When I was starting to look into upgrading my garage lighting, the “experts” said that you needed to have separate fixtures and T8 fluorescent or LED bulbs.
Most of the fixtures I found were something called “high bay lights.”
If you’re like me, you might be wondering what exactly is a high bay light? More importantly, should you use them in a residential garage?
As I was digging into the answer, I found three great reasons why you never want to use high-bay lights in your garage at home.
First, let’s figure out exactly what high-bay lights are.
High Bay vs. Low Bay Lighting
You’ll usually see references to ‘high-bay lights’ but rarely low-bay lights. That can make it difficult to tell the difference between them.
What are high-bay LED lights? High-bay LED lights, which are sometimes called ‘warehouse lights’, are designed to be used in rooms with a ceiling higher than 20′ tall. They typically have a tighter beam angle and reflectors to focus the light the longer distance towards the warehouse floor. Those same strengths make them poorly suited for residential garages.
By contrast, low-bay lights are designed for use with ceilings under 20′ tall. They typically have a wider beam-angle so light is more spread out instead of focused.
So my first question was, what’s wrong with using a heightened bay light with a low ceiling? Well it turns out there are several reasons why you shouldn’t.
Reason #1: High-Bay Lights Cast Shadows Where You Don’t Want Them
The biggest reason not to use high-bay lights in your garage is that they’re going to cast shadows where you don’t want them.
Keep in mind that these lights were designed to be used in warehouses.
In a warehouse, you want powerful light focused on the floor. You don’t necessarily care about casting shadows on the ceiling, because that’s not where people and product are going to be.
Take a look at this picture. This light focuses its beam more-or-less straight down. That’s because the light has a very narrow beam angle.
The beam angle of the light is critical because it either focuses the light into a narrow beam (like a spot-light) or spreads it out wider so there’s an even coverage over a greater distance.
Here’s another example.
The light fixture on the left has a 30° beam angle while the fixture on the right has a 120° beam angle.
On the left, the most concentrated light is farther away from the bulb itself, but shadows form higher up on the wall. On the right, you can see the concentrated part of the light does’s extend as far down, but there are less shadows near the light.
Warehouses typically use powerful, narrow beam-angled lights that focus the light on the floor. A residential garage on the other hand, wants to spread out the light so you get an even coverage over a wider area.
High-bay LED lights simply aren’t good for that application.
Reason #2: Higher Power Consumption
In an apples to apples comparison (more on that in a second), a high-bay LED light will use more power than a low-bay light.
A couple of things to note here. I’m talking about raw power consumption, and not power efficiency. Power efficiency is usually fairly constant in a manufacturer’s lineup.
A high-bay light will use more power than a low-bay light because it’s designed to output more light over a greater distance (back to the beam angle problem).
For example, the Hykolity LED shop lights that I reviewed output 5200 lumens while using only 40 watts of power. That’s 130 lumens per watt.
But Hykolity’s high-bay LED fixture that outputs 29,250 lumens while using 223 watts still produces the same 130 lumens per watt of power.
Sure, it outputs more lumens of light overall, but they’re all concentrated in one place.
Remember, the goal of residential garage lighting is to get an even spread of light in your garage, not an intense beam of light in one area.
High Voltage: One other quick note. High-bay lights can output a ton of light and that light requires a lot of power. I’ve seen some fixtures that require up to 480 volts – four times what the typical house is wired for.
Even if you’re looking really intense light, you may not be able to install these lights without some significant modifications to your house.
Reason #3 They Cost More (Initially and Ongoing)
Talking cost is a challenge. Something that may cost more initially may actually work out to be cheaper in the end.
High-bay lights not only cost more initially but they cost more to operate. This is a lose-lose situation for most homeowners.
Take the Hykolity lights I used as an example earlier. The high-bay lights cost $135 for each 4′ section while their 4′ LED shop lights cost $40.
Combine that with the higher cost running a 225 watt fixture rather than a 40 watt fixture…suddenly that high-bay fixture is a huge drain on your monthly utility bill.
I’m not trying to dump on high-bay lights. They have their purpose, but it’s just not in your garage.
High-bay lights are designed for warehouses – not your garage. From the tighter beam-angle to the higher initial cost to the higher overall operating costs, they’re just not designed for home use.