No matter how you intend to use your garage, proper lighting is a must. Whether you simply store seasonal items there or are a car enthusiast, it can be tricky to find affordable and durable options.
This short guide will walk you through the basics of what you need to know for everything from everyday lighting to impressive displays.
You’ll want to consider two significant properties of lighting: the qualities of the bulb and the attributes of the fixture.
Before you traverse the complicated and vast landscape that is lighting, there are a few decisions you need to consider that will help you narrow down your options:
- Color Temperature
- Energy Efficiency
- Space Needs and Light Layering
- Directionality vs. Generality
- Ease of Installation
Let’s start with a common question: are Light Emitting Diode (LED) lights worth the hype?
In short: yes! You’ll save money on the parts upfront and in the long term on electricity while not skimping out on brightness.
LED lights are perfectly suited to garage use due to their lower power usage, brightness, and ability to perform in cold temperatures.
Besides cost, the brightness and color temperature of LED lighting also makes it best suited for garages as they emit cool white light, between 6000-7000 kelvins, that will provide clarity to your workspace.
Make sure to take a look at my article on the best LED garage lights for more specific recommendations!
Another subset of LEDs that make them attractive if you are interested in a fine-tuned garage system is “Smart Bulbs”, which allow you to control the lights via your smartphone.
Programming “Smart Bulbs” can be as simple as setting timers and as intricate as connecting them to your Alexa/Google Home. They are practical and can be endless sources of fun for techy homeowners!
Incandescent bulbs, while available, have become a thing of the past. They are harder to find and a drain on funds. On the front end, the bulbs are more expensive.
On the other hand, their lack of energy efficiency can wind up raising your electric bills (not to mention the more frequent replacements).
The incandescent light emits a warmer shade and provides a less crisp working environment. However, if you prefer their warm light or an old-timey feel, the investment is yours to make.
Ideally, you want something with low wattage and high lumens to truly amp up the brightness and longevity of your garage lighting.
Halogen bulbs are a step up from incandescent bulbs. They have a longer lifespan and conserve energy, but they are a degree below LEDs as they emit a warmer light.
What are Lumens?
When buying lights, it is natural to think about the wattage. Wattage, however, only measures the energy flowing through the bulb.
The other measurement you’ll need to know is lumens, which measures a bulb’s brightness.
The combination of low wattage and high lumens will make your space functional for a long time. It will also cut down on the cost of replacements and trips to the store (or orders on Amazon, as the case may be).
For a more in-depth guide on lumens and reading bulb labels, click here.
Lighting Rule of Thumb
The number of lights you require will be determined by how you plan to use the garage. Starting at square one, get your measurements. You’ll need to calculate the square footage of the garage by multiplying the length by the width.
The general rule of thumb for overall lighting is 50 lumens per square foot. However, if you plan on a dedicated workspace, the recommended lumens is 300 per square foot.
While this rule of thumb covers lighting up the entire area of the garage, you’ll now want to consider where you may want to direct additional light, such as a workbench, storage area, or under cabinetry.
Designing Your Space
Hopefully, this short overview has given you enough background to brainstorm some ideas. For a deeper dive, check out this article.
Now that you know more about what you’re looking for in a bulb, it’s time to figure out what type of fixtures you need and want.
There are three primary purposes for lighting: accent, task, and ambient. Ideally, your garage should layer all three, hence the name.
The set-up you choose is dependent on the particulars of your garage. Hopefully, this quick run-down has helped you brainstorm before jumping into the lights available on the market.
Types of Lights
With easy set-up and maintenance, tube lighting is a simple solution for this rather complicated riddle. As the name implies, tube lights are tubular, and they emit light in a full 360-degree radius.
Fixtures often come as separate or integrated tubes that link easily to more. These properties take the hassle out of installation and will have you fondly remembering K’nex building toys.
They provide high amounts of ambient lighting and sometimes come with hoods that will better direct their light directly down into an area.
Fixtures are different from the other lighting types as they have a bulb base that screws into an existing fixture on the ceiling.
The significant advantage of fixtures is their customization and plethora of varieties.
In addition to corn-shaped lights that, like tube lights, offer 360 degrees of light, fixtures shaped like fans are popular. These provide more functionality as their light heads are adjustable. With this flexibility, you can choose to use fan-shaped fixtures for directional or general lighting needs.
Others, such as flush mount lighting, come in a “super slim” fashion that’s perfect if you frequently carry large objects within the garage.
Many light fixtures come with a motion-activated feature to allow for smooth transit when arriving home. However, if you’ve invested in “Smart Bulbs,” you can program any light for a similar purpose.
Ultimately, fixtures are perfect for both accent and task lighting, with the possibility of providing ambient light.
High Bay Lighting
This subset of fixture lighting is excellent for illuminating large spaces and ideal for high ceilings.
High bay lighting fixtures are extremely powerful that provide intense illumination to large areas.
These lights can either suspend from or affix to the ceiling, and their clear illumination means that they have very little glare.
With their acrylic lens covers, wraparounds are great if you’re looking to diffuse the lighting equally.
Different varieties of these fixtures can either be suspended or mounted flush to the ceiling. Some come with both possibilities, making them best for experimentation once you get to the installation phase.
Aesthetically, they also provide a more “finished” look than that of exposed bulbs. These lights primarily function as ambient lighting.
This array is versatile and perhaps the most aesthetically pleasing option if you’re looking to build a high-end garage.
Like super slim light fixtures, recessed lighting will afford you some space to move larger objects around without knocking into lights.
Recessed lighting can provide bright and even lighting to your whole space. However, this setup can be time and money consuming as you will be boring holes into your ceiling and buying fixtures in bulk quantities.
Primarily used as ambient lighting, recessed lighting also makes for excellent task lighting. This option will save you space in storage areas and cabinetry.
Miscellaneous Lights for Specific Needs
For the time being, while you’re designing and planning your garage or for particular needs, you may want to consider these stand-alone fixtures that will supply or add extra light where needed:
- Clamp-on Lights
- Standing Task Lights
- Under-Cabinet Light Fixtures
Once you’ve decided on the best type of bulb and have narrowed down your fixtures, this layout guide will help make those pesky final purchasing decisions.
As with any other significant and long-term purchase, make sure to do your homework.
In order of steps to take, the main takeaways are this:
- Plan according to high lumens and low wattage
- Take an inventory of your needs (storage, workbench, etc.)
- Layer ambient, accent, and task lighting
Hopefully, this short guide has made you feel as competent and confident as an HGTV designer!