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Understanding HID (MH/HPS) Grow Lights - Lighting Buyers Guide

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High Intensity Discharge "HID" - Lighting

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HID, what is it? Firstly, HID stands for High Intensity Discharge. In easy terms, its a type of light bulb, a very large light bulb (some about the size of your forearm) Its a sealed tube filled with gas, and creates light when the gas is ignited. A regular household light bulb is similar. A regular light bulb has a small metal filament inside that lights up the gas, but in an HID bulb it has two electrodes that arc electric current between them to light up the gas. (think old school mad scientist laboratory).

HID bulbs are categories by the type of gas used in the bulb. The primary types used in horticulture include metal halide (MH), and high pressure sodium (HPS). More on these in a moment.

HID lighting systems consists of three main components, a ballast used to power the HID bulb, a reflector or hood to maximize the bulbs efficiency (by directing light over your plant surface), and a bulb.

High Pressure Sodium HPS Grow Light High Pressure Sodium HPS Grow Light

Back to our two types of bulbs associated with HID lighting; high pressure sodium (HPS) and metal halide (MH) -- there are also "dual arc" bulbs which are a sort of combination of both. The main difference between the two bulbs is the type of light spectrum they produce (because of the gas inside). Different gases produce different colors of light when ignited, and thus we can choose which color/type of bulb to use depending on what stage of growth a plant it in.

The HPS has a red or orange tint to it and is used primarily in the flowering phase of your plant's life. The MH bulb focuses on more of a blue spectrum and is used primarily for the vegetative stage of plant life.

Metal Halide MH Grow Light Bulb Metal Halide MH Grow Light Bulb

When choosing an HID system the first thing to take into consideration is the area you want the lighting fixture to illuminate. Based upon this you can choose from several different wattage systems; 1000, 600, and 400 watts are the most common. A 1000 watt system will cover about a 5 x 5 ft area, a 600 about a 4 x 4, and a 400 will cover an area of about 3.5 x 3.5 ft.

Ballasts are integral to a bulb, because an HID bulb creates an arc of electricity inside, it needs something to regulate and shape the electricity into a smooth flow for the bulbs to produce smooth constant light without flicker or distortion. There are two types of ballasts that can be used for HID lighting, magnetic and digital. A magnetic ballast is tried and true technology that operates using heavy coils and condensers to regulate the power to the bulb. A digital ballast uses a much lighter circuit board to regulate the power at a much higher frequency than a magnetic ballast. This means a more constant stream of energy to your bulb for a gain in lumen output.

Another useful feature of some digital ballasts is the ability to dim the power level being used from 100% to 75% to 50%. The Lumatek ballast even has a "super lumen" capability, pushing your bulb to its maximum capabilities. Due to the high frequency of digital ballasts, digital bulbs are required. This means magnetic ballast bulbs are not recommended for operation in digital ballasts due to the risk of bulb failure, and vis verse. For a system to function properly the wattage of ballast and bulb must also be equal. It is also important to note that some magnetic ballasts will not run both HPS and MH bulbs, but digital will have no problem running either.

HID bulbs require a hood or reflector to maximize their efficiency by reflecting light to where you want it. There are several different styles of reflectors, air cooled, non-air cooled, water cooledwing, and parabolic. Each style reflector has its niche use. Generally the larger wattage HID system in use, the larger the reflector is recommended to maximize your growing footprint. For example, a 1000 watt bulb works well in a Raptor hood. When selecting a reflector, knowing the exact size of the space being used is imperative. Different sized reflectors are designed for specifically sized areas.

When using HID lighting a considerable amount of heat is created. Therefore, when choosing a hood, be sure to make accommodations for the heat being produced. This can be accomplished by purchasing an air or water cooled reflector. These hoods come with a sealed glass "window" on the bottom, and open ports on each side to connect ducting or hose via; the idea being contain as much heat as possible within the reflectors and ducting. With either the passage of cool air or water through the hood-- and ventilated outside the growing area-- temperatures are greatly reduced.

I hope this answers the basics about HID lighting, if you have any questions please ask here or send us an email staff@growershouse.com

One thought on “Understanding HID (MH/HPS) Grow Lights - Lighting Buyers Guide ”

  • chuck

    i have a grow space of 6feet tall,4 feet indepth and 5 feet wide . i would like to purchase a digital, dimmable 1000 watt hps/mh ballast. i was leaning toward purchasing a 42inch parabolic reflector[i like that it would have space around it for airflow]. i would appreciate an experienced and expert opinion regarding the reflector. thankyou in advance for your help.

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