I recently posted about my garage workshop lighting project, which is tricky because it involves converting hard-wire ceiling lights to plug-in lights.
I’d like to do things properly and asked for feedback.
A couple of people provided some much-appreciated suggestions, and I analyzed other areas of improvement.
First Suggestion: Upgrade to a Matching-Sized Power Cord
One reader suggested I move from 16 AWG cord to 12 AWG, to match the in-ceiling wiring. If I were to daisy-chain any of the light fixtures together, I would need 12 AWG THHN wires in conduit.
I’m not convinced this was necessary, but it wouldn’t have cost that much more than going with 14 AWG. I can find other uses for the cords I initially purchased for this project.
The reader (thank you Joe!) seems well-versed in code regulations and guidelines, and I couldn’t see any downsides aside from dealing with thicker conductors during installation.
I ordered 60 feet of SJEOOW cord, which I could cut to size to reduce waste.
Second Suggestion: Right Angle Plugs
Several readers suggested that I go with cords with molded right angle plugs, or right angle adapters, and Jim Felt (thank you!) sent me some links to attachable cord ends. Basically with right angle plugs you can build your own cord the way you want them.
I initially couldn’t find suited cords to use, but there are a number of screw-on cord ends available.
I went with hospital-grade 15A plugs, similar to this one via Leviton on Amazon. I actually used the Bryant brand (available on Amazon), for ~$6.60 each through a different supplier.
I didn’t need hospital-grade, but the price was right. The hospital-grade should also provide for a more confident ceiling connection.
While my other installed lights aren’t trimmed to their final size yet, it’s going to make a world of difference. ANY straight plug is still going to project a couple of inches off the ceiling. The right angle plug is going to allow for much shorter cords and neater appearances.
The first one here was my test install, which is why the cord is so long, and the one at the back of the photo was going to be routed neatly alongside the light.
One of the benefits of these right angle plugs is that its angle can be adjusted during assembly so that you can approach an outlet from any direction.
There are two disadvantages of these plugs. First, they’re a bit harder to use. You cannot cross the wires, which required careful positioning of things, and everything is a bit stiff despite the stranded wire.
Second, the transparent housing triggers my perfectionism. I trimmed the jacket to exact length, I stripped the wires to exact length, and I trimmed the wires depending on how far away they are 1from the opening. The insulation perfectly reached the conductor slot when tightening things down, but when bending the cable they created a small gap. I know I did things properly, but that little gap nags at me. If my other plugs turn out better I might redo this one.
I used a torque screwdriver to achieve the 12 in-lbs or 1.4 Nm torque as indicated by the instructions. (I already had this tool available.) What surprised me is that this required a little more tightening than I would have expected.
As an aside, I had checked my 220V outlet with the breaker turned off, to see what kind of wiring was used, as part of a separate project, and found that the ground and one of the hot screws were loose. That was a professional installation, I wonder what happened.
Problems and Solutions
I’ll be wiring the remaining lights with the 12 AWG cord and right angle plugs and will then re-do the 3 I did with 16 AWG cords.
There are some problems and new frustrations.
Suspending the Cords
I’m using Southwire SJEOOW cord purchased from an industrial supplier. One of the things they mention in the datasheet is that it can be suspended but shouldn’t be installed in walls, in ceilings, or attached to building surfaces.
Hmm. Does that mean my screw-down cable clamps are a bad call? Is that considered an attachment?
Not all of my light fixtures will conveniently have a straight path from cable gland to outlet, and so I will need some way to secure things.
I’m now thinking of going with screw-in hooks, self-adhesive non-locking cable clamps, or maybe even a small cable clamp which I can use with 550 cord (paracord) or elastic shock cord with cord locks to create a tidy and easily removable solution.
I also have an idea for a tidy screw-together cable clamp made of wood that can be attached the ceiling.
The goal would be the same, to keep the cord close to the ceiling and to suspend it in a tool-free manner.
Working with Thicker Conductors
Due to the strand count, I still cannot use the lighting connectors that come pre-installed. I’m still using the Wago Lever-Nuts, which can handle up to 12 AWG conductors.
Here’s the ground screw with 16 AWG wire. I thought that stranded 16 AWG wire was tough to work into this type of connection, but 12 AWG is considerably harder to work with in this manner. Stripping the wire to length without damaging the strands is also tricky. I have a new stripper coming in that should make it easier for this and future projects.
