How to build cheap DIY HO- T5 Lighting for your Planted Aquarium

Posted by Dustin Wunderlich on

I’ve been over whelmed with running high lights on my tanks recently. Probably a month ago I got a 4x 54 watt HO-T5 setup at Home Depot.  I am now obsessed.


I’ve decide to ad another one and figured I would share with you all how it is done.

The past 3 canopy, diy lighting setups have all about been the same design and it works for what I am doing.  My first canopy built this way was on my 125 for probably 4 years running strong. It was built for use with t-8s (HO T-5s were just hitting the market at this point so t-8s it was, they were the norm)

This consisted of much more work as i had to mount each individual bulb holder to a piece of plywood, and wire the whole thing. Forget all of that.

What we are doing here is much easier.  The HO t-5 setup i am utilizing comes out of the box ready to roll. It does need bulbs but that’s not an issue, the bulbs are 10 bucks each.  (more on the bulbs later)

This setup is made slightly over 4 feet long with a beefy metal casing over it. Metal casing makes it so the entire fixture can be bulbs down and not rest on them.  As you can see below, if you want to just rest the setup of the bulbs on the top of the aquarium you can. (Note: Dustin is not responsible if you shock or electrocute yourself with anything described here, you have to use your own judgement, we are putting electricity above water here, so be careful.)

So my basic canopy is pretty simple. I am sure people can modify it or have built better, but simple is good. I’m all about easy and helping beginners, so here’s the skinny.

Here’s what you need.

2 flip latches. I get them that are about an inch or so. (This doesn’t need to be an exact size)

1 4x 54 watt HO – T5 ballast and light fixture.

4 bulbs for the fixture. (You can buy the ones from Home Depot which have been working good for me for the last 3 weeks or an aquarium variety of your choice)

1 8inch tall 3/4 and 8 foot long piece of wood.  If you would like to mount your lights higher up that what I do, you could get a 10 to even 12 inch wide piece of wood. I’ve used 8 again just so mine all look the same.

1 4 foot long pieces of wood to run as a cross support between the two sides.

1 4 foot narrower piece of wood that can be used to cover the lights from shinning in your face when you take the cover off…

A bunch of wood screws, one inchers should do it.

A wood saw

Screw driver

Drill to pre drill some holes for screws.


More coming. I am going to embed the videos in this as well to make it more complete…


Ask questions in the comment box below, I’ll continue this…


1 8 foot long piece of poplar or another solid variety of wood. This will but cut up and will be attached to the wood above with screws so you will want to make sure it is good wood so it doesn’t split when you drill it. Go beefy here.

1 9 foot (or whatever length you need) power cord.  This should look like an extension cord but won’t have anywhere to plug anything into it. Instead it will just have three wires open on the ends. (One Black, One White, One Green)   The end that plugs into the wall will look like a normal, three pronged plug.



Measure up all of the wood that you are going to build on top of your tank.

You want to build a frame that sits on top of your aquarium.  I build mine so that the sides support all of the weight of the canopy and lights.  Measure up the right and left sides of your tank. This is going on my 75 so I have to have two pieces that are 18 inches long as my tank is that wide. So if you had a 55 it would be 12 inches or so.  This part you are going to want to have measured pretty closely so part of your tank won’t be hanging out the back if someone is looking at the side of it.

Then you are going to cut the front panel of your canopy. This will be what everyone could potentially be looking at, so this piece is important.


It’s worth noting here that I personally am not into fine craftsmanship on fishtank stands and canopies. While its nice if it looks perfect. If someone is staring at your wood working instead of what is in your tank— you are probably doing something wrong in the tank.  That said, a nice looking canopy will do a bunch for your tank so make it as rough or as nice as you want. Just make sure the tank is rocking inside.

Ok so back to the front piece.  You want to cut the front piece big enough so it covers the entire length of the aquarium. plus the width of the wood you are using times 2. So add 1.5 inches if you are using 3/4 inch wood. If you are using a 1 inch wide piece of wood it would be 2 extra inches added.  ( so for me it is 49 inches as that is the length of the tank (rim included) Plus 1.5 inches as I am using 3/4 inch wood. So a total of 50.5 inches.

You are also going to want to cut the cross support at this time. It should be the same length as top rim of your tank. So here it would be 49 inches.  Make sure the wood you are using for this is beefy.


The first step is to measure up all of the wood that you are going to build on top of your tank.


cut all of the wood. Do it all at once to save time.


More coming. I am going to embed the videos in this as well to make it more complete…


Ask questions in the comment box below, I’ll continue this…

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