When it comes to aquariums, lighting is often one of the steps people get hung up on.
But the good news is:
It doesn’t have to be as daunting of a task as one may think. Depending on what you’re keeping in your aquarium, you will find that customizable LED lighting offers a variety of lighting levels for both plants and animals.
The fact of the matter is:
Good lighting can not only showcase your aquarium, but it can actually be healthy for your fish and plants. Ultimately, building an LED aquarium light doesn’t have to be an expensive venture, so long as you adopt a good DIY mindset about it.
If you don’t want to build your own these lights are a great option;
- Best Fish Tank Light Overall: Aquaillumination Aquarium Light
- Best Planted Aquarium Light: Finnex Planted+ 24/7
- Best Budget Aquarium Light: NICREW ClassicLED
Here, we will show you How to Make Your Own LED Aquarium Lights for your aquarium.
Further Reading: If You Want To Keep Live Plants You’ll Want To Read Our Planted Aquarium LED Lighting Guide & Calculator.
Before we get into all the steps below please watch this video by Joey Mullen the King Of DIY. Joey gets full credit for this build and you should check out his YouTube channel for more great DIY projects for your aquarium.
In this video he shows you exaclty how to build some awesome SUPER CHARGED LED Lights for your aqurium. After the video we break down each step in a simple easy to follow format.
Here’s What You’ll Need To Make Your Homemade Aquiarium Light
- PVC Rain Gutter
- PVC Pipe
- 4 – PVC end caps about 3/4″
- 4 – Sets of nuts and bolds
- Krylon Fusion Black Paint
- Reflective Tape
- Adhesive LED Strip Lights with remote
Step 1- Purchase The Hood For Your LED Lights.
To build the hood you’re going to use PVC Rain gutter With Endcaps.
What you’ll want to do initially, is measure the length of your tank.
If your tank is 6 ft. in length, you’ll want no less than 6 ft. of straight PVC rain gutter. It’s recommended that you get a few extra feet of PVC rain gutter if you can afford it, just in case mistakes are made.
You can also use some of the rain gutter scraps for reinforcement during step 7. It’s also just as important to ensure that end caps come with your purchase, because we’ll need these to secure the lights into the rain gutter.
What’s it cost:
Rain gutter, in case you’re wondering, is usually quite cheap and depending on where you buy from, you can usually get away with about 10 ft. of PVC rain gutter for under $15. So unless you’re intending on lighting an aquarium that was originally designed to house a Megalodon, your trip should be fairly cheap.
The inexpensiveness of this project from beginning to end, is one of the wonderful aspects of this DIY project. That, in conjunction with the power that these lights provide, make it worthwhile.
Step 2- Cutting Your LED Light Hood To Fit Your Aquarium
Now that you’ve got the proper amount of PVC rain gutter (Hood), it’s time to customize it and get it ready.
First, we’ll need to cut your rain gutter to the proper length:
Depending upon the length of your tank, you’ll want to cut your rain gutter at about an inch shorter. That way, the end caps have the room they need on both sides.
After you have your gutter cut to the proper length, you can then leave the excess scraps and remaining gutter for later use, as we will come back to them in step 7.
*Extra pieces will be used later on as reinforcements, preventing possible bowing of your light fixture.
Step 3- Customizing Your LED Fish Tank Lights
Next, you’ll want to consider customizing your PVC rain gutter.
For the most part, rain gutters often come in a plain flat white color that you may want to change. If this is something you wish to do, you’ll need paint that is designed to bond to plastic.
Don’t use any old paint to customize your rain gutter, you could be putting your plants and animals at serious risk if it begins to decay and chip off after being installed.
So what should you use instead?
Products like Krylon Fusion for Plastic are highly recommended. Not only is it non-toxic, but it doesn’t chip and happens to look great in the process.
With safety as the primary concern, you should double check your paint to make sure that it is made specifically to be plastic applicable, before applying it to your rain gutter.
If you are going to paint your PVC rain gutter, you don’t necessarily have to do this here in the beginning, but it is convenient because by the time your LED lighting is ready to install, the paint will have already had plenty of time to set.
You will want to fully coat both the outside of the PVC rain gutter, and the end caps. If you’ve never used Krylon paint before, you can check out this quick guide.
*For information on what to do with the inside of the rain gutter, please refer to step 5.
Step 4- Putting The LED Light Hood Together
For this you’ll need:
- 4 – PVC end caps about 3/4″
- 4 – sets of nuts and bolds
Your PVC end caps should be about 3/4th an inch each. You’ll need four in total, as these will secure to the insides of your rain gutter end caps. You will also need four separate sets of nuts and bolts. Size for these isn’t an issue, as their only purpose is to secure the end caps.
First, make a mark directly in the center of the PVC end caps, and drill a hole through accordingly.
Next, place two of the PVC end caps on the inside of the rain gutter end cap. Make sure they are evenly placed, and then mark the rain gutter end cap by placing a dot through each of the PVC end cap holes.
You can then remove your PVC end caps and drill a hole through both locations on your rain gutter end cap.
