The Ultimate Guide To Garage Lighting

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You’ve finally decided to upgrade your garage lighting, but you want to do it the right way. That means you want your lighting setup to be affordable, durable and (obviously!) bright.

In this post we’ll tell you exactly how you can accomplish this, using LEDs.

Over the years, we’ve helped thousands of customers upgrade their garages with our LED lights — these projects have resulted in a deep knowledge of, and insight into, the challenge of creating the ultimate garage lighting.

And with this post we hope to give you all that knowledge back, in a simple and digestible way.

Let’s get to it.


What we’ll cover

What the perfect garage lighting setup looks like and how to create it

To kick things off, let’s start by answering the most important question: what does the perfect garage lighting setup look like? (We get asked this question every day)

The answer is simple: it depends.

The perfect lighting setup for your residential garage depends on how you use the space.

If you use your garage for parking a car and occasional storage, you'll want bright and uniform lighting across the entire space, using so called primary lighting options such as shop lights, high bays, LED tubes or recessed lighting.

Primary lights are exactly as they sound: they’re the main lights in your garage, used to illuminate the whole space. Typically, primary lights are installed to hang from your ceiling.

If your garage is more of a recreational space — used as a workshop for DIY tasks, car maintenance or crafts — you'll need to add so-called secondary lighting, also known as task lighting.

These are focused lighting options such as lamps and under-cabinet illuminations, which let you see properly and stay safe, particularly when using dangerous power tools.

garage lights primary secondary lighting

Next, you'll need to decide whether Incandescent, Halogen, CFL, or LED are best for your garage. When it comes to what type of lighting is best, we've written a detailed comparison between all four of these lighting options. But, to summarize, LED technology is so much more advanced than other bulb types, that it’s really not much of a competition.

LEDs offer 3 distinct advantages over older technologies:

  • Cost-effective - LEDs reduce energy consumption (and lighting bills) by up to 90%.
  • Long life expectancy - LEDs should last between 10,000-50,000 hours. Check out our essential guide to LED lifespans to learn more about this range.
  • High-performance - LEDs can provide a crisp, bright light which comes close to the natural daylight, perfect for lighting difficult spaces.

And LEDs are particularly good in garages, too. Why? It’s simple: they work extremely well in cold environments (and a garage in the winter can be very cold indeed!) and they turn on instantly — no waiting around for the bulb to warm up, when you just want to hop in your car or grab something from storage.

What type of lighting is best for your garage?

Now that you know the difference between primary and secondary lighting, and have decided LEDs are the best choice of lighting technology — it’s time to decide on what type of primary lights you prefer for your garage.

All types of primary lights can provide you with great lighting, so no worries there. Instead, your first step is to consider what overall visual effect and ambience you want for your garage, as this will dictate what style of primary lighting you explore.

If you are looking for a typical garage look, LED shop lights are a great and practical choice —, providing sufficient brightness for a range of activities. Most shop lights hang directly from your garage ceiling on chains, so be sure to check your ceilings are high enough to avoid hitting your head! For more guidance on picking shop lights, check out our shop lights guide and FAQs here.

led shop garage lights

For an industrial look, choose high-performance linear LED high-bays. These look similar to legacy fluorescent fixtures and are best for spaces with high ceilings. They offer a wide distribution pattern, which reduces the number of fixtures you'll need to install.

led high bay lights

For a sleek and modern showroom look, LED recessed lighting can be used. Recessed lighting comes in a variety of sizes, but you'll need the larger 6 inch downlights for primary lighting. You'll need a series of these to light your whole garage, as they provide directed light over a limited area. Recessed lights are also a good choice for garages with lower ceilings, or if you are parking a taller vehicle, such as a van or SUV.

led recessed lights

For really easy installation, look for magnetic mount LED tubes. Even if your garage is currently illuminated by fluorescent bulbs, you can attach the magnetic retrofit LED kit inside the existing fixture and be fully installed within minutes — no special tools required!

led t8 tube light bulbs

When you’ve decided on your type of LED residential garage lights, don’t go buy them just yet. The next step is to decide on how many you need — which you will learn by creating a layout.

Draw and measure your garage lighting layout

As with any lighting design, small or big, it is started by drawing your current layout.

Which is exactly what your next step is.

Draw a layout of your garage on paper, making sure to include the garage door, any workbenches, power tools, storage or appliances. This layout will help you decide where to place both primary and secondary lighting to get uniform illumination across the room.

You don’t need to be an artist to draw your layout, as long as it includes larger objects and somewhat proportionate measurements, you should be good to go.

handsketched garage lighting layout

Decide how many lights you need for your garage

This is where it starts getting a bit tricky.

How many fixtures you'll need depends upon the layout of your garage and the characteristics of your lighting fixture.

The easy way is to simply estimate how many of your preferred lighting fixtures you think would fit into your layout nicely.

However, by doing this you are taking a huge risk.

Guessing how many lights you should install can lead to a series of failures:

  • Your garage ends up not being bright enough.
  • Your lights end up using too much power resulting in a huge utility bill.
  • Your garage ends up being too bright, making it tiresome to spend time in.

