Choosing the right reflector for a horticultural lighting system is a very important decision an indoor gardener must make. Many growers do not realize how influential a reflector is to a garden’s overall performance and to the grower’s return on investment. In fact, a reflector is a single piece of hardware that can make a very significant difference regarding the intensity and uniformity of light in the garden space. In indoor horticulture, the light energy is the ultimate driving force for the entire garden which means it should be used as efficiently and effectively as possible.
The inverse square law states that light energy dissipates exponentially from the light source. In other words, the farther light travels from the light source, the less intense it is. If you consider that light emanates in every direction from the center of a light bulb, you can imagine how a light source without a reflector would emit light away from the plant canopy. A reflector essentially redirects light energy back toward the plant canopy. The light is not able to travel in all directions, but is instead directed toward the plants. Reflectors are imperative tools for indoor horticulturists and allow them to maximize the light energy that is available. However, not all reflectors are created equally. In fact, there are different styles of reflectors and there are very different materials from which reflectors are made. Before purchasing a reflector, a grower must closely examine a reflector’s three most important attributes: intensity, uniformity, and cost of ownership.
Intensity refers to a reflector’s ability to focus enough light energy downward to promote healthy plant growth. Without enough intensity, plants will underperform and never produce abundant yields. With too much intensity, the plants can be damaged by “hotspots” and will not perform up to their full potential.
Uniformity refers to the reflector’s ability to spread light evenly throughout the garden space. When testing light uniformity, there should be no more than a 3-5% differential of lighting intensity at any given place in the garden space. Uniformity of a light source is the most important aspect of lighting efficiency. If there is no uniformity, the light is not being used efficiently and the plants will not grow evenly or perform up to their full potential.
Cost of ownership refers to the actual cost of electricity and the cost of maintenance (including reflective insert replacement) over the reflector’s lifetime. Many growers purchase an inexpensive reflector without ever considering the true cost of ownership.
There are generally three types of reflectors used for artificial light sources: wide throw reflectors, down throw reflectors, and medium throw reflectors.
A good example of a wide throw reflector is a parabolic or umbrella-shaped reflector. These reflectors have a very wide footprint or light throw. Wide throw reflectors are good at providing uniformity throughout the garden, but will not be able to provide enough intensity for many vigorous growing crops. Without intensity, it is difficult for horticulturists to get the yields needed for a return on their investments. All in all, wide throw reflectors are great for photography, but are usually less than desirable for getting professional results in an indoor garden.
Down throw reflectors are reflectors that direct the light downward in an extremely focused light footprint. These reflectors are less than desirable because they lack the ability to provide a good light uniformity within the garden space. Down throw reflectors are good at providing intensity because they concentrate the light energy into a smaller space. However, this is can be problematic in indoor gardens as it creates hot spots which can damage otherwise healthy plants and hinder growth.
Medium throw reflectors are reflectors that have the best of both worlds. These reflectors are a compromise between uniformity and intensity. In other words, medium throw reflectors do a good job of both dispersing and directing light energy. The majority of the time medium throw reflectors will give the best overall performance for indoor horticultural applications. The balance between uniformity and intensity makes medium throw reflectors the most efficient and effective choice for indoor horticulturists.
All styles of reflectors can be constructed from a wide variety of materials. Aluminum, steel and other alloys are commonly used for both the housing and the reflective inserts for reflectors. When shopping for a reflector, a grower should pay close attention to the materials being used, the warranty offered, and how often the reflective inserts need to be replaced. Unbeknownst to most growers, many of the most popular reflectors on the market are actually designed to have the inserts replaced every three years. Most reflector manufacturers will not disclose this information so it is important for the grower to do his or her own research into this matter. If using a double ended (DE) lighting system, the reflector may need to have the inserts replaced even more frequently. After all, a DE lighting system will create double the intensity and, therefore, will break down the materials in the reflector insert more quickly. When using a DE lighting system, many of the reflectors will need the insert replaced every 12-18 months. Just remember, the more often a reflector needs its reflective insert replaced, the higher the cost of ownership for that reflector.
Bell Lighting Reflectors are high quality reflectors that are built to last. These medium throw reflectors are the pinnacle of balance between intensity, uniformity and cost of ownership. When compared with other reflectors on the market, Bell Lighting Reflectors require 30% less fixtures to achieve the same light uniformity. Bell Lighting Reflectors put out 20% less intensity than a down throw reflector, but a simple adjustment to the height above the canopy (dropping the lights 2-3 feet) will allow growers to achieve the same intensity while using less electricity. Less electricity equates to higher efficiency and a lower overall cost of ownership. Speaking of cost of ownership, Bell Lighting Reflectors are warrantied for 30 years. This may be why Fortune 500 companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing choose Bell Lighting Reflectors over others on the market. In the world of indoor horticulture, a 30 year warranty is absolutely unheard of. The reason why Bell Lighting is able to provide a 30 year warranty is because Bell Lighting Reflectors will not degrade for over 30 years. This means that a grower can rest assured that his or her reflector is providing consistent performance cycle after cycle, for year after year. When you consider most reflectors on the market need the reflective inserts replaced every three years, a reflector with a 30 year warranty is incredible.
West Coast Growers is a distributor of Bell Lighting Systems and a premier supplier and manufacturer of indoor gardening supplies. West Coast Growers takes pride in having the highest quality equipment for indoor growers which is why they offer Bell Lighting Systems. Bell Lighting is the only lighting manufacturer that puts superior craftsmanship behind every reflector they manufacture. Growers who want the absolute best in their gardens must choose a reflector that can meet the high demands of professional indoor horticulturists. Bell Lighting Reflectors provide growers with the very best of all three attributes of a reflector: great intensity, incomparable uniformity and the lowest cost of ownership over the reflector’s lifetime.