Warning: Attempt the below article at your own risk. The Planted Tank and its affliates take no responsiblity for any damage/injuries that might occur. This article only works with an electronic ballast. It does not work with a magnetic ballast.
Some aquarists seem to have unlimited budgets. Their tanks are outfitted with high dollar lights and the latest technology in controllers and monitoring electronics. But let's face it, most of us are on a tight budget. We want to provide the best environment for our fish and plants, but we are usually forced to compromise to stay within a fixed income situation.
Here's where I want to help. One of the most expensive components (perhaps even the single most expensive) of a planted tank is the lighting. Metal Halide lighting being the ultimate, yet most expensive option, Power Compacts seem to be a popular choice for planted aquaria. Bulbs are expensive, though, and fixtures aren't within the reach of every hobbyist, either.
For a standard 4 foot long aquarium such as a 55 gallon (as well as an AGA 75, 90 and 120) the popular poor man's light setup consists of a shop light or two. The sheet metal strip lights cost roughly $6-$10 and house two standard 40 watt tubes. For about $40, you can crowd four 40 watt tubes over your tank and end up with a total of about 12,000 lumens. This is enough to keep most moderate-intense light demanding plants, but it can get quite crowded having four bulbs on a 55g.
Ok, here's the ticket, then... Overdriven Normal Output Flourescent lighting (ODNO). Most bulbs get their super long life (20,000 hours+) by running much cooler, at lower current levels than they are capable of. This is great for office lighting or other industrial applications where energy efficiency and bulb life are the most important factors. But we want to cram as much light over our small tanks as possible.
An overdriven F32T8 bulb will produce about 6500 lumens. Why the smaller 1" diameter T8 bulbs? They're more efficient and produce more lumens/watt. Two of these ODNO T8 bulbs will make more light than four 1 1/4" T12 bulbs in the aforementioned shop lights.
How does it work? Well a normal lighting ballast is responsible for providing power to the bulb. Most of these ballasts are capable of providing power to more than one bulb. Instead of hooking up multiple bulbs to the one ballast we can hook up just one bulb with all of the outputs together. So say we had a ballast that is capable of driving 4 seperate F32T8s. If we put all of that power into 1 F32T8 that bulb would in theory produce 4x more power. Below are 2 diagrams explaining the proper way to wire the ballasts to the bulb/s.
Although not necessary, it is recommended to install a fan in your hood. Overdriven bulbs get noticeably hotter than a normal one, although not as hot as a normal 55w Power Compact.
This article was adapted by a post on the here.