Shop Lighting

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Blog entry by SirFatty posted 06-09-2013 01:41 PM 3050 reads 0 times favorited 15 comments Add to Favorites Watch

The lighting in my garage shop has always left something to be desired. The type I installed were the cheap two bulb florescent variety from either Home Depot or Menards. These inexpensive fixtures do not have electronic ballasts and tend to buzz quite a lot. I’ve noticed that they seem to damage new bulbs, as I could only get a couple months out of them. The garage was never fully lit, as there was always a bulb or fixture not working.

At work they are doing some remodeling, and were going to scrap eight 2’x2’ fixtures meant to be mounted on a ceiling grid. There are a couple advantages to using these fixtures versus my existing. First is the electronic ballast, which means instant on and no buzzing sound. Additionally, in each fixture the ballast is nearly new. Second, I can mount these directly to the ceiling (not hanging from chains). Lastly, square units have a plastic light panels that have are more finished look. The downside is the lower wattage rating. The existing 48” tubes are 40 watts, these U shaped tubes are rated at 32 watts.

Given the pros and cons, I decided it was a good trade off to get a more reliable light source. But since these were removed from a machine shop, there was some cleaning to do. No problem, just time consuming and the job is made easy by using Super Clean. I have never used a product that can remove oil/grease so easily. Just be sure to wear protective gloves, it’s fairly unforgiving on the skin. Also, if you ever use it on aluminum, be sure to rinse it off thoroughly.

Another bonus was that each fixture still had the wip attached. I only had to move it from the top of the fixture to the side. Drilled four holes for mounting to the ceiling (16” on center) and tapped into the existing electrical boxes I already had in place.

Not too difficult, just a bit time consuming. The entire project took about 5 hours to complete. Luckily I had some help from my son, who did the cleaning/rewiring of the last two fixtures.

The “instant on” aspect is excellent, and the lighting is now even throughout the garage. The downside, as I noted earlier, is the decreased light output which is noticeable. Still a worthwhile project, and the old lights went to the local scrap collector.

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15 comments so far

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

10963 posts in 5550 days

#1 posted 06-09-2013 03:47 PM

Looks interesting… haven’t seen this before…

One could always install more units to get more light… (I think you could too, if you wanted to, someday)

What is the cost of the Bulbs… not just purchasing cost…
... Cost per estimated Bulb life compare? (if one had good connections or other issues)

Looks good…

I like as much LIGHT as I can get… & it seems to be getting dimmer & dimmer!! LOL

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: ... My Small Gallery:

View Grumpymike's profile


2504 posts in 3813 days

#2 posted 06-09-2013 03:47 PM

I agree that the little two bulb units that we all use are just task lights … I have one over my bench.
At Lowes I bought a four bulb fixture, takes T-12 F40 bulbs, and lights up the area like Sunday Morning.
For the new shop we designated 6 of the 4 bulb 40 watt fixtures and I will still use a couple of the shop lights for task lighting.
I considered using the T-8 bulbs and fixtures, but like your lamps they are only available in the 32 watt lamps, for the energy savings … but now you have to use more lamps to get the same lumens at the bench top level … go figger … And the cost savings was marginal.
As I studied Lighting for the new shop with the Architect, I learned that each and every shop and shop area is unique to lighting requirements.
If I had gotten the fixtures at the price that you got yours for I would be pretty happy with them … FREE is my favorite four letter “F” word.
Congrats on your salvaged lighting, I’m sure that it will do you well.

-- Grumpy old guy, and lookin' good Doin' it. ... Surprise Az.

View NormG's profile


6576 posts in 4502 days

#3 posted 06-09-2013 03:59 PM

Great find on the lights, maybe some task lighting could be done

-- Norman - I never never make a mistake, I just change the design.

View SirFatty's profile


547 posts in 3710 days

#4 posted 06-09-2013 04:22 PM

Hi guys! I too like as much light as possible. Especially when finishing. What I really wanted to do is go LED. Too cost prohibitive. Crazy expensive. But like NormG said, task lighting will be in order, and those will be LED.


-- Visit my blog at

View Toolz's profile


1004 posts in 5240 days

#5 posted 06-09-2013 08:53 PM

I was fortunate when I bought my house it had a second attached garage 24×44 and that has twelve ceiling mounted ceramic light fixtures with incandescent bulbs mounted to the bottom of the roof trusses. The neat thing is that 1) each fixture has a hanging on/off pull chain AND 2) a three prong grounded socket. I replaced the incandescent bulbs with the new type fluorescent compact bulbs then hung”el cheapo” plain jane four foot shop lights wherever I needed them. They are instant on at temps down to O degrees F. The lights are on 2 separate circuits so I only turn on the section that I need for the work I am doing. I just hung an additional two shop lights in the only dark corner I had. An am very satisfied.

-- Larry "Work like a Captain but Play like a Pirate!"

View Craftsman on the lake's profile

Craftsman on the lake

3897 posts in 4936 days

#6 posted 06-09-2013 09:59 PM

I use the 48” ones with 4 bulbs. They work well and are cost effective. I covered each one with birch plywood by simply making a box and surrounding each light. They are bright and the diffusers make the light just right for my old eyes.

-- The smell of wood, coffee in the cup, the wife let's me do my thing, the lake is peaceful.

