HID VS. LED For Growing: Which is the Superior Option?

There is a constant debate between growers about which type of grow lights are the most effective. Growers talk about bud yields, about cooling considerations, power consumption and of course the cost of the equipment. Now that LED grow lights have matured enough to achieve successful grows using them, it’s more important than ever to talk about which grow light solution is best, or at least which is best for you.

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What are HID Grow Lights?

HID (High Intensity Discharge) lights are known for their impressive light output and brightness. The lights used today for professional growing are modernized versions of the gas lamps used for centuries. The lights are made from special gas-filled bulbs with two electrodes inside. The electricity arcs from one electrode to the next and interacts with the gas within the bulb, generating a brilliant light.

The Two HID Lights to Know

There are many forms of HID lights available today, but the two important ones are MH (Metal Halide) and HPS (High Pressure Sodium.) MH lights create blue spectrum light that’s best to use during the vegetative stage of a plant’s grow cycle. HPS bulbs create a more yellow-gold color that’s optimal for the flowering stage, but still usable for the vegetative stage.

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What Are LED Grow Lights?

LED (Light Emitting Diode) lights are actually a grid of hundreds or thousands of chips, known as diodes, capable of producing a specific narrow ranges of color. When the diodes are combined, they can appear to create any color to our eyes because of the way light colors mix. However, LED grow lights usually appear purplish in color as you can see in the photo below. The light LEDs produce is not as intense as HIDs, and more of them are required to get the same sort of yields that HID lights are capable of. Even still, LED lights are known for their efficiency, cooler operating temperatures, and a comparable set will use less energy than the HID set.

Shift Between Spectrums

LED lights are designed to offer any light spectrum that you select, and some can be controlled using apps or a touchscreen device. That means that the same array of lights can be used throughout the vegetative and flowering stages without issue and there’s no need to swap lights out as is the case with an HID light setup. But altering the light spectrum usually means you’re shutting off a portion of the LEDs, thereby lowering the photosynthetic light output. Also, the purplish color of the lights can make it very difficult to clearly see the plants leaves and identify problems quickly. 

Which is Best?

Deciding which type of light is best isn’t as simple and straightforward as you may think. There are definite benefits and disadvantages with each type of light. Spend some time learning about the major differences between LED and HID lights and hopefully that information will make it clear which option is best for your needs.

LEDs Use Less Energy

When energy usage is a major concern for your grow operations, LED grow lights will really stand out. They can cut your energy usage in half compared to what HID lights demand. This makes them a pretty favorable option for very long-term operations in the right conditions.

LEDs Produce Less Heat

LED lights at a similar power level to HID lights produce significantly less heat. This means you won’t spend as much energy on cooling. It also makes them a bit better for growing in small concealed spaces.

LEDs are Less Maintenance

While HID bulbs typically last around 10,000 hours for MH and 18,000 hours for HPS, a top quality set of LEDs can last as long as 50,000 to 100,000 hours. This means they require less maintenance and that you won’t have to worry about changing bulbs over top of your active grows nearly as frequently.

HID Grow Lights are More Reliable than LED Lights for Results

Probably because HID grow lights have been used for indoor growing successfully for far longer than LED lights they’re more straightforward to work with. There is ample information available about growing successfully with these light, and that information makes it much simpler achieving successful indoor grows with HID lights. With that said, it is still possible to successfully grow healthy and abundant plants with LED lights, it’s just more difficult to get right and requires significantly more trial and error.

HID Lights are More Affordable Up Front

HID lights are also the more economical grow light option by far when getting started initially. Some of this cost difference is offset by the lower energy use of LED lights and their reduced cooling demands, but it will still take many harvests to make up for that cost difference. Especially when you consider the lower yields per LED light compared to HID.

HID Lights Provide Full Plant Light More Effectively

HID lights are praised for their intensity and the best sets can deliver right down through the canopy helping to keep lower sections of your plant healthier in the process. While using LED lights it’s imperative to prune carefully to try and maximize even cola height and minimize low sections of the plant whenever possible. Less pruning is necessary for effective results using HID lights, making it possible to go through a growth cycle more quickly while achieving similar results. That’s another reason that many professional growers choose HID lights for their operations, even with the power saving benefits and convenience perks of LEDs.

Consider Using Both

While it’s clear that most professional growers find the most success with HID lights, that doesn’t mean there is no place for LED grow lights in your grow rooms. They are an excellent supplement to standard HID lights and make a solid addition to the space if you want to bring a bit more light to your space, especially around the edges where your HID arrays might not be shining as intensely. Try supplementing a high quality double ended HID, like the DimLux 1000 Watt with Nanotubes, with the BioRadiance BRe3 Wand. The wand is an LED light that emits a specific range of light that will increase harvest size and kill pathogens like powdery mildew.

Deciding Which Light Setup to Use

LED lights have come a long way, and now there are significant benefits to using both types of lights in a professional or hobby grow operation. That’s why it’s more difficult than ever before to choose whether you want to use LEDs or HID lights. I’ll leave you with a few points of consideration down below to simplify the decision-making process for you a bit more.

Choose LEDs If:

  • You want to save on cost over a very extended operation
  • You want to minimize your power consumption
  • You want to reduce heat production or grow in a very confined space without major ventilation
  • You don’t mind complexity and uncertainty up front
  • You are willing to experiment and settle with some failed grows early on
  • You are very experienced with advanced pruning techniques.

Choose HIDs If:

  • You want the best possible light penetration for your plants
  • You want more reliable results
  • You want a simpler pruning process
  • You want to save money on your up-front investment
  • You are willing to trade added maintenance for predictable plant growth

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