Garage Lighting Cost & Ideas

If you are looking for some good ideas on your garage lighting, read our guide. Installation and contractor cost included.

What do you use your garage for?

Sounds a silly question doesn’t it? If you think about it however you will realise it isn’t such a silly question after all. For some people a garage can be an artist’s studio, hobby room, store room or a tool shed. In fact the uses for a garage can be just as varied as the people that use them. Here is just a few of the uses to which a householder can put a garage and I am sure that you can think of many more.

  • Parking a car
  • Car mechanical workshop
  • Storage for bikes, surfboards and skateboards
  • Furniture storage
  • Home gymnasium
  • Hobby room
  • Tool shed
  • Garden potting shed
  • Model train layout
  • Children’s playroom
  • Laundry room
  • Woodworking workshop
  • Artist’s studio

Depending on the size and layout of the garage you might even have more than one use in this versatile room.

What types of garage are there?

The most obvious differences between types of garage are those that are integrated with the house and those that are detached from the house. Whether the garage is part of the house or not will also have a lot of bearing on what type of use you put the room to. There is more chance of the room being used as a laundry room or a playroom if it is integrated with the house. Likewise there is more chance of the garage already being wired up for electricity if it is part of the house.

The first thing we need to discuss when thinking about having different kinds of lighting in the garage is whether there is electricity already available. If there isn’t, you will have to make sure that some is provided.

Electricity supply

Let us think of the worst case scenario. For sake of discussion let us assume the garage we have to work with is a wooden structure big enough for one car and about 50ft from the house. It has no electricity supply. What do we need to do first?

The first thing is to make sure that we can provide power to the garage. This will have to be provided by means of a supply from the main fuse board or distribution box in the house.

The electricity cable from the house to the garage will be run underground, preferably in a straight line, through a 2” plastic pipe seated at the bottom of a trench partially filled with gravel. The pipe will need to be at a suitable depth so that normal garden digging will not disturb the installation. The cable must be protected by an armoured sheath to prevent damage occurring. There are very strict regulations dealing with electricity supply and these must be adhered to when installing. For work of this magnitude you may need a permit to ensure you are complying with the building codes. Confirm with your local permit office first. A qualified electrician must check that all the regulations have been complied with.

Normally the pipe can be installed first and the trench backfilled without any electrical cable being present. All that is required is that a length of thin rope is laid in the pipe so the electrician can attach the cable and draw it through the pipe when the time comes.

A spare supply point must be available in the main house fuse board so that the garage supply can be isolated if necessary. It will also be necessary to install a mains switch and circuit breaker at the ‘house end’ to turn off the power in an emergency if the cable is damaged in any way.

Inside the garage there must be a separate distribution box with a place for the supply cable to be fitted and other points where different kinds of circuit can be supplied. Examples of these ring circuits could be:

Main lighting. This is the circuit which feeds the main lighting needed to illuminate the whole room.

Spotlights. If the garage is being used as a hobby room, you will require separate circuits for various types of purpose lighting needed for illuminating specific areas.

Security lighting. Valuable items such as tools or hobby equipment may be stored in the garage so you will want a circuit supplying power to a motion detector security light.

Fire alarm/smoke detector. There may be activities going on in the garage which may cause sparks such as welding. A fire alrm will be an essential.

Flood lights. Different types of floodlights will be required for illuminating larger areas.

Outdoor garden lighting. It would make sense to provide a supply for garden lighting from the garage.

Power points. Although this article is specifically about garage lighting it would be wrong of me not to mention that different types of power points would be required.

Outside power point. For hedge trimmer or lawnmower.

Normal power points. Provide as many of these as you can. You can never have too many power points!

High voltage (HV) power points. If the garage is to provide space for welding, a lathe, car ramp or some other kind of specialist tool then separate sockets with a HV supply may be needed.

Once again strict regulations exist for installing each of these types of supply and a qualified electrician is needed to make sure of compliance.

How about a small job?

Let’s just assume we have a small garage, integrated with the house. We want to turn the garage into a multi-use room for DIY, car repairs and whatever.
The room at the moment has two pendent ceiling fittings from which hang two 60W light bulbs. They provide light but not really enough to work by and anyway there are so many shadows that it is almost impossible to do anything worthwhile.

