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A Beginner's Guide to Hydroponic Lighting

Beginner's Guide to Hydroponic Lighting

Overwhelmed with finding the right lighting solution? We dive into the pros and cons of popular lighting setups to help you make the right choice.

What Are Grow Lights For... and Are They Really That Important?

As we all know, plants need sunlight to grow and thrive. It’s as critical to them as food is to a human. Through the process of photosynthesis, plants convert light energy into chemical energy, which is stored as carbohydrates that can be later released to fuel the plant’s needs.

If a plant doesn’t receive a sufficient amount or the correct type of light (which can even vary depending on the species of plant), its growth and potential is severely diminished.

An outdoor plant is fuelled by the sun’s light for around 12 hours per day - even less in winter. With grow lights, we can provide our plants with up to 18 or even 24 hours of light per day, increasing the energy available to the plant.

Certain species of plants are photoperiodic; meaning their lifespan and behaviour is dictated by the amount of light they receive throughout a given day, mirroring the natural light cycles observed throughout natural, seasonal conditions. Grow lighting allows us to control the light schedule to bring those light dependent species indoors.

Choosing the right light is very important, as it is such a critical source of energy for the plant. An optimal light for your setup will make a night and day difference to the health, vigour and overall yield of your grows.

There’s so many options... where do I start?

Learning about the many different types of lights can be very overwhelming... especially for a new grower.

While their purpose is ultimately the same, the various classes of lights achieve this goal in different ways - each providing their own unique benefits and drawbacks.

To settle any confusion -  and help you choose the right setup - let's touch on the main types of hydroponic lighting, and explore some of the advantages and disadvantages associated with each class of light.

(CFL) Fluorescent Grow Lights

CFL’s or Compact Fluorescent Lights are one of the most common types in use, as they’re especially suited to smaller setups. They are some of the most affordable you can find. Commonly, these bulbs come with standard sockets; meaning you can use them with any standard light fixture.

CFL bulbs can come in a range of specifications - from ‘daylight’ bulbs at 6500k, to an enhanced red light spectrum at 2700k.

Daylight bulbs are more suitable for vegetative growth, while 'warmer' CFLs are more suited towards flowering. CFL bulbs start extremely cheap; making them perfect for the grower on a budget. The bulbs have an average lifespan of about a year.

Advantages

  • Very low cost and easily accessible
  • Very easy to setup and use
  • Suitable for beginners
  • Wide range of spectrum and wattage options
  • Relatively low electricity use saves on energy and overheads.
  • Doesn’t run very hot
  • Great for cloning

Disadvantages 

  • Small amount of light output, better suited to fewer plants.
  • Suboptimal for flowering phase
  • Shorter lifespan compared with other lights 

CFL’s have long been a popular choice for new growers, which is evident considering how simple, cheap and easy they are to get going. If CFL’s sound right for you, check out these awesome Power-Plant 130W CFL’s that also come in multiple spectrum options for all growth phases. 

HID (MH and HPS) Grow Lights

HID grow lights - or High-Intensity Discharge lights - have long been a popular choice for indoor growers. It's not hard to see why - with their track record for reliability and consistency, HID is known to be both conducive to great yields and easy to operate.

The two main types of HID lights are MH (metal halide) and HPS (high pressure sodium). MH lights tend to offer a cooler spectrum of blue light, whereas HPS are typically red-shifted.

The cooler Metal Halide bulbs are perfect for vegetative growth, whereas the warmer HPS bulbs are more suited for flowering. Consequently, most experienced growers will use a combination of MH and HPS bulbs throughout the process, to ensure their plants are receiving the right light from across the spectrum.

HID’s often come in kits, which include the lamp, ballast and reflector; the initial cost of these kits tends to be low, but that can be offset with higher running costs.

Advantages of HID 

  • Easy for beginners to setup and operate
  • Conducive to great yields
  • Consistent and reliable
  • Offers flexibility in adjusting light spectrums to ensure best results
  • Costs less than other lights such as high end LED

Disadvantages of HID

  • Very heat intensive, which can cause problems such as burnt plants or an overheated grow room
  • Requires some additional equipment, such as a ballast and reflector
  • Will degrade over time, requiring you to replace them
  • High electricity running costs - can impact your overheads.

