DIY light: 160 watts, 6500K for $39 (56k warning) - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 03-19-2006, 08:07 PM Thread Starter
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DIY light: 160 watts, 6500K for $39 (56k warning)

The total cost of this project was $39. It provides 160 watts of 6500K Normal Output fluorescent light. The lights are 48" long.

Pedro (milalic) and I found these shoplight fixtures that cost about $9 each at Home Depot:

Each fixture holds two 40 watt Normal Output fluorescent tubes - available at Home Depot too. This is the label on the boxes:

The bulbs that Pedro found are 6500K and are well known for their low price - I believe he paid about $5 for two of them:

Bulb specs:

Bulb label:

The fixture that holds the bulbs is open ended. There is no side wall or shield. We added a DIY side shield (end cap) made of a tin shingle that costs 39 cents (2 of these were enough to make 4 end caps):

Using household scissors we cut the shingle in a shape that matches the profile of the light fixture. The incisions on the sides are made so you can bend the material and provide 2 "wings" that allow the end cap to be fastened to the light fixture with small nuts and bolts:

The nuts and bolts used to fasten the end cap in place are very small size:

Additional support for the end cap is provided by slipping the thin metal under the plastic supports of the bulb sockets:

The end cap from inside. The nuts and bolts that hold the end cap in place are to the left and right of the bulbs (somewhat hard to see on this picture):

The light fixture is is placed over the tank using small diameter threaded metal rods. The rods are screwed into the tank plastic rim. There is one nut that provides additional support at the base of the rod:

Close up of the rods:

The rod comes in different lengths, this one is 36" and it was long enough to make 8 short rods, about 4" each:

Specifications for the rod:

The nuts used to support the base of the rod:

Front view of the 75 gal. tank:

The work to make this powerful light was very much minimal. The only downside that I personally saw was that the bulbs are not entirely enclosed - you can see about 1/4 of the bulb from the front. I don't like even a little light glaring in my eyes but from what I've seen Pedro is not the only person that doesn't mind that at all.

Another thing is that the inexpensive 6500K bulbs seem to come only in lengths of 48 or more inches.

An alternative to the 48" 160 watt light that we made could be a 216 watt combination of four T5 54 watt 10K bulbs ($50 shipped) with a Workhorse 7 ballast ($45 shipped) which totals about $95 for the 4 bulbs and ballast only. All other hardware has to be either bought or handmade.

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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 03-19-2006, 09:35 PM
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Nice job but what about the growth does this five the light range that is needed for the plants? If you dont like the glair the pop-rib-bit or bolt the tin on the existing angle piece to extend it out and down.
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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 03-19-2006, 10:12 PM
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Nice inexpensive way to get a light. You could also make a simple canopy, like the AH Supply canopies and mount the lights in it, for a few more dollars.

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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 03-19-2006, 10:15 PM
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They work amazingly well...I have the same thing. You will get tons of algae in the beginning, but afterwards it will go away. Just a heads up.
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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 03-26-2006, 09:48 PM
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my lights are similer i got them at homedepo too. the ones i got where the ones which had the balast and stuff in a box above the lights.... the lights where directly under it, i have those exact bulbs. we made a "box" for our hood. very effective... ive had it for a few months now and i have a TON of algea..... ill wait it out...

-=- fish newb -=-
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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 03-26-2006, 09:53 PM
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I really do enjoy the home depot lights, but I just found out that the walmart shoplights are even better. They are made from Lights of America, they are light weight, comes with a hanging kit and have a larger space of reflector so more lights can enter the tank.
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 03-31-2006, 08:56 PM
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i never really liked my shoplight fixture all that much. there was too much light going out of the tank and not into it

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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-23-2006, 02:17 PM
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Oh, I hate to dig up other people's old threads, but I am doing a similar project like yours with the same exact lights.

Do you know if these shop lights have magnetic or electronic ballasts? I'm looking for an electronic one, so it wastes less energy...

Also, if 2 of these fixtures(24" long) are placed in a wood canopy, will I need a fan to cool them?

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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-23-2006, 02:50 PM
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I have been using 2 T-8 shoplights for awhile and they work great.
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-23-2006, 04:19 PM
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@exmt... For that price, id assume magnetic. If you already have the canopy, then you really dont need to worry about the metal housing. Just buy the bulbs.endcaps.ballast seperately. A ballast will run you about 25 bucks, the endcaps about 1.50 per bulb, and the bulbs, theyre cheap because they are so common.

As long as your canopy has some ventilation, then heat wont be a problem.
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post #11 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-23-2006, 05:49 PM
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Okay, thanks alot for the suggestions...I was going to do what niko did in the beginning of this thread, but I haven't bought the fixtures yet.

Assuming they are magnetic, they'll be a bit inefficient in the long run.

I'll buy the electronic ballast, endcaps, and bulbs seperately. Wow, this site has some great prices on electronic ballasts:

Where would I get the endcaps?(besides lfs) What kind of wires should I use?

Sorry for hijacking your thread niko, but I was interested in this exact project.
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post #12 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-23-2006, 06:58 PM Thread Starter
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No problem this is a DIY forum and the more active it is the better.

Concerning DIY cheap fluorescents... I just made a fixture from scratch utilizing four T8 bulbs from Home Depot (32 watts each, 6500K).

