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How To Find The Best HID Grow Light For You (And A Word Of Caution)

Find the best hid grow light for marijuana

Are HID grow lights still worth buying?

We've changed our minds on that over the past year or so.

For some people they are, but for most of us, they're not.

The alternatives have just gotten so much better now. And so much cheaper.

If HID lights are right for you, we will help you find the best HID grow lights for your needs, whether you are growing hemp or any other plant.

Because the top HID grow lights are still very good. And they get results, just like they always have.

The hard part is determining which lights are best. Because the rest have gotten worse. And you don't want to end up with one of those. The headaches are endless.

That's where the GLC Method comes in. It begins with your needs and determines the exact light that fills those needs at the best possible price.

More on that below.

First I want to explain why we now recommend LED grow lights for almost all growers.

 

Why HID Grow Lights Are Not The Best Choice For Most Of Us

HID lights work.

Let's get that out of the way.

But they no longer work best.

Good LED grow lights now easily outdo HID. And they use less power, generate less heat, require less equipment and don't need bulb changes.

The biggest reason to stick with HID has always been price.

And that's still there.

A good LED light still costs more than the HID equivalent. But the difference is much smaller than before.

Check out our buying guide for LED lights to see what I mean.

It is now so small, that most growers will make back the initial cost difference within the first year or two of operation.

For that reason, there are two types of growers for whom HID makes sense.

  1. Those with a limited startup budget. If you simply can't afford to pay the additional cost for LED lights, it doesn't matter that you'll save in the long run. There's nothing you can do about that.
  2. Those who are already using HID and have no reason to switch. If you've got a good operation going and you don't have issues with heat or electricity costs, it probably doesn't make much sense to switch.

For everyone else, we strongly recommend going with LED grow lights.

Find out which LED light is right for you and see how much the prices have dropped.

 

Tons of Low Quality Brands Make Buying HID Much Harder 

There are so many HID manufacturers out there, but most simply aren't any good.

We've been seeing a huge increase in failure rates. For one brand, up to 80% of the products were getting returned because a bulb or ballast blew out within the first few months.

That's insane!

As more and more brands drop their prices and sell complete 1000 watt systems for as little as $100 in a race to the bottom, it seems they are cutting corners in two big areas.

One is quality control. Hence the high failure rates.

The second is customer service. And when you combine that with the failure rates, we can't, in good conscience, continue selling these products.

Not only do customers end up with faulty lights, they now have to wait weeks, even months, to get a replacement, because it's virtually impossible for us (an authorized retailer) to get a sales rep on the phone.

And even when we do get hold of one, it takes them forever for them to initiate the returns process. Usually, we have to call several times over the course of a week.

What's more, once we finally get past all that, it has become quite common for the replacement product to be faulty as well. Or for it to be sent to the wrong address. Or for the wrong product to be sent out.

It would be quite comical if it didn't have real consequences for real people. Customer who trust us with their business.

We feel like we've let you down.

And we can't go on letting our customers down.

That's why we've stopped carrying most brands.

We've weeded out all the junk so you don't have to.

You can simply follow the GLC Method guide below to find the right light for your needs.

 

The GLC Method: How to Find the Best HID Grow Light for Your Plants

We will ask a series of questions to help you determine exactly what you need. We provide links as we go along to example products (like the links to HPS and MH bulbs just below), in case you just need an individual component.

If you are just starting out, we recommend you buy a complete kit that includes all the components you need (reflector, ballast, bulb(s), hangers, timer) at a much lower price.

We'll provide links to those at the end of this guide, once you know exactly what type of kit you need.

Let's begin with the first question.

Do I Need HPS or MH Grow Bulbs?

The short answer: get both!

High Pressure Sodium (HPS) bulbs emit a yellow-orange-red light, which is ideal for maximizing yields during the flowering cycle, but results in weaker plants if used during vegging.

Metal Halide (MH) bulbs emit a bluer light that makes for strong plant growth during vegging, but produces lower yields during flowering.

It is possible to use either of these bulbs on their own throughout the full grow cycle, but your results will be better if you combine the two.

Here are the different options, from best to worst:

BEST RESULTS: use MH and HPS bulbs at the same time

Plants grow best when they get both red and blue spectrum light through all growth stages.

That said, for most growers, we would not recommend this, as the cost increase does not justify the slightly better yields.

If you do want to run both bulbs, we recommend using HPS bubs overhead as the primary light source and supplementing them with MH bulbs (or blue-spectrum fluorescent bulbs) hanging naked (without a reflector) between the plants.

