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Selecting Compact Fluorescent or T5

1326 Views 11 Replies 5 Participants Last post by  briandmiles
I need lighting for a 75-gallon (284 litre) tank and I have two options. Both will most likely be DIY set-ups. Since the wattage is essentially the same and I suspect that the lighting characteristics aren't a whole lot different, I'm having trouble making the selection. I have read, however, that the T5 bulbs run cooler than the compacts. Can anyone comment on that or the assumptions I've made.

The setup will probably have four bulbs and that will give me 3 watts per gallon, which is fine. I'll make a box out of 1/2" (12mm) hardwood and leave a 1/8'" (3 mm) slot on either side of the top. Arms attached to the back of the case will be used to hang the fixture. I know AH supply sells a good product and I'm somewhat reluctant to stray from the compacts for that reason. I'm sure there is something simlar for T5 elsewhere but there's always a risk straying from the known.
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A similar reflector for T5s? IceCaps. They're single bulb reflectors ~$20-22 each.

To get 3 WPG, you'd need a little over 4 bulbs. Try to price out a DIY setup. I did and a Tek 4x54W wasn't much more expensive. Prices might have dropped by now on DIY parts.
I know what you mean about the price of DIY components. It's really not the savings but the quality and ability to tailor the fixture to what you want.
I know what you mean about the price of DIY components. It's really not the savings but the quality and ability to tailor the fixture to what you want.
In that case...DIY by all means. :)

I wish I DIY'd the canopy on my tank for the same reasons you stated...but I didn't and now I regret it. Heh.
I'm currently in the process of building a custom lighting solution for my next big project. My previous tank had AHSupply bright kits and I have to say they were great. Everything you could conceivable need to install into an existing light strip or canopy was provided. I was extremely happy with my Power Compact lights.
Having said that my new setup is 4ft wide and I really think that having a single 4ft bulb is better because you don't have the dead spots that you have to worry about with the 22 inch power compacts (a minor concern to say the least). Having constructed my new light I am happy to say that the 54w T5 HO bulbs do run significantly cooler than the Power Compacts did and I believe that this will allow me to run the lights with no fans. That means less noise and for me that is always a good thing. Also I believe the reflectors are even more efficient on the T5's than the PC's.

Here's the predicament. The power compact DIY kits are running about half the price for the T5 kits I've found. I found a Sunblaze 4x54w for about $170, which is alluring. Found one with daylight bulbs for a little over $200. Unfortunately, I can't turn off two bulbs independently and I have no clue about the quality of the reflectors or ballasts. I had to replace the ballast I had with a power compact fixture over my 10-gallon tank once. My only good solution was to go to AH Supply and get a ballast from them and mount it on top. Should have done the kit from the start.
If you go the DIY route, four Icecap reflectors ($80), a WH7 ($35) ballast (or 2 WH5 if you want to switch two banks independently) would be a quality solution. You can get bulbs cheaply at Hellolights and other places, I am using NO bulbs and the ballasts overdrive them to HO levels. Add in some endcaps (I don't think watertight ones are really necessary, and you have a fairly inexpensive setup.

Personally I don't think PC bulbs run hotter than T5 bulbs. What happens is that a PC bulb is a T5 bent in half, so now you have the same heat output concentrated in half the space, which makes them seem to run hotter. Of course, due to the U-shape PC's lose light by restrike, that's the biggest advantage of the T5's.
most here go through this PCF vs. T5HO decision at one point or another.
when I went through it, the determinant factor was my open top tank
with no skirt around the top of the tank to hide any glare from the fixture.
If my tank was a closed top with a skirt around it, I definitely would have
gone with T5HO lighting. Since I needed to use a naked fixture, I went
with the Orbits, who's recessed PCF leak out the least amount of glare.
Wasserpest, thanks for the lead to Hellolights. It's a great place to browse. I've found some other sources but none were any better. Naturally, I can't speak to the customer service since I've never purchased there but I'll assume they are honorable and professional.

Here's how I see the consideration to either buy or make a 4 x 54W T5 light. I can spend around $200 (+/- $20) for all of the electronics and perhaps another $25 for the hardwood (1/2" [13mm]) to make the canopy. I can mount the ballast where I want them and recess the reflectors separated and as deep into the hood as I care to mount them; didn't think about restrike or glare. So, that's not bad considering what can be done. My other option is to spend another $60 and get a sleek European model made from the same components that's ready to drape over my tank. That's easy, which can be a good thing because I can't (won't) mount either from the ceiling. I've got to build what is essentially two large hooks (like the ones you put in the garden to hold plant baskets) that will attach to the back of the stand. Maybe I'll bend and paint some conduit or copper tubing and dress it up nicely. I'll have to remember to fill it with sand to minimize collapse of the section while bending.

It looks to me that there's no wrong decision. The DIY isn't significantly less, but that's not the point of DIY IMHO. So, I've just got to make a decision. What is interesting to me is overdriving normal bulbs with the high output ballasts. I'm guessing that the less-expensive bulbs would have a shorter life or run a little hotter since they are larger (we are talking about the normal bulbs, correct). Don't know for sure or how the spectra would change. If you can grow plants inexpensively, however, I guess none of that matters on the first cut through the discussion.
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DIY vs. fixture is up to you, but if you bend EMT, you won't need sand to bend it. :) You can also use 90 degree elbows, but people recommend against it. I actually used 90 degree elbows but drilled through the other side of the EMT conduit and used a really long bolt + nut to keep it secure.

In regards to ODing the NO bulbs, they might have a reduced bulb life, but in a previous fixture I had, I overdrove them for 8 months with no ill effects. I assume they would've lasted the whole year. Like you, I had no way of measuring spectural changes in the bulb. And no, T5NO bulbs are the exact same dimensions of T5HO bulbs so they're not bigger. Hotter? Maybe so because of the OD, but not bigger.
If you are after sleek looks, I'd say spend a bit more and get a ready-made fixture. Unless you are a professional carpenter/whatever or have access to pro tools and stuff it is likely that a commercial fixture will look sleeker than a DIY one.

And like Epic already confirmed -- I am talking about T5 NO vs HO bulbs, same size. I am not convinced that they are much different, besides the price. Shorter lifespan is possible, but we are talking about around a year, and for $8 a bulb I won't complain.
As far as the heat issue goes I only have anecdotal evidence. I couldn't touch my PC bulbs after they were on for 30 minutes and my hood had fans. I can touch the T5's after running all day and my hood now has no fans. Not scientific proof but good enough for me.

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