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Re: [APD] Help With My New Tank!! -- or - Bravely into the Shadows

I have decided to discard the heating cable idea.
Mainly because I can't seem to get a hold of them and
if I could they are probably out of budget!

You can get by fine without them, although if you ever want to try them later it's a major undertaking to install the cables in tank after it's setup. Probably not really worth worrying about too much though since they aren't necessary for a successful tank. People used to build their own cables frequently in years past, but lately that seems to be an unusual occurrence (probably do to what I think may be a decline in the use of heating cables in the hobby).

I will be building a sump in the future but for now I
think the tank will be setup with either the Magnum
350 Pro or Eheim 2215.  Which would you recommend?

I only use circulation pumps myself so I'll skip this one... I would recommend thinking about a sump though. All you really need is a plastic tub that will fit in the space you have available. Rubbermaid makes a lot of tanks, tubs, and buckets that are FDA approved for food use and agricultural use and any of those are suitable for use with your aquarium. Their 10-20 gallon commercial trash cans with the dollies make excellent water change accessories, BTW.

I took your advice and got a hold of that book.
Thankfully, they had it at the library!!  It, along
with another 2 books I found, have convinced me to use
soil as my base substrate.  If its potentially better,
and cheaper, the extra work is well worth it.

My understanding is that soil substrates can be a problem due to their richness. You are probably better off using the "old fashioned" method of using plain gravel with some laterite mixed in -- that's probably the cheapest way to go that will be workable and easy to maintain in the long term. If you can scrounge up the money, Flourite is well worth the expense, and you'll probably like the look of it too.

Finally, I am glad to hear my spotlight idea is
feasible.  I also read today that metal halides are
essentially the same as halogen lights.  Would
numerous halogen lights be able to provide the type of
light I require.  (No doubt I could get the intensity

Shadows are neat, and I personally think the shimmering of the water ripples and the pattern they make on the bottom is very nice to look at. You won't be able to do that with fluorescent lighting though since the fluorescent lights emit a very even light that results in very few shadows and no water ripple light patterns at all.

Metal Halide (MH) lights are NOT AT ALL LIKE halogen lights! I have also seen this published before so maybe some basic light-ology is in order:

There are several primary types of lights around, and those are incandescent lights (with filaments), fluorescent lights (which use a primary light source of one wavelength to stimulate the emission of other wavelengths from one or more phosphors), HID (High Intensity Discharge, or "arc") lights (which generate an electric arc -- basically a big and continuous spark -- in a rarified atmosphere), and solid-state lights (LEDs).

Halogen lights are incandescent, using filaments. They're a bit better than regular light bulbs, but not enough to be particularly useful in aquariums. I did try using some small 10 watt halogen lights to accent a tank once that was lit mainly with fluorescents, and it isn't worth the effort. Interesting trivia: I've been told that halogen lights were originally developed by GE for the wing-tip lights of the Douglas DC3 aircraft... The amount of light you get out of incandescent lights -- even halogens -- is so small compared to the heat they give off that they are unsuitable for use in planted tanks.

Fluorescent lights are the most common aquarium light, using a mercury arc to stimulate a phosphor coating inside the bulb that provides the light you see. They are efficient and very useful in aquarium lighting, but since they are a large, distributed light source they don't really produce any shadows or wave effects. They are cheap though, so you will probably want to consider them. PCF (Power Compact Fluorescent) lighting is probably the best price/performance of any light on the market for most aquarium setups with the possible exception of the very large tanks. Fluorescent are generally about 6-8 times more efficient than incandescent (and halogen!) lights -- you get a lot more light out for your watt in, and a lot less heat for the same amount of light.

HID lights come in basically four flavors: Mercury Vapor (which is a bluish-white light and the least efficient of the four), high pressure sodium vapor (a yellow-orange light commonly used for security lighting and on roads), low pressure sodium vapor (an orange light, but *extremely* efficient), and metal halide (MH, a stark white light). For aquarium use MH is the most suitable light, being very efficient but also producing light that is both pleasing to look at and useful to the aquarium plants. MH lights are usually said to be about a bit more efficient than fluorescent lights, so you get a bit more light out of them per watt in than you would with fluorescent. Although they seem to give off lots of heat, it's really just that the heat they give off is concentrated in a smaller area. It's actually easier to remove a small amount of very hot air (as is the case with MH lights) than a large amount of warm air (as is the case with fluorescents).

MH lighting is probably your best option if you want shadow and shimmer effects from your lights. Since MH lights are point-source lights, the water ripple patterns will cast their imagery on the bottom of the tank, and plants and fish will produce shadows. The lights themselves don't have to be expensive if you are willing to invest some time and effort to build your own ballast assembly and possibly even the fixtures. It is possible to get a ventilated aluminum enclosure from a surplus store, and the ballasts from an electrical supply house, and then assemble the unit. That alone will save you a lot of money even if you purchase the light fixtures themselves from an aquarium lighting supplier. You can save even more money by building your own light fixtures (they are really just a reflector and socket with a simple enclosure to protect the bulb), or by using light fixtures intended for hydroponics use.

Normal lighting using MH lights for a 125 gallon tank consists of three 175 watt lights. You don't say if you are using the standard 120 gallon size (24" deep x 24" high x 48" long), or one of the 72" long designs. If you are using a 48" long tank, you could try a single 175 or maybe a 250 watt light placed closer to one end of the tank than the other so that one end of the tank would be in shadow. With a 72" long tank try just using two 175 watt lights either spaced further apart or more towards one end of the tank. Either way you'll get some shadow areas with noticeably less light than those areas closer to the fixtures, which will not only give you the visual effect you're looking for, but would also be cheaper in both up-front equipment costs and ongoing electrical costs.


Thanks again for your assistance,


Waveform Technology
UNIX Systems Administrator

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