Saturday, June 27, 2009

Fish Lighting

Yes, I know this is a forum about real estate. However, a small portion of my personal real estate is devoted to my wife's aquarium.

A couple years ago, we had been talking about setting up a nice salt water aquarium, though after much research and digging I decided that it might be better to start with a tropical freshwater setup, see how it goes, and perhaps later switch to, or add, a salt water setup. That way we would kill fewer, or perhaps less expensive fish, through the learning curve.

We initially had a small problem in that we have an odd space we wanted to use for the setup. It was good, in that there is power and water nearby, but bad because there are height limitations, and without having a custom aquarium made, it would take some effort to find the right lid and light and such.

As you can see, it is a pretty tight fit between the top of the tank and the bottom of the cabinets. In fact, the light fixture actually sits right in front of the cabinets but below the doors.
The fixture is made by Coralife, and works great! It comes with a 10K bulb and an Actinic bulb -- I love the nice blue color it gives things.

It has two F28T5 fluorescent lamps, and the ballast for them is built into the slim fixture. This is good and bad -- good because it is all self contained; and bad, because the ballast is not serviceable -- no way to replace it as it is a lugubrious mass strung together and crammed into a small space. Removal will almost always break something.

Plus, this setup seems to be unhappy with high humidity levels, as I have burned up two of the ballasts in a year.

To solve this problem, I used a ballast from GE. I also used one from Advance for a while, but I like the GE ballasts better because they drive the lamps independently, so if you lose one of the bulbs, the other one still works. With the Advance ballast, you have to play musical bulbs to see which one died. The wiring to the lamp sockets is different for the two ballasts, so keep this in mind and make sure you use the right wiring for your ballast should you attempt this yourself. The GE ballast goes for about $40 online.

If you decide to take on a project like this yourself, keep in mind that you will have to run the wires from the lamps to your external ballast, AND that these wires carry upwards of 500V, and things must stay very dry around your ballast. Finally, you need to run an extra ground wire from the fixture to the ballast. Here's the final result, my ballast lives on one side of the tank for easy servicing.

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