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…






The Reef Continues to Grow

My sister’s co-worker offered to give me a Metric Ton of free coral frags (what we call small chunks of coral). Corals are among the easiest species on the planet to propagate. You can literaly run them through a band saw, glue the cut pieces to some rock, dump them back in the tank, and given the proper food, light, and water quality, they will grow like crazy.

So here’s what is in there now:

Fish Tank Updates

The tank continues to undergo a major overhaul. I have had this tank up and running dating back to ’03. I had added fish here and there, but never really dedicated myself to it.

It is my habit, that when I undertake a hobby, I learn as much about it as possible. I never did that with the tank. I purchased my first (big) fish tank in college, it was 65 gallons, and took up about 2/3 of the room in my house.

Since upgrading to this one (75 Gal), I have never really done anything major with it. The tank basically ran itself for 2 or three years. I would occasionally change the water and feed the fish. Aside from that, I didn’t do much.

That all changed a few weeks ago, when I decided to really take an interest in the 4 foot thing dominating our dining room.

I have tried to do this right, adding the necessary pieces, prior to adding fish and eventually corals. I have only ever kept fish, so the step up to a full reef tank is a bit scary.

I added what is called a Sump under the tank. this is a reserve tank that acts as a filter for the system, while also increasing the overall volume (a problem with water quality is less of a problem spread across 100+ gallons than it is in 75).

I also added a Power Compact light fixture complete with LED moon lights that simulate the moons glow (you would be shocked to see how many little creatures live in this tank that are never seen).

I am slowly adding live rock (at $6.50 a pound it is a bit expensive).

The next step is to get everything stable and functioning correctly, so I can begin adding more livestock.

The Fish Tank Project

I have had aquariums up and running since I was in high school. In college I lived in a tiny room that used to be a porch, for some reason I decided it was a great place for a 65 gallon (that is 4 feet across) salt water tank.

I bought the tank from my old boss and stocked it with all the fish I always wanted. Then I killed them all because I didn’t know what I was doing.

So I bought more fish, and killed them, and on and on it has gone for close to 7 years.

I upgraded to a 75 gallon tank which is currently residing my our dining room (maybe not for long).

Currently in this tank is a mated pair of true clown fish, three pajama cardinal fish, a coral banded shrimp, assorted snails and hermit crabs, a yellow goby who never comes out, and various other critters.

There is about 1/3 of the live rock I will eventually have, a feather duster that came with some of the live rock as well as some small invertebrate that I have no idea what it is.

My plan is to take this setup, which I have had running with a fair amount of stability for 3 or 4 years, and get a little crazy with it.

I am going to add a ton more live rock, fish and eventually corals to this thing.

It is not going to be cheap, and it is going to take a lot of time, I will update with pictures and developments occur.

I have always been fascinated by what goes on in the ocean, and having a tiny piece of that in my home is something I love. I am going to try to be as responsible as possible throughout this process, in as far as tank raised specimens are available, I will look to purchase them, thus limiting my tank’s impact on an already stressed environment.