T5 vs T5... Is There a difference?


New member
Good afternoon,
I am brand new to the hobby and have very little experiance with a 30 gal FOWLR that ended in disaster. So, to prevent further disaster, I'm trying to broden my information sources to learn as much as possible. My first and main question is prolly one of the most important for turning my tank into a reef tank. What is (if there is any) the difference between a T5 light fixture from a petstore and a T5 light fixture from a hardware store?

I know the bulb is what provides the specific light spectrum needed, but I asked an Electrical Engineer here at work, and he doesnt know of any differences. I figured that maybe the Reef-a-holics out there may know some thing he didnt, becuase the price difference is about 100 bucks. Which, if theyre the same thing, I'd rather not spend that extra money, but the LFS guy is telling me that I HAVE to use that specific T5 or everything will die.

Any information is greatly appreciated. I hope to be back often as I do my research, I found alot of useful information here before I joined, so thanks to everyone out there for the help. Have a good one.


New member
There could be a difference in the ballast between the 2 fixtures, find out what they are. Everything else would be the same, they will both work with any T-5 bulb of the same length. If you are looking to keep corals, you will want the T-5 HO bulbs & those could require a better ballast to drive them. Good luck & welcome.


New member
no expert here but I think you will find the difference is that the ones meant for aquarium use are high output and the ones at the hardware store are considered standard.


New member
LOTS of stuff in the manufacting circles gets "re-branded", and yes even in the lighting world....
OTOH, those gals/fellas over in that T5 Q&A thread were very helpful and even gave this ole timer a education.... check that thread out...its pretty cool and worth reading

P.S. I just followed "orders" and couldn't be happier!!!


New member
Ballasts and reflectors. You won't find the same in a hardware store light.

On the other hand don't trust the LFS. You don't have to have the T5 sitting on their shelf. LOTS of options out there including high quality used fixtures that can save you money.

bobby thomas

New member
there is no difference, also T5 grow lights from indoor gardening stores are much cheaper. I ordered my 2 foot 4 bulb T5 from aghydroponics.com. The best part was that my local aquarium store carried 2 foot bulbs. There are only two issues in my mind: i wish aghydroponics.com had aquarium bulbs, and I wish I had a use for the "grow bulbs" that came with the fixture.
On a related question I heard that phosphate was required to manufacture T5's, and phosphate has been increasing in cost in the last year. I do not like to sound crazy, but my research has led me to believe that the Chinese are buying out the market, and increasing cost. Please let me know if this rumor is true, it could greatly effect the price of bulbs(which the manufactures claim should be replaced yearly).


New member
So, could I take two 2ft fixtures and put them end to end and use that to light my tank? That would be alot cheaper than buying the 240 dollar one at the LFS. Just as long as it will give the coral what they need.


Premium Member
Just as long as it will give the coral what they need.

That's the issue. In a reef tank, you will want to use High Output bulbs with the proper spectrum. They require a High Output ballast. The T5 fixtures and bulbs you find at the hardware store are usually normal output ballasts with 5000K bulbs and little or no reflector. You'll want HO ballasts, bluer bulbs (10-14K plus actinic), and individual reflectors for each bulb. You'll probably need twice as many fixtures and bulbs of the hardware store fixture to equal what you'd you'd get with a high output fixture designed for reef aquarium use.