Alternatively, you could use MH bulbs as the primary lighting throughout the grow and add in HPS light during flowering to boost yields. This would be a bit cheaper to run, but plants would grow faster and stronger with the previous method.

GREAT RESULTS: use MH during vegging and HPS during flowering

This is the most popular combination, because modern digital ballasts allow you to use the same reflector and ballast to run both HPS and MH bulbs. All you have to do is switch out the bulb and keep growing.

This is what we recommend. And luckily, almost all grow light kits are available with both an MH and an HPS bulb.

DECENT RESULTS: Use only HPS bulbs throughout the grow

If you're going to use only one bulb for the whole grow cycle, HPS bulbs are better. They might not be great during veg, but they produce by far the best yields during flowering.

WORST OPTION: Use only MH bulbs throughout the grow

Using metal halide bulbs during flowering will not result in great yields, making this the worst option.

 

What wattage do I need?

We'll limit this discussion to bulbs between 250 watts and 1000 watts. Anything outside of that range is too inefficient to make sense for most people.

For most growers, we recommend 400 watt or 600 watt bulbs. 1000 watt bulbs run extremely hot. Unless you've got experience managing heat, it's generally better to use several weaker bulbs instead of one stronger one. It's more efficient, too.

Wattage Number of Plants Size of Grow Area
250 watts 3 - 5 up to 4 square feet
400 watts 6 – 9 up to 9 square feet
600 watts 9 – 12 up to 16 square feet
1000 watts 12 – 16+ up to 25 square feet

 

Do I want single ended or double ended bulbs?

Double-ended bulbs are 25-30% more efficient than single ended bulbs, meaning they produce higher PAR ratings for the same wattage. They also last longer, retaining 90% of their output after 10,000 hours of use.

So why doesn't everyone use double-ended bulbs?

They're more expensive for one. The bulbs generally cost up to 50% more and the reflectors cost up to twice as much. They also produce more heat. Finally, reflector options are more limited, with only a few styles available for double-ended bulbs.

If you have the budget and the ability to eliminate the excess heat, go with double-ended bulbs, as the increased efficiency and longer life will make up for the increase in cost after a few grows.

If you're not sure you can deal with the heat or you just don't have the budget, go with single-ended bulbs for now, especially if your grow area is on the smaller side.

 

What Reflector Style Is Best?

With so many different styles of reflectors, choosing one can be a daunting task. But the truth is, most reflectors will do a good job and the differences in light coverage and intensity are not really that large.

Example: A large reflector has a large coverage area, but the light is less intense. This means you need to hang it closer to the plants if you want more intense light, which reduces the coverage area. Thus, the large reflector ends up having a similar coverage and intensity as a smaller reflector hanging further away.

So why are there so many different types of reflectors?

Each one specializes in a certain situation. The key is finding the reflector best suited for your grow space.

A quick note on air-cooled reflectors

Air-cooled reflectors are sealed off with glass and have vents through which you duct air to remove the heat before it gets a chance to enter your grow room.

Air-cooled reflectors are great for smaller grows, especially those in an enclosed space like a grow tent. They allow you to remove the heat directly from the reflector, without it escaping into the grow space. This is extra beneficial if you use supplemental CO2.

They are not very efficient in a larger space, though. The glass reduces the light output by 5-7% and it also removes come of the UV-A and UV-B light. Additionally, heat from the ducting will escape into your grow room if you have a lot of it.

Due to the above-mentioned inefficiencies, we only recommend air-cooled reflectors if you are growing in a grow tent or similar enclosed space.

If you have a large grow area with more than 10 lights, don't use air-cooled reflectors.

Think about it: how many photos have you seen of large grow operations with ducting running through them? Probably none, right?

Instead, use open reflectors and ventilate the room as a whole. It is much more efficient for large grows.

 

Alright, let's go through the different styles and figure out which reflector is best for you. We'll cover single ended reflectors first, and then the double ended ones.

Note: we temporarily do not have any HID lights available due to COVID-19 related supply issues. For that reason, we have changed all of the links below to point directly to Amazon, where some similar items are still in stock.

 

Single-Ended Reflectors

Let's begin by looking at the different types of single-ended HID reflectors.

Wing Reflectors

wing reflector
Pros
  • cheapest reflector available
  • good coverage
  • intense light with great canopy penetration
Cons
  • reflector only on the sides of the bulb, not the ends: results in loss of light on either end of reflector
  • not air-cooled (only a con for small, enclosed grow spaces)
Best for

Growers on a budget with a well-ventilated grow space.