If it proves to be too difficult, I could potentially use 12 AWG solid THHN wire, the same type that would be used if these lights were connected to each other via conduit. With that, I could essentially create a small pigtail-like connection, connecting the power cord to THHN via a Wago connector and the THHN to ground.
I don’t think this is necessary, but it’s a potential workaround if need-be.
Stripping Cable Jacketing
I bought this Jokari tool for stripping cable jackets, and it works a lot better than a utility knife.
I also bought a larger size and alternate style for working with thicker cables, going with the different styles to fulfill a reader’s review request.
This stripper was ~$22 via Amazon. You can buy similar tools rebranded by Knipex, but the Jokari are less expensive.
This cable jacket cutting tool allows for controllable depth to help prevent damage to the inner wire insulation.
There are little things I need to figure out, such as the cable length to avoid too many dangling wires, and how much of the cable jacketing to strip back inside the light fixtures themselves. This is really just nitpicking though.
It would be much easier to work with romex/NM wire, or in the case of conduit, solid or stranded THHN wire that has thicker and fewer strands than the cable I’m working with here. At this point I don’t think conduit is necessary or even desirable.
I’m used to working with stranded wire, but not of this size. This is also why I overthink projects like this – finding a controlled approach here will benefit my future projects and tasks that involve thicker fine-stranded wire.
Four Lights Down, Four to Go
The lights I installed so far are oriented parallel to the ceiling joists, and the remaining ones will be perpendicular. Not only that, there are more obstructions that will affect placement. It’s not a big deal, it will just require more planning and careful measurements. My approach will be to ensure I hit a stud on one end and use a clamping toggle-style anchor on the other.
Nice job. I really like the Wago lever nuts. They are nicer and if you have a mix of strand and solid wire it’s either than a wire nut.
I hardwired all my overhead lights. The reflectors have opening in them to bounce light off the ceiling. I replaced all the fluorescent with LED tubes. I did end up adding a handy box with an outlet for an additional LED light I got at Costco.
That looks great!
One the advantages of doing things yourself sometimes is the ability to take your time and make things perfect. Even if you paid an electrician to install these, I doubt you would get a better result (don’t be offended electricians – I’m sure you could do work to the same level and faster, but unless a customer demanded it, are you really pulling out a torque screwdriver for the terminals? Are you going to redo the plug if the insulation has a tiny gap?).
Marvin L McConoughey
I believe the current code requires use of a torqueing tool to ensure that the code-specified tightening level has been achieved.
Depends which city/state
I’ve never see an electrician use a torque screwdriver, even for things that definitely should get it like breakers. They’re common for larger applications like landing service feeders but anything downstream of that they usually won’t bother.
That’s basically what I was thinking. I wasn’t trying to pick on electricians.
The point I wanted to make was just that you can take extreme measures when DIYing that a pro might not use because it eats up time and costs the customer money.
For example, when I replaced the brakes on my truck I removed the calipers, wire-brushed off all the corrosion, painted it with caliper paint (just black – I wasn’t trying to make a race car), replaced the pins and boots, used a little locktite on the bolts, sprayed some disc brake quiet on the backs of the pads… etc.
These painstaking steps probably have little or no appreciable benefit most of the time (although my brakes are still perfectly quiet, smooth and powerful a year later).
I’ve also worked in a shop and replaced brakes many times for customers – I’m not doing any of that for them. Can you imagine how a customer would react if they paid the hourly shop rate for me to clean and paint their calipers?
What would they think if they came in for new pads and found that I also replaced a bunch of extra parts that still looked fine?
Yous say: “That was a professional installation, I wonder what happened.”
In our businesses, I can’t tell you how many instances the guys reported back about what they had found in customer premises. While some of these foibles – and even downright scary/dangerous conditions had been fessed-up as homeowner or amateur installations – most were reportedly done by so-called professionals. Wiring connections made inside walls cavities rather than junction boxes, use of flexible brass tubing inside walls instead of black iron pipe for gas service, use of zip cord (aka lamp wire) instead of NM conductor, and wiring run unprotected along/across the face of studs then patched over with joint compound – were some of what I remember hearing about . I also remember being called by a customer that wanted us to fix a sticky set of double doors. We found the issue was that the doorway had been cut into a bearing wall without properly picking up the load.
