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Changing Aquarium Light Bulbs Is No Simple Matter
One of the most common questions about aquariums, whether fish only or fish and plants, is when to replace bulbs. Although fluorescent tubes can last for several years before they burn out, experts and manufacturers recommend replacing lamps up to twice a year! Is this the right way to go or are the bulb manufacturers only in it for the money?
Although you and I won’t be able to tell the difference in the quality of the light, the amount of light emitted by an aquarium bulb will decrease over time. With both saltwater tanks and freshwater tanks with plants, many experts recommend replacing bulbs at least annually.
Of course, the real answer is never that easy. If your aquarium contains only fish, you may be able to use a bulb until it burns out or algae begins to build up. Without plants in the aquarium, nothing depends on light for the process of photosynthesis. Keep the bulb as long as you want or replace it when you want more light or better quality. If you can no longer see your fish, now may be the perfect time to replace the light.
With a plant or reef aquarium, the situation becomes more complex. You will want to replace the bulbs every six to twelve months for standard fluorescent lights, and every year to 18 months for super high output aquarium bulbs. Even with VHO bulbs, you may want to replace them sooner rather than later in order to maintain the quality of light needed for plant growth.
The main reason to replace bulbs is to maintain the right amount of light needed for plant growth and to prevent algae growth. Some aquarium lighting experts even recommend changing bulbs every six months, as fluorescent bulbs used will dim over time.
Fortunately, the health of your fish will not be affected if you wait too long to change the bulbs. The main problem with older aquarium bulbs is that there isn’t enough light to keep the plants growing and alive. This is noticeable through a phenomenon called “browning”, where the neon colors of corals or clams will fade to a brownish hue over time as the quality of light they get degrades.
Ultra-high efficiency bulbs last longer, but are more expensive than standard fluorescent lamps. VHOs also use more energy and produce more heat than standard light bulbs. Some very high output bulbs also have special end caps and require a different ballast than the standard variety.
Changing aquarium bulbs isn’t as simple as waiting for them to go out and then replacing them. You need to be much more diligent about the quality of light your fish and plants are getting, and plan to replace bulbs based on that. Most aquarium bulb manufacturers specify the rated life of their bulbs, as well as how often they should be changed to maintain light output.
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