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FAQs about Light and Lighting for Marine Systems, Troubleshooting/Fixing

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Re Skimmer Problems/Skimmer Maintenance... and lighting issue/smell 1/28/10
I did this, I got a syringe and filled it with distilled water and squirted it down the venturi airline, it made it slightly better, so to make sure I got some water out of the kettle and let it cool a bit then repeated.
<This procedure isn't going to do too much for removing calcium deposits.
Need to be physically removed re the drill bit. Once the lines are clean of deposits, the distilled water method is a good way to extend the time between cleaning the venturi and related components providing it is done weekly.>
After a couple of hours there is a strange smell when I open the lid,
<The lid on what, the light fixture? I'll assume so.>
I can't pinpoint the exact smell but its like plastic burning, is the nearest I can put it to. The only other difference is I ran my lights for the first time yesterday for about 6 hours. I am a bit worried about it can you shed some light on this, is it the cycle!
Not the cycle, if the lighting system is a new plastic housing type unit, it may just be the newness of the plastic reacting with the heat given off by the lamps.
I would still continue to be cautious/observe here for the possibility of a defective unit.>
Thanks in advance.
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>

Ballast 05/30/2008 Dear Crew, <<Good day...Andrew here>> I have a 29 gallon tank with a hood. The hood can hold two 18 inch bulbs. When I first got my tank, the actinic bulb would flicker on and off when I opened the hood and I would just shake it a little to make it come back on. <<A bad wire connection?>> About a month later my corals were slightly wilted so I bought another actinic bulb. Now it just flickers on and off and it will not stay on for more than a second. I now believe it is the ballast in the hood. <<Could either be the ballast or just a loose wire which has succumbed to salt ingress>> I have some expensive corals so I would like to know the best coarse of action to fix the bulb. It is just one of the lights. My fluorescent bulb stays on. <<Personal opinion here...Actinic lighting does nothing for the coral themselves, but is rather there for our viewing pleasure to make the coral fluoresce. I am yet to see anything which proves that an actinic bulb promotes coral growth>> Thanks! <<Thanks for the questions, hope this helps. A Nixon>>

Smelly Ballasts - 11/10/05 Hello all, <<Howdy>> I would like to take this opportunity to thank you all for such a great and informative site.  All of your help is really appreciated. <<Gratifying to hear... Thank you.>> Well after doing much research on this site I have upgraded my lighting system from PC's (200 watts) to Catalina 2X250 watt HQI 15,000K (I love the color). <<Wow, big jump!>> Anyway , I  have been slowly introducing <<very good>> the light to my 90 gallon and its inhabitants, and I am noticing a strong smell emitting from my ballast.  The ballast is a big heavy heat sink looking device, which gets very hot, but the smell is slightly concerning me. <<Hmm, sounds like you have what is sometimes referred to as "Tar" ballasts.>> Is this normal? <<Not in my experience.>> The smell is like kind of harsh. <<I would contact the manufacturer of the ballasts and see what they have to say.>> Thanks Paul <<Regards, EricR>>

Re: new lighting... Dangers of Ballasts, Too Hot Wattage Transformers  11/12/2005 Should I return the ballast or do you think the ballast will burn off the tar smell? Thanks Paul <I would leave/use as is if it is working, HOWEVER, a few cautionary remarks re: DO make sure this ballast is placed on a non-flammable surface/material, with good air circulation around it, and do check if it is "too hot", as in too hot to keep ones hand on it w/o burning... If it is too hot, DO NOT use it. Do take care to not set this ballast on, near acrylic (as in on the top of the tank if this is what it is made of), as the flash point of this material is quite low... Bob Fenner> 

