By keno | December 23, 2009
DIY High Power LED Aquarium Lighting – Part I
I wanted to create a high powered LED lighting system for my aquariums. I decided instead of putting all the information into one article to break the information down into different sections and explore the cost, how do LED’s work, what materials will I need, the build, etc. I hope your enjoy this…..
A Word of Caution:
This project involves the use of electricity, power tools, and high power LEDs. Before you tinker with LEDs or any electrical materials, be sure you understand the risks involved. This series of articles was created simply to share what I’ve done. These are not verified instructions. I take no responsibility for any harm caused to you, others, or to your property as a result of the info contained in these articles.
To Build or Not to Build….
I had been reading on the internet about using high powered LED’s to provide light for an aquarium. I have freshwater tanks with plants and I was looking for alternatives to compact fluorescent lighting. I have 3 tanks; a 20 gallon, a 55 gallon and a 200 gallon. I have a standard compact fluorescent fixture for my 20 gallon, I have compact fluorescent fixtures for my 200 gallon, but I needed something for my new 55 gallon. Plus I figured if the 55 gallon worked well, I would upgrade my 200 gallon fixtures. Additionally the cost to create an LED fixture for the 55 gallon would not break the bank and I could test and refine the design for the 200 gallon.
High Powered LED Pros:
Super bright light (high lumens) similar to Metal Halide.
Pure white light 6500K – 10,000K range
LED’s will not transfer heat to the aquarium. We’ll talk about heat dissipation in the cons section.
LED’s will last a long, long time. The LED’s I was looking at will maintain their light output for around 11 years running 12 hours a day. The LED’s themselves will last longer most likely 15+ years.
Dimming – Yes you can dim LED lights.
You get a really cool shimmering effect similar to sunlight shining in a pool.
High Powered LED Cons:
Cost – If you go and purchase one of the few LED fixtures available today, plan on spending big bucks. A 5 LED fixture will cost around $200 dollars, and typically you need more than just one. Larger systems will cost thousands.
Cost – The cost to build is not inexpensive either. I did do a cost justification, see below.
Heat Dissipation – High Powered LED’s generate heat that needs to be pulled from the device and then dissipated typically into the air. This involves the use of a heat sink type device. If you ever looked into a home PC and looked at the processor you would see a heat sink device. This device pulls heat from the processor and dissipates it to the air typically with a fan.
When completed in a fixture the heat sinks add a lot of weight to the fixture. Each heat sink I used weighs 4.5 lbs. I found that heat sinks were not that easy to find on the internet. I did find some sites that would create a heat sink to fit my needs, but the cost was outrageous, in the hundreds of dollars. I have an idea on how to build my own, which I will explore in another article.
To build one yourself is also not inexpensive, and requires a bit of electronic knowledge. I looked at it this way. I have a JBL light fixture that has 4 compact fluorescent bulbs. The cost to replace these bulbs is around $35 a bulb. 4 x $35 is around $140 dollars. Now these bulbs should be replaced every 12 months. If you follow my thinking, if I have to replace the bulbs every year at a cost of $140 dollars times the 11 year life of the LED fixture that cost is 12 x $140 = $1680. My cost breakdown showed that it would cost me about $260 (see below) to build myself. The payback period would be just over 2 years. Or you could look at it on a yearly basis and compare the $140 to $24 ($260 / 11 years). Now I did not take into account cost to run. Swapping the current compact fluorescent fixture for the LED one is probably an equal trade. If I had a MH fixture that of course would be different. Either way I figured it was worth the try.
Side Note: I have done additional research for components after I built my first unit and found that I can get the components listed below for less.
LED’s – 12 @ $6.50 each = $78.00
Thermal Pads 12 @.49 each = $5.88
Heat Sinks – 2 @ $25.00 + 20.00 (shipping) = $70.00
Power Supply LED – 1 @ 39.95 = $39.95
12 Vdc Power Supply (for fans and dimming control) – $15.00
Fans – 4 @ 6.00 each = $24.00
Wire / Solder / Screws / etc. $30.00