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GulfCoastAquarian 10-16-2002 05:45 PM

Cheap lighting - ODNO
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? The output of an electronic ballast designed for driving four F32T8 bulbs is coupled to one bulb as such:

If two bulbs are desired, two ballasts need to be purchased. The intensity these lights put out is amazing. More intense than a 55w Power Compact bulb, and far cheaper to replace bulbs. The bulbs get considerably warmer than normal, but not even as hot as a PC bulb. A fan is useful to help extend bulb life, which should be approximately 1-2 years.

This method is also applicable to various other bulb sizes. I am using a 2-F32T8 ballast to drive two 18" bulbs with 64 watts total (normally 30w).

Here's where I read about it...

Reef Central Thread

GulfCoastAquarian 10-16-2002 05:47 PM

To help answer some of the questions surrounding ODNO, I've decided to edit this post and create an FAQ. It will be updated from time to time, as more questions arise.

What type of light output will I see with my setup?
This isn't an easy question to answer since there will be many variations in output depending on bulb configuration, type, and the make of ballast you are using. In general, though, these are the increases one can expect to see with ODNO:
  • 2xODNO (2 power leads per bulb) - ~50% increase
  • 3xODNO (3 power leads per bulb) - ~75% increase
  • 4xODNO (4 power leads per bulb) - ~100% increase
For example: For a single 48" F40T12 40 watt bulb being powered by 4 power leads (4xODNO), you can expect the equivalent about 80 watts of output (100% more than normal).

Why don't I see four times the amount of light in a 4xODNO setup?
Not all of the electricity that you pump into a bulb is converted into light. Even in normal output (NO) fluorescent lighting, some of that electricity is lost as heat. The more electricity you pump in, the more that is lost as heat. So in a 4xODNO setup, you lost more than half of the energy you're putting in to heat. That is why a fan is recommended for any ODNO setup.

What about series type ODNO setups?
In 'series type' ODNO setups, two bulbs are placed in line with each other (Shown Here). The ballast is 'tricked' into thinking it sees a bulb twice as big as each individual bulb by itself. So two 18" F15T8 15 watt bulbs placed in series will seem like a single 36" F30T8 bulb instead. So in a 2xODNO series type application with two F15T8 bulbs, you'd see 50% more light, which would result in 45 watts of output from the two 18" bulbs in series.

Can I put two 36" bulbs in series and make the ballast 'see' a six foot bulb?
Theoretically, you could, if you were able to find an electronic ballast rated to drive six foot bulbs. All 6' bulb ballasts on the market are generally magnetic so it is recommended that you do not put any bulb larger than 24" in series.

Can I use the magnetic ballast that came with my shop light or aquarium canopy?
No. You must use an electronic ballast. Not all types of electronic ballast might work with ODNO, but most should be able to with no problems. Here are a few known 'overdriveable' electronic ballasts:
  • Advance REL-4P32-SC
  • GE B432I120RH
  • Sylvania QT 4x32/120 IS-SC
  • Fulham Workhorse 5
I personally recommend the Workhorse 5 (which can be purchased at a local lighting supply store for around $20-$30) since it has the highest ballast factor (power output) and is more flexible than a conventional 4 bulb F32T8 electronic ballast. You can even drive 55w and 96w Power Compact bulbs with a Workhorse.

Is ODNO completely safe?
No. There is always risk when using electronics in a means not intended by a manufacturer. If you are not familiar with electronics, I recommend you invest in a premade canopy or a retrofit kit from a company such as
But if you are comfortable working with electronic devices, many many hobbyists have used ODNO setups for years without any problems. As long as the system is wired correctly and the bulbs light up rapidly without flickering, the system is perfectly safe and will provide reliable service for many years.

Is bulb life affected by ODNO?
Yes. The increased heat will cause a bulb to degenerate somewhat more rapidly. It is recommended that you replace your bulbs once every 12 months to keep light output at its peak.