Wiring connections inside walls is one of the most common I saw constantly during sidework/remodelling stuff. Bathrooms in particular-Pull down some sheetrock, and it’s like a ghetto dream catcher of Romex and wire nuts to the vanity lights, the fan, the fixture, recep, through the wall to adjacent room receps…
I agree. Being a professional just means you got paid to do it, not that the quality of work meets any standard. I work in construction and the quality you get from most electricians, even ones I respect, is just ‘good enough’. Most customers pay the bare minimum, and that’s what they get.
Looking good Stuart!
Anyone have a good explanation of “hospital grade” please?
Basically it’s built to very high standards to protect against accidental removal and similar.
Industrial grade would have been sufficient but this was less expensive.
I would guess that the clear housing is to allow for inspection to ensure the connections are proper such as without conductors crossing each other or insulation trapped in the conductor terminal.
It also both looks cooler and more easily visually disappears against it surroundings. Plus you can aim the feed cord relative to the duplex receptacle slots.
Hospitals are not my field, but but I work for a medical device manufacturer.
The clear plug requirement allows for a quick visual inspection of proper wiring. Shocking patients is really frowned upon.
Shocking patients is de rigueur for the billing department.
Paul E Hacker
If the clear plugs bug you paint them white to match the plug faceplate … problem solved!
Maybe I missed something. Why didn’t you just hardwire it?
I’m not sure exactly where the lights will go. Can always hardwire later if I’m happy with the placements. Most of the materials can be reused.
There are obstructions, such as opener control wiring, that will require lights to be hung or spaced with 1/2 wood or similar.
Plug-in means I can have lights now, hardwire means more waiting and internal debating.
I don’t know your layout but for the one you’ve shown you can put an EA box over the receptacle location with a EMT nipple running to the light. If you still want the quad there you could add an industrial raised cover.
I bet if I asked you what time it was, that you’d tell me how to build a clock.
And today’s Toolguyd Winner!!!!
I can’t tell you how to build a clock, but I can digress and tell you how to build a device for measuring the speed of light!
I thought the speed of light was constant. Once you know the speed of light, it’s not necessary to check it again. But the time is constantly changing.
Speed of light in a vacuum is constant. Speed of light in solids is different.
Time is always moving forward at a constant rate.
It was a standard junior year physics lab to measure/confirm the speed of light in air.
Basically you modulate a laser with a signal. Set up a detector a fixed distance away. Or maybe a mirror was involved, I don’t remember. Compare the initial signal with the received signal on the same oscilloscope. Measure the phase shift.
Basically, you calculation propagation time, and you know the distance.
Distance over time = speed of light in air.
I’m fairly certain laser distance measuring tools work in a similar way. But there, the device knows the speed of light in air and measures the time delay in the signal to extrapolate the distance travelled.
In theory, if you know the speed of light in air, and know the distance travelled, you can determine time delays. Sorry, that’s not really a clock, I didn’t think the joke all the way through.
I still have fond memories of some simple question turning into my Dad explaining how septic systems worked when I was about 12. He’s 88 now, and half a country away, and I’d love to have him around the house to see my workshop and chat. He’s beyond travel now, and explaining things. I suppose this is why I like some of the posts.
have to say for the perfection concerns on the clear plugs I would give a minute thought to painting them white. and the cord too. it would do 2 things, one blend in even better and you’d coat that cord and it would disapear too.
With that so close you don’ t necessarily need to hook or secure the cords either – so that works out.
That bit about the not attached to structure on the cord I bet that means they don’t want you cable stapling them. Your clamps are perfectly fine. but you could staple them and pinch or graze the coatings and they probably don’t like that since it’s thicker than romex.
So far so good..
Some of the other fixtures will need cord clamps or suspension for cable management. Things lined up perfectly here but that’s only true for one or two other lights.
I’ve bought a few properties w paint on electrical switches, outlets, cords, etc, and the inspector always listed it in the report as a deficiency.
I’m assuming that’s the good old fire hazard thing, … the outlet or cable may overheat, because it or the cover has some latex paint on it. -lol- Never mind that most of the wiring in houses is not breathing to air; but runs through insulated cavities, and may even be encased in spray foam insulation; where it certainly will not cool off.