After all your holes are drilled, you can then attach your PVC end caps to their locations on the rain gutter end cap accordingly, by fastening a nut and bolt through each.
Once this is done, you will need to drill one extra single hole in between and slightly above the PVC end caps on just one of your rain gutters. This single hole will be used for your LED lighting strip’s power cord later on.
Once this final bit of drilling is complete, you are ready to move on to the next step.
Step 5 – Ensuring That Maximum LED Light Is Reflected Into Your Aquarium
There’s no sense in coming this far and not being able to get the maximum lighting potential out of your LED aquarium setup. What this means, is that we will have to outfit the inside of your PVC rain gutter in order for maximum reflection.
Sure, at the end of the day you don’t have to do this, but if you want to get the best results out of your rain gutter LED lighting setup, be sure not to skip this step.
Now, the white on the inside of the rain gutter will in fact reflect a large amount of the LED light, but in order to achieve maximum results, it is recommended that reflective tape be applied to the inside of the rain gutter.
Reflective tape looks similar to duct tape, except it has a much glossier and shinier finish.
You will want to layer the inside of your rain gutter with reflective tape thoroughly, so that none of the original rain gutter white color remains to be seen. Ultimately, this reflective tape, will help to display tremendously noticeable differences when you test out your lights at the end of this build.
Step 6- Preparing The LED Light Strip
We will now want to prepare our lights.
Now that our rain gutter is set, the temptation is to simply run a single strip of LED lighting from one end to the other. The problem with this method, is that after a while the hood may begin to bow within the rain gutter, as they aren’t necessarily as secure as they could be.
Additionally, you may not be able to make use of a large quantity of your light strip within your gutter, resulting in weak or compromised lighting.
In order to make sure that you are able to use the maximum amount of lights, and that they are safely secured, you can wrap your led light strips around the PVC pipe.
With the help of your LED lights adhesiveness, they will attach snugly to the PVC pipe. Do so in a circular manner with some space in between each revolution of lighting.
At the end of the wrapping process, you will want to tape the ends of your LED lights onto the ends of the PVC pipe to which they are attached to. This way they are securely fastened on each end, which in turn provides an extra layer of protection in addition to their natural adhesiveness.
Without taping the ends, you run the risk of your LED lights becoming insecure and falling off, so you will definitely want to apply that tape.
Last but not least and before continuing, you can now try the lights out to make sure that they work.
*When it comes to purchasing your LED lights, this can easily be done on eBay or Amazon. While searching, the main thing you will want to remember is that your LED lights should come with the lighting strip itself, a remote, a power source, and an AC adapter. If you’re looking for some try these LED Light Strips.
Step 7- Attaching The LED Light Strips to The Hood
First, place your PVC pipes with the lights wrapped around directly into the rain gutter. They should be evenly placed side-by-side, nested within the rain gutter.
After your PVC pipe has been inserted into the gutter, you can grab your end caps and attach them to both sides. Remember to securely insert the PVC pipes into each of the PVC end caps that are bolted directly into the rain gutter end cap. You can then grip the rain gutter end caps, and slowly slide them all the way onto the rain gutter itself.
That the longer your rain gutter is as a whole, the more likely it is to bow, especially due to the fact that it’s PVC. But there are some measures that are optional for you to take, at this point in the process, to ensure further reinforcement.
If you ended up buying extra rain gutter, you can cut thin strips of the thick ends off, and place them diagonally above your light-wrapped PVC piping.
If they’re big enough, they most likely won’t require gluing, and will remain secure underneath the upper lips of your rain gutter, and above your lights themselves. You should only need anywhere from 1-3, but depending on how large your gutter is you may wish to add more.
Step 8- Programming Your LED Lighting For Your Aquarium Needs
Now that your lights are properly attached to your rain gutter, you can get started with the fun part and customize your lighting! This is where the remote comes in handy that was recommended back in step 6.
Try out a few lighting different unique lighting schemes, with the plants and fish in your aquarium in mind.
If your tank is filled with plants primarily, you will be pleased to know that LEDs are great for plants. However, you shouldn’t depend on this LED setup in particular for growth purposes.
Both plants and corals tend to require a good degree of lighting power for growth, an amount of power that this LED setup is in most cases not capable of providing.
It may be a different story, however, for your plants with low-lighting needs. In that case, this LED lighting setup could provide the lower levels of sustenance needed for these plants.
If your tank is filled with fish, these lights will be perfect! By experimenting with different color schemes, you can accentuate your fish’s looks for guests and your own pleasure.
Who knows, maybe you’ll use this LED lighting system as a secondary set up to your primary lighting setup, which is fine too. It’s can work as both a primary or secondary lighting setup, depending on your needs.
By now, you’ve probably realized that with the help of dual light-wrapped PVC pipes, and reflective tape, this LED lighting setup packs a punch. The sheer potential for various colorful lighting schemes that it provides, makes this setup great for parties and get-togethers.
And if you’re an experienced DIYer given to creativity, perhaps try putting a unique spin of your own on this project because ultimately, the possibilities for LED aquarium lights are endless!