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