Need a reliable grow lights comparison guide? Whether you’re setting up a home grow room or a large scale commercial grow, lighting is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. We understand how intimidating grow light technology can be when you’re first getting set up. To help you feel a little more at home in this space, we’ve created this comprehensive grow lights comparison guide. We’ll explain everything you need to know about your many grow light options.
If you’re conducting your own grow light comparison, here are the details you should look for:
- Energy efficiency. First-time gardeners tend to focus on the initial price tag of grow lights and neglect the long-term costs. But lighting is likely to be your biggest operational cost. The more energy-efficient your lamps are, the more money you save over time.
- Light spectrum. Did you know plants move through their grow cycle based on cues from the sun’s light spectrum? For the best possible results, your grow lights must be able to replicate those changes in spectrum.
- Lifespan. This is another cost consideration many growers neglect. The longer the lamp life, the less frequently you have to pay for replacement lights.
- Installation. Grow lights are powerful. They emit high-intensity light. Depending on the type of light, a lamp may or may not require additional equipment and expertise to install. If you’re a newbie, choosing a light that installs easily is a good call.
There are other considerations to keep in mind. But if you focus your initial grow light comparison on these categories, you’ll find it’s pretty easy to narrow down your options.
Fluorescent Grow Lights
You know those fluorescent tube lights you see in office buildings? They can double as grow lights. Though they’re not the most effective options.
Growers who use fluorescent grow lights choose T5 bulbs with an HO (high output) rating. These are tubes that 5/8” in diameter and have an adjusted ballast for brighter light. Fluorescent lights have the lowest initial price tag, and they’re relatively efficient. But if you look back at your grow lights comparison checklist, they let you down in a couple areas.
For one thing, individual fluorescent lights have a limited light spectrum. They could be heavier on blue light, which is good for vegetation. Or they might have more of the red spectrum, which is better for flowering. But just based on the quality of light spectrum they produce, fluorescent lights are really not the best option for either of those stages. Really, they’re most useful in the propagation stage.
They also require the use of a ballast, which means the initial installation can be complicated, especially for a larger operation. Frankly, most growers rule fluorescent lights out of their grow lights comparison early on. The biggest pro is the low purchase price, and that’s not quite enough for many gardeners.
Light-Emitting Diode (LED) Grow Lights
LEDs versus HIDs is one of the biggest debates when it comes to grow light comparisons.
LEDs—or light-emitting diode lights—have exploded in popularity over the last few years. Some first-time growers are intimidated by the price tag of LED grow lights. But beyond the initial cost, LEDs are far cheaper to operate than HIDs. High quality, energy efficient LEDs use about half the energy HID lamps require to produce the same amount of light.
LED grow lights also last longer than HID lights, including CMHs and LECs. Most fixtures plug directly into a standard wall socket, so installation is easy; no ballasts. You also don’t need reflector hoods, as LED grow lights already direct their entire light down onto the canopy. And if you’re setting up a large scale grow operation, choosing LEDs may make you eligible for energy rebates.
Suffice it to say, when you’re considering expense in your grow light comparisons, LEDs give you more to think about than the initial purchase price.
As for light quality, you should know that not all LEDs are created equal. The top-tier lights, however, provide full spectrum light for every stage of growth. And the best of the best include variable spectrum control. Translation: You can actually change the amount of blue or red light to control your plants’ development.
Many growers report better yields and overall quality since switching to LED grow lights. For a lot of gardeners, the LED-versus-HID debate isn’t about which light is better. It’s about whether it’s worth it to them to pay more for their lights up front.
High-Intensity Discharge (HID) Grow Lights
Far more common than fluorescent grow lights are the HID bulbs.
“HID” stands for “high intensity discharge.” We’ll spare you most of the science talk for now, but the short version is this: HIDs are large bulbs that create light when gas inside the bulb is ignited.
Now, there are some major cons to a bulb that operates this way. For one, igniting the gas inside the lamp requires a ton of energy. This means that in order to operate an HID light, you need additional equipment, such as ballasts and reflectors. HID lamps also give off a lot of heat, which means you likely need to install a system for supplemental cooling. Otherwise your plants could overheat.
The light quality of HID bulbs decreases over time, which means their effectiveness diminishes long before the light actually burns out.
Nonetheless, HIDs have been popular among indoor growers for a long time. The light they produce is more useful than that of fluorescent lamps. HID bulbs are great at providing the light intensity plants require, which in turn leads to decent yields.
As for light spectrum, no single HID bulb is full spectrum. However, there are two types of HID lights with different light spectrums. MH (metal halide) lights favor the blue spectrum. HPS (high pressure sodium) gives off more of the red spectrum. Most growers who choose HID grow lights switch between the two as plants transition from one stage of growth to another.
Double-Ended (DE) Lights
Next on the grow lights comparison guide is double-ended (DE) HID grow lights.
DE lights are essentially HID lights that are constructed differently. Traditional HID lamps take the form of what we consider “light bulbs.” That is, they screw into a single port.
DE grow lights are—as the name suggests—double-ended. Like fluorescent lights, they take the form of a tube that plugs into two ends of a ballast. For the most part, a DE grow light has the same pros and cons as an HID lamp in our grow light comparison. But how do these DE tubes perform against traditional HID bulbs?
Well, the design of the DE lamp allows more light to reach your canopy. These lights also maintain light quality far longer than single-ended HID lamps do. But the cons are pretty significant. DE grow lights emit more heat than single-ended HIDs. And since MH and HPS lamps both radiate a lot of heat already, this is no small detail. Also, of concern: contact with air blowing from a fan diminishes the efficiency of the light. So, not only do these puppies produce more heat, but they make it harder to cool the space, too.
Ceramic Metal Halide (CMH) and Light Emitting Ceramics (LEC)
Ceramic metal halide (CMH) and light emitting ceramics (LEC) are types of single-ended HID lights that can be used interchangeably. Their operation is similar to that of the MH bulb. However, they are more like HPS lamps in that they function using a ceramic arc. So, what does this all mean for our grow lights comparison?
Well, the ceramic causes these lights to burn much hotter than MH. As a result, CMH and LEC bulbs mimic sunlight more closely. But they have better insulation than both MH and HPS bulbs. This means they emit less heat, which reduces the risk of burn for your plants.
As for the spectrum aspect of the grow lights comparison, CMH and LEC bulbs produce the light spectrum needed for all phases of growth. This means there is no switching between bulbs as there is with HID lights. The lamps also last twice as long, which helps offset the rather significant price of LEC and CMH bulbs.
In addition to providing a comprehensive spectrum, these lights produce a potentially dangerous amount of UV light. UV is great for trichome production, but can be harmful to humans, so you should take precautions if you choose these lights. Installation isn’t particularly smooth, either. LEC bulbs require magnetic ballasts only. The burn position is also highly specific—either horizontal or vertical.
Beyond the Grow Lights Comparison
Now you know the basics for the most buzzed-about lights on the market. Hopefully, this helps you narrow down the possibilities for yourself.
When you determine which type of grow light is right for you, take the time to research brands and manufacturers. Like any other product, grow lights can vary in quality. Make sure you choose a manufacturer with a solid reputation, transparent testing procedures, and helpful customer support.
If you’re interested in LED grow lights, we invite you to check out the California Lightworks catalogue. Our lights are made with high-quality Osram LEDs. We have light series that cater to indoor operations, home grows, and greenhouse cultivation. And we even have U.S.-based support, so it’s easy to get your voice heard and your questions answered.
If there’s anything we can do to help you choose the best lighting strategy for your crop, reach out any time.