The price for making everything cannot beat buying two $9 shoplight fixtures. I spent $14 on 4 bulbs, $17 for 8 non-waterproof endcaps (a pair is $4 at HD), $7 for wire, $3 for PVC pipe, $5 for small vice grips, and $5 for 10 ft. roofing L-shape. I had the 2 ballasts already so I saved at least $30 on them.

So for 128 watts of light I spend well over $50 and I worked for hours getting everything bought and done. Getting two of the $9 shoplights + bulbs for $14 would be a total of about $35 with the tax.

At least the fixtures that I made look to my liking - sleek looking, hanging over the tank and all wires are hidden in the supporting PVC tubes behind the tank.

An alternative to all that would be to just buy the Aquatraders 108 watt T5 fixture for $50 plus whatever shipping they have. Cheap chinese bulbs with unknown light spectrum and life expectancy as well as the bad rap about the Aquatraders customer support may hold you back:

Here's the 24" version:

The ballast in the $9 shoplight fixture:
I bought one of the $9 shoplight fixtures and took the endcaps from it. Buying 4 endcaps separate will be $8 so it makes more sense to actually buy the whole fixture . I opened the fixture and the ballast's label said that it is electronic.

As I mentioned buying the endcaps separately at Home Depot will be $4 for a pair or them. The $9 shoplight has 4 of them so it makes sense to buy that instead. The endcaps are not waterproof. I would hope that one can buy endcaps dirt cheap online but shipping may equal the price at HD.

I used the double wire that is meant for household lamps - 28 cents per foot makes it the cheapest wire you can use. It is soft and easy to bend - you can thread it through anything with ease. But the problem with it is that the actual wire consists of many tiny wires which are too soft and cannot be pushed into the fluorescent socket. I ended up attaching 1 inch pieces of hard wire at the end of the soft wire to be able to push the wire into the sockets.

For a 24 inch set up you will probably be able to use the ballast in the $9 shoplight fixture. But it maybe best to buy a Fulham Workhorse ballast. These ballasts are very flexible - they accept all kinds of bulb lengths/wattages. Find the ballast that you need at their site (use the drop down boxes to the right). It seems that the Workhorse 8 is what you need, but Workhorse 5 which is very popular will probably be ok too:

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post #13 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-23-2006, 10:15 PM
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Thanks for taking the time to write that up.

Here is my current schematic(How does it look?):

I'm hovering between getting the shop lights or just buying the ballast and endcaps seperately.

The bigger the shop light, the cheaper it'll be. The ones I need(24") are exactly $24.95. This does not even include bulbs...

Since I'll try this on my reef first, I'll need:

8 Endcaps ($16)
1 Ballast ($13 plus shipping)
15' of lamp wire (about $5)
2 Plugs ($4)
2 10000K bulbs ($30)
2 460nm Actinics ($30)

Runs a total of: $98

2 Shop light fixtures(24")($50)
2 10000K bulbs ($30)
2 460nm Actinics ($30)

Runs a total of: $110

I think building everything from raw parts are more cost-effective now..

How do I wire in an electronic ballast? Does it come with the lead wires already attached, or do I need some seperate lamp wire? How does the wire attach? By screws on the side or a clip? How would I ground the ballast?
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post #14 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-24-2006, 12:10 AM Thread Starter
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Your canopy plan looks good to me. The only thing about it is that despite the fans it's possible for condensation water to penetrate the non-water proof end caps of the fluorescent tubes. The only solution to that is to buy water proof end caps for T8 bulbs ($$$) :
Waterproof End Caps

From what you ask I see that you are not very familiar with fluorescent ballasts and for your safety and peace of mind I would suggest you buy ballasts that are designed and advertised to power two 24" bulbs.

It maybe possible to use 1 ballast from the $9 shoplight to power four 24" tubes. Read the following article for details:
Overdriven fluorescents

Lead wires
All ballasts come with color coded lead wires that stick out of the ballast.

Most ballasts also have a wiring diagram on the label that is on the ballast itself. Examples:
Diagrams on ballast label

Extending the lead wires
You could extend the lead wires by attaching extra wire to them. But some manufacturers suggest that you should not do that and use only the leads that stick out of the ballast. I don't know the reason for that.

Grounding the Workhorse ballast is done by using a 3-wire cable that plugs into the power outlet:

2 of the 3 wires power the ballast (attach to the black and white lead wires) and 1 of the 3 wires (the one comming from the round prong) attaches to the body of the ballast itself by a screw. I don't know if that grounding wiring is the same for all fluorescent ballasts.

DIY seems pointless at times, I think you now know why, haha

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post #15 of 16 (permalink) Old 04-24-2006, 01:33 AM
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Fantastic!, now I understand what I need to do! I only have some basic knowledge of wiring and ballasts...

I was actually leaning to buy the Hamilton set, but $290 is way more than I can affordably spend.

How about some acrylic sheeting in between the canopy and tank's water level? That would prevent splashing on the bulb.

For some reason, I can't find any ballasts that can run 4 24" bulbs.

I've seen this sounded great, but one man's tank exploded and destroyed one room of his house due to these. I think I'll just drive them regularly given the choice.

Thanks for the great help you've been.

Now my current schematic:
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