How to Build a Cheap Aquarium Light


Aquarium hoods can be expensive, especially for larger tanks. For a fraction of the cost, you can build the basic parts of an aquarium lighting assembly yourself. Choose the best light bulbs for your tank’s needs, locate the minimum pieces to make the lights function and create your light.

Things You'll Need

  • Bulbs (fluorescent, compact fluorescent or metal halide)
  • Ballast
  • Socket for bulbs chosen
  • Wiring
  • Wood (laminated or unfinished)

Know your lighting requirements. Is this a saltwater or freshwater aquarium? Do you have fish only or live plants and fish in your aquarium? If saltwater, do you have corals or other live creatures besides fish? Consult an aquarist where you purchase fish and plants or look online to learn which bulbs are best for your aquarium. is a source of information. You can also find dozens of plans for DIY aquarium canopy/hood/lighting on; see Resources below.

Use the answers to the questions in Step 1 to decide which bulbs or bulb combinations will work best for the live inhabitants of your tank. You will need ballast, sockets and wiring to make the bulbs work and a sturdy mount to span the top of your tank and hold these items above the water. Inexpensive laminated boards from a home improvement store will work, or you can paint or varnish your own unfinished boards.

Use the manufacturer’s instructions to connect the bulbs, ballast, sockets and wiring to your chosen mounting board. Any hardware you use--hinges, screws, etc.--will need to be compatible with fresh or saltwater to avoid oxidation issues; stainless steel is best for saltwater tanks. Suspend the lighting over the tank well above or protected from the water.

Use a light timer to create a day/night cycle for your tank. Timers will also save you electricity because you’ll never forget to turn the lights off overnight. A splash shield to protect the bulbs from sudden temperature changes is a good idea. A reflector to direct the light into the tank, or at least a bright white or reflective surface behind the lights, will help every lumen do its job.

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