If we want to efficiently illuminate a two car garage such that we can actually see what we are doing then remove the pendent light fixings and install two 8ft fluorescent tube lights (turn the power off first though). The recommended amount of light is to have one fluorescent light fitting for each car bay, but of course that is just the minimum, you could have a lot more if you wanted.

If you are just changing light fixings (rather than installing new wiring) then you don’t need to have a qualified electrician to do the work. Of course if you aren’t happy or confident with installing new light fittings then you can always consult an electrician, just in case.

You can install the fluorescent lights wherever you want. If the existing lights are not in the right positions then you can fit the tubes wherever you want and connect the terminals to the ceiling roses with electrical flex, clipping the wire to the ceiling to keep it looking neat.

Remember that not all fluorescent lights will work properly in cold weather so choose the fixture based on the coldest expected temperature in your garage. If you look on the ballast you will find the starting temperature printed quite clearly and if you are buying the light fixtures new from the shop then there should be manufacturer’s instructions available which will tell you all the temperature requirements and fitting procedures.

Normal electromagnetic ballasts used in standard T12 fluorescent light fixtures (these use 1.5 inch diameter tubes), should not be used at temperatures below 50°F (10°C). If you are expecting lower temperatures then use electronic ballasts that will start in temperatures of 0°F (-17°C) and lower.

While we are choosing the new light fittings, you should buy fixtures that use T8 tubes (1 inch diameter tubes) as these are much more energy efficient. They have a higher initial cost but will save you money over their lifetime. Do not even think about buying the energy saver T12 lamp tubes as they will need a minimum of 60°F (15.5°C) to function properly.

How to design your electrical needs

The first thing you need to do is to contact your prospective electrician or electrical engineer and discuss your requirements. He may have ideas for streamlining your electrical supply that you had not realised you could do, and it might save you a lot of money both in purchasing and in operating.

You will previously have decided what activities will take place within the garage and the approximate positions you will need lights and power points. Attend the meeting with the electrician armed with your sketched layout and any information you have of the types of equipment you will be running from the supplies. The electrician will be able to calculate the required loads and what type of cabling and fixtures will be required.

The idea of having good lighting in a workroom is not so much having lots of lights, rather it is not having shadows and you should plan your lighting requirements with that in mind.

Another thing to consider is whether you would like the light fitments to look fashionable and chic or purely utilitarian and plain. This will depend on what you want the room for and whether you prefer good looks over seeing well.

Also, you don’t want lamps that use a lot of power (measured in Watts), you actually need lamps that provide a lot of light (measured in lumens). I would think that amount of light is the requirement so think about using modern LED lights that use very little power. Although these have very low operating costs they tend to cost a lot more to buy than other light fittings.

Is this a DIY job?

As we discussed earlier; if you are adding new wiring or doing major electrical work then you will need a qualified and licenced electrical contractor. If you are doing something small like just replacing a light fitting then you can do it yourself. Having said that, if you have any doubts whatsoever about your capabilities then you must call an electrician to give advice or do the job for you.

If you decide to do the work yourself as a DIY project then there are a few simple things you need to remember to keep yourself safe.

✓ Always turn off the power supply at the main distribution box or fuse board before starting work, and make sure that no-one can turn the power back on without your knowledge.

✓ Even though you may have the lighting turned off, always ensure you have enough light to see what you are doing.

✓ Use suitable electrical tools to do the job.

✓ Always make sure the new fittings are connected to a ‘ground’ wire (in UK this would be an ‘earth’ wire).

✓ Always make sure the fitting has the correctly rated bulb.

✓ Be careful when screwing fittings to the ceiling. There may be wires or pipes in the ceiling void that are in the way.

What contractor would do the job?

The most obvious contractor to do the job would be an electrician or electrical engineer. As long as the professional is trained and licensedto do the work then all is well.

Pros and cons of a contractor doing the job

The obvious advantages of having a professional to do your electrical work include:

Tools. A fully trained electrician will have the necessary tools to do the job and to check the circuit as well.

