I need illuminating ideas to light up my garage!
April 9, 2012 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Help me light up my garage. What are the best options for light output, cost, and power efficiency to illuminate a large space?

My garage currently has one dim florescent fixture and I'd like to make it about 20 times brighter so I can see what's going on even when the garage door is shut (there are no windows). I use it primarily as a workshop for woodworking and other projects.

What is the best type of fixture that will provide me with ample illumination without increasing my electricity bill much? I have two 500 watt halogen work lights, but those suckers get hot and the light output isn't very even.

I prefer something with "normal" light temperature if possible. A pink or yellow cast (like you see on some bright street lights) will not work. Lights that take a long time to warm up are probably not ideal either since we often pop into the garage for a minute or two to do laundry or other quick tasks.

(Eventually I would like to put in skylights but that's not an option right now since those cost $$$$)
posted by buckaroo_benzai to Home & Garden (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You could add a whole mess more fluorescent fixtures - they're inexpensive and cheap to run. You can find ones that plug in to the wall, so you don't even need to do any extra wiring. I think I paid about twenty bucks for each fixture and a few more dollars for the bulbs. Get a couple of power strips and you can control them all from a central location.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:56 AM on April 9, 2012

My workshop is lit with a bunch of fluorescent fixtures. I went to Firedman's to buy fixtures, found that bulbs came in boxes of 12, bought fixtures such that they came out even with the bulbs, and took a few more fixtures and bulbs that had been in my garage and put them in my workshop. I think the fixtures were on special and cost circa $10 each, and I don't have to use flash when taking 100 ISO handheld photos in my shop.

Fluorescents have a bunch of different color options, modern digital ballasts and T8 bulbs start quickly, run for forever, sip power relative to the amount of light they put out, and are dirt cheap.
posted by straw at 11:59 AM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Targetted lighting on workspaces, perhaps with a track, though interlinked T8 fluorescents that all run from the existing fitting may be better for a garage.
posted by holgate at 12:00 PM on April 9, 2012

Flourescent fixtures are the cheapest to buy and run, compared to LED and incandescent. As long as you don't get the really cheap bulbs you shouldn't have much of an issue with color, just make sure to check the color temperature when you get the bulbs.
posted by markblasco at 12:01 PM on April 9, 2012

Nthing basic t8 fluorescent shop lights. You're not going to beat them for any reasonable cost.
posted by jon1270 at 12:35 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

4' T8 florescents are the way to go. You can mitigate the colour spikyness somewhat by mixing several different colour temperatures together. Also a single low wattage halogen bulb will help smooth out the spectrum. In my shop each 20 square feet or so of ceiling has a 2 tube 4' shop fixture. All my walls and the ceiling are painted white and the light intensity good.
posted by Mitheral at 12:44 PM on April 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks!
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 12:44 PM on April 9, 2012

A friend has 4 LED strips like this arranged in a square on his garage ceiling.
They put out a significant amount of light and the square formation prevents annoying shadows.
If you get the ones that can be cut, you can essentially put lighting strips wherever you want.
You'll need to get a transformer to run them, but they can often be found from the same supplier as the LEDs.

Bonus, in cold weather, no waiting for them to warm up.
posted by madajb at 1:03 PM on April 9, 2012

Tubular skylights are relatively inexpensive (a few $100) and can be a DIY installation.
posted by ShooBoo at 1:12 PM on April 9, 2012

I'm a big ol' fan of LEDs, but for this problem the answer is clear: you want a bunch of dual 4' T8 fluorescent fixtures. My workshop is full of them; they are cheap and they work well. We have two dual-tube fixtures lighting up a room the size of a single-car garage, so that's 160 watts total.
posted by Mars Saxman at 1:27 PM on April 9, 2012

Response by poster: Any reason I shouldn't get these Lithonia Lighting 2-Light Brushed Nickel Fluorescent Decorative Wrap Fixture ???
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 1:31 PM on April 9, 2012

Response by poster: Oh and is 6 fixtures too many for a 2-car sized garage?
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 1:33 PM on April 9, 2012

I have 7 4' 2 bulb T8 fixtures in my 15x18 workshop, and I love having that much light. So: No, 6 fixtures sounds reasonable. And if you put in 6 and decide you want more, you can always add 'em. As mentioned previously, they're the cheap digital ballast T8s from our local home improvement store, and I haven't yet had a problem with them starting instantly. Of course I live in Northern California, where 30°F is cold, but...
posted by straw at 1:40 PM on April 9, 2012

Response by poster: I am also in Northern California (Santa Rosa)... thanks for the tip.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 1:42 PM on April 9, 2012

Grin. I'm in Petaluma (actually, right now I'm at work in Santa Rosa). We need a Sonoma County MeFi meetup.

So, yeah, the units I got from Friedman's on Santa Rosa Ave were the cheap T8 fixtures with plugs, I just wired up my shop with conduit to sockets in the rafters, and plugged these puppies in. I can't speak to longevity, but at the price I'm not all that concerned about it, but so far their performance has been way better than I expected: Instant-on, every time, even when there's frost on the car windows in the morning.

