Garage lighting is a surprisingly tricky subject. The most important factors are the size of your garage, the location of the outlets, and the temperature outside. Here's what else you should know to get the perfect garage lighting.
Whether you've got one, two, or three spaces in your garage, it's best to think of them individually when you're considering your lighting options. The simple truth is that most garages are far too big for a single light bulb to work effectively, even if it's unusually bright.
As such, think of the area as a series of narrow bays (or just the one, if it's a single car garage). For optimal lighting, you should use two bulbs or one long light in each bay. Placing the lights in the middle of the bay helps to avoid problems caused by bulky cabinets near the walls. If you don't have large items ringing the side of your garage, it's okay to put lights in the top corners instead, but this isn't quite as effective.
If you plan to use long lights, try to get two 4-foot bulbs in a row instead of a single 8-foot bulb. The shorter lights are, frankly, much easier to handle than their longer cousins.
If you just want to move through the garage to get in and out of your house, basic lights are enough to get the job done. On the other hand, if you plan to do any crafts, woodworking, or maintenance tasks in the garage, it's best to get the best lighting possible.
In these cases, you want lights with a Color Rendering Index of 85 or higher. CRI is a measure of how 'natural' something looks when compared to sunlight or incandescent light (which, for all its inefficiencies, is amazing at showing colors). For context, incandescent lights tend to hover around 95 CRI, while a cool fluorescent could be as low as 62. That's not ideal when you need to see fine details.
In recent years, LEDs have become an outstanding alternative to fluorescent lamps, and many of them are sold in convenient bays. LEDs last far longer than fluorescent - at six hours of use a day, some of them are rated for decades of use before they need to be replaced.
Most lights are only rated to work in certain temperature ranges. If it's too cold, they might not turn on at all - and that's a problem if you need to drive to work in winter. Companies usually tell you what range lights and fixtures are designed to work in, and it's vital you make sure they're appropriate for your climate. When in doubt, research online just to be sure.
I didn't realize how good natural lighting was until I tried it. Now, to be clear, natural lighting is not a good substitute for real lighting if you have anything you need to dobesides moving through your garage. That said, being able to walk in, grab something, and get out without even turning the lights on is surprisingly convenient.
Most natural lighting comes from windows installed in garage doors. Most doors have four small windows per bay, which allows enough light in during most of the day. If you live in a safe neighborhood, you can also install windows on the side of your garage. Depending on their size, they could completely replace the need for lights during the daytime hours.
If you decide to go this route, we recommend using one-way windows so other people can't see inside. Failing that, use frosted glass (or something similar) to let light in without allowing anyone to spy on you. If the window and its frame are sturdy, they're not likely to become a security risk.
There are two real solutions for powering your lights - connect them directly to a circuit or plug them into a socket. Most garages have at least one socket in the ceiling, usually right next to where the garage door opener goes. Beyond that, however, you may be out of luck. If you don't want to fix a power strip to the ceiling and run a bunch of wires around, you may need to add sockets or hardwire them.
We recommend adding sockets since these are more flexible for future use. Do not attempt to install these unless you are a trained electrician. It'll cost you a bit to have new sockets added to the ceiling, yes, but that's far better than putting yourself at risk. Under no circumstances should you attempt this yourself without adequate training and experience.
It is possible to have cordless lights that run off of batteries. These work well with LED fixtures, which don't draw much power, and are especially useful if you don't spend a lot of time in your garage. There's no need to worry about wiring, just a transmitter that turns things on and off.
If you spend a lot of time in the garage, though, you'll want to have a permanent power connection. You may still need to change the lights now and then - especially if you're not using LEDs - but that's easier than changing batteries and power supplies.
This is fairly simple. To illuminate the entire garage, put lights on the ceiling. To illuminate a workstation, put things lower down. The advantage of lowered lights is that they can often take advantage of sockets that are already on the wall, reducing the amount you're going to spend on this project.
Most people like to have a four-foot bulb that provides light evenly across the entire workstation. This can prevent odd shadows from throwing things off while you're working on detailed things.
Throughout this process, we've focused on the types of products and where they should go - but what can you afford? The good news is that most forms of garage lighting - usually sold as "shop lights" - are quite affordable. Prices typically range from $15 to $50 for each light, with LEDs costing more than fluorescent.
Of course, this doesn't include the cost of having an electrician do any wiring work you may need. According to HomeAdvisor.com, the national average for installing a new electrical socket is about $200, and each socket you need will take about two hours of work.
It's more affordable to use the central socket already in your garage, and we recommend hooking up a power strip and running the lights to that if you can.
Expect the price to go up a little if you're installing a smart socket that connects to devices like Amazon Echo or Google Home. It's not particularly harder to install, but the sockets themselves are more expensive, and that'll be reflected in your electrician's quote.
As far as lights go, LEDs tend to be more expensive up-front, but they last so much longer that they're ultimately the more affordable option. Also, unless you're on a particularly tight budget, the difference in price is small enough that it shouldn't be a problem.
Most light bays either tie into a central switch or have their own switch somewhere on their side or wire. Lights that can be flicked on and off from a central switch by the door leading into your house are more convenient, but they're not necessary for the entire garage. Lights over workbenches, in particular, are fine if you can just switch them on-and-off there as needed.
If you want to get creative, you can use color-changing lights and connect them to a smart control system. This is ideal if you want to brighten or dim the lights, match the colors to that of your favorite sports team while watching a game or have the ability to turn them on and off remotely. Most people don't want (or need) this sort of feature, but it can be done if you want it.
Finally, there's one last thing to do before we can say that your garage lighting is perfect: make sure it's up to code. What exactly the codes are depend on your area, but the lights should be secured firmly enough that they'll stay put during an earthquake. You don't want to have a fixture crashing down on you while you're working in the garage!
If you're not sure how to ensure your garage lighting is up to code, talk to some local experts about your options. It may take a little time and money, but safety should always come first.