In every aquarium, freshwater, saltwater, or brackish, it is essential to use the appropriate heating element and lighting system. To start out, a light simply allows someone to see inside the tank and helps to provide a basic night/day cycle to the organisms. Some organisms require very specific types of light in order to thrive. A heater helps to maintain a constant environmental temperature that simulates the creatures’ natural habitat. The lighting aspect can vary somewhat when using live plants or in a coral reef environment. Heating, however, follows a formula that does not vary much from each type of tank.
It is important that a heater is used in any type of fish tank. When the water temperature changes quickly, even just several degrees in either direction, fish become stressed out. An increased stress level for a fish can result in a weakness in their immune system and lead to an array of diseases. A tropical fish generally prefers temperatures in the range of 76-78 degrees. Saltwater fish thrive in 74-78 degree temperatures. Goldfish like 70-72 degree temperatures. Even if your home is generally kept around a certain temperature, heating is still essential. During the day and even night, the temperature of a home can fluctuate, causing a change in the fish tank’s temperature. A good rule of thumb when determining the wattage of heater to use is 5 watts per gallon of water (20 gallon tank, 100 Watt heater).
Lighting comes in an array of styles, colors, intensities, and bulb styles. What type is needed depends on the type of environment being simulated. Many of the bulbs designed for tanks have a Kelvin rating, which can appear as a number between 4,500 through 20,000 Kelvin (K). The Kelvin rating pertains to the color wavelengths and intensity produced by the bulb. The rating also affects the visible color of the bulb, as well, with the lower numbers appearing more orange-yellow and the higher numbers appearing more blue. When dealing with live plants or corals, the Kelvin rating is important. In a freshwater tank, live plants require a 6,500K light for proper growth. In coral reef tanks, the corals tend to require a 10,000K – 20,000K light for proper growth.
Over the years, the physical design of the bulb has changed as well. The standard style of fluorescent bulbs used in most tank starter kits is called a T-8, referring to the diameter of the tube. Newer styles use a narrower bulb called a T-5. These use less energy and can generate more intensity than a standard T-8. Power compact bulbs allow for a high intensity bulb to be “compacted” into a smaller space. These bulbs are generally used in many saltwater tanks. One of the newest forms of tank lighting is the LED, which is a very low energy, high intensity form of lighting that has a long life. The technology is still new, so the cost of a LED system for a tank tends to run higher but makes up for the cost with efficiency. Finally, the metal halide bulb is another bulb style almost solely used in reef tank set-ups. The metal halide bulb is the best at simulating natural sunlight for corals and can also produce a shimmering effect in the water. They do generate a great deal of heat and require more energy to power.
Heat and light is an important part of a tank. Heating does not have much variance aside from differences in brands of heaters, but without the appropriate temperature in the tank, health issues can increase for your fish. The types of fish or organism you plan to keep in your tank will determine the type of lighting needed, as the options vary greatly in size, styles and colors. Visit PetSolutions to find the right lighting system for your tank.