But the late 70s and early 80s also saw the introduction of what was referred to back then as ‘sensimillaÃ‚Â”, a new tastier, fragrant, green, unpressed variety of smoke that sold for about $20 an eight ounce. Quite a bit of money back then, considering that Mexican schwag was still going for about $15 an ounce.
So people began to take indoor growing a lot more seriously. They also started in looking around for better sources of lighting than fluorescent grow bulbs. The type of light that people used at that time and what they landed on was the 1000 watt metal halide bulb.
Back then when they were first picked up by growers a 1000 watt bulb sold for about $80 and the ballast went for about $150. So you can double that to account for inflation which would make the bulb around $160 and the ballast about $300 if they were repurchase with today’s dollars.
So prices have for sure dropped considerably since then because you can now find 1000 watt bulbs for sale on the Internet brand-new for as little as $20 and do-it-yourself ballast kits for about double that. So this brings me to the first thing to be pointed out about HID lighting.
That is that it’s cheap, particularly if you’re thinking in terms of one 1000 watt bulb in a small bedroom that’s been converted into a grow room. Even so, when compared to some of the newer lighting technologies like LED in particular HID lighting does have its fair share of shortcomings.
The first of them is that they burn hot, so they generate a lot of heat in the room. Then if you have the ballast in there along with the light you can easily into a heat problem. Heat leads to high humidity, and the heat and humidity make for perfect conditions for insect infestations, mold, root fungus, and slow growth.
Now if you’re just starting out and are undecided whether or not you’re going to go with a metal halide system don’t take this heat issue lightly, particularly if you live in a climate where you have warm summers.
Now if you can place your ballast somewhere out of your grow room though, like perhaps up in an attic that takes care of a good chunk of the heat problem.
Now you can always go with a high-volume turbo-fan to vent the heat out of your room with, but keep in mind that if you’re in the middle of the summer in a warm climate the air that you’re blowing into the room may not be cool enough to do the job.
Next an HID bulb uses more electricity than a comparable LED light set up will, about 75% more. Now this really isn’t a big problem if you’re planning on running one or maybe two bulbs in your room. However, if you’re planning on going beyond that, high electrical bills might become a problem for you in terms of concealing your operation.
Then a lot has written about the difference in the amount of red and blue spectral light produced by both metal halides and LEDs, and LEDs do come out on top here. Even so, it’s not as though metal halide bulbs are weaklings in this area either because they’re not.
A 1000 watt HID bulb will adequately cover a 10′ x 10’ area if it’s properly distributed with a rotating light fixture. Then if you get a chance to look at some side-by-side comparison pictures of plants that were grown under both metal halide and LED lamps you’ll see that there’s really not a huge difference in terms of volume and vitality.
So in the end what it all boils down to is cost and the heat issue. For someone who was looking to set up a decent sized grow room, and who doesn’t have thousands of dollars to spend on an advanced LED light system HID really is their only option. It’s not a bad option either if you can deal with the heat that they will generate.
Now the cost of LED lighting is projected to come down in the coming years, and it has been already to some degree. Even so, it’s going to be at least a decade until prices on LED lighting will come down to the point where it will start to nose metal halides out of the market.
The Bottom Line
Metal halide bulbs along with their ballast generate a high amount of heat, heat that can be a problem in warmer climates. However, in colder northern climates the heat that they generate can actually be a ‘plus’.
Metal halide lights are also by far the more affordable choice, and it will be years until LEDs can challenge them in terms of upfront cost.
HID bulbs are proven producers, so in spite of all the technical information that’s presented in comparisons between HIDs and LEDs the standard 1000 watt workhorse is more than adequate for indoor growing.
HIDs use 75% more power ‘watt for watt’ when prepare to LEDs. Even so, as long as you aren’t considering a large multi-bulb operation the energy consumed by one or two 1000 watt bulbs is not that big an issue.
Pulse Start Lighting
What’s changed in recent years to bring it into the spotlight though, is indoor growing. A new and expanding market niche that’s been the impetus for manufacturers to develop and produce lights containing this newer technology on a larger scale.
What you need to understand from the start however, is that pulse start lights are no major breakthrough. Yes they carry some benefits for the indoor grower but they aren’t earthshaking. Also another thing to consider here is cost. This is because you are going to pay more for pulse start lights than you will for a standard HID light.
Still another thing worth noting here is that not all pulse start lights are the same. Some are simply better quality than others and then there are also a few companies now that have developed pulse start lights with advanced features targeted specifically for indoor growers.
So to begin with, the first thing you’ll notice about pulse start lights is that they look quite the same as standard HIDs and there’s a reason for this. That is that they function in the same basic way as an HID lamp. You see, it’s the ignition system in the gas tube that makes the big difference that separates the two.
So without getting into too much technical detail, pulse start lamps have two electrical contacts integrated into the igniter that’s located inside the gas tube. Standard HID lamps on the other hand are referred to as probe start and use three electrical contacts to ignite the gas contained in the tube.
