The Best Garage Lighting of 2023 - Tested by Bob Vila

By Tom Scalisi | Updated Jul 18, 2023 10:23 AM

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The Best Garage Lighting of 2023 - Tested by Bob Vila

Whatever the project may be, working in the garage demands sufficient lighting. Dismal, poorly lit garages are not only difficult to work in, but they can also be hot spots for injuries. DIYers could trip over a cord or a hose, or accidentally cut themselves on an object they didn’t see.

The best garage lighting will transform a dark space with potential hazards into a safer, brighter environment suited to getting the job done right. Fortunately, there are many quality products to choose from. Swap out fluorescent fixtures for energy-efficient LEDs; install a screw-in, multiposition light bulb, and otherwise—easily and affordably—upgrade illumination in the garage.

With so many options in garage lighting out there, I sorted through a host of products and selected a variety for hands-on testing. I installed each one and evaluated its real-life performance to help you choose the garage lighting fixtures and bulbs that will be best for your garage.

I’m somewhat of a nerd over things like garage lighting, so performing a hands-on test comparing all of these products was a blast. There were various aspects I took into consideration in the course of my testing.

First, the light needed to be easy to install. Any light that I found somewhat finicky or challenging to install lost points, and the experience was noted in the review. Naturally, brightness counts. I checked to see how well each fixture or system lit the garage as well as a workbench. All these models passed muster, with some doing slightly better than others.

Finally, I took note of convenient features, such as the Sunco Lighting’s ability to turn each individual light on and off without affecting the others, and the Craftersmark’s fast, sensitive motion sensor. I took all those factors into consideration to come up with the products in this review. The end result is a group of top-notch garage lighting products to help DIYers deliver on their projects.

That’s a lot of information about the best garage lighting options available, and shopping can feel overwhelming. To help ensure that you purchase the very best garage lighting fixture for your space, I performed hands-on testing with the following models, and they all delivered top-notch results.

For industrial-grade garage lighting, check out this Sunco Lighting two-pack of LED shop lights. These 4-foot-long lights provide a 5,000K color temperature—ideal for garage settings—and produce an ample 4,000 lumens per light. Mount them to the ceiling surface or suspend them with the included hanging hardware and chain. Each light has an on-off pull switch with an included chain that can hold up to an industrial setting far better than string. Anyone who prefers to have all their lights on one switch can link a few sets and operate them off of a wall switch.

During testing, I found the Sunco Lighting industrial shop light to be absolutely top-notch. Even though the set of lights was wired together, each light was functional, meaning I could turn them on and off individually without affecting the lights before or after them.

These lights used standard 110-volt outlet plugs, whereas other systems may use proprietary plugs. This allowed for simple connections while the long wires make daisy-chaining a set across the garage easy. Also, I liked that this system can hang from a chain or mount flush to the ceiling. The only complaint is that flush mounting will likely require drilling holes through the backplate, as there are no obvious mounting holes elsewhere.

Get the Sunco strip light at Amazon.

To light up an entire garage with plenty of lumens—without blowing the budget—this set of LED T5 single fixtures from Barrina is a smart choice. This pack of six delivers 2,200 lumens per light, which all wire together with simple plug-in jumpers. Just plug them into an existing outlet, clip in place, and an entire garage’s lighting system is complete.

Each Barrina light is 4 feet long, features a very cool 6,500K color temperature, and uses very little power (20 watts per section). And since they’re LEDs, they’ll work well in very cold environments—so no excuses for not tackling those jobs when chilly weather arrives!

I really liked installing the Barrina LED T5 system, as it requires simply screwing the clip to the ceiling and snapping each light in place. And with six lights in the pack, the flexibility to put a light where necessary is a welcome change from the norm. Also, I found the brightness to be more than adequate for most garages. My only complaint is that the jumper wires were far too short; I already had a similar system in my shop that came with jumper wires more than twice as long.

Get the Barrina single fixture at Amazon.

