Monday, May 05, 2014

LED and T5 Hybrid: My Ultimate Lighting System

Being one that loves to tinker with my reef tank, I am ALWAYS looking for ways to make my tank better and my fish and corals “happier”. Whether it is a new filter, a new light, new additives or a new food, I am always looking for something better. Talking to other hobbyists as a part of my job and being surrounded by co-works that are just about as obsessed as I am definitely do not make things any easier.

After taking the EcoTech Radion Gen 3 LED fixtures for a test drive, I was extremely impressed and knew I ABSOLUTELY had to have them. Wanting to go above-and-beyond ‘for my corals’, I decided that four additional 54W ATI T5 bulbs were required for my “ultimate” lighting system. 
The Radion fixtures are used as the main lighting system and are on for 10 hours a day. This allows me to save on electricity during most of the day by utilizing the efficient LED’s and allows me to set up a gradual dawn/dusk effect and have that amazing fluorescence and shimmer that the Radion LEDs produce. 
The four T5 bulbs are on for four hours per day to help further enhance the colors and growth of the corals. The shorter photoperiod for the T5 bulbs should help extend their life past the typical 8-10 month period. By creating this “hybrid” lighting system, I am able to get the both world: the great features, controllability, fluorescence and efficiency of LED lights and the proven color-enhancing performance of T5 bulbs.
Once the decision was made and all the supplies ordered, it was time to head into my work shop and make it all happen. The final design included a short wooden canopy housing the four T5 bulbs with an open center channel that the two Radion fixtures sit on. The four T5 bulbs consist of 2 ATI CoralPlus and 2 ATI Blue Plus bulbs running on an AquaticLife T5 retofit kit and parabolic reflectors.
The short canopy was made to easily slide into my existing AI RailKit and elevated to allow easy access into the aquarium for maintenance. Having the Radion fixtures sitting on top of the canopy (as opposed to being inside) allows heat to freely dissipate above the canopy. The open channel also allows me to slide the Radion fixture back and forth to get the perfect placement for my aquarium.
On a side note, I found a Copper paint with a Hammered texture by Rust-Oleum while cruising the aisles at Home Depot. Having built numerous aquarium hoods and stands in the past, I have had a fair amount of wood-working experience. However, my wood-working skill is far from furniture grade. This paint produces a hammered texture that hides just about all the imperfections and looks surprisingly natural. The paint was also thick enough to fill in any small cracks and gave the hood a much nicer, finished, look than it would have with regular paint.
My new “ultimate” lighting system has now been running on my aquarium for over a month and I am definitely delighted with my decision. I am able to get the controllability, shimmering and fluorescence of the LED lights and corals seem to be responding well to the T5 supplemental bulbs by being as vibrant as ever. 
Many of my brown or green acros have started to develop very nice coloration. I can't wait to see how these acropora corals will look in 6 months. My urge for tinkering with my reef tank has been temporarily satisfied… until next time….
Want to learn more about my DIY hood? Check out my follow-up post, My DIY Hood for T5 & Radion LED Lighting, for photos and details.