I have been needing proper garage workshop lighting for a while. But – how many lights do I need, and where do I install them? I could never settle on an answer, and so I kept putting it off.
I updated the garage a couple of years ago with switched outlets in the ceiling, anticipating that I would install some ceiling lights. Early on, I brought out one of my wheeled light stand and mounted several lights to it, bouncing the light off the ceiling.
A Ryobi garage door opener test sample also provides some light when it detects my presence, but the opener has always been a nuisance and I plan to replace it this year. This is one of those “great in theory” products that has been very problematic in execution.
So, there has been an *okay* mount of light, and I kept running into a wall when trying to determine a lighting solution. Plus, the garage floor has been clear maybe 20% of the time and too cluttered up 80% of the time, making full workshop installations difficult.
I have too much work to do, and so the garage workshop will now be clear no matter what. It’s time to do better with my lighting.
Finally, Some Decisions Were Made
Back in October, I settled on 8 light fixtures, 48″ long, each with 2x LED bulbs. I placed the order and and now it’s finally time to work on installing them.
Each fixture delivers 5,180 lumens, and the bulbs output a color temperature of 4000K, which is a warm-neutral light. Compared to fluorescent and daylight, it’s slightly yellow, and so it shouldn’t be harsh.
The lighting supply shop provided me with some suggestions and guidance, and I only strayed from it just a little bit.
This space is about ~21″ x 21″, but with cabinets and other obstructions. There are garage door opener rails, the garage door openers, wall shelves, an air cleaner, and an attic door with drop-down ladder.
Rather than 4×3, 6×3, or 6×2, with the first number being the fixture count and the second number being the bulb-per-fixture count, I ended up settling on 8 fixtures. The way I see it, having more lights will allow me to reposition around obstructions, and there shouldn’t be doo many dim spots or dark shadows.
Tools like the Acuity Visual Interior Tool can help with general lighting planning. My goal was more than 50 and less than 100 foot-candles or light.
One of the recommendations was for 6×3, with the option to remove a bulb from each if needed. That would have been 18 bulbs. I went with 8×2, which will be 16 bulbs. If it proves to be too much, I can always remove a bulb or two, or move lights around and convert one into an over-bench task light.
I still don’t have the layout perfected, but I realized I can start with the placements that won’t be changing, and then extend the layout from there.
Hard-Wired vs. Plug-in
There is also one big complication – I want to be able to plug the lights into the switched ceiling outlets. I’m not ready to commit to hard-wired installations, which would involve a junction box at each placement.
Part of what kept delaying my decisions has been the fact that there aren’t a lot of high quality plug-in lights. There are a lot of basic quality shop-style hang-down lights, but I didn’t want that.
Most better quality and featured lights are designed to be hard-wired.
(I did order two wire support kits, just in case I needed the lights closest to the garage door openers to hang down a little to avoid harsh shadows.)
The lighting supplier offers power cords and an optional accessory and confirmed that the lights could be wired as plug-in lights if hard-wiring wasn’t an option.
(There’s also the option to add a 3rd party motion sensor, something I plan on considering eventually. Or, I could always replace the toggle switch with a “smart” switch and faux 3-way or voice-command.)
Decision Number 1: Which Cable Clamp?
I ordered the recommended power cords, 16 gauge SJTOOW cords, which should be well-rated (and even over-kill) for a garage workshop environment.
I also ordered cables from an electrical supplier with grey-jacketing, hoping they’d blend in better against the white ceiling. But, all I could find was 18 AWG SJT wire. The fixtures’ connectors won’t fit 18 AWG stranded wire, only up to 16 AWG. That’s not a big deal, but I like the idea of the weather resistance of the SJTOOW cable.
The grey cable also didn’t feel as sturdy, and so I’m sticking with the black 16 AWG SJTOOW power cables for now. I will need to use cable clips or can cover it up with cable organization accessories. But, that’s something to think about after everything is installed.
Regardless as to what power cable I’ll be using, I need cable clamps.
Also, I know many of you are more experienced with this type of project. Any suggestions or corrections would be very much appreciated!
Cable Glands vs Clamps
This is a cable gland, which tightens around a cable as it enters into an enclosure. I often use these anytime cables are going into an enclosure.
This is a cable clamp. You’ll normally see this attached to metal junction boxes, and I was told it should work for this application too.
Still, I wanted a more finished look, plus better sealing.
I went with the cable gland. I removed one of the knockouts, and passed the cable through.
Here’s what it looks like on both sides. It feels secure, and I didn’t want to risk over-tightening the connection.
