• Rewiring Refugium Lighting

    For several years, I've been recommending a specific bulb to light the refugium area. The reason I like it is simple: it's inexpensive, easy to clean, and doesn't use much power. Not to mention the 5100 Kelvin spectrum works great for macro growth. Here's the original article with the link to ordering them online (they are NOT available at Home Depot). I recently placed a new order with the company, and the salesman told me they were very popular in the aquarium hobby - imagine that. I guess Melev's Reef did a good job getting the word out.

    I ordered six bulbs, which cost less than $80 shipped. That's two years' worth of refugium lighting.

    The other thing that I recommended was an inexpensive clamp light fixture available at Home Depot. Over time, I stripped it down to the mere socket and power cord, and suspended the three bulbs over my refugium. However, I had three cords to plug in, which just bugged me. I like things tidy, and with these bulbs each pulling 21w of power, surely a single cord could do the job, right? Last week I was at Walmart and came across a 13' extension cord. It was much too long for what I needed, but I had a plan. Today at Home Depot, I went in search of three sockets that could be wired to the cord. I found these beauties for $2.06 each:

    You'll note each one has a small hanger. The top unscrews, as pictured above. This allows wires to be placed in two parallel grooves. As soon as I found them, I knew my project was going to work.
    Tools needed:
    Utility knife with sharp razor blade
    Needlenose pliers to cut cord
    Drill and 15/64th drill bit

    Supplies needed:
    Sockets (for lightbulbs)
    Extension cord
    PVC pipe (1/2" diameter)
    Weatherproof wirenuts
    Plastic rod
    Screw in hooks
    This whole project took maybe 30 minutes to accomplish, and cost maybe $20 at the most.

    Wiring the lights
    Let me explain how the sockets work first of all. The sockets have two pins that puncture the lamp wire (same as an extension cord). It's super easy, and requires no tools other than your hands.

    One post is silver (common) and one is bronze (hot). I don't think this is critical in this application, but it doesn't hurt to follow the rules. I should mention that I was using copper wire for this application, and that you should be careful when working with electricity. If you are uncomfortable, find someone qualified to help you if you want to emulate this project.

    Here's the extension cord I bought. I cut the end off.

    Using the utility knife, I split the cord into two wires so that they could be placed in the two grooves. Once they were, the cap is screwed down firmly to puncture each wire. Here's what the wire looks like (socket removed) when punctured:

    And this is what the back of the wires looks like, slightly compressed but undamaged:

    I screwed in a bulb to test the socket, and it worked.With the trial run done, it was time to make the final product.

    Three bulbs hang over the refugium in my sump, and they are spaced apart every 11 inches. I cut the cord to be 7' in length. The three sockets were placed on my work area with the pins matched up, all the silver puncture points were near me, the bronze ones were away from me. The extension cord has two prongs, one larger than the other like usual. The larger one is the Common lead, and the smaller one is the hot. Looking at the wiring itself, one side is smooth (hot) while the other side has ribs (common). I laid the cord down to match the pin orientation, then proceeded to assembled the string of lights (sockets).

    The utility knife allowed me to easily separate the two wires and yet keep the bulk of the cord intact. No wires were bared in the process; they are still in their protective plastic sheath.

    Once carefully aligned in their grooves, the cap was screwed down tightly by hand.

    The two bare wires (at the end that I cut off) needed to be sealed. I found weatherproof one-time-use wirenuts, available for $2.77 at Home Depot. This is better than simply wrapping each with electrical tape.

    They are designed for moist environments, and contain a type of gel within. I screwed them on the exposed ends to cap and seal them off.

    I plugged the lights in to make sure everything worked.

    An added bonus to me is the plug itself is low-profile.

    Suspending the lights
    Now that I have a working set of lights, I wanted a way to suspend them. I have three small hooks screwed into the underside of my stand, but I didn't want to add more metal wire or chain nor did I want the bulbs hanging high up with those included clips. I thought about what choices of material I had on hand, and realized some PVC conduit would work great.

    I cut three sections of pipe 8 3/4" long to act as extensions. A hole was drilled near the top, where I could hang it off those secured hooks. At the base of each pipe, I then drilled two holes to push an acrylic pin through. This would allow the socket holders to dangle nice and secure, but allow me access to them when needed.

    With the pipe hanging from the hook, all I had to do was insert the metal hanger into the pipe and secure it with the pin, which I pushed through. The connection isn't a tight one, it is loose but won't go anywhere without a little meddling on my part.

    The plug was threaded over to the power center, and plugged into the base of a X-10 module. The orientation of the plug worked out perfectly. My Aquacontroller III turns the module on at 10 p.m. every night and back off again at 6 a.m.

    So here are my new and improved lights, all running off a single cord!

    Those other three bulbs are going into the closet for the next year. Somebody remind me next May to change them out with new ones.
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. Midnight's Avatar
      Midnight -
      Thats pretty hot Marc. One day you are going to go to the dark side and start designing for the man. Then you won't be able to share your inventions and we will have to pay big bucks for them...Until then we are thankful for your ingenuity and generosity to the hobby. By the way, Lowe's does in fact sell a similar bulb locally to me.
    1. Alaska_Phil's Avatar
      Alaska_Phil -
      Nice installation Marc. Those connections on the sockets are typically refered to as Vampire Taps in the electrical industry.

      However, you've just built your own festoon lighting. Electrical warehouses sell extention cords with lamp sockets every so often to be used for temporary construction lighting.
    1. melev's Avatar
      melev -
      That makes sense (vampire taps). And yes, there's a party in my refugium now!

    1. Alaska_Phil's Avatar
      Alaska_Phil -
      OK, so the proper term is Insulation Displacement Connection (IDC), but I've always preferred vampire tap myself, and so do most electricians apparently.
    1. NauticaC4's Avatar
      NauticaC4 -
      Marc will never be taken down by the man.
    1. thejuggernaut's Avatar
      thejuggernaut -
      Awesome article. After I read it I was at lowes tonight looking at something unrelated and decided to go check out their light bulbs and saw this one. It says its a 6500k CFL and looks like the one you used, but they had them in stock. Just wondering if anyone has tried them out or even seen them.

    1. melev's Avatar
      melev -
      It is somewhat similar but the light will be more diffused because of the facing not being clear. 6500K definitely can grow algae, so if you'd like to give them a try, proceed.
    1. briight's Avatar
      briight -
      Awesome article! We were talking about this very thing the other day, and your detail and photos are great Marc!About the 6500K curly lamps--that's what my small tank started out with, and it worked out well until we put more corals in there that we thought would benefit from actinics/10K more. The Lowe's by us has these bulbs ranging from 60 watt equivalent to 100 watt equivalent, using much less wattage than that of course. The 100 watt equiv. bulbs put out 1610 lumens, and they will nuke your eyes if you forget and look at them. In Wisconsin, 4 of them run about $12. I would not be uncomfortable using them as additional lighting to other sources on the display, but I think their best application indeed would be over a macro refugium. I would think a brooder lamp reflector would be helpful for directing the light a bit more.
    1. SurlyT's Avatar
      SurlyT -
      Do you have much trouble with rust using this type of socket and wiring? I was considering using these water-resistant sockets: http://www.mcmaster.com/#8289k31/=qjba20