Identifying information can also be covered up.
Lamp cord landscaping wire, and maybe even NM/romex might look similar if they’re all painted the same color and then repainted one or two more times.
With this cord, if it’s painted there’s no way to identify the gauge or jacketing materials.
They look nice.
You don’t need 12 awg just because the outlet is wired with 12 awg. Wire size for the corded device (think of computers, floor and tabletop lights, and other devices we have in the home) current rating.
I use cords on all my garage and workshop lights. I also love the hospital grade 90 deg male plugs (cheap and/or low quality parts means I must replace them often). We also cord almost all of our overhead lights where I work (Steel mill). It has been less expensive to replace the whole fixture than just the ballasts in most cases.
Also my experiences with daisy chained florescent lights has left me with a hate-hate mentality towards them.
True, but things get muddy when considering these are hard-wired fixtures being mounted to building surfaces. If this was say a portable plug-in worklight, the rules are clearer.
I went with 12 AWG rather than trying to clear up the muddy parts.
The beauty of these fixtures is that there is no ballast. If the bulbs fail or I decide to upgrade to different bulbs in the future, they swap out easily. Even the contacts can be switched out if somehow they fail.
Is there still enough room to use the second outlet? Did you consider using GFI outlets, of do you have them in your main panel? I have seen houses that burned down because of a faulty garage door opener. I often wonder if a GFI would have prevented that. Yes, you would need to get a ladder to reset it.
I suppose it would depend on whether the opener drew a lot of power when it failed. It doesn’t necessarily take a lot of power to start a fire. The best example, and one that happens to be my wife’s personal fear, is the not-uncommon occurance of house fires from bathroom exhaust fans. The motors overheat from wear and buildup of dust and debris.
If you know the amp draw of the fan, you can monitor it with an amp meter. That way you can see if your fan is experiencing efficiency problems over time.
If the fire/failure started with an arcing event – then an AFCI breaker/outlet should have helped. But electrically noisy motors might cause an AFCI to suffer repeated nuisance trips.
GFCI protection is usually required for outdoor circuits/outlets. But I’m not sure that a burning motor in a door opener would result in a GFCI trip unless there was a disparity in the current coming in on the hot leg versus what was being returned on the neutral.
I believe so – the second image shows the clearance amount. I don’t know if two of these will fit the same duplex though.
I am not sure about the garage door openers (which I don’t believe are on GFCIs), but the other outlets are definitely GFCI-protected. They were installed only a few years ago and code requires it.
If you applied the same level of detail and quality to every element of home construction, it would be amazing. But a $400k house would be $800k.
Exactly! So good.
The result will look clean and functional. Cord choice is nice and rugged, right angle plugs is great.
But, that 12 gauge wire is total overkill, because it is a plug in device.
By extension of the notion that 12 gauge would be mandatory for devices plugged into a 20A circuit … then every single device in my house and every lamp, every lamp fixture, chandelier, desk lamp, etc would have to have a 12 gauge wire going all the way to the bulb?! ( because 99% of the house is wired with 12 gauge ).
I actually looked at the code as part of that prior topic. Yes, entire circuits need to be wired with the same wire size; but the circuit stops at the receptacle or junction box for lighting.
Some of the proponents encouraging 12 AWG (to match in-wall/ceiling wiring) made a good point.
Mounting the lights to the ceiling rather than suspending them makes things vague. The potential use of conduit to connect them would probably require matching wire gauge.
Is a device meant to be hard-wired and attached to building surfaces in the same manner as being hard-wired instead considered a portable device if used with portable cord?
If the lights were suspended rather than being mounted to the ceiling, or mounted with a keyhole slot option that allows for physical removal without disassembly, then I could use lower gauge cord.
I had to order flexible cord anyway to switch to right angle plugs. If I’m going to have to do that anyway, going 12 AWG eliminated any doubt and also allows for conduit connections if desired.
In this case, I only went up one size from the 14 AWG I would have went with for any of the plugs I was considering. The cost difference was minimal.
Total overkill, yes, but I don’t have to think about it again.
I’d rather be told I could have used smaller gauge wiring than to be told I should have used 12 AWG.