Instead, you need to do some simple calculations using basic concepts of lighting which will help you determine exactly how many lights you need — and where you should place them.

So first, let’s get you familiarized with three basic concepts. This is all you need to know in order to perfect your garage lighting setup:

Lumens: It's important to find the right level of brightness of your garage. This used to be measured in watts, but is now best measured in lumens. Put simply, the greater the lumens, the brighter the light. Find out all you need to know about lumens here.

Footcandle or lumens per square feet (fc, lm/ft² or ft-c) is a measurement of light intensity, with one foot-candle relating to one square foot of illumination, from one lumen of light. Put simply, foot candle is a measurement of how much light falls on an area. To give you a little more context, sunlight measures around 10,0000 fc, while a typical residential space (like your lounge) will be around 5-40 fc.

footcandle diagram lumen square feet

Color Temperature: This is a measure of how yellow or blue a light is. Check out our comprehensive guide to LED color temperature here. In garages, you'll typically want clean white lighting of over 4000K.

cct-kelvin-color-palette

Find how many lumens you need

Calculating how many lumens you need in your garage space is a straight-forward process, completed in just a few steps.

All you need to do is:

  • Measure the square footage of your garage - simply multiply the width of your space by the length, (e.g. a garage that’s 18 feet wide by 20 feet deep will have a square footage of 360sq ft)
  • calculation square feet garage light
  • Decide on the level of illumination (brightness) you need — your foot candle. Now there’s no exact science here, as it will depend on a number of factors, including what color your garage walls are and whether you’re using your space as a workshop or just as storage. If you’re going to be doing any high detail work, like model making, in your garage then we recommend a high foot candle: somewhere in the region of 120-210 fc. For less detailed workshopping, 55-110 fc will suffice. Even if you’re only using your garage to store your car and a few other boxes, we’d recommend at least a fc of 75 — that way, you’ll always have enough light to do whatever you need to do.
  • foot candle lumen garage recommendation table
  • Lastly, multiply your square footage with your desired foot candle, to find the total amount of lumens needed in your space. (E.g. 360 x 50 = 18,000)
  • calculation desired lumen brightness

Count how many fixtures of your choice you need to meet your lumen requirement

Okay, so now you know how many lumens you need in total to illuminate your garage. What’s next?

Well, now it’s time to find the right fixtures (and quantity of them) to deliver the lumen requirements you need. This is easy, as a bulb will always detail its lumen count on the packaging and on the website product page.

Let’s say you find an LED that emits 820 lumens, as we see in the label above. In order to achieve a total lumen count of 18,000, you’re going to need a lot of bulbs (22 of them, to be exact!). So, it’s wiser to find a shop light that emits a higher lumen count from each bulb — something like the 4ft LED Shop Light we make. This model has a lumen output of 4500, so you’d only need 6 of them to get the illumination you’re after.

calculation garage lights fixtures lumens

Tip

Still unsure of how many lumens you need? try to go for more lumens than you think you need, and then install dimmers, too. That way you’re never left fumbling around in the dark.

Primary Lighting Layout Examples:

LED Shop Lights: These are the most common lighting choices in garages and workshops. They hang from your ceiling and provide directed light below. For use as primary lighting, you'll want a high lumen shop light with a color temperature close to natural light. Again, with high lumen output you’ll need fewer fixtures, e.g for total lumen reach of 18,000 you’ll need 4 x 4500 lm fixtures.

garage lighting layout shop lights

High Bays: These come in two forms. The most common look like a UFO (honestly!) and are best suited to spaces with high ceilings. They give a circular beam of light and their beam angle can be controlled. The second option is linear, which look similar to the typical fluorescent fixtures. We offer a wide range of high bays for a range of applications.

garage lighting layout high bay

The benefit of high bays is that they usually provide a super high lumen count (up to 39,000!). So you may only need one to light up your garage space.

LED Tubes: These are retrofittable replacements for fluorescent tubes. We've written a guide explaining the different types of LED tube and how to install them here. The lumen count of an LED tube will vary, depending on the model. But if you choose a 3ft LED tube with a lumen output of 1,680ml, you’ll need 10 bulbs.

garage lighting layout led tubes

Recessed Lighting: If your garage is more of a showroom than a workshop, recessed lighting is a great choice for a high-end look. To achieve uniform lighting, you'll need to space them across your garage ceiling evenly, paying particular attention to beam angles, color temperature and dimming performance. Check out our installation and FAQs on recessed lighting here.

garage lighting layout downlight recessed led

Decide on how to place your fixtures

The final piece in our puzzle: where to place your primary light fixtures for maximum impact.

Hopefully, the layout examples we just presented gave you an idea of how to place your lights across your space.

But to be sure, here's a couple things to consider when figuring out the placement of your lights.