For garages with screw-in fixtures, qimedo’s Illuminator is a great choice at a great price. This inexpensive 60-watt (total) fixture provides plenty of light: 2,000 lumens per leaf with a 6,000K color temperature. That means it’s a highly efficient light fixture capable of 6,000 lumens and a cool temperature—suitable for most garage settings. The aluminum body dissipates any heat buildup, keeping the LEDs operating as efficiently as possible. If an area of the garage requires a bit more light, simply position one of the leaves to shine in that direction.

I haven’t found a simpler, more effective way to install garage lighting than this screw-in fixture. I was able to take a garage from dim to lit in 30 seconds by screwing the Illuminator into a base. Also, I liked that I could position the leaves in any direction, increasing or decreasing light as needed. The Illuminator felt like it was of durable build quality. My only issue was that this product casts light from a central location, which can cause shadows and dark corners if there are objects in the way.

Get the Qimedo garage lighting at Amazon.

When carrying lumber or other long materials into a garage, catching the end of a board on a light bulb or fixture can really slow things down. To avoid the scenario, consider switching to a flush-mount light like the Avanlo Super Slim LED Ceiling Light Fixture, which at 0.6 inches thick should be well out of the way.

While this light doesn’t include clips or hardware to hang it from the ceiling, it mounts to a standard electrical junction box. It can also retrofit to work with 5- and 6-inch lighting cans, hardwiring it into a lighting circuit. The Avanlo light is conveniently dimmable.

The Avanlo light is available in both a square and a round shape and in color temperatures ranging between 3000K and 5000K. While it doesn’t produce a ton of light at 1,680 lumens, installing a few throughout a shop will nicely supplement regular work lights.

I thoroughly appreciated its thin profile and that it’s designed to fit a range of existing fixtures, allowing me to give new life to an old fixture. My only complaint is that it isn’t tremendously bright, but it would be excellent in a dark corner or even over a workbench.

Get the Avanlo light fixture at Amazon.

Three things are important for a workbench light: an easy power switch, the ability to hang it, and plenty of light. The Hykolity shop light checks all the boxes. This light measures 4 feet long—enough to illuminate most work surfaces. The included hanging hardware allows installers to suspend it from the ceiling or from under a shelf. The 42-watt LEDs produce plenty of light at 4,200 lumens with a cool-toned 5,000K temperature.

The Hykolity LED shop light was an absolute pleasure to work with during testing. First, installation was a breeze, and installing it over a workbench won’t be an issue. Second, this light fixture was noticeably brighter than other single units. It also easily daisy-chains with additional fixtures, as it uses a standard outlet plug. It’s a bit on the pricey side, so I wish it came in a multipack to save money.

Get the Hykolity shop light at Amazon.

For those ready to replace an older fluorescent fixture, this ceiling light fixture from Lithonia Lighting is worth a look. This 4-foot lighting fixture uses T12 fluorescent bulbs (sold separately), and its housing boasts a high-gloss, baked-on enamel finish to resist heat and reflect as much light as possible.

This Lithonia Lighting model comes with a 120-volt residential ballast, meaning it can wire right into a garage’s lighting circuit. While the lighting output has more to do with the bulbs than the fixture, this unit can handle any 4-foot T12 bulbs, allowing DIYers to choose the lighting and color temperature that best suits the setting.

Old-school fluorescent light fixtures do have their merits, and this model’s strengths became evident in my hands-on testing. This fixture cast an even light, which could be very helpful when painting or finishing a project. Also, should any of the parts on this unit fail, everything is relatively serviceable—no need to swap in an entirely new fixture. Trouble is, installation might take inexperienced DIYers a few minutes to get right.

Get the Lithonia strip light at The Home Depot.

Adding motion-activated lighting to your garage serves three purposes: convenience, energy savings, and security. The Craftersmark LED Garage Lights could be a solid option for anyone who needs all three in a bright, affordable package. This 60-watt fixture produces 6,000 lumens of cool 6,500K light—enough for workshops, garages, warehouses, or anywhere else requiring ample light.

The Craftersmark garage lights have three adjustable panels that allow for directing light wherever necessary. Each one screws into a standard bulb base, making these lights a great option for some older garages or even basements. The motion sensor comes on quickly if it detects any movement, providing safe and convenient lighting whenever someone enters the garage. It will also turn off on its own, saving money on energy.