User the manufacturers rating ul listed,
Your cords that come with devices are listed,
You need to use 12 awg if not in NY
It is indeed an installation with a permanent character, being that they’re screwed into the ceiling.
I didn’t read the whole article or follow up comments comprehensively to be honest, no idea if this advice has already been given.
You can order the Wago 600 series (612, 613, and 615) lever nuts that will accept up to 10 AWG . I find the 600 series works much better with 12 AWG than the 400 series.
As far as lights go, if you are focusing on ease of install and convenience over appearance, Feit linkableLED shop lights are unbeatable. Costco sells them for as low as $19.99.
You can find usually equivalents at Wilco/Coastal/Tractor Supply/Platt for a similar price.
I like them for the linkability, meaning the lights come with a two prong receptacle built-in. This means you can feed up to four lights with just one receptacle., simply daisy-chaining the lights together. Replacement of a faulty fixture is as plug and play.
I try to be efficient (or I’m just lazy), so I’m totally in love with these fixtures, lol
The only down side (IMO) is aesthetics; you have to deal with dressing the 5 ft cords.
As far as wiring of the light itself is concerned, , code allows for fixture wires to be undersized…however, if you are to alter the manufacturer provided wiring, even to upsize, you could be violating the UL listing of the device.
To be more specific, if the device is listed for installation of owner supplied corsage, no sweat, as long as it’s done to code. This requires wading through the exact listing information of the equipment, however.
Per code, 50ft or less of 18 AWG fixture wire is considered to be protected under a 20A breaker
For more specific guidance, look up 240.5 (B)(1) and (2), and Table 402.5 in the NEC.
The fixtures are designed for building wiring, but the supplier also sells cords available for portable plug conversion.
The connectors it comes with needed to be removed because they cannot be used with fine-stranded wire, and I replaced them with alternate UL-compatible devices. If the disconnect is needed I have a box of replacement connectors that I could pigtail in. But there’s no ballast so it shouldn’t be needed.
Thanks, I’ll look up those codes.
I would think altering the wiring upwards would not be an issue. The circuit is protected for the smallest wire in the circuit(15A breaker- #14 wire). If you wired the circuit with #12 wire & a 20A breaker, then you would have an issue with the light fixture . I don’t know, that’s just my opinion of it.
For cable lengths as short as that I would attach them to the ceiling with these zip tie mounts. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XNBS6TG/
Or these smaller ones
You can get them in white. I would use some kind of drywall anchor and only use the foam tape to hold it in place. Probably the ones like below. People tend to love them or hate them. Mostly because they leave a big hole when removed. But for a project like this, it will probably never be removed.
I’ll likely use these: https://www.amazon.com/ITW-Brands-25310-50PK-Anchor/dp/B000BQYFW2/?tag=toolguyd-20 .This is a ceiling, and so I will switch to toggle-style if needed, but there won’t be much load placed on the cable holders.
I prefer Hubbell 515SPAZ or Bryant 5295 to the clear “hospital grade” connector.
I’m actually slightly annoyed that Lowes stopped carrying the Hubbell plugs.
They’re not clear plastic?
Otherwise, I’m pretty sure they’re exactly the same.
Oh. I thought there might be some kind of functional or installation complaint.
I’m not in love with the aesthetics, but it wasn’t worth it for me to spend extra for white or black.
You might also try to do something to prevent the light tubes from accidentally falling such as if a mild earthquake should happen to jar them. Sometime a tube will work properly without being fully seated. Some safety wire wrapped loosely around the entire unit in a couple of locations works well and doesn’t harm anything.
The tubes are twist-to-secure, and I cannot imagine any reasonable amount of jostling that could cause them to fall away from the fixture.
I do plan on using safety tethers for any photo/video lights that might be suspended overhead.
Did any of those loose terminals have two neutral (white) wires under them? In a sub-panel? Very common fault (was OK long ago but not for 20 years). In theory at least, the wires can work loose.
12 gauge wire allows you to extend to another device without having to downrate the (assumed 20A) breaker for the lamps. Look at it this way – If you plug in a typical portable lamp, it probably has 16 gauge zip cord, and that’s fine for any normal bulb you’d use. You don’t plug a 13A hair dryer into a table lamp. IMO, there no need to use such heavy cable on a (2A?) shop lamp, but it’s safe (just inconvenient to work with) and maybe you want to add another high-amp device later on.
