reef aquarium led light

Reef Aquarium LED Lights

One of the most popular articles I have written is a post on Reef Aquarium LED lights that I wrote almost exactly two years ago.
At the time, I had an OLD light fixture that ran 2 x 96-watt power compact lamps and either a 175-watt metal halide. The lamps were shot, and it was time to replace them, so that’s when I started to look seriously at LED lights. LED lights were starting to get pretty mainstream, and I started to get that gotta have it bug.

I did a lot of research. I actually like to do research. It’s part of my addiction to this hobby.

The big questions on my mind were:

  • Are LED lights suitable for a reef aquarium?
  • How expensive are Aquarium LED lights?
  • How long do Aquarium LED lights last?
  • Will I save any money by switching to LED lights?
  • How do I pick the right LED lights for my reef aquarium?

The article I referred to earlier focused primarily on the financial aspects of switching to LED lights, mostly because I knew I was zapping through a lot of electricity, and what I found out was that I was spending more than $340 a year in just electricity costs and replacing the bulbs once a year!
While I was sitting back on my internet laurels, a recent comment from Sam (thank you, Sam) made me realize there is a lot more to the story than just the cost.

Are LED lights suitable for a reef aquarium?

Yes. LED lights are suitable for a reef aquarium. I will start with my qualitative, personal experience here. I switched about two years ago, and I can’t imagine using any other lights from this point on. There are some technical differences in the light output, that I will get into in a little bit, but if I’m being intellectually honest with you, I don’t notice any meaningful difference in performance. The lights go on in the morning, they shut off at night and they grow corals all day long.
But don’t just take my word for it, check out this article highlighting a scientific study comparing the growth rates of several coral species under LED lights.

Aquasun LED Light

How expensive are reef aquarium LED lights?

Like most things in this hobby, you can spend as much money as you want on reef aquarium LED lights. You can get modular LED units for under $50, earlier generation lights (relatively weak) for $50-$150, generic brand or lower option lights for $150-$300, and premium brand fixtures for $450-$600 or so. It all depends on your budget, preferences for options or programmability and how important brands are to you.

24" HO LED Light

How long do aquarium LED lights last?

What I’ve learned is that different lights have different ratings, but a standard claim is that they could/should last for 50,000 hours, when properly cared for. If you run your lights for 10 hours a day, that’s almost 14 years! That’s about 14 times longer than a Metal Halide light. Not all lights are rated to last that long, but even if your LEDs last for 10,000 hours, that is still roughly 3 years without having to change any bulbs. LEDs should last you for a very, very long time.

Will I save any money by switching to LED lights?

This is not so much a question of will it save money, but rather, when will you start saving money after switching to LED lights. You could start saving within a year or two, depending on how much money you shell out on the fixture.

reef aquarium led light

image by Sarah Laval


How do I pick the right lights for my reef aquarium?

Just about any of the high output reef-suitable lighting systems are appropriate to grow corals. There really isn’t a right light or perfect light. Each one has pros and cons. The technologies are all different and the animals we keep in our tanks come from different parts of different oceans around the world. What’s ‘best’ for one animal is not always the same for every other animal.

For more information, I encourage you to check out two articles.
This first article presents research that shows different growth rates among corals across two different lighting systems—you may be surprised to see what really matters here.

The second article shows the difference in light output across various light options.

If you are trying to figure out what color temperature to pick, check out this useful guide from Dr Foster

If you’re in the market for a new set of lights, I encourage you to do some more searching online, look at the features, the size and shape of your tank and the cost and pick the light that meets your needs. A while back, I reviewed the ZOOMED LED light. ZOOMED has sponsored the site from the very beginning and provided me with their new light to test out. You can find that AQUASUN LED review here. Like many things in this hobby, it’s not all about having the exact perfect choice, it’s about what you do with the stuff you have to create a dynamic, healthy environment for your critters.

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