I found the Craftersmark garage light incredibly easy to install during hands-on testing; simply screw it into a light base and call it a day. Also, I enjoyed the ability to project light almost anywhere. The motion sensor was very fast and sensitive, activating after simply shrugging my shoulders from about 10 feet away. However, there isn’t an adjustment for the motion sensor, and this light’s design can cause shadows and dark corners.

Get the Craftersmark garage lights at Amazon.

While shopping for the best garage lighting, keep these important factors in mind.

The heyday of the incandescent bulb is over. Even if you like those old-school energy suckers, they’re a lot harder to find now. If you do spot them for sale, don’t let the low price fool you; they’re sure to prove how inefficient they are when your electric bill comes. Instead, most people choose between LED and fluorescent lighting. Each has its pros and cons, so it’s important to pick what’s best for the space and work style.

LED stands for “light-emitting diode,” which is a fancy way of saying there’s a tiny component inside the bulb that illuminates when electricity passes through it. These bulbs are a popular choice due to their brightness, energy efficiency, and impressive longevity.

LEDs are popular in devices like flashlights and spotlights because they generate directional light—casting a very bright beam straight out from the diode that concentrates on a small area. That’s not ideal for garages and other workstations, but lighting manufacturers compensate for this in two ways: They make LEDs with multipositional wings and install reflectors to distribute the light evenly throughout a space. Both tweaks offer an excellent alternative to the wide-cast lighting of incandescent bulbs.

With fluorescent lighting, a mercury-vapor gas produces light instead of a solid filament (as in an incandescent bulb) or a diode (like an LED). The gas in a fluorescent bulb emits ultraviolet light when electrified.

The benefit of fluorescent lighting—in general, and for garage-type work specifically—is that it distributes light very evenly. The gas is enclosed in long glass tubes, so the light shines out in a 360-degree pattern. Although they’re long lasting, the trouble with fluorescents is that when they do burn out, they must be taken to a hazardous waste disposal center. Due to the toxicity of mercury gas, fluorescents aren’t convenient to throw away or recycle as LEDs are.

Garages receive little or no natural light, so when upgrading a lighting setup, choose fixtures that put out a lot of bright light. The lighting industry measures brightness by lumens—a measure of light produced during a specific period of time. Bottom line: the more lumens, the brighter the lighting will be.

Lumens are not the same as watts. Watts measure energy used; lumens measure brightness. However, for the sake of comparison, a 75-watt bulb produces about 1,100 lumens. As a general rule, the ideal lumen range for workshop and garage lighting is around 3,500 lumens.

Color temperature refers to the color the light produces and is measured in kelvins (K).  Temperatures range between 3500K and 6000K, with the lower end being warmer and more yellow and the higher end cooler and bluer.

Most garages tend to be gray and industrial-looking, so cooler lighting temperatures are usually the most flattering, while warmer temperatures can give the floor a dingy look. Aim for a temperature in the area of 5000K. The light produced by a 5000K bulb will be slightly blue but not glaring or harsh to the eyes.

Some fixtures come with adjustable color temperatures, allowing DIYers to bounce through the range and choose the color temperature that works best for them.

Regardless of the lighting system chosen for a garage, a modern fixture will use far less energy than older incandescent bulbs. Fluorescent bulbs can cut energy consumption by about 70 percent over an incandescent bulb producing the same amount of light. LED bulbs are even better, cutting as much as 90 percent of the energy consumption of a comparable incandescent bulb. Factor in that they last much longer (over 10,000 hours compared to an incandescent bulb’s 1,000 hours), and the savings are tremendous.

Installation and connectivity may play a large role in deciding on the best garage lighting fixtures. There are easy-to-install options that produce great results for DIYers without a lot of electrical experience. The easiest way to upgrade garage lighting is with screw-in bulb replacements. These aren’t just bulbs, but multipositional LED fixtures that screw into a basic light base. They don’t require any extra wiring or much effort on the part of the installer.

There are also plug-in systems that DIYers can string throughout a garage to produce a tremendous amount of light. These systems work through standard outlets: Simply plug them in and flip the switch. They often include “jumper” wires that will connect a set of lights together to illuminate an entire garage, and most times they install with simple clips.