  1. The role of your primary lighting is to illuminate as much of the garage as you can while also eliminating shadows and dark corners. So take stock of any large objects or anything else that could cause shadow, if a primary light was placed in front of it. Then map out your lights to be evenly spaced across the room. Of course, there will sometimes be obstacles you simply can’t work around — a built-in shelving unit that hangs from the ceiling, for example. But don’t worry, that’s where secondary lighting fixtures come in (more on that in just a moment).
  2. Primary lights which are placed too close won’t deliver a lot of value. If you want to be absolutely sure that you don't place your fixtures too close to each other - beam angles is your solution. Beam angles is a measure of how widely a light spreads. Specifically, it measures any light that falls within 50% of the maximum intensity of the bulb. Beam angles can be found on the products spec sheets.
  3. The height of your garage is a factor that obviously changes the way you place your lights. However, since most garages are between seven to nine feet high - we consider the foot candle calculation to be enough to get the right amount of light. If your roof is higher than 10ft - call one of our lighting experts for more precise calculations.

Calculations for your workshop

Lastly, here’s a top tip for those of you using your garage as a workshop and want to install linear shop lights or LED tube lights.

In these instances, it’s critical to get enough light onto your workbench — to avoid mis-measurements or any nasty accidents. So you’ll need to establish a lighting setup that eliminates shadows and dark corners.

  1. Start by measuring the height between your work surface and your light fixtures (A).
  2. Then, get a measurement for the distance from your outermost lighting fixture to the wall (B). Again, at this stage you’re still planning, so a guestimate will do. But you want to confirm that B is about half of A.
  3. Finally, the distance between your lighting fixtures (assuming they are evenly spaced across the room) should be about 1 to 1.5 times A.
garage workshop distance between lights

For example, if your garage is 20 ft x 20 ft with a 10 ft ceiling and 36" (or 3 ft) high work surfaces gives you a distance of 7 ft for (A). Three 16 ft rows of lights (this could be two 8 ft fixtures or four 4 ft fixtures, it depends) spaced 8 ft apart (B) leaves 4 ft all around from fixture to wall (C).

Placement of Secondary Lighting Fixtures

By now, your garage should be well-lit across the entire room. But what about the spots your primary lights can’t reach?

This is where secondary lighting comes in; providing directed beams of light, to illuminate certain areas of your garage or make up-close work much easier on the eye.

One place you might choose to use secondary lighting is your workbench. And here, the right placement is essential. If you place lighting behind where you usually stand, you'll create shadows — making measurement and marking difficult. But you also want to avoid any light glaring into your eyes when you’re working with dangerous equipment. The solution? Place task lighting directly over your workbench.

Be sure to pick workbench lighting that will survive the type of work you do at your workbench. If you generate large amounts of dust, consider picking lighting with a dust-resistant IP rating (IP65 or greater). Our airtight vapor lights which can be installed directly above your workbench and offers protection against dust.

Another choice is under-cabinet lighting, which can be installed if you have an overhanging cabinet above your workbench. Choose a dimmable model to provide flexible secondary lighting.

secondary garage lighting

Do you use your garage as more of a storage facility? Then you’ll probably want secondary lighting to shine on shelving and/or inside cupboards, to help you find things easily. Recessed lighting, under-cabinet or flush-mount lighting are great choices for storage areas, offering high performance while taking up minimal space. You could also use track lighting, but plan carefully as these provide more of a spotlight than a widespread illumination.

How to Choose Secondary Lighting for your Garage

When selecting secondary lights, we understand one more basic lighting concept (to add to our new-found knowledge of lumens, lux, beam angles and color temperature). Missed the part where we explained these four? No worries, click here to skip back and check it out.

Okay, ready to learn a new lighting concept? Here we go.

When choosing secondary lighting, you need to consider CRI:

Color Rendering Index (CRI): Have you ever noticed that different lighting can make clothes, furniture and even paint look different? If doing any kind of creative work in your garage, you’ll want to see colors for what they really are — CRI can even change how your car looks in storage! CRI is difficult to get right, so we've written another guide to Color Rendering Index here.

A few last garage lighting tips...

  • Don't block your door: Doors, windows and equipment can all be blocked by hanging or fitted lighting fixtures. As stupid it might seem, make sure to consider your door and leave sufficient cspace when deciding where your fixtures go.
  • Outdoor lights: Consider adding outdoor lighting to your garage, for added security and peace-of-mind. We offer a range of LED security lights with dusk-to-dawn detection using photocells. You could also use LED wall packs for high performance outdoor lighting.
  • Natural Light: Don't forget to take use of the sun's natural light. Consider in which direction your windows are placed to get the most out of daylight.

There you go, your most complete guide to residential garage lights - giving you everything from what type of lighting is best to how many lights you actually need.

Hopefully you know exactly what to do with your garage when it comes to lights.

If you found this useful in any way - leave a comment and let us know! We spent a good amount of time to build this guide hoping it would make your garage a bit (or a lot) brighter!

Still got some questions? No problem — my collueges are here to help. You can visit our support centre to find answers to frequently asked questions or call one of our lighting experts for advice on +1(888) 846-4973. 

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