DIY lighting upgrade
By: gomezaddams


DIY lighting upgrade

The standard 4′ twin tube t-12 and more recently t-8 shoplights have been the standard fishroom lighting fixture for, well forever. I had a bunch in my first fishroom 30+ years ago. When I first setup my present fishroom went right to the building supply and got a few. I always check the lighting dept in home centers. Always looking for new projects I suppose. Just a few years ago I happened upon these 4′ twin bulb t-5 units. Not too expensive, but the better part was the size. The whole unit including the bulbs was about the same size as a single t-12 bulb! I could install them in my fishroom racks and they wouldn’t take up nearly as much space. A valuable consideration when you need to work in the tank!

So now I’ve been using these small t5 shoplight units in my fishroom for a few years. I’m satisfied they are reliable. A few of my fluorescent hoods needed ballasts so I figured rather than replace the old magnetic ballasts with electronic ones to eliminate the starter and upgrade from t-12 to t-8 bulbs, why not go a step further and see if I can upgrade to t-5 lighting? These are the first two I did, due to how successful the upgrade was I’ve done more since then. Increased light, decreased power usage and for the first time I have plants that look amazing! First is a 30″ hood then a 48″ hood.
As you can see the unit is small enough to fit in the existing hood. Replacing a single t-8 bulb with a single t-5 bulb.


  • A few screws and the old workings are out. Test fit confirms that the bulbs don’t extend below the bottom of the hood, so the light will still be able to sit on the tank cover.

  • Now to fasten one of the new lights mounting holes is lined up with the plastic screw boss in the hood. A hole had to be drilled in the housing of the light unit for the second screw. I used the screws that held the old plastic reflector in to hold the new light in. You can see here the screw to mount the light to the hood and the wires are run through the not used mounting hole.


  • Wires connected. On this one I bypassed the switch as its going on a timer in the fishroom.


  • Plugged in and sitting flat on the counter, it works and is ready for use.


  • For the 4′ unit I’m replacing the single t-12 light with a double t5 fixture. Here you can see how small the t-5 setup is and will easily fit in the old hood.


  • After unscrewing the old reflector and ballast a test fit and the light won’t sit flat. A quick look and there are 4 fins inside the hood for some reason. Easily dealt with using a plier.


  • Now it sits in the hood with room to spare.


  • This one the mounting screws didn’t match up at all so I had to get a little creative. I checked to be sure I would be through the plastic and not the vent holes in the top of the hood, and drilled new mounting holes.


  • From the top I used 2 pop rivets to secure the light to the hood. A small machine screw would work fine as well, but I got lots of rivets



  • The existing reflector on this one was a nice polished metal so I decided to put it to use. Using tin snips I cut the reflector down to size. I retained the bend in the metal with the intention of having the reflector angle behind the lights, rather than just a flat reflector behind the bulbs. Not as effective as a designed parabolic reflector, but it should be better than a flat surface.


  • Out comes the pop rivet gun again to fasten the reflector to the wiring cover.


  • A little neatening up with the pliers and the reflector is in.


  • Here is before and after and a year later. The one small anubias barteri in the front of the tank in the first photos had to be moved to the back corner as it now reaches to the surface and is in flower! Two flowers! The other bit of anubias nana that was just sort of stuck in the corner is now a large piece that has attached itself to my driftwood. The large crypt was a later addition but is really thriving. I have similar results in the tanks in my fishroom that have had the upgrade. From a long time plant killer, to tanks filled with beautiful plants in just a year!


  • So not a basic bolt in but not too hard a DIY project if you have some basic tool skills. If you’ve ever rewired a lamp this is no more difficult!


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