Lighting Basics (Choosing Lights)

Good Lighting

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Lights are one of the biggest learning curves for new growers.

Learning about lighting for the first time can be overwhelming. Especially considering everyone has their own favorites and opinions on the topic. Every manufacturer claims they make the best lights, so reading about the light from the manufacturers can make your head spin. The real conundrum is answering the question is “what light is the best for your situation”? There are learning curves when we are new to something, and lighting is a big one with indoor gardening and hydroponics.

There are a variety of lights available, from the old school HID (High-Intensity Discharge lights) known as HPS (High-Pressure Sodium) and MH (Metal Halide) and CMH/CDM (ceramic) to modern Fluorescent’s and LED.


If you want to keep lighting simple then I recommend a full spectrum LED. These lights can carry you through all grow cycles making the idea of switching light type during your grow a moot point. 


Lighting does cause a bit of confusion and begs the question. Which one is best?

Simply put, they all work. The real question is, which ones do you want to invest in?

Cost is usually the greatest factor in choosing a light. I personally like the light to work well for the amount of money invested. I use both HID and LED lighting and have only tested LEC lights. I tried fluorescents, and even the best of them didn’t compare to HID or LED lighting.

There are a few things you need to consider before you choose your lights.

How much money do you want to spend?

When setting up a new system, the first and most pressing issue is the amount of money you want to spend on that setup.

Lights are a big expense, and that expense should be looked at in two ways. First, the cost of the light its self, then the cost of running that light.

HID lights provide a really good source of light and results. However, HID lighting is the most expensive to run. If you buy a 1000 watt HPS/MH light, you’re using 1000 watts of power. So, in my case, at $0.12 per kilowatt-hour, it will cost $1.92 per day to run a 16 hour per day cycle. That’s close to $60.00 per month to run that light. This is why I always used a 400 or 600 watt HID system. A 600-watt system runs $0.072 per hour, so a 16 hour light cycle runs around $1.15 per day. About $36.00 a month. The 600-watt HPS light gives you around 95,000 Lumens.

HID’s can now be bought with adjustable/dimmable ballast. This can save you money when you don’t need the max wattage, such as early vegetative stages of growth.

CMH/CDM lights run about 315 Watts per hour and give you 36,000 lumens for your money. I have never used these lights as my success with MH/HPS at similar power consumption per lumen works better for me.  They are about the same price as a dual ballast MH/HPS light set. Running about $140.00 for a 315 watt.

One of the things to be very aware of with HID lights is to not touch the bulb. Use cotton gloves or a cotton towel to hold the bulb. Save the boxes, so when you’re not using your bulb, you can cover it to keep it clean and safe from accidental touching. Touching bulbs can damage them. I have heard cases where the bulbs have burst during use, and this can be dangerous. I recommend you use a material like mylar or mylar fabric that is heat resistant in any area you are growing using HID lights.


Lower Cost to Run Lighting.

In my opinion, LED lights are the winners in this category.

A 600 Watt Equivalent LED Uses about 300 Watts, so that’s half the cost to run at about $18.00 per month.  These lights cost more than the HID lights to buy. This, however, gives around 50,000 lumens. It’s still not the same lumens as the HID lighting, but it’s a good alternative. However, they cost about 2.25 times more.  The HPS/MH light setup will run about $130.00. These will run you around $270.00.


Using a Grow Tent or Room to Maximize Your Lights Effectiveness. 

Grow Tent

Investing in a grow tent may be a good option for you. This is especially helpful if you live in a small home. By having the reflective walls provided by a grow tent or lining a small room with a reflective coating and using that as a grow room can save your money and increase your success.

Since the costs of running LED lighting over time is less then HID lighting, the savings can add up.



  Ventilation Kit

When using any light, they generate heat. In colder environments, this can be a great benefit as they help keep the growing area warm. At the same time, they can overheat the room in an unventilated area like a grow tent or closed-off room. We need fresh Co2 coming into the room constantly, so ventilation is usually necessary in any case. Some HID lighting comes with vented hoods in which you can hook an exhaust fan to directly pull the heat out of the growing area. The type of ventilation you need will be dictated by the area you are growing in.

For instance, our sunroom, it’s wide open and well ventilated. We still have a fan that brings air in and small fans we can set up to blow on the plants to keep them strong. In a grow tent which I sometimes use in the winter, we need to ventilate that. I set up a temperature control switch that turns the vent on and off at a certain temp. I set mine to come on mid-range.  So if the ideal temps for my plants are 75°f to 85°f, I will set the fan to come on at 82F. This way, at night, during the cool-down period, it doesn’t get too cool.

Where are you going to use it?

If you’re growing in an enclosed grow tent, I would stay away from HID lighting unless you’re also willing to invest in climate control measures. They make these lights with enclosed and ventilated hoods to help remove heat from the growing area. If you’re using these in an open area where the heat isn’t as much of an issue, then these lights will do the trick.

If you’re in an enclosed area, all the other options will work. However, the heat put off by LED lighting is far less and more easily managed.

Best Results

I have had a lot of experience with both HID lights and LED lights. Now, this is just my opinion, and it could be slanted from nearly 2 decades of using HID lights, but I still feel the best results are with HID, and the newer LED’s hold a close second. But as we discussed, running HID lights can get very expensive, especially if you have multiple lights.

Choose the Right Light for Your Situation

I now own a lot of lights. I have several HID’s and LED’s. I no longer use Fluorescent lighting, but I did for several years and settled in with LED’s for lower electric cost and better results than fluorescent light.

Look at the space you have first.

Then decide what types of plants you want.

Buy a light that will cover the area you are using.

If you need further help or have any questions please comment below. You can also visit our Facebook Group (Hydroponics Help) with any questions.


4 thoughts on “Lighting for Beginners

  1. I have a new 5 x 5 tent and the light I used in the old 3 x 3 just isn’t enough. It was suggested that I get another light to go along with the other (LED) one. Would it be better to ditch that idea and go with one LED big enough to cover the larger area? If cost weren’t a major factor, I could go for the single set up.

    • Sorry for the late reply I didn’t see the message. I would want to have a light big enough to cover the area but just adding another light will work. I like the more even coverage myself. Here is one rated for a 4×4 area that’s at a good price. These are amazon affiliate links: I’m picking them up as a new light supplier right now but I won’t have stock until the store opens. However, if you do want to just ad another light here is one:

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