Damp locations, including garage ceiling outlets, are supposed to have GFCI protection. AFCIs might help prevent a fire from a door opener, but might also be tripped by normal operation with an older unit.
Finally – WAGOs are the way to go. Much superior to our ancient wirenuts – watch for fake copies though
The loose terminals were on a new 220V outlet installed 4 years ago. The ground wire and one hot were loose.
Good thing I checked – I’ll be putting it to use hopefully later this month.
I would have hard piped it. It would have been easier and faster for me to install conduit than to install receptacles on the ceiling, even if I had them prefabbed them with pigtails on the ground, purchasing different SO cord, or finding the proper right angle cord cap. In turn, I would focus my purchases on conduit fittings; looks like 1/2″ EMT connectors, 4S extension rings, maybe one hole straps, 4S blank plates, drywall anchors (EZ Anchors?), and 12 gauge THHN wire (which all can be found on the same aisle in any big box store, maybe drywall anchors in the fastener section). I would have taken the existing metal box on the ceiling, put an extension ring, run conduit from there, directly to the light. Then each light would be directly connected to each other, so there’s only 1 box protruding out. That’s just my perspective. I do not usually see receptacles on the ceiling in my trade.
Receptacles were installed 4 years ago when I didn’t yet know exactly how the space would be used.
Sub-panel was put in and outlets along the walls. I knew I would want outlets for photo lights and maybe a drop-down or two, but didn’t know how many or where the workshop lights would go. I tried out the Big Ass Lights briefly and really didn’t like them for a working space.
I still can connect them with conduit, but not having conduit crisscrossing around the ceiling also gives me flexibility in how other things I have in mind can be installed.
As mentioned in the other post, the plan is to eventually hard-wire the lights if I’m satisfied with their placement and light output.
Just looking at the Amazon links and noted the right-angle plugs referenced are rated 15A, so there is a “weak link” in any further device wiring from the overhead lamps as it “currently” stands. Assuming 12ga wire was used to accomodate a 20A feed, the 15A rated plug could be running above its rating (technically) with any device added into that lamp feed. So once the decision to use a 15A rated plug was made, there was no need to use wire heavier than 14 ga (but also no harm from doing so)
Receptacles are 15A.
I’m sure 14 AWG would have been fine functionally. Ordering a length of 12 AWG wasn’t that much more than 14 AWG. 12 AWG was a “stop analyzing and keep moving forward” decision. As mentioned, I’d rather that I *could* have used 14 AWG over 12 AWG than find I *should* have used 12 AWG over 14 AWG.
In hindsight, 16 AWG wasn’t the best choice.
You make a good point. I likely could have went with 14 AWG, but the 12 AWG isn’t much thicker and the monetary difference is very minimal.
If you want the plugs to match the ceiling but don’t want to paint them, Cooper (now Eaton, I think), makes a white right-angle plug, #4867ANW-BOX. As far as I’ve been able to find, this is the only plug of this type that you can get in white. They aren’t hospital grade, but are probably fine for lighting use. The quality of the receptacle is more responsible for keeping plugs from falling out than the plug itself is.
Lowes used to carry them, but I haven’t seen them there for some time. One other source is Galco (https://www.galco.com/buy/Arrow-Hart-Cooper-Wiring-Devices/4867ANW-BOX). They seem to be somewhat hard to find.
It’s been a while since I used one, but I think the plug face can be rotated to four positions. I can dig one out and check if you would like to know.
My only peeve about the clear plugs is that I worry if the connections are *perfect*. But, everything is nice and secure and seems to be working out well so far.
Also, if you want white cord to match, I couldn’t find it anywhere except in 1000 foot reels. So I bought some white extension cords off Amazon, cut off the ends, and am using the cord itself for my own ceiling lights. Here’s one search for them: white cord search on Amazon. I ended up buying these, they seemed to be the best value per foot of cord: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007E8FOMK.
As others have said, 12 gauge for the cord supplying the light is overkill. A two-bulb 4-foot fluorescent fixture draws less than 100 watts, which is about 0.8 amps. If you’re using LED tubes, it’s even less. 18 gauge is more than enough and meets code. If you’re interested, Article 400 of the NEC covers these kinds of cords and usages.