Let's Talk Spot Light Technology
One of the main goals of this lighting project for me was designing lights that do not detract from the overall presentation of the display, especially if its something big that you'd like to be proud of in your living room. The light unit should be hardly visible if at all possible and not sending extraneous light all over the room. For most people that's meant building a custom lid to sit on top of the viv to hide the lighting (which creates even more issues, like heat build up and a need for fans), not to mention the expense.
I've focused on two solutions so far to getting light down to the bottom of vivariums that are tall (which I consider anything over 30").
The strip based LEDs that make up most of my product line work extremely well all the way up to 24" tall tanks. I've seen reasonable results even up to 30" with those, but there's a lot of patience involved in that approach and plants that need a lot of light from 30" away from the light source will not thrive, but merely survive. That's not what most of us are looking for.
I started off using this approach for tall vivs ...
These LED based spotlights are made up of multiple diodes with a lens in front of them. There's several pro's and con's to this approach.
- No need for fans, so no noise (which I try to avoid)
- Fairly low heat emission
- They max out at 15w currently, but some definitely produce more lumens even at the same power rating
- As you can see, it's not exactly the most attractive form factor, especially if you're looking to put together an impressive show tank.
- They have a fairly tight beam angle, which can either be a good or bad thing depending on what you're looking for.
In order to get A LOT of light down into tanks that are anywhere from 36" to 48" tall (or beyond), these type of spots are not the best option. However, I have had success growing some plants with these from as high up as 48", so dont rule them out, just know the light requirements of the plants you're working with.
Then I started to explore the large diode LED technology. Again, there's a list of pro's and con's to consider:
- These diodes come in various sizes (20, 30, 50 and 100 watts) that all run hot enough that cooling is mandatory or you're likely to burn them up quickly.
- The heatsink/fan combo pictured is very effective and tends to run quietly, but like all products, some work better than others in term of decibel output.
- To mitigate the noise issue, I install a dimmer (that only controls the fan) which can regulate the fan speed allowing you to find an optimal speed with minimal noise. I've found that running these fans at their maximum rated speed is generally not necessary to properly cool these large diodes.
But here's the real reason I'm writing this blog post.
The 15w spotlights at the top of this post have a more focused light spread (beam angle), which can be desirable for some people based on the effect they're interested in. I find it creates a very nice "vignette" effect in the viv, which can highlight a featured plant(s). The large chip diodes have a much wider light spread which in theory more people will find suitable, as it provides more usable light for the entire vivarium.
But the choice is up to you based on what aesthetics you're looking for. The good news is, you've got this choice.
Here's an example of a light panel that combines LED strips with a single 15w spotlight. In this situation it creates more light in the middle front and less around the edges of the viv, adding a vignette effect that I really enjoy.