Here’s How I Put In New Garage Lighting
Interior fixtures gone, LED Panels installed!
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After 30-plus years, many jobs, and three babies, I’ve moved into my first house. It’s a wonderful thing to say when so many people aren’t able to afford such a luxury. And after years of cramped shoulder-to-shoulder-to-baby-crib apartment dwelling, it’s lovely to stretch my arms without hitting anything.
That’s not to say our house is perfect. Far from it, actually. The previous owners weren’t handy at all, but they were ambitious. A thousand projects were started, almost all of which, weren’t finished. And of those that did reach completion, they weren’t very likely not done to OSHA standards or to the state’s Housing Code. It’s gotten to the point where we’ve started calling it This Old Rinky-Dink House, a parody of This Old House, a PBS show hosted by our friends and neighbors, Bob Vila.
One such project that was finished was our garage’s lightning. Rather than lighting that was meant for a garage, it had interior fixtures. The same type of interior fixtures used for our hallway upstairs and in one hallway downstairs—maybe it was BOGO day at Home Depot? These poorly installed and improperly chosen lights needed to go, not just because the interior lights provided poor lighting, but because I wasn’t sure they were safe for exterior use.
After careful research and efficiency considerations, in came a set of LED panel lights from Amazon, and out went the old interior fixtures. Removing the old stuff didn’t take long, but getting the garage up to code for the new circuits took some work. So follow along and see how The Drive’s chief DIY’er—i.e. me—did it so you too can update, and make safe, your garage’s lighting!
Garage Lighting Basics
Estimated Time Needed: An hour, or more
Skill Level: Beginner
Vehicle System: Household electrical
What Is Garage Lighting?
Garage lighting is your garage’s lights! No, not the one linked to your garage door, that’s something different, but the fixtures that provide actual light across the surface of your garage.
For any at-home mechanic or weekend DIYer, they’re essential, especially during the winter months when the world goes dark.
These fixtures typically run on your home’s main power and may be LED, incandescent, or fluorescent.
Before heading to the hardware store, or scrolling through Amazon, you’ll need to do a little preparation. Buying a set of lights is easy. Buying the right set of lights isn’t as straightforward.
Fluorescent vs. LED
A good place to start is whether you want fluorescent or LED lights and that’s going to depend on how cold your garage gets during the winter. While LEDs will work in extreme cold, many fluorescent lights don’t work below 50-degrees Fahrenheit. So if you don’t have a heated garage, you won’t want fluorescent lights.
You may also want to consider the environmental impact of fluorescent lights as they have mercury in them. And, according to the CBC, “The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that three percent of the total mercury in discarded fluorescent lamps is released to the atmosphere when they break during transportation to a disposal facility. Other researchers estimate emissions are as high as 17 percent.”
You’ll also want to consider how much light you need. Does your garage have windows? Are you going to be working into the dead of night? Do you need very specific light in a very specific area? Most new lights come with a lumen rating, which is, “measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source per unit of time.” The higher the lumen rating, the more light it will produce.
Strip Lighting vs. Bulbs
One biggy is what sort of fixture you want and whether or not you even want to rewire something. Strip lighting, like the ones I got, comes in a few different sizes and types of power, including ones you just plug into an existing outlet.
You can also get LED bulbs that expand to offer strip lighting-type light, which can save you time, money, and reduce the danger of electrocuting yourself. Traditional bulbs, however, won’t produce a lot of light, which is the main point of switching over your existing lighting.
Recessed vs. Hanging vs. Mounted
You’ll also want to consider how you’re going to mount the new lighting. Do you want to be recessed so you don’t impact your garage’s overall height? Do you want hanging cause it’s easier to install? Or do you want it mounted directly to the ceiling? Consider your space and how much you use it on a daily basis.
What Kind of Ceiling Do You Have?
Lastly, what sort of ceiling do you have? Is it popcornified? Cause that will be a pain to mount anything to. Do you just have an unfinished garage and the exposed studs? Or do you have something far more finished that you could mount onto or into? Think about this before you go lighting shopping.
Working with electricity can be extremely dangerous and messy, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to ensure you don’t die, get maimed, or get zapped back to the future—hopefully.
Everything You’ll Need To Replace Your Garage’s Lighting
We’re not psychic, nor are we snooping through your toolbox or garage, so here’s exactly what you’ll need to get the job done.
