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Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Changing Aquarium T5 Tubes

My Lido 120s T5 tubes have almost pulled a 12 month shift and i am starting to think they are getting a little bit tired.

Over the last month or so, a small patch of algae has started to form, specifically the short green hard tuft algae. Granted its a common type to be found in the home aquarium, but since keeping my water nutrient parameters in check, and using Seachem Flourish Excel (which is absolutely not an algaecide <wink wink nudge nudge>) and some elbow grease based husbandry on the aquarium, it has been free of any excessive nuisance algae, bar a bit i leave in there on purpose in case some of the inhabitants fancy a bit of salad.

So my next thought as to why this patch is forming, has boiled down to the expectation that the current tubes are starting to drop off in terms of performance and shift toward the red end of the spectrum.

As I'm keeping the Juwel Hi-Lite system on this aquarium, it is good to know that Juwel always seem to have a perpetual “Buy One Get One Free” on their lighting tubes, this was handy as i need one Daylight 9000k tube and one Natural 4100k tube.

I have been running two of the Natural 4100k tubes for the last 12months and fancy going back to the original setup comprising of one of each, mainly to get a bit more blue back in there and give a better range of light frequency. Hopefully a more visual treat than the constant yellow light, and will be very interesting to see if any of the plants respond.

Juwel Hi Lite T5 Day Natural.18

Here is the patch of algae that has had be concerned. Its started off as a small strip on the wire for the power head, but is slowly becoming a small pasture on the side of the filter box.

Juwel Lido 120 Algae.31

Of course, this did point me to looking up the question of:

When should i change my aquariums T5 tubes?

The exact answer to this question is pretty much folk law, myth and legend!

There is no real single answer to tell you when you should change them. It mainly boils down to different opinion and even the brand of the tube.

Some T5 devotees i know who run reef aquariums will strictly change their T5 tubes at 6 months to always ensure they are delivering the maximum amount of correct light all the time, which i sympathise with if you are looking after very sensitive and potentially expensive or rare livestock.

The general consensus of T5 tube replacement found on forums and elsewhere on the internet, seems to stick between 6 to 12 months with the average being 9 months.

Other people will give you interesting and seemingly well documented scientific responses, on how the maximum output will be good for 6 months followed by a performance and PAR decline down to as much as 50% over a 3 month period (as an example). We as human beings who only need light to see with (we don't photosynthesise to my knowledge) will most likely not notice such a shift in our home aquariums, especially as we see them almost everyday and will desensitise to the reduction in light performance as a result.

The only true way to measure T5 performance drop off would be to do a lengthily on-going study with PAR sensors to determine these points in time and change the tubes at the suitable moment when it begins to reach an unacceptable level… not an ideal setup for most aquarists!

The 9 month period works out nicely for me as per my previous statements, that this algae has only started to show up recently and the tubes are pushing the 12 months mark. As i have two pairs of tubes i will switch them out very soon and set a schedule for 9months for the next pair and of course, monitor the response from the aquarium itself.

T5 replacement can get very expensive depending on the size of your lighting rig, but the Juwel BOGOF deal means for 9months its cost me around £23 or around £2.55 per month.

I appreciate some might question “if it isn't broke, why fix it?”

I know people at the other end of the spectrum who will quite likely point out their tubes have been running for several years and still seemingly going strong.

Granted we are blessed these days with better fluorescent light technology stemming from the use of digital ballasts and the move to T5 from T8 tubes, I'm sure many will remember the annoying flashing when the “starter” had gone in old style fluorescent light units or when only half of the tube would light up.

If you are running a Fish Only aquarium and don't intend to keep plants or corals then you may well get away with using tubes until their last gasp, the only real colour selection you need to do is to give the best personal visual appeal to the tank, and as long as your tubes are not contributing to an algae problems then sure, go ahead and run them as long as possible.

Plants and Corals are different. Dead or dying tubes are like having a dead or dying sun (which wouldn't be good for anyone). These organisms need the correct amount and correct type of light to support their biological functions. Hence its important to swap them out on occasion.

What is the best time in the day to change T5 tubes?

  • Before or after they switch off from the normal lighting period.
  • Give them a full 100% lighting period stint to help them get burnt in.
  • If you do them after the lights have gone off, give them half an hour to cool off first!

There are many scientific postings around the internet that really get down to the nuts and bolts of T5 usage. Following is a link to Advanced Aquarist which is actually a review link for several actinic tubes, but there is some very interesting learning and education in the article specifically around Photo-synthetically Active Radiation (PAR). It’s a good read if you have 20minutes.

Link to Advanced Aquarist

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