Fluorescent lighting, on the other hand, requires a bit more during installation. These lights have ballasts that regulate the voltage to the light bulb and require hardwiring into an electrical circuit within the garage. While not overly complicated, it is a more involved process.

An LED bulb can last 25 to 30 times longer than an incandescent bulb, all the while reducing the amount of energy consumed. A fluorescent bulb can last as long as 9,000 hours compared to an incandescent bulb’s 1,000 hours. The reason LEDs and fluorescents last so much longer than incandescent varieties is that they don’t have a sensitive, fragile filament that can break or burn up.

For unheated garages in areas that experience bitter cold winters, LED bulbs are the most suitable choice. In fact, LEDs become more efficient in colder temperatures. They don’t need to heat up, so they become bright immediately and produce consistent, energy-efficient light in very cold temperatures. By contrast, some fluorescent lights cannot operate if the air temperature is below 50 degrees Fahrenheit. Those who live in areas where temperatures often dip below freezing will do best with an LED setup for the best garage lighting.

While upgrading an overhead lighting system, it’s wise to upgrade the workstation as well. Consider hanging a chain from the ceiling to lower a fixture or attaching an LED light below a cabinet—essentially, establish direct task lighting. There are plenty of great options, and systems can combine to create ideal conditions. While a general overhead fixture is fine, adding an illuminated, positionable arm (like those used by fly-tying fishermen) can make it easier to see small parts.

Motion sensors can make garage lighting safer and more convenient. Some LED systems have sensors that will turn the lights on when they detect someone walking or moving in the garage. Not only will these lights illuminate a garage without the user needing to fumble for a light switch, but motion sensors can also deter unwanted guests from helping themselves to tools and other belongings.

For those who prefer to replace incandescent bulbs with screw-in LED units, choose some with multipositional wings. These fixtures can make a huge difference in the effectiveness of garage lighting. When an area isn’t receiving enough light, simply position a wing in that direction to improve illumination. Since LEDs don’t get nearly as hot as incandescent or fluorescent bulbs, they’re often cool enough to touch bare-handed. This also keeps LEDs running as efficiently as possible.

Being able to see what you’re doing makes a world of difference both while working on a project and with the end result. Poor lighting can be very frustrating, especially if you drop a small piece like a nut or bolt—good luck finding that tiny fastener against a dark floor!

Struggling to see what you’re doing can lead to some undesirable physical effects, such as eyestrain and headaches. Factor in the increased chances of a tripping accident, and you’ll be far safer and healthier with proper lighting.

The best garage lighting will also save you money. Not only are the best lighting products much more energy efficient than older models, but they also burn out less often so you’ll have far fewer bulbs to replace. Even with the higher price of LED and fluorescent bulbs compared to incandescents, you’ll save money in the long run on bulbs alone.

If you’re still a bit in the dark about the best garage lighting, check out answers to some commonly asked questions about these products.

These are by no means interchangeable terms. Lumens describe the brightness of a bulb. Kelvins describe the temperature color. Watts represent energy consumption.

No. A higher temperature bulb produces a cooler, bluer tone, but not more light.

A bulb’s brightness is dependent on lumen output, not bulb type. When comparing bulbs of similar wattages, LEDs will be more efficient and, therefore, brighter.

Yes, LEDs do lose their brightness over time. They don’t burn out like standard bulbs, but they will slowly become dimmer.

Bob Vila has been America’s Handyman since 1979. As the host of beloved and groundbreaking TV series, including “This Old House” and “Bob Vila’s Home Again,” he popularized and became synonymous with “do-it-yourself” home improvement.

Over the course of his decades-long career, Bob Vila has helped millions of people build, renovate, repair, and live better each day—a tradition that continues today with expert yet accessible home advice. The Bob Vila team distills need-to-know information into project tutorials, maintenance guides, tool 101s, and more. These home and garden experts then thoroughly research, vet, and recommend products that support homeowners, renters, DIYers, and professionals in their to-do lists.

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The Best Garage Lighting of 2023 - Tested by Bob Vila

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