DIY LED Reef Light

One thing I don’t post about here often is my fish tank. I typically divide my personal time and blog time about equally. I think about politics, sports, working out etc. at about the same ratio that I write about them here.

One area where this is not true is with the fish tank. I spend an inordinate amount of my time thinking/tinkering with my fish tank.

A bit of history:

In college, my roommates and I started a Beta-Fish Fight Club. Aside from the inhumane aspects of this, it was awesome. Beta Fish Fight Club grew into my first fresh water tank. That tank grew into my fist salt water tank, a 65 gallon fish-only tank. I didn’t have a clue what I was doing with salt water fish and killed more than a few fish. I had that tank for a few years before I upgraded to a 75 gallon tank that was once again only fish, no live rock, not corals, nada.

That tank hung around for about 5 years, killing fish and looking generally ugly. I used tap water to top-off evaporated salt water (for non-fish tank people, this is a big no-no. Basically this is like taking a shower and drying yourself with a dirty, wet towel. Tap water is loaded with crap that is awful for marine fish.)

Finally, I decided to get serious and turn my 75 into a full-blown reef. This started about three years ago. I did a ton of research (especially at and slowly transformed my 75 gallon eyesore into a nice reef. Nice, but too small, and not reef-ready. So I upgraded my 75g to a 120 gallon reef-ready (meaning it is drilled with overflows, the black columns on the back of the tank, so that the filter can be under the tank). I have had the 120 up and running for three years and it has been pretty successful. I have had basically the same fish (with the exception of 1 or 2) for more than 2 years and many of the corals have thrived.

For lighting, I have gone from a crappy PC Florescent fixture, to a 6-bulb T5 Tek light, to a DIY LED array. I built the LED fixture from components I purchased at The initial fixture consisted of 24 Cool White LEDs, 24 Royal Blue LEDs, 6 Blue LEDs, 4 Red and 4 Green Cree LEDs. Each color is individually dimmable, so I can adjust the color. I added 12 additional Blues, and in doing so, something happened to the original string of 24 Blues, and they are not working. I ordered replacement LEDs because the color is not blue-enough for me currently.

When I initially built the fixture, it was very rough-looking. It basically consisted of two aluminum heatsinks bolted together with wires all over the place and the LEDs attached to the bottom of them. It was an eye sore.

I had planned on having an enclosure built to house it all, but that never happened. So last week I bought a light housing that will work for now. I painted it black and hit the ugly heatsinks and wires within. I also used a cord organizer, meant for wall-mounted flat-screen TVs to hide the cords.

I am really happy with how it all turned out.

Front View


Side View


Under the Hood


Full Frontal


My View From the Couch


The color will be more “rich” and blue-hued when I replace the burned-out blue LEDs. I usually turn down the white LEDs now to keep it from looking too yellow. Once I add those blues back in, I won’t have to do this, which means I will have more light getting to my corals, which is really the important thing.

With any luck, I won’t have to replace these LEDS for 10 years or so. The next big project is to relocate the sump (the under-tank filter) to the basement to make water changes and maintenance easier. As much as I like carrying 5 gallon buckets up and down the stairs…





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