Organizing your tools and gear so everything is easily reachable will save precious minutes waiting for your handy-dandy child or four-legged helper to bring you the sandpaper or blowtorch. (You Don't need a blowtorch for this job. Please don’t have your kid hand you a blowtorch—Ed.)
You’ll also need a garage!
Here’s How To Replace Your Garage Lighting
Alright, let’s do this!
Switch Off Your Garage’s Breaker
- Find your home’s breaker. Unfortunately, every home is different so I can’t point to its exact place. Good places to start would be in the garage, the basement, or a random closet.
- Find the right circuit breaker to your garage and flip it to the off position. This cuts the power to that section of your home and will ensure you don’t electrocute yourself. ‘Cause you will if you don’t and there’s a real possibility of you heading to the emergency room or worse. After you flip the breaker, check the lights in the garage. MAKE SURE THE ELECTRICITY IS OFF.
Remove the Old Fixtures
- With the electricity off, you can now remove the old fixtures.
- Mine were attached with three pieces of hardware. One on the dome, and two screws that went into the electrical box in the ceiling. I used a ladder to access them.
- I removed the dome first, then used a drill to remove the two screws up top.
- Once the fixture’s hardware has been removed, you’ll need to unscrew the electrical wire nuts inside the electrical box in the ceiling. All you’ll need to do is untwist them one by one. I did this exact process.
- Once the electrical nuts have been removed, you can safely remove the old fixture. And throw that thing in the garbage!
- Repeat the process for as many fixtures as you want to replace.
Install the New Fixtures
- After removing the new fixtures from their packaging, I had to pop out the aluminum hole from the electrical connections to plumb through. I used a screwdriver and hammer to knock out the holes with one swift swing.
- Once the hole was open, I plumbed the wiring through and lifted the light into place.
- Attach the wires to their respective counterparts: black to black, white to white, green to green. Secure each with wire nuts (mine came with new units).
4. My new light strips came with two screws. One for each side of the LED strip. I attached the first screw to one side of the strip to put some of the load to the ceiling. This then let me align the light so that it went parallel to the garage’s layout.
5. Once that was done, I screwed in the remaining screw and checked the light’s alignment from the floor. If it’s not perfectly straight, you can unscrew one screw near the end of the light, and align once more.
Flip the Breaker Back On
- Once you’re done and everything is cinched back up, you can flip your garage circuit breaker back on and make sure you wired everything up properly.
- The lights should come on immediately. If they don’t, flip the breaker back off and go in and check your work. Do not forget to flip the circuit breaker off before continuing to work with electricity.
- You’re done, congrats!
Sometimes You Need a Certified Mechanic
As much as The Drive loves to put the "you" in do-it-yourself, we know that not everyone has the proper tools, a safe workspace, the spare time, or the confidence to tackle major automotive repairs. Sometimes, you just need quality repair work performed by professionals you can trust like our partners, the certified mechanics at Goodyear Tire & Service.
Pro Tips to Replace Your Garage Lighting
Over the years, The Drive’s editors have installed a few different lighting fixtures. Here are our top tips for doing so.
- For garage light, the more light you can get into the space, the better. You’re working on things, like engine bays, that can be almost pitch black unless there’s a ton of light shining into them. Do yourself a favor and get garage lighting that can handle illuminating the dank darkness of your bay.
- Like I said before, MAKE SURE THE ELECTRICITY IS OFF. DON’T ELECTROCUTE YOURSELF.
- Make sure that the lighting you’re purchasing is rated for exterior use. They won’t be exposed to elements like rain or snow or wind, but garage temperatures aren’t what you’d call conducive in many parts of the world during specific times of year. Get fixtures that won’t break in the cold is what I’m saying.
FAQs About Garage Lighting
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Q: How much do new lights cost?
A: Mine came in a set of two from Amazon and cost me $55, plus tax. But depending on your specific garage lighting setup and what you want, it could cost you between $35 to a couple of hundred dollars. It’ll all depend on what you want to do.
Q: What’s the best type of lighting for a garage?
A: My personal preference is LED lighting because of a few things. First, they don’t generate any heat and won’t catch on fire after a prolonged battle with a stuck bolt. Second, they’re fairly inexpensive for how much light they produce. And don’t weigh much, reducing the strain on your ceiling and the screws you use. They’re also easy to install.
Q: Do LED lights work in cold climates?
A: They do, so you Michiganders will be safe installing a set come to your next polar vortex.
Q: Are you done fixing your rinky-dink house?
Q: I take it that’s a “no.”
A: You’d be correct.
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