Skills. Often an electrician comes onto the job after the householder has made a botched attempt at doing the work. The householder wanted to save some money so decided to do the work themselves. Unfortunately they probably didn’t know anything about choosing the correct rated cable or the correct circuit design. They just went ahead and did what they thought was right. Unfortunately for the electrician they decided to give up half way through and left the work in a mess. When the electrician comes on the scene, the first things to do are to find out where all the wires are going and if the wires are rated correctly.

This will be a lot of work so probably the electrician will just rip out everything already done and start again. It would have been better to hire the electrician to do the work at the start.

Labour rates for electricians

Most electricians will charge you a basic minimum fee when they come to do work for you. Because of this we must be careful when calling them out for small jobs such as re-wiring a plug or installing a light switch. If the job is bigger, the minimum fee will be incorporated into the overall job cost. A typical minimum fee will be between $50 and $100 and will usually cover the first hour of work. This fee will vary depending on where you live as well the type of electrician you hire. There are electricians who specialise in domestic work or industrial work or even electronics such as computers, alarm systems and televisions.

When you hire an electrician you want him or her to concentrate on the work that you cannot do, so don’t waste their time.

Prepare before the electrician arrives

Sort out all the inconveniences before they arrive and you will save money. Here is a list of things you might want to consider when thinking about hiring an electrician.

✓ If the electrician hasn’t already visited your home, give a detailed description on the phone, before he arrives of what you want to be done. The more information they have, the quicker they will do the job.

✓ If you are adding other jobs onto the list so as to make best use of the contractor’s time, itemise all the jobs precisely before he arrives. Most electricians budget their time when they do house calls and they won’t have time for extra jobs brought up on the spur of the moment.

✓ Ensure the electrical panel box (also known as distribution board or fuse box) is easily accessible. Don’t forget that the electrician will charge you for his time if he has to move boxes to find it.

✓ You will know approximately where the electrician is expecting to work so it is in your best interests to remove all fragile ornaments and furniture from that area before the electrician arrives.

✓ If you want to ask questions, ask them before he starts or after the job is completed. Don’t disrupt work by asking questions during the job. Most electricians will be happy to explain the problem and tell you how he intends to fix it, but might get a bit fed up if you keep on disturbing the work (except for offering cups of tea or coffee of course).

✓ In order to work on various circuits in the house, the electrician will have to turn off the power to certain parts of your home. Be prepared to stop whatever you are doing if he needs to turn off the electricity. Doing the laundry springs to mind!

✓ Most electricians will give you the option to pay at the time of his call or after the work via an invoice. He should be happy to accept cash or card.

The typical sequence of events when an electrician calls to work on a project involves:

  • Accessing the problem area
  • Look at the job and diagnose what needs to be done
  • Turn off the electricity at the distribution board
  • Do the repairs or install the fittings. The electrician should be carrying basic parts in his van or truck but for speciality items he may have to leave your home to collect items. Be prepared for this
  • Turn on electricity and check all circuits work as expected
  • Clean up and pack tools away

What factors will affect cost?

The cost of installing lighting in your garage will depend on many varying factors. The most important are listed as follows:

The size of your garage. If you have a large double car garage you will obviously need more light than in a small single car garage. Not only the number of light fitments will need to increase but also the amount of wiring needed to make the circuit.

How many lights are needed? Not only the size of your garage has an input on this factor, the other more important factor is what you intend to use your new garage for. If the purpose is just parking your vehicles then all you will need is two long and efficient fluorescent tube fixtures positioned in the correct location to give maximum light. If you intend using the garage for car maintenance then you need plenty of good flood lighting (from the fluorescent lights) as well as a couple of mobile spotlights for illuminating awkward and hidden car parts. Bench work will need more fluorescents fitted above the work bench as well as mobile spotlights for close work. Other hobbies will require lighting more suitable to that activity.