A Flicker Of Light...Is This The End of The Tunnel? -- 09/23/07 I had a hard time finding the information I am looking for. <<Okay>> I apologize if this question is similar in content to others you have answered. <<No worries>> I have a 55-gallon reef tank that has been up and running successfully for two years. <<Excellent>> All parameters are normal; fish and corals thriving. I have a Current Satellite fixture that has been an excellent choice. However within the past six months the lamps (bulbs) on one of the ballast began to flicker. <<Do swap bulbs around to determine this is not the problem>> At first the flickering was temporary, then it became constant. I bought new lamps and this did not solve the problem. Then my boyfriend (an electrician) disassembled and reassembled the unit. It did not flicker again for about two weeks. Now it flickers randomly once or twice a week, maybe more, and I am not there to notice. Several opinions have me confused. <<Oh?>> One source told me that it was probably a loose wire, not to worry. <<Mmm, possibly'¦but 'is' a worry and should be found/fixed if so>> Another told me that a new ballast was needed. <<Another possibility, yes>> Before I spend the money on a new ballast, is the now, temporary flickering, harmful and or indicative of a larger issue? <<If this is a loose wire, the flickering may well prematurely wear the bulb or ballast'¦might even constitute a fire hazard>> If it is, or was, a loose wire would a new ballast be of any benefit? <<Only if replacing the ballast addresses the loose wire'¦otherwise you are no better off. You state your boyfriend is an electrician'¦I would think it a simple matter for him to determine the problem here>> I tend to be a hypochondriac but it seems that my anemone may be "reaching" for light more than is usual. <<The lamps are likely in need of replacement>> Could the lamps be producing less light, without giving any visual indication? <<Oh yes!>> Is there any way to measure the light that the tank is receiving? <<Indeed there is'¦ To get a true reading of the Photosynthectically Available Radiation (PAR), or effectiveness, of your chosen bulbs you would need to invest in a PAR meter'¦and then one that has a waterproof sensor that can be submersed (not cheap/easily found'¦though an enterprising DIYer might rig one themselves). There is a waterproof LUX meter available in the trade for about a C-note. This meter will measure foot-candles (brightness/luminance) at a specific distance and if readings are taken on new bulbs, they can be used as a 'benchmark' to measure diminished luminance with age'¦ Any input would be most appreciated. Thank-you. <<Quite welcome. EricR>>

Shocking reflector 1/12/04 hi,  I am hoping you can help with a question I have regarding halide voltages. I have just retrofitted my 46 gallon bow with 175w Ushios powered by a blue wave 2(ps) and 2 17000k 96 w pc's. I have noticed that if I contact the reflector and the water with a bare arm I get a small zap. I am an auto tech by trade so know something of electrical theory, be it 12volts dc. So I measured the ac volts between the reflector an the water and found around 22 volts ,obviously this prompted removal of the fixture and full investigation. It is definitely being generated by the halide (proven by switching everything else off) but I found no sign of a short. I ran a ground wire between an outlet and the reflector which had no effect. <Did you test the voltage between the water and ground?  It could be that the water is "hot" and you were getting shocked by the competent ground of the reflector.  Metal halide and florescent lamps are known to create and inductive current in adjacent conductors (salt water).> I have all this wired through a GFI but it is still concerning me where this voltage is coming from. The reflector is a PFO and came with the mogul installed, I just wired the sunlight cable to it, the ground for the cable connects to the reflector which seems normal. I do not know what amount of voltage is being produced by the ballast and am wondering if it is a significantly high figure is it normal for there to be some excess voltage produced just from the way these bulbs/ballasts work. I would use ohms law to calculate the voltage but I don't have enough parameters on the outputs of the ballast. Could it be possible there is a problem with the ceramic socket? <I would test several things.  First, measure the voltage between the reflector and ground with the lights running "on the bench" away from the tank.  If you do not measure a voltage, the fixture is fine.  I would also measure the voltage from your tank water and ground with and without the lights on.  A voltage here with the lights off indicates another appliance is leaking current (powerhead, heater, etc.).  With the lights, your lights are inducing a current in the water.  If induction is occurring, you can try raising the lamps or  wrapping the first couple of inches of the fluorescents in foil.> I have found your site invaluable over the two years.  I have been reefkeeping and am hoping you can help me shed some light sorry that just came out) on this problem, thanks in advance, Liam. <Glad that you have found the site beneficial.  Be glad we don't punish bad puns<g>.  Best Regards.  Adam>

