Suggestions please for lighting my long narrow 7 foot ceiling basement
February 17, 2013 3:54 PM   Subscribe

Until a few weeks ago my 25 foot long by 12 foot wide by 7 foot high basement was being lighted by three 48 inch fluorescent shop lights (these). They decided to all stop working in the course of the last 3 weeks. Replacing the bulbs hasn't helped. A similar question on AskMeFi suggests that the ballast is probably the culprit in situations like this, and that it's often cheaper to replace the fixture than the ballast. Before I go tomorrow and buy 3 ballasts or 3 new shop lights, I am wondering if my choice of fixtures is inappropriate. This is a laundry, exercise, pantry, hobby area so the lights often are on a large percentage of the time. This is New Jersey and it's cold right now, though it is an indoor space, it's certainly not as warm as the rest of the home. And basements are somewhat damp. It seems like switching to incandescent bulbs would be simplest, but between regulatory changes and "green" political correctness, I suppose that may not be the best. I just want the space to look bright, and for whatever I buy and put in tomorrow to last a reasonable time. Thanks in advance for your advice!
posted by forthright to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
The days of incandescents are numbered. The way to go right now, I believe, is standard light fixtures with LED bulbs. Consider track lighting, so you can direct the light where it is needed.
posted by megatherium at 4:04 PM on February 17, 2013

LEDs, dude - LEDs. Anything else is gonna be a fire hazard and/or obsolete and/or against code. You'll pay more with LEDs initially - WAY more - but they'll be the best, safest, most modern, longest-lasting choice.
posted by julthumbscrew at 5:16 PM on February 17, 2013

I have almost this exact room for the same things in my basement. I have two 4ft fluorescent lights on one end and 2 8ft ones over my woodshop area.
posted by sanka at 5:19 PM on February 17, 2013

I'm a big fan of LED strips. They look like thin fluorescents, and are really designed for under-cabinet use. Sure, they're quite expensive to buy, but they have a ridiculous lifetime, and are basically fit and forget.
posted by scruss at 5:48 PM on February 17, 2013

If you can replace them with incandescents cheaply and easily, you can do CFLs just as easily and almost as cheaply. In my experience, CFLs last much longer than old style tubes/shop lights, not to mention incandescents.

LEDs will probably last longest, but can get pretty spendy for an equivalent amount of light.

Either way, be sure to get the color you will be satisfied with. I generally prefer "warm" colors around the 2700K-3500K temp range, as they resemble the more pleasant light from incandescents.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:21 PM on February 17, 2013

Cheap capital cost is the only thing incandescent have going for them and like you said they are being phased out so don't even consider them.

For your needs 4' fluorescent are still going to be the way to go. While LEDs would be cheaper long term the pay back is really long. Especially considering you'd need more than three fixtures to give you the same evenness of light you'd get out of the long tubes.

Shop lights are fairly poor choice for a 7' ceiling though as far as fixture goes because they are designed to direct the light down. A wrap light would be more suitable. Though if your ceiling is flat and painted white you could hang your shop lights up side down for nice diffuse light. Depending on what your hobby is might be better served with more fixtures. And don't buy T12s even if they are on sale; the bulbs are being discontinued.

"CFLs last much longer than old style tubes/shop lights, not to mention incandescents. "

CFLs last longer than old style fluorescent because they have electronic ballasts; same as new fluorescent. In fact a modern 4' fluorescent has a longer life than a CFL because of how the starters work. (Generally around 15-20K hours vs up to 10K hours) And the light from a CFL isn't anywhere near as even as that out of a 4' tube.
posted by Mitheral at 6:51 PM on February 17, 2013

Thanks for all the responses.

The only consensus seems to be to forget the incandescent option, which I suspected. The LED vs. fluorescent tube vs. CFL decision seems a bit muddy (to me), certainly the LED cost is a consideration, and I do have CFL bulbs from Costco in some fixtures in the house (lamps and such), and I certainly had a bad experience with the shop light approach.

Maybe I should do an experiment with CFL vs. LED in the laundry area, return what I don't like.

A couple minor details I forgot to mention: those shop lights were bought the same day, installed a different day, and lasted about 1.5 years within a few weeks of each other. So maybe it's planned obsolescence or bad product choice or just bad luck. Also, it's not a finish ceiling, just joists.
posted by forthright at 7:27 PM on February 17, 2013

Either something is wrong with your wiring in that area or something was wrong with all three of those fixtures. Electronic ballasts should last much longer than 1.5 years. You may want to investigate further before you add more parts.
posted by ssg at 9:03 PM on February 17, 2013 [1 favorite]

I put a shit-ton of those cheapy flourescent fixtures in my basement. I like lots and lots of light.

The old one had the balast go and burn, and WHAT a horrible smell!

I had a professional electrician put them in for me (because he was there doing other stuff anyway.)

Mine have lasted for 6 years.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:32 AM on February 18, 2013

From doing my homework on workshop lights, I can tell you that the 4' fluorescent tube strip lights are the most light for your money you can get. Get a bunch that take T8 bulbs, which are smaller and more efficient that the old style T12 ones. There are also the even smaller and slightly more efficient T5 bulbs, but I find the brighter light from a smaller tube leads to too much glare. CFLs and LEDs are fine, but won't give you as much light for a given number of fixtures.

Check the color temperature before you buy. I don't like the cold blue light of the higher color temperature bulbs for indoor use. I have 3500K T8 bulbs in my basement.

If temperature or humidity are causing the lights to have trouble starting, you can get fixtures with beefier ballasts that start up under all conditions - they're sold as outdoor or garage fixtures.

Also, seconding ssg to check out why the old fixtures are blowing. Even cheap ones should last longer than that. If you've got a voltmeter, see if you're suddenly getting markedly more or less that 120 volts.
posted by echo target at 10:48 AM on February 18, 2013

OK, as follow up to my question and for the sake of anyone finding this in Web searches later, this is what I ended up doing (with advice also from a home center guy). It worked out really well (my family agrees, fewer shadows, less glare and much easier to replace an individual light if it goes out). Granted, this may not apply to everyone's situations, but it worked for me in my unfinished basement laundry/storage/exercise/hobby area with exposed joists:

- contractor 6 pack of Recessed Light Housings, 6" Downlights for "new" construction, installed in 2 rows of 3 every 4 bays (I ran out of time, I think another 2 lights will finish off the job).
- contractor 6 pack of soft white R30 Flood CFLs

I was surprised that the cost was modest (of course it took a lot more time than replacing the shop lights would have, but it seems a more manageable solution, later maybe LEDs will come down in price and I can start switching to them in the housings).

Thanks again everyone who contributed ideas.
posted by forthright at 2:50 PM on March 24, 2013

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