Type of lighting. The main requirements when deciding on lighting in the garage are to provide lighting directed at the object for inspection while at the same time preventing visual glare. The colour of the light emitted will also have an effect on the choice of type of light used. For example if you are intending to use your garage as an art studio you will require lamps that produce colours as close to natural light as possible whereas somewhere to house your model railway is not so important to have colour accurate lamps. The types of lighting available for use in garages include:

  • Fluorescent tube lighting. This is a glass tube coated with phosphor on the inside surface. The tube contains low pressure mercury vapour that provides white light.
  • Halogen. These are incandescent lamps that contain halogen gases trapped within the bulb to increase the efficiency of the lamp as compared to a plain incandescent light.
  • Neon. This is a glass tube containing a low pressure gas. The colour of the light depends on the type of gas within the tube.
    Light emitting diode (LED). These are solid state electrical components that emit light when electrons move in a semi-conductor material.
  • Compact fluorescent lights (CFL). These bulbs are the typical low wattage bulbs available for domestic use. They are usually a fluorescent tube coiled into the same volume as an ordinary incandescent light bulb and are intended to replace normal incandescent bulbs.

The amount of work to be done. If you need to have new lighting circuits installed then the extra fittings and the extra contractor’s time will greatly increase the costs compared to replacing incandescent lights with fluorescent light fittings yourself.

Can we make the job cheaper?

Yes, the job can be as cheap or as expensive as you like. As long as you already have electricity supplied to the garage you can either design a custom made lighting system to suit whatever use you are using the garage for or you can leave the lighting as it is and use floor standing lights, lead lights and table lamps plugged into the electrical sockets. These have the advantage that you can have as little or as much lighting as you want, you can add to the light fittings regularly as your disposable income dictates and you can easily move the standing lights around the garage for use wherever you need light.

How much will the job cost?

There are almost as many different styles of lighting as there are people who want to buy them. Just walk into any home improvement shop and go to the lighting section. It probably takes up almost as much space as the other products combined. For this reason we cannot list every type of light available, instead we will just list examples of each type with a design suitable for use in a garage. All prices are approximate and are intended as a guide only. Prices will vary depending on where you buy the product and the quality of the product.

Lighting cable (3 core)20m roll$40
LED under cabinet lighting fixture18 inch$50
Fluorescent light tubes4ft. pack of 6$50
Fluorescent lamp fixture4 bay, 4 ft tube$100
LED utility shop lights6 pack. 36W$100
Junction box Various sizes$5 to $20
Pendant light fitting & rosePack of 10$70
Typical electrical tools & safety equipment
Digital multimeter$10
Safety goggles$10
Nitrile work glovesPack of 3$12
Wire cutter pliers6 inch$12
Insulated screwdriver set7 piece set$20
Cost to hire an electrician
Low end$80
High end$900
Typical range$150 to $500
National average$310
Hourly rate$50 to $100/hour
Typical project costs
Outlet switch and socket fitting$150 to $250
Light fixture$150 to $750
Electrical breaker$100 to $160

What questions shall I ask the contractor?

When you have decided on your contractor you need to have a quotation drawn up to say how much the job will cost. As well as the cost make sure the quotation and eventual contract contains the following information.

Scope of works. A list of all electrical work you want the electrician to do.

Material specifications. A schedule of the materials your electrician will use. This includes light fittings as well as all cable and other accessories. This is very important to have this information finalised at the beginning of the job before any purchases are made. Although you may not know anything about the electrical specifications, you will want an opportunity to have an input into the style and design of the light fittings.

Deadlines. Approximate start date, duration of the job and estimate end date. If the electrical contractor can give you various options of start date it would be more convenient so that the work can be fitted into your schedule easier.

Payment due. The date when payment for the scope of works is expected. Usually the work should be paid for on completion, having been checked by the customer and an electrical certificate issued. Sometimes the payment schedule can be different from this and we will talk about these now.

If the scope of works is large and expected to carry on for at least a few weeks, it is acceptable for the electrical contractor to request and receive a deposit.

Usually the deposit is about 10% of the total value of the work. A deposit proves to the contractor that you have committed to the job and that you are happy to pay the balance on completion.

If the electrician expects the work to last for a few weeks and includes separate stages such as groundwork, first fix and second fix, it is acceptable for the customer to pay a deposit at the start of the job, followed by a number of stage payments due when the specific stage has been completed satisfactorily.

Often the deposit and stage payments total approximately 60% of the total value of the work and the remaining 40% is payable when the electrical certificate has been issued.

