Unless you’re intentionally trying to recreate the mood of the dark and dank garage from Stephen King’s thriller Christine, come out into the light with a well-designed lighting scheme that complements whatever activities your garage is host to. The art of proper lighting layout is easy once you learn how to match the various lighting possibilities to the various roles your garage is expected to fulfill.
Start With a General Lighting Plan
The general illumination of your garage is usually the starting point that provides for overall lighting regardless of what you’re using your garage for. If you have an unfinished garage, your lighting fixtures can be mounted directly to the rafters. For a finished ceiling, you have a choice of installing either surface mounted or recessed fixtures.
Effective shadowless lighting can be obtained by mounting a minimum of two 4-foot fluorescent fixtures, spaced evenly front to back, over each car bay. For the best lighting results, mount these fixtures perpendicular to the bay. Wire your general illumination fixtures to a motion detector switch, as well as to a hand toggle switch mounted at each entrance to the garage.
Add Task-Appropriate Lighting as Needed
As the name implies, task lighting is used to supplement general illumination by providing lighting for specific activities, such as additional lights for your workbench or moveable spotlights when working on your car. Power tools may also require more lighting for safe operation.
Your task lighting should have its own circuit and be controllable by switches separate from your general lighting fixtures; switches should be mounted near the task activity.
Gain Peace of Mind with a Security Lighting Plan
No lighting system would be complete without adequate security lighting. Install outdoor lighting to illuminate your driveway and any dark spots where intruders may try to hide. Your security lights can be controlled either by a motion sensor or a photoelectric eye that turns lights on at dusk and off again at dawn; the photoelectric eye might be the better choice for high-crime neighborhoods.
Modern garage door openers usually include a security light feature, and the ability to add additional lighting fixtures. If possible, connect another 4-foot fluorescent fixture to the door opener, centering it between the bays.
Use Appropriate Light Fixtures
Garage lighting systems can feature any combination of fluorescent, incandescent, high-intensity discharge (HID) and LED fixtures. A good all-around choice for interior use is the fluorescent fixture – they’re easily installed, energy efficient and provide great illumination. For your outdoor security lighting needs, it’s hard to beat HID fixtures for their intense and focused illumination.
Remember that not all fluorescent fixtures work well in colder temperatures. If your garage regularly dips below 50 degrees, you’ll want to install fixtures with electronic ballasts instead of the standard magnetic ballasts. Similarly, avoid the energy-saver T-12 lamps, which require a minimum temperature of 60 degrees to work properly. If you have a woodworking setup in your garage, and need to accurately see the true color of paints and stains, shop for lamps with a CRI (Color Rendering Index) of 85 or greater.