 

Umbrella Reflectors

umbrella reflector
Pros
  • very large coverage area
  • even light distribution
Cons
  • very low intensity and penetration
  • not air-cooled (again, only a con for small, enclosed grow spaces)
Best for

Growers trying to light a large area with a small number of lights. Best used with powerful bulbs (600 or 1000 watt), to get sufficient intensity with such a large coverage area. Great as a vegging-only light.

 

Air Cooled Tube Reflectors

air cooled tube reflector
Pros
  • small size
  • the cheapest air-cooled reflector
Cons
  • small reflector means large loss of light
  • small coverage area
Best for

Growers on a budget, who are lighting a small, enclosed space. More so if they use supplemental CO2.

 

Air Cooled Hood Reflectors

air cooled hood reflectors
Pros
  • large coverage area
  • intense light with deep penetration
Cons
  • most expensive reflector
Best for

Smaller grow spaces, especially enclosed and using supplemental CO2. This is the reflector we recommend for most home indoor growers.

 

Air Cooled Tube Hood Reflectors

air cooled tube hood reflector
Pros
  • very large coverage area
Cons
  • low intensity and penetration
  • a bit on the expensive side
Best for

Growers trying to light an enclosed grow area with a small number of lights. Best used with powerful bulbs (600 or 1000 watt), to get sufficient intensity with such a large coverage area.

 

Double-Ended Reflectors

Now let's look at the different types of double-ended reflectors.

Double-Ended Wing Reflectors

double ended wing reflector
Pros
  • the cheapest double-ended reflector
  • pretty large coverage
  • good canopy penetration
Cons
  • reflector only on the sides of the bulb, not the ends: results in loss of light on either end of reflector
  • not air-cooled (only a con for small, enclosed grow spaces)
Best for

Growers on a budget with a well-ventilated grow space.

 

Double Ended Air Cooled Hood Reflectors

double ended air cooled hood reflector
Pros
  • large coverage area
  • intense light with deep penetration
Cons
  • most expensive reflector
Best for

Smaller grow spaces, especially enclosed and using supplemental CO2. This is the double-ended reflector we recommend for most home indoor growers.

 

Double Ended Large Open Hood Reflectors

double ended large open hood reflector
Pros
  • very large coverage area
Cons
  • low intensity and penetration
  • a bit on the expensive side
  • not air-cooled (only a con for small, enclosed grow spaces)
Best for

Growers trying to light a large grow area with a small number of lights. Best used with powerful bulbs (600 or 1000 watt), to get sufficient intensity with such a large coverage area.

 

Double Ended Hood With Attached Ballast

reflector with attached ballast

Pros
  • focused beam of intense light
  • attached ballast makes setup simpler
Cons
  • ballast stays in grow room and adds to heat
  • not air-cooled (only a con for small, enclosed grow spaces)
Best for

Growers with a larger room, since it isn't air cooled. It can make sense for a small room with a small number of lights, as long as you are able to deal with the heat. Having the ballast attached definitely makes things simpler.

 

What Is The Best HID Grow Light Kit For Me?

Now that you know which reflector style and which type and wattage of bulb are best for you, you're ready to choose a kit.

As mentioned previously, we always recommend buying a kit if you're just starting out. Not only do you save a bit of money, you also get all the components you need and you can be certain they are all going to be compatible.

The table below lists the best overall kit for each reflector style and wattage. You'll notice mostly iPower kits. We've found they offer the best combination of good price and quality components.

In general, when we recommend a different brand, it's because there is no iPower kit available for that reflector or wattage. Sometimes a different brand just offers a slightly better value.

The links will take you directly to Amazon, since we no longer carry any HID grow light kits ourselves (we have linked all of our product pages to Amazon as well).

 

Table: Best HID Plant Lighting Systems

Reflector Type Best Overall HID Kit
400 Watt 600 Watt 1000 Watt
Wing See here See here See here
Umbrella See here See here See here
Cool Tube See here See here See here
Cool Tube Hood See here See here See here
Cool Hood See here See here See here
DE Wing N/A N/A See here
DE Cool Hood N/A N/A See here
DE Open Hood N/A N/A See here
DE Hood With Attached Ballast N/A N/A See here

 

For those of you who prefer video

Note: this video is a few years old. It is in dire need of an update, but, as you can see if you watched it, we are terrible at making videos around here...

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