Does ODNO affect color temperature and spectral output?
Possibly. This has not been documented, but the increased heat may cause the phosphors the shift their spectral output more rapidly than a normal output configuration. Fortunately, plants are very adaptable and the color shift should not affect growth if bulbs are properly maintained and replaced once a year. Saltwater reef aquariums using ODNO technology might benefit from a more aggressive bulb replacement schedule.

I will reiterate Planted Tank's Warning:
Warning: Use ODNO at your own risk. The Planted Tank and its affliates take no responsiblity for any damage/injuries that might occur.

If anyone notices any errors or has any additional questions you'd like answered in this FAQ, please post them on this thread.

m.lemay 10-16-2002 09:34 PM

Now that is cool. Too bad I already spent my $ on compact PC's. But theres a 180 or 250 gal tank in my future, and I'll be printing this thread and throwing it in my files.:cool:

GulfCoastAquarian 10-17-2002 02:46 PM

It's cool, allright, as long as you put a fan on the system. But even without a fan, the overdriven NO bulbs get no hotter than a standard 55w PC bulb (which is pretty stinkin hot). I added a fan to my CSL PC strip and bulb life has increased tremendously.

I've got an old Perfecto twin strip hood for a 55 with some fried ballasts. I'm going to retrofit two of these ODNO ballasts into it and see how it looks. Might try to sell it, but shipping would probably be expensive.

Steve 10-18-2002 01:13 AM

Great post Gulf. I'm all for trying new things although the most difficult part is getting off my lazy rear and starting a new project :)

GulfCoastAquarian 10-18-2002 12:48 PM

Same here. But I was setting up a new reef tank so I decided to give a try anyway. Now I'm starting to re-think my planted tank lighting, hehe. I might ditch the Power Compact lights altogether and just stick with three overdriven 40w GE Plant & Aquarium bulbs. The PC bulbs are way too bluish for a planted tank, anyway. They belong on a reef.

Steve 10-18-2002 03:07 PM

What kind of PC bulbs are you running?

GulfCoastAquarian 10-18-2002 03:36 PM

I was running 8800K and they almost completely washed out my Gold Angels and made them look almost white/beige. I switched to 5500K and they are very much improved, but when they swim to the front of the tank, where the GE P&A bulbs are, their color is astounding. The Rasbora Tetras as well.

I can't imagine what they'd look like under a pair of ODNO 6500 lumens GE P&A bulbs!

Steve 10-18-2002 04:30 PM

I hear ya. I have 6500k MH's running over my african cichlid, his colors are amazing. He doesnt mind the wattage either.

SNPiccolo5 10-18-2002 09:52 PM

I was using the plant and aquarium bulbs, and I thought they were far too blue... They might not be GE though. Do you know where I could get some and if they fit in a standard 48" 40-watt strip?


GulfCoastAquarian 10-21-2002 01:54 PM

Home Depot has the GE Plant & Aquarium tubes. They are definitely not bluish in their color spectrum. Their most popular size is the F40T12 48" bulb.

ridns 10-22-2002 02:07 PM

Do you have any suggestions on how to do this with an F9tt/50k builb? I have a nice little light on my hex that uses two of the above mentioned which are not enough for plants. I sure would like to overdrive those lights...:hehe:

GulfCoastAquarian 10-22-2002 02:23 PM

I'm not familiar with the bulb, actually. Do you mean an F9T6? I don't think they make an electronic ballast for a bulb that small. I wish they did, though, I have a 15g tall tank that uses that bulb.

I might try connecting one of those bulbs to this ballast, what the heck, and see what happens. I'll wear my safety goggles, haha.

ridns 10-22-2002 02:42 PM

its a Sylvania, Dulux 4 pin, compact florescent.... hope that helps. I think they are self balasted so I'm probly out of luck....:(

ridns 10-22-2002 02:57 PM

I went to the "Osram Sylvania" web site and tried to find it. The closest I can find is "Dulux S/E 4 pin". That is the only group that list an F9 bulb. According to that info it uses an electronic balast.:hehe:

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