View johnstoneb's profile


3224 posts in 3671 days

#7 posted 06-09-2013 10:10 PM

Nice job. You can’t beat free.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View EEngineer's profile


1151 posts in 5111 days

#8 posted 06-10-2013 10:50 AM

I considered using the T-8 bulbs and fixtures, but like your lamps they are only available in the 32 watt lamps, for the energy savings … but now you have to use more lamps to get the same lumens at the bench top level

They are driving the change to T8 bulbs to conserve energy. If T8 bulbs actually put out less light than T12’s then there wouldn’t be any energy savings, would there? Although T8’s use less power, they actually put out a little more light. There are many, many sources for this information out on the Web:
…although the T8 puts out slightly more light, the difference is not noticeable to the human eye. According to Philips, a maker of light bulbs and lighting equipment, a T8 bulb produces around 2600 lumens (the unit used to measure light output) while the T12 bulb puts out around 2520 lumens. T8 bulbs have a slower period of decrease, losing only 10 percent of their initial brightness after 7,000 hours of use. In comparison, T12 bulbs can lose 20 percent, or double the T8 lose, after the same number of hours.

Now, if the problems with magnetic ballasts really bothers you, you can retrofit an electronic ballast into standard 4 foot fixtures and switch over to T8 lamps without changing the fixtures. Here ’s a PDF that describes it.

In the end, you get instant ON, 20% less power usage, the same (or a little more) light output and longer bulb life.

-- "Find out what you cannot do and then go do it!"

View SirFatty's profile


547 posts in 3710 days

#9 posted 06-10-2013 05:47 PM

Thanks all for the great feedback!

@eengineer: I would have purchased the right fixture if I had not come across these. What you are saying is exactly right, but the fixtures I had were not worth the upgrade cost.

-- Visit my blog at

View RonInOhio's profile


721 posts in 4362 days

#10 posted 06-10-2013 07:01 PM

In your original lighting setup, you should have had those lights attached directing to the ceiling. And the ceiling should be painted white. That is how those lights are designed to work effectively.

There are fixtures designed to be suspended , but typically they are of high intensity, and you need a minimum of about 13 foot high ceiling to use them, otherwise the glare would be too much.

I would guess the current fixtures you have ,would also work more effectively with painted white ceiling.

View thenetdog's profile


11 posts in 3758 days

#11 posted 06-18-2013 01:30 PM

If you still have the strip lights you can mount them between the others to really flood the room with light. The ballasts usually only draw less than an amp each so you can put a lot of them on a single circuit. But I I would look for some electronic ones so you don’t get the humming and lower efficiency of the T12 bulbs.

Back when our local Borders store closed I picked up a bunch of free strip lights and I just mounted them in a series about two feet apart all along the basement ceiling to get a nice bright work area. The whole thing probably draws 4 amps and I get 8 tubes worth of light. You can also check and see if you have a Habitat for Humanity store or builders supply surplus outlet nearby. I have bought used commercial fixtures for $5 and the ballasts alone are worth that much.

@Ron – Some lights are designed to wash against the ceiling above them but I don’t think those two-lamp cheapo ones from Menards have holes in the top to let the light hit the ceiling. However there are many fixtures out there that have holes along the top and then you can increase the light by hanging them down a few feet from a white ceiling. Back when I was an electrician I saw some fixtures like that in grocery stores.

@EEngineer – There are many fixture housings that allow for a small 2-lamp electronic ballast but sometimes these cheap T12 ones from Menards only have room for the small starter and don’t allow for a real ballast.

View DesertRatTom's profile


10 posts in 3541 days

#12 posted 06-18-2013 02:33 PM

What about using an aluminum foil liner glued onto the inside of the fixture to reflect the maximum light back out

-- Use sharp blades; work slow.

View SirFatty's profile


547 posts in 3710 days

#13 posted 06-18-2013 02:43 PM

Great ideas all around…

DesertRatTom, I like the idea, but will look into that plastic mirror stuff instead. Has to help!

thenetdog, I gave them to the scrap guy… and gladly as they were crap. I might buy more fixtures later, but they will be LED if I do.

I have a light meter that I’ll be doing before/after comparisons. Also, I’ll measure how much current I’m drawing with the eight fixtures that I currently have hooked up.

-- Visit my blog at

View swtrader's profile


4 posts in 3918 days

#14 posted 06-18-2013 02:45 PM

I think another reader mentioned it—it will help some if the ceiling is white. In addition to the same 2 drop-down 48 inchers you had, I also have a couple of 2 headed flood lamps spaced about 8 feet apart on one wall near where I do most of my work. I use the low wattage CFLs in the flood sockets. All lighting, including a 48” strip over my workbench (boxed in at about 6’ so the glare is blocked) are on one of 2 motion sensors. It’s nice to have either the front or the back section come on when I first enter the garage and it’s nice to know when I leave that I didn’t forget to turn out the lights. Set on 10 minute on cycles, they go off when I head out to the driveway or yard for a bit—but back on when I return. (Happy ceiling painting….I hate it so much that it was about 5 years before I painted the ceiling in my garage.)

View SirFatty's profile


547 posts in 3710 days

#15 posted 06-18-2013 03:00 PM

Yeah, painting is on the list too. Not fun, but it’s something I need to do anyway (to seal up the drywall).

-- Visit my blog at

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