For a good number of us, the only lighting we have in our garage is the one that comes on when the garage door opener is engaged. This is more than sufficient if your garage is just that place where you jump in and out of your car, on your way in or out of your home. If however you use your garage for more than just a launching pad for your day, you should give serious attention to the lighting you have in your garage space.
A garage is not unlike your laundry or your utility room, it should be well lit both as a safety measure and a matter of convenience. In most rooms, including the laundry and utility rooms, regular incandescent light bulbs are probably adequate for tasks performed in them. If your garage is nothing more than a place where you park the car and store a few seldom used items incandescent bulbs in existing fixtures are probably more than adequate to your needs. Many of us, however, utilize at least some of our garage space for hobby, recreational and repair purposes. For these pursuits the standard light bulb, even at 100 or higher wattage, is likely to not be enough.
Choosing the Best Garage Lighting
A popular choice for workshop and hobby areas is fluorescent “shop lights”. Generally available in for foot lengths in fixtures that can easily be suspended from the ceiling of the garage, and which plug into standard outlets, fluorescents are a generally inexpensive to buy and economical to use option. Big box stores often feature this lighting at rock bottom prices and they are an appealing choice.
The old adage that you “get what you pay for” generally holds true, however, fluorescents are known for problems such as flickering, show start up and a distracting humming while operating. They also may not work at all if you live in a climate where it gets cold in the fall and winter and your garage space is not heated.
All fluorescent lights require a device called a ballast to work. The ballast provides the initial voltage charge to initiate operation of the bulb itself, and once the bulb is engaged, regulates the voltage in the bulb at safe and efficient operating levels. Cheaper types of fluorescent lighting often have the most basic type of ballast, which leads to many of the irregularities in usage that have already been noted. These fluorescents, (known as T12 lights) also tend to yield a less true color rendering and do not work reliably in temperatures lower than 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
While more expensive to initially buy, it is now recommended that for reliable and durable fluorescent bulb life that the lighting come equipped with electronic ballast of a type generally known as the T8 fluorescent lights. The T8 provides 32 times more energy efficiency while yielding the same amount of illumination as the less expensive and more commonly known T12 light—and they provide truer color perception than the T12. With its electronic ballast the T8 fluorescent bulb will also operate reliably in temperatures down to 0 degrees Fahrenheit. If you spent any amount of time in your garage pursuing hobby or repair work, the higher initial cash outlay for this type of lighting will pay for itself in lower energy bills and less eye strain.
There are some general rules of thumb to observe when determining your fluorescent lighting needs. General wisdom states that two four foot tube fixtures should be placed together for every 8 feet of space in the area to be lighted. However, for more a more uniform lighting effect, it is now recommended that one fixture be placed every four feet—which you’ll find easier on the eyes and better for your personal safety –fewer harsh shadows cast in which obstructions can hide.
Task Lighting – The Other Garage Lighting Fixtures
While fluorescents are a great choice for the ambient lighting in the garage, they may not be adequate for special hobby and workbench needs. It is therefore advisable to outfit workbenches and hobby areas with additional fixtures, generally referred to as task lights.
Task lights are available in a variety of types as well, with incandescent, compact fluorescent and halogen bulb options. They may be permanently attached to the workbench itself or on the walls adjacent the commonly utilized areas, and are also available as free-standing floor units which can be placed as required, even utilized outside the garage on an extension cord. Clamp on lights that can be moved around as needed are a great and inexpensive choice, especially when there is a need to illuminate several areas rather than one central work area. For safety, power tools such as saws or grinders should have adequate illumination permanently affixed near or above them, although a clamp on models can be used as well.
Permanently attached task lighting on extendable or swing arms is another great choice for over the workbench or in areas where a light with adjustable positioning would be beneficial. Most of these swing arm lamps will tuck back and away from over the workbench when not in use, another desirable feature to consider.
There are many other options out there—these are just a few of the more popular, including upscale choices such as designer track lighting and “green” solar powered fixtures. A thorough search of available options and weighing of energy efficiency against initial cost outlay is highly recommended.
The amount of light you need varies greatly depending on factors including the types of activities you do in your garage, your level of visual acuity (some of us with poorer vision require more intense lighting on tasks we perform than those lucky enough to have perfect vision for example), and the time you spend in the garage pursuing your hobby or craft. These are important considerations to keep in mind, equally as important in fact as energy efficiency and budgetary constraints. Choose wisely and well, and you’ll improve your level of comfort as you enjoy those activities you love and keep a few more pennies in your wallet at the same time.