Now this might seem like a relatively insignificant difference but in actuality what might seem as a minor difference in how the gas in the tube is ignited has some noteworthy effects for today’s grower. But like I mentioned above they aren’t earthshaking but nonetheless are measurable.
For example one of the most noteworthy of them is that as a result of how the gas inside the tube is ignited there is lessening of an unwanted chemical reaction between an element contained in the gas and the interior of the glass tube. What this means is the bubbling and discoloration that you normally get on a standard HID lights gas tube is minimize substantially.
Anyone who has actually grown indoors knows that HID lamps die a slow lingering death. That is if they don’t burn out in one ‘big proof’ like a standard incandescent bulb does, and it’s this gradual ‘bubbling and discoloring’ of the gas tube that’s the hallmark of an HID light using up its service life, discoloration that has most growers tossing their bulbs out long before their service life has been used up.
Now this might seem like a minor issue on the surface but what you have to understand here is that pretty much every other benefit that’s credited to pulse start lighting is tied to this effect. That is that it’s a clearer, more translucent gas tube over the service life of the bulb that leads to all the other benefits listed below.
So as stated above you get a longer bulb life because it’s the level of corrosion on the glass in the gas tube that determines the lifespan of a bulb. Current figures put the number at about 30% more service life.
You will also see more stability in terms of light spectrum color rendering as well as lumen output as your lamp ages, and this is really what counts the most in an indoor bulb above everything else.
You’ll also see quicker start-up times which is really not a huge deal, but nonetheless it is a ‘plus’ worth mentioning. Quicker start-up time means more efficient use of power as well as increased accuracy in light timing.
The Bottom Line
Pulse start lamps are an easy and affordable way to take a ‘step up’ from standard HID lighting, with your existing ballast. No it’s not a giant leap up, but a step up nonetheless. Be aware however, that it does come at a cost, with the more advanced pulse start bulbs that are designed specifically for indoor growers costing quite a bit more than standard bulbs.
Do the math before you make the switch because all things considered, everything that pulse start has to offer can be had by simply adding more HID lighting. Also be aware that pulse start lamps don’t use less electricity, rather over the lifetime of the bulb they put out ‘more light’ for the electricity that they consume.
HID Ceramic Metal Halide Lights- Part 2
That difference is that the cylinder that contains a mixture of metal halide gases is made of ceramic rather than glass as it is with your standard metal halide bulb. As a result because it’s ceramic it can withstand higher temperatures, about 300° higher.
So as a result of its ability to withstand higher temperatures there is a lessening of the degrading of the gas tube surface that you get more prominently with a standard glass to tube. The little glass tube that’s inside the larger glass outer casing.
So the first benefit is a longer service life because it’s this degrading of the gas tube that determines thew service life of a lamp. Ceramic doesn’t degrade as fast, so it lasts longer and as a result you get a longer service life.
Then along with the less clouded and bubbled up gas tube over the service life of a ceramic metal halide the light passes through better. This in turn leads to more efficient light output output because light passes through clear glass better than it does clouded glass.
They also produce more light as well in a broader spectrum, so you can use the same bulb for the vegetative as well as a flowering cycle without having to change out and switch to a mercury vapor lamp when your plants start to bud.
Ceramic metal halide bulbs also burn a little cooler. Not a whole lot cooler but ‘any heat reduction’, particularly for someone growing in a confined space is good. Or if you’re growing in a warmer climate or limited with regards to your venting.
Then there’s one other benefit that comes with this bulb and that is that a ceramic gas containment vessel lowers the risk of catastrophic failure, (the bulb blowing up). It’s a rare occurrence but it can happen but due to manufacturing flaws or using a light after its service life has expired.
When this happens not only is there physical danger of someone being hit with flying glass but if a grower isn’t around when it happens there’s also the risk of fire. Now granted these risks are remote, but it does occasionally happen.
Now the downside here is that you are going to pay more for ceramic metal halide bulbs, this considering that standard glass tube bulbs have gotten pretty darn cheap in recent years. On the plus side though, you can use your standard ballast as long as it’s not a digital ballast.
They can’t handle the frequencies produced by a digital ballast but this rule isn’t chiseled in stone. This is because there is a digital ballast on the market now that will work for ceramic metal light bulbs but it’s expensive. Even so as time moves on more will come along and prices will eventually come down.
Then finally, even though manufacturers are working on it and have promised to remedy the problem HID ceramic metal halide bulbs are only available in lower wattage sizes. So you’re not going to find a 1000 watt bulb just yet because it looks as though the 400 watts is about as high they go right now.
The Bottom Line
Ceramic metal halides do have a longer lifespan but you have to pay extra the longer life span, so in this case in comparison to standard metal halides the point is moot.
They do produce a broader light spectrum with a higher amount of light in the blue and red spectral range which makes for a better grow bulb. A definite plus over standard metal halides.
Ceramic metal halides also do away with the risk of explosive catastrophic failure that comes with standard glass tube bulbs. Granted the risk is low, but nonetheless it does exist.