The only thing I thing I should do a little differently is build some sort of cage so I'm less likely to clip a bulb with an errant board.

I'm not sure it proves anything, but here are a bunch of pictures of me in the shop taken with a handheld cell phone camera that claims it was shooting at ISO 93.
posted by straw at 1:55 PM on April 9, 2012

Oh, and the reason I keep harping on those Friedman's fixtures: The only reason I can see to pay $40 for a 2 bulb fixture from Home Depot(!) is that you're really keen on the aesthetics. I can't imaging that they're functionally better, and my experience with HD is that I have to be really careful that I'm buying what I think I'm buying, because they're notorious for Wal*Mart-like cheap-ass versions of things I thought I recognized but somehow they managed to cheap out on.
posted by straw at 3:09 PM on April 9, 2012

If you don't need it to be pretty, you can save a few bucks and the hassle of replacing the diffuser when it breaks in the cold.
posted by mendel at 5:40 PM on April 9, 2012

I have two single-bar flouro (with diffusers) fitting in my two-car garage and there is plenty of light, but lots of shadows, which is a pain if you are trying to work on cars or under anything. I have a 9m x 12m shed that has 8 bare two-bar flouros under the roof and two more singles over the workbench - lots of light and almost no shadow because the lights come from lots of different angles. If you want even light, use more fittings (eg use four single-bar instead of two two-bar fittings) and fitt hem in different directions. If you can, wire them to separate switches so you don't need to turn all the lights on every time you want to just grab something from the workbench.
posted by dg at 5:57 PM on April 9, 2012

I was just in a space last week that had its overhead fluorescent lights at a 45 degree angle to the walls, parallel to the ceiling (like usual). It seemed to cast a more even light on work surfaces, which are usually either parallel or perpendicular to the walls. But maybe I was just so intrigued by them being slanted that I over-analyzed the light.
posted by MonsieurBon at 10:13 PM on April 9, 2012

Oh and is 6 fixtures too many for a 2-car sized garage?

I used four fixtures (8 tubes) in a one-car garage with the walls and ceilings painted white. It was not too much.
posted by jon1270 at 3:18 AM on April 10, 2012

Also worth noting: I did see a very high failure rate with the ballasts in the $10 Home Depot shop lights -- probably on the order of 30% over a couple of years. I just bought a lot of used but high-quality ballasts on eBay and converted over each fixture as it failed.
posted by jon1270 at 3:22 AM on April 10, 2012

You need to consider the lamp efficacy / efficiency and lux needed. I’d consider a minimum of 350-400 for wood-working, maybe up to 600 lux for difficult tasks– if you are doing very detailed work you can go higher, to 800lux or more. 1 lux is equal to 1 lumen per square meter. Not sure of the garage space but guessing around 26sq.m. The current 500W tungsten halogen is probably 20lumens/watt and efficiency of 3% - this is really poor performance.

Definitely consider compact and linear fluorescent (CFL or T5/T8): expect 6,000 to 8,000hrs lamp life for both (a vast improvement to what you have). The replacement cost of T5/T8 is cheaper than CFL, but the CFL power rating is much less (max 20W whereas twin T5/T8 fluorescents are 28-32W) so it depends on how many lamps you will install and hours run-time as saving electricity costs. Keep in mind you can always de-lamp twin T5/T8 if you don’t need certain area of the shed lit up, then just throw the lamp back in when you need to. The T5 are thinner lamps, use less power yet have better efficacy and efficiency as the T8 (The twins T5-28Watt and T8-36Watt give the same output). The T5 lamp cost more than T8, but you can always do the retrofit easily yourself later without changing the fixture.

The T5/T8 have higher colour rendering than CFL. The current halogen CRI would be ~95 to 100. A top quality T5/T8 will give CRI of 92, standards T5/T8 have minimum of 79 – you should be aiming for CRI of 80. Read the fine print here as there are some seriously crap products out there. Some T5/T8 offer sunlight spectrum colouring but the efficiency is poorer. Both CFL and T8/T5 initially come on at half brightness than warm up over 1-2mins, (not anything like high intensity discharge lamp with long strike/restrikes rates). The T5/T8 initially give ~81lm/W for an 18W lamp, or ~67lm/W for 18W ballast type. The maintained efficacy is ~72lm/W for non-ballasted type. Check the lamp specs are compared to the operational temp of the fixture or else losses will be higher. Electronic ballast types are much better than mechanical as they have less losses and can enable dimming.

If you’re aiming for 600lux for 26sqm metres, you need a total of 15,600lumens, spaced correctly across the shed. A single non-ballasted T8-18W lamp gives ~1,296lumens, for twin ~2,600lm, so 6 twin fixtures is perfect, of either T8-18W or T5-14W. You can increase the light reflectance by painting the walls white.

If you're serious about long-term theres the 9W LED tube. The efficacy is 112-187lm/W and 60,000hr lamp life (7-years nonstop) plus the lamps fit into T80 fixtures. Downside is the lamps are about $60 each and you’ll need a electrician to come in and retrofit the wiring - I don’t know what that will cost you where you are, here it’d be around $500.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:29 PM on April 10, 2012

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