The fixture was mounted to a ceiling joist with 1/4″x2″ lag screws with washers. I also have toggle-style drywall anchors, in case some of the other fixtures don’t line up perfectly over the joists.
I cut the built-in connector off. This is my test setup, and these connectors are one-time-use. The device connection is 18AWG but the supply connection is limited to 16AWG. If I want to use my grey-colored 18AWG SJT power cords, these connectors will have to removed anyway.
I should be able to use these as-is in the other fixtures. But for this one, where I anticipated one or more adjustments, I needed to use something a little more flexible and reusable.
More on this in a moment.
Figuring out the ground also has me a little troubled. Here, I secured the stranded wire under the grounding screw. I considered getting a pigtail or crimping on a ring or spade connector, but there’s a special washer designed to trap the ground screw and a crimp-on connector won’t fit.
What I might do is use some 14 gauge THHN wire to splice to the power cord wire and then connect under this screw. But unless stranded wire under a ground screw is against code in any way or otherwise advised against, this seems like a secure ground connection.
I have to shorten the length of cable, and when I do so I’ll ensure a slightly longer loop under the screw.
(From this angle it appears that the insulation extends under the screw, but from the right it’s clear that there’s only copper wire under the ground screw.)
Since this was my test setup, I went with Wago 221-series Lever-Nuts. This will make it easy to shorten the wire and reconnect, rather than try to source the correct lighting fixture connector.
Wago 221 Lever-Nuts are rated to 20A and are more than enough for this application. They can be used with 12 to 24 AWG wires.
With this type of product, you need to be very careful about wire stripping length. I use a Knipex automatic wire stripper with length gauge.
Here’s the final wiring.
There’s too much cable jacketing inside the enclosure, but I wanted to get a feel for the process before I trim the cable to its final length.
One thing I might do is reverse the position of the wired connectors, moving them to the right side.
The ground cable reaches a little more than half the length of the fixture, but there’s no reason for the hot and neutral to be so long. If I plan the placements so that the single-end LED bulb power connections are closest to where the power cord enters the fixture, I can trim the power cord wires down to size.
But, if I have to trim the jacketing quite a bit to expose enough of the ground wire to reach to the ground connection, it doesn’t really matter, does it? Will it matter if I trim maybe 6″ off the length of the wires? I wouldn’t trim the fixture wires though, in case I need the length if or when I ever reposition or hard-wire them.
Here’s the light, connected, plugged in, tested, and working.
I’ve got some optimizations to do, and I am most definitely open to suggestions, corrections, and alerts to any potential safety issues.
Having 8 power cords connecting lighting fixtures to outlets is not going to be a very pretty sight, and so I’ve been trying to give some thought to how to tidy everything up.
I have not had an easy time finding molded right angle plugs, which might have helped a little. I have also given up on finding suitable cords with light grey jacketing.
It seems like a good idea to shorten the cords to where there’s only enough slack to avoid strain. The remainder could possibly be covered with cable organizational accessories, although that makes the added oil and weather protection of these cables largely redundant.
And then I thought – what about the use of PVC conduit? It doesn’t scream “look at me, I’m conduit on the ceiling” in the same way as EMT conduit.
The use of conduit between light fixtures could allow multiple fixtures to be connected to a single outlet. This is also something I could do eventually – convert one of the ceiling outlets into a junction box and contain all the connections with conduit entirely. Junction boxes can be added for every light, but that adds a level of permanence I’m not ready for yet.
Conduit would require everything to align perfectly, although light placement around obstacles makes perfect alignment and symmetry a bit of a challenge. But, it’s something to consider.
Basically, would I rather have 8 plug-in devices or fewer (maybe 2-4) with conduit connecting some of them? I figure that a male terminal adapter, plus locknut, wire (THHN?), and straight PVC conduit would do the trick.
Another idea is that maybe one or two lights can be connected with a motion sensor and to one of the always-on garage door opener outlets. But, this can always be done later.
Here’s the first light, above the garage door opener rails. The bulbs have 120° illumination angles, and experimenting first with a portable LED underhood work light showed me that there would be considerable shadows. Having the light perpendicular to the rails ensures less shadows.
Am I Doing Anything Wrong?
I’ve consulted with a local electrician and checked every Google-able resource I could find. This is also what led to delays. Anything related to AC electrical work, and I tend to self-doubt a lot. Here, there’s room for optimizations, but I’m hoping there are no glaring concerns that I’ve been oblivious to.
When everything is said and done, the next writeup will have a little more detail and hopefully brighter better-lit photos. After that, my attention turns to airlines and dust collection.