Reef Lighting Guide: How To Select LED Lights For A Saltwater Aquarium

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Reef Aquariums And LED Lighting

LED lighting has been around for a number of years now, but not all reef aquarists have made the switch from older lighting tech.

If you’re here, you’re probably wondering if LED lighting is even a viable option for growing coral (Or, freshwater plants)?

And if it is an option (spoiler alert: It is), why would you want to switch to LED lighting and what do you need to know before purchasing LED lights for your own reef aquarium?

Let’s kick things off with some benefits of saltwater aquarium LED lighting:

Four Awesome Benefits Of LED Lighting For Reef Tanks

LED lighting is a great option for aquarists for many reasons, and the technology and LED offerings just keep getting better.

1. Aesthetics

A big reason LED lighting is so popular is the attractiveness of the lights–both inside the tank and out. LED lights tend to have a sleeker, more aesthetically pleasing exterior than older, bulkier lighting options. From an in-the-tank lighting standpoint, LEDs also do an excellent job.

2. Visual Appeal

Two features of LEDs that improve the visual appeal are the color spectrum customization and the programmable lighting changes. Most LED kits offer white and blue spectrums, and many kits also offer green, red, and other color spectrums as well. This makes it really easy to get the exact aesthetic you’re looking for in your tank.

3. Programmable

Programmable LED Lights For Saltwater Tank

Photo Credit: Creative Fish Studio

Having a programmable lighting routine makes LEDs even more functional. Common programmable features include the day/night cycle. On this cycle, the LEDs will gradually get brighter and grow dimmer over the course of the day, simulating the lighting of a real day. This can be beneficial for the health of your tank specimens, but it’s also a neat feature to experience from a visual standpoint.

4. Cost & Maintenance

Aside from rocking the aesthetic side of lighting, LEDs are beneficial from a cost and maintenance standpoint, too. Rather than spending hundreds of dollars annually on bulb replacements and energy costs, you pay a (potentially big) sum up front and can enjoy “50,000 hours” of LED light before they wink out for good. They also use less energy (and produce less heat) which will look nice on your energy bill.

You probably want an LED lighting kit now, so… Let’s dive into what you should look for in an LED light!

Best Sellers In Aquarium Lights
Dimmable LED Aquarium Light
Finnex Aquarium Lights
Marineland Aquarium Lights
Beamswork LED Aquarium Light + Timer
Finnex Planted+ 24/7 Fully Automated Aquarium LED Light

Links To Amazon

What To Look For When Selecting An LED Light For A Reef Aquarium?

When it comes to growing coral (or hosting any living specimen in your tank), you need a light that will sustain life. These days, most made-for-aquarium LED lights have way more light output than you’ll need.

Enough light, but not too much

Growing Coral With LED Lights

Photo Credit: Creative Fish Studio

You’ll want to be careful that you don’t provide too much light as you get used to your LED setup. Coral can adapt to periods of low light, and could survive for weeks even if they were being underlit. Too much light will roast them–it can kill them in just a few days.

Make sure you check the PAR output on the LED lights. Most of the LED lights you’ll come across will feature a dimming option, letting you adjust PAR intensity in your tank.

Programmability, customizability, and spectrum options

Another feature to consider is the programming options that come with the LED kit. Not all lights will feature programmable cycles or the day/night cycle we talked about earlier. Make sure you read the features and the reviews before purchasing so you know what you’re getting. Some LEDs can be programmed from the fixture itself, others require computer connectivity but allow for super precise adjustments (so check for that, too!).

Along with programming options, you’ll want to make sure the LED fixture offers the color spectrum you’re looking for. The LED product reviews can be good for determining light spectrum and quality, as customers will be quick to post about the lights not looking the way they expected (or looking exactly the way they expected).

Is it built to last?

And finally, you’ll want to make sure ye olde LED will last for years to come! One of the best features of LEDs is the low maintenance, low upkeep costs. The “10 year” life expectancy makes up for the high initial price point. Make sure you pick a model that will last (or at least has good customer service–reviews can help with this, too).

Saltwater Aquarium LED Lighting “Rules of Thumb”

Time for two quick tips for reef tank lighting:

  1. Too much light will kill coral in a matter of days, too little light can keep them alive for a longer period of time
  2. Stability is a thriving coral tank’s best friend–avoid drastically changing the light amounts that you give your coral

Can You Use LED Lights To Grow Coral? 

If you’ve read any of this post so far, you already know LED lights can grow coral. Many reef-growing aquarists have had great success, growing thriving coral under LED lights.

Most experts agree that the best light spectrum for coral growth is blue light. In addition to light spectrum, you’ll want to consider factors like the spread of the light and potential shadowing in the tank.

Check out this Simple Reef Tank video by Creative Fish Studio. This reef-growing beginner walks you through his saltwater tank setup, and reveals the secrets behind his thriving coral.

His single light source is an AI (AquaIllumination) Prime LED, and he purchased one of the gooseneck attachments for the light.

So, how did he know which light to use for his tank? Just keep reading!

What LED Light Fixture Is Right For My Aquarium?

As with any decision you make for your aquarium, it comes down to what you’re trying to do.

Once you know what you want to do (i.e. what you want to put in the tank, how much you want to put in the tank, etc), you can start looking at lights. Which LEDs can deliver the light that your aquarium needs? Which LEDs have the features you want?

Depending on your tank size and what you’re trying to grow, you might be able to get away with one light, like the YouTuber above.

You also might need several LED modules, spaced anywhere from 12-24 inches apart (again, depending on your tank’s needs).

If you’re looking for two saltwater tank lighting recommendations from us, we’ve included two below:

Two Of The Best LED Lights For Reef Tanks

Fluval Marine & Reef LED 2.0

Pros:

  • Six light spectrums–four of which are the essential blue light
  • Designed specifically for “vibrant coral growth, color, and health

Cons:

  • Some reviewers have reported that the switch can be finicky

Current USA Orbit Marine Aquarium LED Light

Pros:

  • Highly customizable light settings (including color, brightness, and duration)
  • Has a 24 hour day/night cycle
  • Comes with a remote for easy setting adjustments

Cons:

  • Some reviewers have reported issues with the timer
By | 2017-08-21T20:28:56+00:00 August 21st, 2017|Aquarium LED Lighting|Comments Off on Reef Lighting Guide: How To Select LED Lights For A Saltwater Aquarium

About the Author:

Jack Dempsey has over 20 years of experience with freshwater aquariums, his goal is to help beginners avoid the biggest mistakes when getting started. If you find something helpful please share it on your favourite social network. If you need help with anything send Jack a question.