If the job uses a lot of expensive light fittings, it is acceptable for the electrical contractor to be paid either the full amount or a percentage of the cost of materials when the equipment arrives on site.

How the contract deals with changes to the scope of work. There will always be changes and alterations to every construction job, no matter what the trade is and no matter how well the project is planned. There will always be something unforeseen by the contractor or the customer will change their mind.

For example suppose that the original contract specified a certain type of light fitting. When they were being installed the customer decided that they didn’t like the style after all and wanted another, more expensive type. Obviously the work that has already been done will have to be paid for as well as paying for the lights that have already been installed. Work will also have to be done to remove the unwanted lights and new ones put in their place. How are we going to remedy the complication?

The customer and contractor will already have agreed and written into the contract that new materials will be paid for in full while the extra work will be charged at an agreed hourly rate. It is a good idea for photographs to be taken as proof before and after the extra work to prove the extras have been done. However you agree to fix the complication, it will be specified in the contract and will be agreed by both parties.

Photographic log. A lot of electrical work is eventually hidden inside walls and ceilings and the only parts that the customer sees are the switch and the light fitting. Work out a method whereby the contractor can take photographs of all hidden work before and after installation. Not only will this prove to the customer that hours have been spent on a job that are not immediately noticeable but it can be useful if there is a legal dispute at a later date. Although your home insurance company will usually take on face value the information supplied in the electrical certificate, it may also be useful to have additional evidence if there is a claim later to do with the electrical work.

Insurance. The contractor must supply a copy of the appropriate insurance policies and prove the items which are covered. He must be covered for:

  1. Damage to your property
  2. For injury and fatality of you, your family and any other person
  3. For injury to his own workforce

Certification. The contractor should attach a copy of his contractor licence proving that he is properly registered. He must also attach evidence of his qualifications. The customer has the right to check all details on the licence.

How do I spot a scam?

Unfortunately there are crooked people in every occupation and the construction industry is no exception. Most scams that are commonly perpetrated in the electrical industry are general to all construction but are varied to suit the specific trade in question.

Cost. We have already talked about the various costs that should be expected when installing lighting into a garage and you must be aware of these when you are dealing with the electrician. Be aware that a contractor may try to overcharge you because you live in an expensive house or in a posh area. If you are in any doubt as to the cost of materials, ask the electrician what the specifications are and either look online or ask your local electrical wholesaler for a quotation. Remember that the contractor may charge you a bit more than the going rate as it is perfectly acceptable for the contractor to add a handling charge onto the cost of materials. Just raise a fuss when the ‘handling charge’, in your opinion, is too much. When you finally agree a price get it in writing and ask for the specifications.

Feel comfortable. When dealing with an electrical contractor or in fact with anyone who wishes to do business with you, trust your intuition. Remember, you are allowing a stranger to come into your home. The contractor might be alone in your home or you might be there with him. It is very easy for someone to bully and intimidate a trusting person into giving them money or allowing them to look around your home. Remember there are always plenty more companies around who are far more trustworthy and with whom you will feel more comfortable.

Insurance. When the contractor tells you they are insured, don’t believe it until you have seen the policy and checked for yourself with the insurance company. You need reassurance that the policies are valid when the work starts and continue until the job ends.

Address. When you did your initial search for finding suitable contractors (you did do a search, didn’t you?) ensure they have a real address and that the person you are dealing with is registered to that address. If possible, visit the address and check that everything is correct and above board. Ask at the office that issues building permits, they will probably be able to tell you more about the contractor than anyone and advise whether the electrician is genuine or not.

Internet searches. Almost everyone can access the internet. It is there so use it. Get as much information as you can about the contractor. Look on local DIY forums and ask questions or see whether the contractor is being discussed on social media.

Correct materials. One of the biggest cons around is when contractors buy the cheapest economy grade electrical materials and invoice the job for more expensive better quality materials. They may even be using substandard materials, not suitable for the job. Always work with reputable construction companies or contractors. Never with cowboys.

