What Kind of Lights Should I Put in My Garage?

It should be easy to choose what kind of lights to put in your garage.

But it’s not.

If you’re like me and never did a wiring renovation before, it’s tough to know what kind of garage lights to choose.

There are so many options. Choosing the right type of lighting can make the difference between having a gloomy garage or a garage bright enough to be a workshop or to detail your car.

The right type of garage lighting depends largely on how you use your garage. Most lighting solutions involve a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting.

Whether you use your garage for a workspace or just to store your stuff the right type of lighting will make the space more efficient and fun to use.

Read on to learn more about all the different kinds of lights available for your garage.  

Why Is Garage Lighting Determined by Use? 

People use garages for the following common functions:

  • Car storage
  • Miscellaneous or seasonal storage
  • Grow rooms/indoor gardening
  • Workshop activities such as welding or carpentry
  • Hobby activities such as model building or arts and crafts

Upgrading your garage lighting can be expensive, and it consumes a lot of electricity. So it’s important to know what kind of lighting you need, based on what you do in your garage. Once you know that, you’ll need to figure out how much you need to work safely in your garage. 

Woodworking or crafting activities require much stronger and more focused lighting than you’d need if you just use your garage to park your car or store your holiday decorations. You need to consider how you use your garage when deciding what lighting to buy. 

Why is Garage Lighting Important?

Inadequate lighting is one of the biggest causes of common garage accidents that result in injury. This is especially true if your garage isn’t organized efficiently.

To make things worse, the less lighting you have in your garage, the more likely you are to have a disorganized garage. After all, no one is motivated to organize stuff in a dark place, right? 

To prevent an unnecessary trip to the emergency room, you should install lighting that lets you see the entire garage space clearly. 

Types of Garage Lights

There are many kinds of lighting options available to choose from. Here are the basic types of lighting you can choose from. Most garages will ideally feature some combination of all three.

  • Ambient lighting: Ambient lighting is a soft diffused overhead lighting scheme, designed to spread evenly across the entire garage. This is the best type of lighting for general purposes and for car storage.
  • Task lighting: Task lighting is a concentrated localized lighting, generally used in a workshop. Use this where you need maximum visibility for detail work, such as woodworking or home improvement projects.
  • Accent lighting: Accent lighting in garages is similar to decorative lighting elsewhere in your home. It’s the best option for displaying memorabilia or hobby items. Since it’s supplemental lighting, accent lighting doesn’t have to be as bright as task lighting and doesn’t have to be as diffused as ambient lighting.  

All garages will need a strong enough ambient lighting to light the garage for safety and good visibility. However, the amount of task and accent lighting you’ll need is entirely dependent on what other activities you do in your garage. 

If you use your entire garage as a hobby space or workshop, you’ll need a stronger task lighting than someone who only uses their garage for storage.

LED vs. Fluorescent Lighting for Garages

In most cases, LED lighting is a much more efficient lighting type than fluorescent lighting, for the following reasons:

  • LED lighting is brighter at the same wattage.
  • Flourescent lights get much hotter than LED lighting.
  • LED lighting doesn’t require a ballast.
  • LED light is directional and can be concentrated in one area easily. Fluorescent lighting is more diffused (omnidirectional) and loses a lot of its efficiency when it has to be redirected via a ballast. 
  • Unlike LED lights, Fluorescent lighting does not work well at all below fifty degrees Fahrenheit. That makes fluorescent lighting a poor choice for unheated garages in northern climates.
  • LED lights are much better than fluorescent lights for indoor gardening applications such as grow stands. They have a better light spectrum for plants, and much lower risk of fire.  

The biggest disadvantage for LED lighting versus fluorescent lighting is that the lighting fixtures themselves tend to be more expensive than fluorescent lighting. However, LED lighting makes up for this upfront cost in saved utilities and durability. Fluorescent lights that are turned on and off often degrade more quickly than LED lights under the same conditions. 

It is also important to consider whether plants are going to be grown in the garage. If the garage area is going to be used as grow room or indoor garden, LED lighting can provide the full spectrum of light for plants. This helps them grow more efficiently, without increasing the temperature of the garage or introducing a heat-related fire hazard. 

Shop Lights vs. Recessed Lighting

In general, shop lights are usually used for task lighting, like under-cabinet lights or additional lights for workbenches. On the flip side, recessed lighting is more commonly used for either ambient lighting or accent lighting. 

Shop lights offer the highest visibility possible using directional lighting. The light is usually found directly over a workbench. Shop lights are the opposite of ambient lighting, since ambient lighting focuses on lighting up the whole room. 

Recessed lighting can be either ambient lighting or accent lighting. Recessed spotlights are a popular choice for highlighting memorabilia or other objects of interest. Multiple recessed lights across your garage ceiling will project soft light, evenly diffused throughout the entire garage. 

For ambient lighting, recessed lighting can provide a sleeker looking overhead lighting scheme than traditional fluorescent ballasts. 

How Much Lighting Does My Garage Need?

How much lighting you need to install in your garage depends on what you plan to use it for. However, the basic standard of light your garage needs for operational visibility is 130-150 lumens per square foot

According to the standards from the Lighting Handbook of the Illuminating Engineer Society (IES), general garage spaces need at least 50 lumens per square foot. Workspace areas need 300 lumens per square foot.

To see how to calculate the conversion of lighting wattage to lumens, see the charts presented here

General purpose garages require a lot less lumens than a dedicated workshop area. For best results, focus on having strong lighting over work benches, tables, and other areas where detail work is performed or tools are used. 

How to Improve Lighting in a Garage

If you need to add new lighting to your garage, here are a few ways you can make the lighting in your garage better: 

  • Install natural lighting options: If possible add a small skylight or some windows in your garage door. Natural sunlight in can do wonders for the ambient lighting in a garage space.
  • Add motion sensors to your lighting design: If you’ve ever accidentally left the lights on, you’ll want to think about adding motion sensors. It can save a lot of money on utilities in the long run.
  • Add auxiliary lighting. Bright desk lamps and task lighting can brighten your workbench. Use this for areas where intensive tasks require clear visibility.
  • Look into recessed lighting as an investment: Recessed lighting is a good option if you’re installing new garage lighting. It usually has a more “finished” look than ballasts or other garage lighting types. Recessed lighting can also increase your home’s resale value, should you decide to sell.

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