HID’s can offer great flexibility and results at a good price, if you think HID lighting is the right choice for you, we’d recommend the Philips Son T agro HPS Lamp, which comes in both 400w and 600w options, to go with this dimmable electronic 600w ballast.

LED Grow Lights

Up until recently LED’s (Light emitting diodes) weren’t seen as a good choice for indoor growing... but with advancements in LED technology, they’re now one of the most popular and effective kits.

Unlike the HID’s, most LED’s will provide light that’s both effective for vegetative and flowering phases, some even come with a switch to adjust the spectrum accordingly.

Most LED’s, including those with COB (chip on board) technology or quantum boards provide great light intensity and penetration making them a consistent and reliable choice for those chasing top quality results without the hassle.

LED’s can be some of the most expensive lights upfront, but they pay for themselves over time - both in terms of results and lower overheads. Most boards have a lifespan of 5-10 years.

LED Advantages 

  • Extremely energy efficient, saving you money over time
  • Very cool running temperatures for minimal impact on your environment
  • Mitigates risk of burning plants or causing heat related problems
  • Very easy to setup, most kits come as a ‘plug and grow’
  • Simply and effectively supports both vegetative and flowering phase growth

LED Disadvantages

  • Initial investment can be high
  • Cheap models can be ineffectual, making an investment in quality even more important
  • Potentially lower yields compared with HID

If you’re looking for a simple, effective and reliable option, then LED’s are your answer. Though they are more expensive upfront than other options, their value is even higher when considering their reduced energy drain, their cool running temperatures and their long 5-10 year lifespan.

If you’re leaning towards this popular option, we recommend checking out our HLG 250w Quantum Board with dimmable power supply 

LEC Grow Lights

LEC, also sometimes referred to as ceramic metal halide (CMH) or ceramic discharge metal halide (CDM) as the name implies, use a ceramic arc tube rather than the quartz of standard metal halide lights.

This results in a more natural colour, lumens per watt and greater longevity. LEC’s often come with built in ballasts that make setup a breeze.

Although LED’s are quickly becoming the standard for most grow rooms LEC’s are quite unique and do have their own benefits such as simplicity of setup, longer lifespan and potentially higher yields and better tasting harvests.

LEC’s can be expensive up front, but similar to LED’s you get what you pay for and investing in a quality option will save you headaches down the road.  LEC bulbs also tend to last longer than HID’s, lasting about two years on average. 

LEC Advantages

  • Has a more natural light spectrum
  • LEC’s emit UV-B Rays that may improve yield and flavour
  • Very simple to setup and operate
  • Longer lifespan than HID lights

LEC Disadvantages 

  • UV-B can be harmful to humans and may require safety gear and practices
  • High setup cost
  • Runs very hot
  • Slightly less powerful compared to HID

LEC’s are a unique but powerful lighting option… they’re easy and effective, but can come at a higher initial cost and potentially cause heat related issues. Due to the natural light spectrum, they're helpful for spotting plant deficiencies.

If the simplicity and efficacy of LEC appeals to you, check out this Sunstorm 315w complete light kit!

So... Which Light Should I Invest In?

As mentioned earlier, each setup has their own unique advantages and disadvantages - lights suit everyone differently.

If you’re looking to start small and cheap, CFL’s are an easy, tried and true method that can help get your grow off the ground.

For a slightly larger setup, HID’s are a great alternative to LED’s - without all the initial costs. Be warned that HID's can run hot, and come at the cost of higher energy use.

If you really love your plants, and want to invest in high quality yields without all the drawbacks of HID’s, LED’s are a simple, reliable and consistent light that runs much cooler, and won’t drain your power bill. This is a great option for people who plan to grow hydroponically, long term.

If you fancy yourself as more of a connoisseur, and you have the resources to mitigate all the heat they output, LECs could also be a great option - they have a more natural light spectrum than other lights, while facilitating the production of natural oils.

Whatever you do decide to go with, be sure to model your light based upon your existing setup and needs! The 'right light' will always be the one that fits your own individual circumstances. Happy growing!

 

Next article Choosing the Right Growing Medium For Your Needs