Don’t pay by cash. Be wary of people who insist on cash payments. When you pay for materials or give a deposit always use a money order or cheque, never cash. You must also make the order payable to the company, not the contractor’s wife or partner. Do things by the book and you can’t go wrong. If there is a problem with the work later on, you will have an auditable paper trail.

One-day-wonders. One of the classic cons involves a person setting up a construction company, takes on business and is then paid a good proportion of the total cost. The contractor makes a lot of mistakes and never returns to finish the work. The company declares bankrupt and the contractor opens up another company doing the same scam.

Check the contractor is licenced. Usually people make the mistake of assuming that an unlicenced contractor will cost less than a licenced one. Usually they are but if you stop and think you will realise that they are more than likely unlicenced for a reason. Are they professional? Is their work quality of a sufficiently high standard? Are they in trouble with the law or another government agency? Do they use shoddy materials? Many of the unlicenced contractors move around the country and aren’t in a district long enough to make a name for themselves.

Be safe with electricity

A qualified and licenced electrician will know all about the safe handling of electricity. If you decide to do small jobs on your own you must have an understanding of how electricity works and what you need to do to safeguard yourself and your property. If electricity is not handled properly there is a serious risk of property damage, fire, personal injury and death.

✓ Turn it off at the fuse box. The first thing to do when having a go at any electrical job is to turn off the power at the source and prevent it from being turned back on again by accident until the project is finished. Whenever work is done near the distribution board make sure switches are taped into the ‘off’ position and the panel is locked so the switches cannot be moved. Even if the power has been turned off, it is always sensible to assume that each wire is ‘live’ before working on it. Using a voltage tester will help to check that wires are safe.

✓ Wear protective equipment. Even if a job is expected to take just a few minutes, it can easily turn into a major long term task if complications are found, so always be prepared for a long job.

✓ Wear safety goggles to protect the eyes from sparks and electrical arcs, metal trimmings from wire and insulation debris.

✓ Wear boots with thick rubber soles to prevent accidents caused by slipping and falls. The rubber soles will help insulate yourself from the earth as well.

✓ Suitable gloves will help protect the hands while working. Tiny slivers of metal wire can easily become embedded in the skin.

✓ Be aware of what is going on around you. You don’t want to cause an accident because you didn’t see something important.

✓ Make sure there isn’t any water around. Water on the floor of a bathroom or laundry room is responsible for many accidents when working on electricity.

✓Wire everything properly. When you work on electrical circuits, the aim is to produce a safe installation that works properly. All outlets and switches must be wired correctly and done ‘in code’. You should leave your work safe for the next person to work on in 6 months or 6 years. Whenever there is the chance of water encroaching on the area or damage to a wire you must fit ground fault circuit breakers to automatically turn the power off if a ground fault occurs.

Usually this situation may occur in laundry rooms, bathrooms, kitchens, outside the house and in garages.

✓ Estimate the correct amount of wire. Electrical novices working on a project will often underestimate the amount of wire needed to install an outlet. Never stretch wires to make them fit as this can cause poor terminal connections. Putting too many wires inside a junction box is also something to avoid for safety sake. Neatly fold wires and label each one in a multiswitch electrical box. Always make sure that junction boxes are easily accessible when recessed in the wall or roof space just in case changes need to be made.

Safety tips when wiring

When working on electrical circuits always take care and work with caution. If you have any exposed wiring, use conduit or trunking to protect the wires.

Loose outlets can become a fire hazard so make sure they are kept tightened. Have a fire extinguisher suitable for electrical fires nearby (this would be a chemical powder or carbon dioxide extinguisher, never water or foam). Always follow the national and local codes when working on electrical wiring and fittings and have them inspected afterwards by a qualified person. If the work is complicated or you are not comfortable with doing the work, then call a qualified and licenced electrician to do the work for you.

To finish

Installing proper lighting inside your garage can be a major benefit if you use it as a hobby room. Don’t go overboard as electricians can be expensive to hire.

If you can’t afford all the light fittings you want then work on it gradually and use ‘plug in’ floor standing lamps as a temporary fix.

Remember to always be safe when working with electricity and if you are in doubt about your capabilities call a professional to do the work for you.

We hope you have come away with a new piece of information today. Thank you for reading.

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