More lighting reef animals hey Anthony- <whassup Josh> The underlying problem with the whole issue of adding more actinics and getting better reflectors is this:  I have been adding more and more sps corals to my tank only to see them lose color, get browner, and exhibit little growth.   <likely has nothing to do with lack of actinics/fluorescents <G>. The lack of growth is most always misdiagnosed. Generally caused by lack of water flow or water flow misapplied (assuming your bio-mineral levels are VERY stable... not fluctuating from weekly or erratic dosing instead of proper daily). Seek closer to 20X tank turnover (no shared pumps/wave timers either... dreadful)... of full-time random turbulent flow... avoid laminar too as with powerheads. The browning up of the corals is more likely from excess organics fertilizing your zooxanthellae (need fairly low DOC. nitrate, etc levels).> After i upgraded my skimmer to an aqua-c ev240, many of the sps have gotten less brown.   <consistent with my theory above... less fertilizer> However, they still lack a good amount of color. <could be UV too... try removing the lens between the halides and water over one side of the tank. Unless of course the lens had been neglected in the past (not cleaned frequently) and allowed dust/salt creep on bulb or lens to ruin coral color> I believe that i need more light intensity to maintain their color.   <unlikely IMO... but try one side of the tank only first if your must so as not to shock all corals> I would like to upgrade to 3-250 watt halides and if i do, are the reflectors that essential? <on the halides, yes> I am deciding between using Iwasaki 6500k or AquaLine 10k.  I know the Iwasaki have a higher par rating and more lumens but the AquaLine might be better for coloration.  What is your opinion? <agreed... do 10K for color... and use better water flow to pick up lost growth for not using 6500> Also, after viewing many sps coral tank setups online, i see a trend towards VHO supplementation to the halides which seems to result in good coral coloration.  It seems the power compact actinics are not that great for coral fluorescing.  That is why i was considering adding VHO actinic to my setup(3-175 watt Aqualines w/ 4-96watt pc actinics) currently and adding the reflectors- to maximize the amount of light from my current setup. <do think you can "survive" without the halide upgrade> Also, i don't have a top on my tank and that was why i was concerned with having the VHOs too close b/c of salt spray.   <not a bulb problem here... but a bubble/return line problem. Should be able to avoid dangerous salt spray easily... and all bulbs really need wiped down weekly at any rate for max efficacy> Would a top block any light or uv? <yes... and not recommended here. Just keep the lamps wiped down> You said the VHOs are not needed for the corals- why is that? <they do not penetrate water at depth as well (certainly not from 4" plus) and have more blue than needed. Plenty of blue in all modern halides. Just cool for effect to have actinics <G>> Thank you so much for your help once again, i greatly appreciate it. Josh <best regards, Anthony>

- Replacement Ballast - Where can I find a replacement ballast for the Helios remote ballast 4-55w lighting system? <That's a good question. If you don't want to approach Helios directly, then I would just check with a local electrical supply house and then match up the specifications - if the lamps are Power Compact, then make sure you specify that when dealing with the supplier as well as the number of bulbs you intend to drive. Cheers, J -- >

Blinded By The Light? Hi guys, <Scott F. this morning> I have a 155/gal bow front mini reef that has been up and running for about 4yrs.  I run 6 96watt power compacts, two of which are blue. Berlin skimmer, sump filter with live rock, UV sterilizer, and I use a Kent Maxima RO/DI for all water that goes into the tank.  Chemistry as of yesterday: PH:  7.9-8.0 Alk:  4 Ammonia:  0 Phosphates:  1.0 Nitrite:  0.22mg/L Nitrate:  10mg/L Ca:  480mg/L Salinity 1.024-1.025 <Check that nitrite and pH again, okay? The phosphate is a bit high, too.> We do 25% water changes 1/wk.  Residents include:  Sail fin Tang, Mandarin, Xmas wrasse, 6 Line wrasse, Ferry wrasse, Yellow Coris wrasse, 8 clown gobies about ½ inch each, percula clown, yellow spotted watchman goby.  All fish are less than 2 inches.  Clean up crew consists of about 150 hermit crabs, 1 emerald crab and 20 turbo snails.  I feed the tank two cubes of frozen mysis/day and Spectra Vital 1/wk. The tank has been thriving up until about a week ago.  I mean it really looked incredible.   Now, my frogs spawn and hammer corals won't open at all.  They're sliming or disintegrating.  I've already completely lost two frog spawn heads. Mushrooms looked shriveled, polyps won't open up either. Brain corals, trumpets, and plate corals seem to be fine. I also noticed a bit of red slime algae on the sand. <Possibly due to accumulating organics from the coral meltdown...> On 11/4/02 we added two 175watt metal halides and started to leave the lights on longer. Previously we only had the lights on for 10 hours/day. Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated!!!!!  We're desperate! Thanks for your help! Kristie <Well, Kristie, it sounds to me like a case of too much light too soon, as far as some of your corals are concerned. They need to be slowly acclimated to different lighting schemes, or something like what you're experiencing can result. Anthony wrote a great article on this topic- do check the Wetwebmedia.com site for this. I will forward this to Anthony for some suggestions. Good luck!>

Blinded By The Light (Pt. @) Thanks for your help!  I turned off the halides since yesterday and have gone back to the 6 96watt power compacts.  Nothing has gotten worse, but doesn't look any better yet.  Should I add any supplements to the tank? Such as Seachem's Reef Plus?  Or Coral Excel???  We don't usually use this stuff too often. <I am not a big one for additives, myself, and given the possible higher nutrient load from dying animals that may be in your system-I'd pass on adding anything else. Just kick the skimmer into overdrive and execute regular water changes.>   Just stick to mysis and Spectra Vital for the tank.  I checked the ph: 8.0 and Nitrites:  0.  I read Anthony's article on lighting.  Thank you.  I think I must of added too much too soon.  Do you recommend slowly adding the halides????? <Just acclimate the animals slowly, using a technique like Anthony suggests.> Or should I forget about them all together? <Nope- they are great lights!> Thanks again! Kristie <You're welcome! I'm sure things will improve soon! Good Luck! Scott F.>