They also burn cooler but you need to be aware that the differences isn’t huge. Even so they do put off less heat and for someone growing in a confined space it can can make a difference.
400 watts seems to be the max that you can find on the market right now for this particular style of light. Manufacturers are working on bringing out higher wattage bulbs but none have appeared on the market yet.
It’s the same type of technology that’s used in, say a ruby laser and it’s also why LEDs use up to 75% less electricity. You see, in a gas light like a metal halide or sodium vapor lamp the light is generated by the electricity causing molecules to generate friction by moving around quickly.
It’s this ‘friction’ that in turn generates heat that in turn creates the light and it just takes less energy to pass through something than it does to have to stick around and force things to run around bumping into each other. So then let’s talk about LED lighting technology, what it can do for you as a grower, and whether or not it’s worth the extra cost.
Just All Around Better Light for Growing
First off without going into too much complex detail, in terms of optimal light spectrum output LED lighting is by far the better choice. Yes your plants primarily require light in the red and blue spectral range but those aren’t the only colors that they need and use.
They require a complete light range to thrive and it turns out that LED lights do a better job of providing that than all other forms of standard lighting currently available. They also ‘watt for watt’ produce substantially more light in the red and blue range, so they are for sure the better option in this respect.
It Spreads Out Better Too
LEDs also disperse the light that they produce more evenly than standard lighting sources. That is that they don’t have a weak outer area and a strong inner light zone that you’ll see with metal halides and sodium vapor bulbs.
This is why for instance that you may have already heard or read that LEDs eliminate the need for a rotating light fixture like the popular Sun Circle Light Mover. Now while this may true in smaller indoor grow-ops, none the less there’s something else to consider here if you’re considering switching over to LEDs in a larger room.
That is that one of the big selling points of LEDs is that because of their low heat output you can lower them right down right on top of your plants to keep them from growing tall and spindly. Once again no rotating fixture required.
You May Still Need a Rotating Fixture
The deal is though, that if you have, say an 800 watt LED light system dropped down directly on top of the plants in the center of your room, even with LEDs wide dispersal rate it will still leave the plants growing on the outer edge lacking. So yes you can and should get as close as you can to the tops of the plants, but in a larger room unless you’re using a series of smaller LED lamps you’re still going to need a rotating fixture.
Better Disbursement Means Outer Plants Won’t Lean
Then there’s another big ‘plus’ here for LEDs that needs to be taken into account. That is that anyone who’s grown in a decent sized room with 1000 watt bulbs on a rotating light fixture knows that because of their limited dispersal rate the plants on the outside edge will still lean in.
They lean in about 6 inches or so. So if you do the math here, a full 6 inches of empty grow space along the outer edges of, say a 10 foot by 10 foot square room comes out to be about 20 square feet of wasted space. That’s a lot of space!
LED lights on a rotating light fixture, due to their more even light dispersal rate, eliminate that wasted growing area. In a well managed grow room that’s about 20 square feet total translates into about a pound of additional finished product. Bud that you otherwise won’t have with standard thousand watt metal halides.
Cooler Lights are Not Always Better
Then a lot of talk has gone on about the fact that LED lights run substantially cooler, and anyone who has grown indoors knows that heat can be a big problem. At the same time though, during winter months in a colder region the heat generated by metal halides and their ballast can be a plus.
This is particularly true if you’re venting system is blowing a lot of air. So in this respect the low heat factor of LED lighting can work for or against a grower depending on the time of year and where they live.
Another thing that’s rarely mentioned about LED’s is that they’re for sure far more durable so they’re less prone to damage. Now anyone who’s moved around in an indoor grow knows that things can get a little bit cramped. So this eliminates the risk of possible damage from bumping up against your light source. Now granted this isn’t a huge deal, but none the less, if you have yet to set up your room you’re going to find out when you do that it’s something to think about.
They Also Last a Whole Lot Longer
LED lights also last substantially longer. How long? As it turns out exact figures are hard to come by in this area but generally speaking they’ll last about twice as long as a metal halide, but there’s something you need to consider here.
That is that metal halide and sodium vapor lamps die a ‘slow lingering death’ and what that means is that they gradually fizzle out. So while you’re busy crunching your numbers you need to take into account that for the serious grower a metal halide or sodium vapor bulb exceeds its ‘viable’ usefulness to a grow room long before they exceed their actual rated service life.
The Bottom Line
In terms of cost, while being more costly to buy on the ‘front end’, over their service life with the electricity savings alone LED lights do cover that extra cost when compared to metal halides and sodium vapors.
More even light dispersion works to eliminate plant leaning on the outer edges of the grow room for more efficient use of grow room space. So LED lights can pay for themselves with the first crop in a larger room.
Because LED lights generate less heat they are by far the preferred choice in a warmer climate. They’re also hands down the better option in smaller spaces and rooms where carbon dioxide enrichment is used because lower heat allows for a lower ventilation rate
In terms of light spectrum range and rate of production, and most particularly light in the red and blue wavelengths, LEDs dominate over all other grow lights currently in use, so your plants will grow thicker, faster, heavier and healthier.
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