55g - T5 lighting is a new option!
Over the years, I've used just about every type of lighting available for the aquarium hobby. Normal Ouput (NO), Power Compacts (PC) also referred to as Compact Fluorescents (CF), Very High Output (VHO), Metal Halide (MH) and now (time of writing is 2003) T-5 High Output (HO) are available for a reasonable price in the U.S.
The 5 in T-5 stands for the bulb size, and basically it is the same diameter as a PC bulb, except it is simply one straight tube. A PC bulb is one bulb folded in half, with a socket at the end.
I was about to buy a new VHO bulb to replace the one that has outlived its lifespan of 6 months. The new bulb was a URI 48" 110w Super Actinic (O3) that typically runs $25 - $30 at the LFS. While visiting Pet-O-Rama in Hurst, our discussion lead to the fact they were selling the new T-5's in various spectrums and lengths. T-5's came out in Europe first, being built in Germany. These don't do well in the U.S. so a new version had to be made just for our 60hz/110w power source.
As far as I know, a T-5 bulb should last 15 months, compared to a VHO that is only good for 6. The type I bought are ready to plug in, and have their own tiny reflector and built in ballast. When you need to get a new bulb, you buy the entire unit with a new ballast, reflector and bulb. There is nothing to assemble and is ready to go right out of the box.
I was very impressed with the fact that it has an 8' cord, with a dual pronged plug, and a quick-disconnect about 2' from the bulb. The fact that this doesn't have a big black transformer as the plug is a major plus for those areas where space is tight.
47" in length, it should fit most canopies over a 4' tank. They could be hung via chains if a canopy is not used, but small clips are supplied which make installation a breeze. The 48" bulbs are 54w each, and each one cost $38. Since the price was so close to what I was going to pay for a new VHO bulb, I decided to get two of these T-5 setups instead.
I already use 2x175w MH bulbs to light my 55g reef, but I have to supplement it with 2x110w VHO actinic bulbs to get the right look for my tank. My hope is that using 2x54w T-5 actinic bulbs will produce less heat and consume less electricity every hour that they are on. If this works out as planned, I'll use 1344w less each day, or 490,560w per year. Plus, I don't have to pay for new bulbs again for 15 months, compared to twice a year as I've done all this time.
One thing to keep in mind is that each bulb will have its own cord. So if you plan to use a timer, you'll need some type of multiple plug to go into the timer. It states on the product not to plug these into an extension cord, probably because those can overheat and cause a fire.
I bought Helio HO T5-11 Deluxe Actinic Blue, which comes with moisture proof endcaps and the built in reflector. Model # HO T5-II 54AB-R
Right out of the box, you can see it is ready to use.
For comparison, I put a T-12 - Normal Fluorescent next to the T-5 product to give you perspective of size.
As you can see, the cord comes right out of the end piece.
The quick-disconnect is a very handy way to remove the light if necessary.
Two clips come with the light, along with screws. Once they are mounted, the light snaps right into place securely.
Plugged in, it was very bright.
This is a view from above. You can see the top of each reflector running parallel with the tank.
Because my canopy is modified from the original, even this 47" unit would not quite fit where I wanted to mount it.
So I securely mounted a couple of rails, one at each end, and the T-5s simply rest on these.
You can see the Metal Halide bulb in between the new T-5s, as well as the unused VHO above the new lights. I'll be observing these new HO lights over the coming months to decide how much I like them, but just the idea of saving half a million watts this year is indeed very appealing!!!
Update: After observing these lights for the past two days, I'm very happy with them. They don't flicker or cause any distraction, and they look just as good as the VHO bulbs did before. As of now, I can't see a difference between 108w HO and 220w VHO, which is great news! These lights generate less heat that the VHOs, so the tank temperature was half a degree cooler than normal. Which is fine with me. :)
In about a week, I'll get in my new 175w MH bulbs to replace my old Ushios. That is when I will know for sure how I feel about my lighting. The Ushio 10,000K bulbs are completely spent, and I'm seeing a lot of yellow now. The new bulbs I ordered are XM 10,000K - they have gotten favorable reviews from others on Reef Central, so I decided to trust those reports.
Final Update: After 2 months of observation, I was pleased with the lighting combination, but my favorite setting was to run the Metal Halides, VHOs and T5s at the same time. The colors burst out of the tank and visitors were blown away. During the 2 months I used these lights, both units stopped working and I had to take them back to the store. I have received at least 100 emails about T5s since this webpage was generated, asking where I bought them:
PetOrama in Bedford, Tx. 817 282-2211 (EDIT: Store out of business years ago) - I have been told that they no longer sell these due to problems with them, but feel free to call the store for an update if you wish.
I upgraded my tank to a 280g starfire reef, and no longer use 4' bulbs.