question: (I got such great advice the first time I figured I'd pester you folks again). <we make half of the stuff up, but it's convincing> If I was going to upgrade from standard fluorescents to HO or VHO bulbs <no HO...a dying technology. VHO or Power compacts please> would it be possible to get a strip light fixture from a place like the Home Depot to operate them in? <a reflector yes, but nothing else. Need specialized end caps and ballast> And would I still need to invest in a good ballast too? <yes... and Icecaps have good customer service> I figure the brighter light would not only be great for the fishes but also for casting some cheer during the gray winter (Feb.'s the worst on the east coast). Thanks guys. "Warm" regards, Adam <alas, an expensive but worthwhile investment. Cheers from "sunny" Pittsburgh PA. Anthony>

Fluorescent lighting question I tried to read the Fluorescent lighting FAQ section on your web site but it's not coming up. The PC FAQ is, just not the Fluorescent page. I've seen that in a few other areas but I'm remiss in mentioning them to you. The frames and banners all load, but the content does not. There are no error messages. <Some of the article pages are not complete and merely have a link with no content, but all of the FAQ pages should work. I looked at this page has a bad link. The FAQ for fluorescent lighting is here http://www.wetwebmedia.com/fluoltgfaqs.htm> At any rate the question I have is a pure DIY question. I'm building a new canopy for my 80 gallon long aquarium. The tank is currently dry but should be full of water in a few weeks. The tank is 6 feet long with one opaque divider in the middle. I intend to put a glass top on under the canopy. Now that you know my parameters I'm looking into just using a 4 bulb 40W electronic ballast from Home Depot to power 4 36" 36W lights. As I recall if the bulbs only need 36W there is no problem with using a 40W ballast. <Yes, most of these ballasts will run 40 or 30 watt lamps.> I intend to use two full spectrum and two actinic bulbs on a FOWLR tank. (Alternately I may add a second two bulb ballast and run the actinics in there for sunrise/sunset simulation on a different circuit.) All of that said do you see any potential problems with the setup? I can buy an Icecap setup for about $120 or I can build my setup for about $25. -David Rencher <Do be sure to use water resistant end caps, plastic junction boxes, and follow all applicable safety codes for electrical work. -Steven Pro>

Tar vs. Electronic ballasts Good day, Can you tell me the difference between a tar ballast and the other types of ballasts? << Sure, but in simple terms because I don't know much about them.  The other kind of ballast is an electronic ballast.  My understanding is that an electronic ballast will run all bulbs (of a certain wattage) but a tar (also called a coil) ballast will run some bulbs but not all.  However the main difference is that a tar ballast is way stinkin' hot and will burn you after has been on for a few hours.  An electronic ballast is so much better.  I have them, and can't imagine using any other type of ballast.  I only recommend electronic (although they are much more money like $150 USD as opposed to $50 USD).  If you want more in-depth info please write back. >> Which is better? <<  Blundell  >>

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