Illuminate the Garage

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Garage lighting often gets little attention. An incandescent bulb or two, maybe a fluorescent fixture and it’s considered finished. But a garage can have many uses and lighting is often poorly designed for most of them.

Even such a simple act as parking the car and walking into the house can be compromised by poor lighting design. Bumping into low shelves, tripping over toys and many other common garage accidents could be avoided with proper lighting.

But how can you achieve that?

The process starts by first recognizing the difference between wattage and illumination. A 100-watt incandescent bulb draws 100 watts of power from the electrical outlet. That’s how the number gets assigned. The bulb consumes 100-watts. That’s only indirectly related to how much light is given off, measured in lumens.

A standard 100-watt bulb gives off about 1,740 lumens. By comparison, a pair of 4-foot 54-watt fluorescent bulbs, the type commonly found in garage lighting fixtures, can provide anywhere between 5,000-8,800 lumens, depending on the design. That’s a considerable difference in efficiency, which is one of the major reasons fluorescent bulbs are so much cheaper to use.

In many garages, that ordinary 2-bulb fluorescent fixture may well be adequate, but usually just barely. Any garage with shelves, corners, or – most especially- a workbench will need much more.

As in any other area of the home, there are three types of lighting: ambient, task and accent. Accent lights are just what they sound like, lights used to highlight some feature, such as a decorative wall painting. Ambient light provides the overall illumination for the room. Task lights are especially important in a garage that is used for anything more than just to store the car.

Even something as simple as storing tools and tool boxes, gardening supplies and the like will benefit greatly from task lights. Imagine going into the garage to pull out the right chemical and grabbing weed killer instead of plant food. That means a trip back to the garage for the right stuff. Grab a flat head screwdriver instead of a Phillips head and you have the same problem.

Good ambient light is still important, though. No one should have to feel their way around the garage to avoid bumping into things. Slips and falls are more common in the garage than they are on indoor floors, even though both are about equally slick. Installing lights that provide good ambient light are a small investment to minimize that risk.

Finally, though it’s not often considered very much, a garage too creates a mood. Compare the dark hole of many home garages to the well lit atmosphere of a professional car dealership garage. Safety is one factor. But having lights to lift the spirits is just as important, especially since many garages have few or no windows.

Design a lighting scheme for the garage with the same attention to goals as you would any other room in the house. If you spend time there, it’s worth lighting right.

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