Are you unsure what indoor grow light solution you should go for? We dive into the pros and cons of popular lighting setups, to help you maximise your growing potential.
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. This energy is stored as carbohydrates, which can be later released to fuel the plant and its processes.
If a plant doesn’t receive a sufficient amount or the correct type of light at specific moments in its growing cycle (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, which increases the energy available to the plant.
However, some 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 account for this; by controlling the light schedule, we can bring those light dependent species indoors – allowing these organisms to be grown at any time of year.
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 a plant’s health, vigour and overall yield.
There’s so many options… where do I start?
Learning about the many different types of hydroponic lighting can be very overwhelming… especially as a newbie.
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 to choose the right setup, we’re working with Fran’s Hydroponics to 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
CFLs or Compact Fluorescent Lights are one of the most common types in use among Australian hydroponic growers, as they’re especially suited to smaller setups.
CFLs are some of the most affordable lights you can find. Commonly, these bulbs come with standard sockets; meaning you can use them with any standard light fixture. CFL bulbs are also diverse. Bulbs can sit 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 for flowering.
Finally, CFL bulbs start extremely cheap; making them perfect for the grower on a budget. The bulbs have an average lifespan of about a year.
- 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.
- Small amount of light output, better suited to fewer plants.
- Suboptimal for flowering phase.
- Shorter lifespan compared with other lights.
CFLs have long been a popular choice for new growers, which is evident considering how simple, cheap and easy they are to get going. If CFLs sound right for you, check out these awesome Power-Plant 130W CFLs 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 across Australia. 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.
HIDs 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 compatible with both MH and HPS lamps, and a reflector.
- Will degrade over time, requiring you to replace them.
- High electricity running costs – can impact your overheads.
HIDs can offer great flexibility and results at a good price, if you think HID lighting is the right fit for you, we recommend the Power Plant Retro MH Lamp, and the Philips Son T Agro HPS Lamp, which come in various wattages. These options should go nicely with this Digi-Lumen Dimmable Electronic 600w Ballast.
LED Grow Lights
Up until recently, LEq2Ds (Light Emitting Diodes) weren’t such a popular choice for indoor growing… but with advancements in LED technology, they’re now one of the most widely-used and effective kits.
Unlike HIDs, most LEDs will provide light that’s both effective for vegetative and flowering phases. Some even come with a switch to adjust the light spectrum accordingly!
The majority of LEDs, 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.
LEDs 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.
- 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.
- Initial investment can be high.
- Cheap models can be ineffectual, making an investment in quality even more important.
- Potentially lower yields compared with HIDs.
If you’re looking for a simple, effective and reliable option, LEDs could be the answer to your prayers. Though they are more expensive upfront in comparison to 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, which also features a dimmable power supply.
LEC Grow Lights
LECs, also sometimes referred to as Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH) or Ceramic Discharge Metal Halide (CDM), use a ceramic arc tube rather than the quartz of standard metal halide lights. This results in a more natural colour, higher lumens per watt, and greater longevity. LECs often come with inbuilt ballasts that make setup a breeze.
LECs can be expensive up front… but similar to LEDs, you get what you pay for. Investing in a quality option will save you headaches down the road.
Although LEDs are quickly becoming the standard for most grow rooms, LECs bring unique benefits – including their simplicity of setup, and their longer lifespan than many of the alternatives out there – for instance, LEC bulbs tend to last longer than HIDs (two years on average). According to some people out there, they even offer higher yields and better tasting harvests than other light choices!
- Features 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.
- UV-B can be harmful to humans and may require safety gear and practices.
- High setup cost.
- LECs run very hot – not great for Australian summers.
- Slightly less powerful compared to HID.
LECs are a unique but powerful lighting option for Australian growers. Due to their natural light spectrum, they’re helpful for spotting plant deficiencies. They’re easy to use and effective, but can come at a higher initial cost. Depending on your setup, these lights cause heat related issues – this can especially be a big problem in hot climates across Australia, where heat needs to be offset to maintain ideal climactic conditions.
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 lighting setup comes with their own unique advantages and disadvantages – at the end of the day, lights suit everyone differently.
If you’re looking to start small and cheap, CFLs are an easy, tried and true method that can help get you started with indoor growing.
For a slightly more complicated setup, HIDs are a great alternative to LEDs – without the initial cost. Be warned that HIDs 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 HIDs, LEDs can be 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 over the long term.
If you fancy yourself 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.