Lighting upgrade... too much too soon... marine I recently upgrade my 72 gal tank (21 inches deep) from 260 watts PC to 440 watts PC. I made the switch about 3 weeks ago. In fear of bleaching out my existing corals, I started off with 330 for the first 5 days and then went to the full 440 watts (220 blue/220 white). I have several coral plugs from GARF both soft and SPS. In the last few days , I have noticed some of the Ricordea mushrooms not opening and other soft corals not losing their color but developing a whitish tone. Is this a form of bleaching?  <Surely stress from such a large increase in lighting (doubled in five days). Mushrooms and some soft corals do not require or tolerate this much light, so do place/shade accordingly. Your sps will want to be near the top (where their growth can help shade the Shrooms below.> Or is this too much for soft corals? I though my increase was gradual enough.  <This is the trick with mixed tanks. You have deep water mushrooms that like low light and LPSs which likes moderate to high light, and you have SPS which tend to require high light levels. You now need to raise the light so you don't shock/burn/bleach even your SPS. Place the low light corals out of the light or shade them, and very slowly lower the light over weeks, not days.>  I have been running the lights 12hrs on 12hrs off. Should I cut back on hours?  <NO.> If so for how long? At the same time I don't want to deprive light to my SPS. Please let me know what you think. - Thanks Ron <It's easier for corals to adapt to temporary lower light levels that huge increases in light levels. Raised the lights and use shading materials. Craig>

Aquarium problems (more light = more life) I have a 55 gallon tank with 2 fluorescent 30watt bulbs. I just purchased an icecap 660 ballast and now am running 2 fluorescent 30watt bulbs and 2 95watt VHO bulbs. Every since I started running all 4 lights I have noticed air bubbles on the tank walls and rocks. They start to show after the lights have been on for about 5 hours and the longer they are on the worse the bubbles get. What is causing this and what can I do. Thanks <"It" is life... photosynthetic organisms (a mix of algae and more) are being "boosted" by the increased light/ing... You can reduce their exuberant oxygen production by limiting nutrient availability (filtration, growing other purposeful photosynthetic organisms, DSB, denitration in other ways... per recommendations on WetWebMedia.com Do take a read through the many filtration articles and more here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marine/setup/index.htm and/or use the search feature at the bottom of the homepage with the above terms. Bob Fenner>

Bulb breaking Hello. I've got what I hope isn't a problem, but I want to find out for sure. While adding on a MH pendant to my 180 reef last night, I managed to bump one of my 96w Actinic PC bulbs. It fell into the tank and broke. (good thing I took your advice and had everything on a GFI unit).  <Yikes. Thank goodness> By the time I reached in and got the bulb out, I could see a cloudy substance drifting out of the broken tube and into the tank. I'm assuming this is the phosphorus that is in the bulb. My question is: is this toxic to fish and corals? I do have carbon running in the system, would this neutralize the phosphorus? <Hmm, if it has not killed the livestock... probably not. And yes to the carbon likely helping.> On a happier note, I'm looking into purchasing an established salt water only fish store (they also do custom tank installation), and was wondering if you could give me any advice on what to look for when I audit the current owners books. <Congratulations, and welcome to the trade... many challenges and great fun ahead. Best to actually hire an accountancy firm/individual to look at the books (and help you set up your bookkeeping) and tax returns for/with you from the get-go here... and your attorney, especially if they're involved in this transaction. Have you had time to work in the shop with the present folks for a few weeks? I STRONGLY encourage this> Thanks for your time, and the great service you perform to hobbyists everywhere. Kevin P.S. If you're ever in the Ft. Lauderdale area, I know of an all you can eat sushi bar, and I've got a batch of beer brewing with your name on it. <Hmm, may be going that way sooner than I thought. Be chatting, and do read over the "Business Index" parts of the wetwebmedia.com site. Bob Fenner>

Water leak in ballast <!!!> 8/5/05 Hey everyone, <Nilesh> A month ago, I had a leak from my external skimmer onto my ballast casing.  I have three 175w MH bulbs with 3 ballasts encased in a box.  One of the lights no longer works.  Over the past month, I let the ballast dry out but it seems like salt is shorting the ballast. <! Unplug this unit! Very dangerous!!!>   What is the best way to remove this salt.  Do you think vinegar and water?  I'm hoping that I can get my bulb working again. Thanks Nilesh <Not likely economically repairable, but you might try sending it back to the manufacturer or distributor (their name, probably address is posted somewhere on the product)... Ballasts need to be carefully protected from water, heat, dust accumulation... mounted somewhere away from such influences. Bob Fenner>

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