Brightening-Up Your Garage with LED Fluorescent Lights

The garage is often a place lacking good lighting. Dim lighting in the garage makes it hard to find what you need or do whatever it is you need to do there. One solution people sometimes resort to when garage lighting is inadequate is opening the garage door, but while a well-functioning garage door is a must for safe and convenient access, it is not really an optimum way of bringing light to the interior of the garage.

Many garages are built with a minimal lighting system consisting only of one or two porcelain fixtures and a set of switches by the door for turning the lights off and on. Improving on this lighting arrangement is not hard to do. If your garage is dingy and lacking light, installing fluorescent LED T8 lighting fixtures can be a simple way of brightening things up.

Choosing Fluorescent Lighting Fixtures for the Garage

Fluorescent light fixtures are an old staple for lighting inside garages and workshops, although older types of fluorescent fixtures distort color, flicker, and buzz in an annoying way. Nowadays, fluorescent lights have been improved with the use of LED technology. LED T8 fluorescent tubes last longer, do not flicker or make noise, and produce more genuine color tones in the surfaces they illuminate.

When you select a fluorescent lighting fixture it is important to pick one designed for the lowest temperatures encountered in your garage. Otherwise, cold weather can cause the fixture to work improperly. The cold starting temperature rating is located on the ballast label on the fixture. Make sure it matches or exceeds the coldest temperature in your garage.

The older T12 fluorescent fixtures have a magnetic ballast which only functions well down to 50∫F. If your garage gets colder than that, buy electronic ballast fixtures which work all the way down to 0∫F and below. The bulb for T12 fixtures in 1 Ω inches in diameter, but the T8 fixtures use a smaller, 1 inch bulb, making them more energy efficient. Energy saver T12 lamps only work to a temperature of 60°F, which is not suitable for most unheated garages in Virginia in the winter.

Four foot long T8 LED bulbs produce 2,200 lumens of cool, white light without flickering or buzzing. They also turn on without delay when you flip the switch and they do not contain mercury, making them easy and more ecological for disposal. LED T8 bulbs use only 18 watts of electricity compared to 32 watts consumed by T12 lamps. T8 LED ballasts last up to five times as long as other fluorescent ballasts.

If you use your garage as a workshop for painting or staining, buy bulbs with a color rendering index (CRI) of 85 or higher. These bulbs give you more accurate color on illuminated surfaces.

Replacing Garage Lighting Fixtures

Replacing old porcelain lighting fixtures in the garage with LED fluorescent fixtures requires only a few tools and supplies and a bit of DIY experience. Two, eight foot long fluorescent lighting fixtures are usually enough to adequately illuminate a two-car garage. Each fixture can be attached to the power source at one of the old porcelain fixture locations. The tools needed for this job are:

  • Cordless drill with a pilot drill bit and screwdriver bit,
  • Wire stripper/cutter,
  • No-contact power tester,
  • A step ladder for comfortably reaching the ceiling where the light will be installed.

The supplies needed are:

  • One or two fluorescent fixtures with electronic ballasts and bulbs,
  • One inch electrical bushing for each fixture,
  • A few wire nuts,
  • 1 inch wood screws.

Start by opening the garage door so you can see better when you turn off the power. Then turn off the breaker switch to the garage in the main breaker box. Leave the existing light on while you cut the power, so you can see that power to the fixture is off. Double check that the power is off using a no-contact power tester at the fixture you are removing. Remove the screws holding the porcelain fixture onto the ceiling, and then pull gently until you can cut the wires behind the fixture and remove it entirely.

Install the electrical bushing on the back of the new fixture where the wires come through to protect them from being damaged by the sharp edge of the metal. Use the 1 Ω inch wood screws to attach the fixture securely to the joists in the ceiling and connect the hot and neutral wires using wire nuts. Be sure to attach the bare grounding wire to the frame of the fixture using the grounding screw.

Once the fixture is securely attached to the ceiling and the wires are connected, install the lamp bulbs and cover, turn on the power, and check that the light is working.