Once I moved into my house, it didn’t take me very long to want a brighter garage. I bet you feel the same way.
But how can you tell how many lights you need to make your garage as bright as you want? And what kind of lights do you need?
It all comes down to how many lumens you need for your garage.
LED lights are listed in terms of Lumens. The number of lumens emitted by your lights determines the general brightness of the lighting in the garage.
How many lumens do I need for garage lighting? The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) guidelines recommend a minimum of 50 lumens per square feet of space. So the average one-car garage needs a minimum of 13,200 lumens while the a two-car garage requires a minimum of 20,000 lumens. This can increase based on how you use your garage.
So how do you figure out how many lumens you need to properly light a garage?
First, let’s talk about what a lumen is and how it compares to watts.
Lumens vs. Watts
We’re used to seeing light bulbs in terms of watts. 60W, 100W, etc., but watts are actually a measure of the amount of energy a light bulb uses and not how much light it gives off.
Usually a higher wattage means a brighter bulb, but not always.
If you remember CFL light bulbs, the twisty fluorescent light bulbs, they produced a comparable level of light at a fraction of the energy consumption of our old incandescent bulbs. But that they were still listed in terms of watts of power used, which was confusing to consumers.
Which brings us to Lumens. What is a lumen?
Lumens are the raw quantity of light being produced by an object. It has nothing to do with the amount of power that the bulb uses.
How many lumens you need for your garage depends on what you’re planning on doing in your garage, so there’s no “one light fits all” solution.
Thankfully, there’s a simple calculation we can do to figure it out for your specific garage.
Don’t worry, I’ll keep the math to a minimum. 🙂
How to Calculate Lumens for Garage Lighting
Now let’s talk about how we get to the numbers I listed in the beginning.
1. Recommended Lumens Per Square Foot
The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) recommended guidelines for lighting based on how the space is being used. Even though they’re designed for commercial spaces, they offer some useful guidelines which we’ll use here. (pdf source)
They recommend 50 lumens per square foot for an automotive showroom or service area.
We’re going to assume your garage needs a minimum of the same amount of light, at minimum.
2. Measure Your Garage
The other input we need is the square footage of your garage.
A standard sized, one-car garage is 12′ x 22′, which gives it 264 sq. ft. of space.
Similarly, the average two-car garage is around 20′ x 20′, although there’s slightly more variability in size. That equates to around 400 sq. ft. of space. (source)
3. Multiply Together
Now that you have those two numbers, it’s a simple case of multiplying them together to get how many lumens you need for your garage.
One Car Garage
50 lumens/Sq. Ft. x 264 Sq. Ft = 13,200 lumens
Two Car Garage
50 lumens/Sq. Ft. x 400 Sq. Ft = 20,000 lumens
A one-car garage needs a minimum of 13,200 lumens and a two-car garage requires a minimum of 20,000 lumens.
Remember, this is the minimum. The number of lumens you need may increase based on how you use your garage.
In my case, I wanted my garage lighting to be as bright as possible, so I went with a minimum of 100 lumens per square foot. This worked out to be around 48,000 lumens for my two-car garage.
For more on my garage lighting installation, click to read this article.
How Do You Calculate Lumens for a Workbench?
People who use their garage as their main workshop or detailing their cars will need a lot brighter lighting (higher lumens) for safety and efficiency than someone who only uses their garage for storage.
The Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) recommends that you have 300 lumens per square foot in a workshop area.
To calculate how many lumens you need, you need to figure out the area of your workshop area.
Lumen calculation example:
If your workshop table is 6 feet by 2.5 feet, this means that the square footage of your table is 6 x 2.5 or 15 square feet. Since you should install 300 lumens per square foot for workshop areas, this comes out to 4,500 lumens total necessary to adequately light your workshop table area.
That sounds like a lot, but in reality it’s about what you get from one four-foot LED light fixture.
Keep in mind, these are only general guidelines. If you’re trying to light a garage that has dark walls or shaded light fixtures, you may need to increase the amount of lumens to compensate for the environmental factors.
Types of lights: Incandescent vs. Fluorescent Lighting vs. LED
How much lighting you need for your garage doesn’t depend just on what you’re planning to do in the garage, it depends on what kind of lighting you install.
For more on what kind of lighting you should have in your garage, check out my article where I go over the pros and cons of each type of lighting.
There are several different kinds of lights available:
- Incandescent lighting: These are your “old school” light bulbs. Incandescent lighting uses lights that are encased in glass and contain a tungsten filament. One of the oldest forms of electric lighting, incandescent lights are currently being phased out and replaced with LED and CFL lighting.
- Fluorescent lighting: Fluorescent lighting is a low-pressure mercury-vapor gas-discharge lamp that operates on fluorescence to produce visible light. They need to warm up before reaching their full brightness. This usually takes anywhere between several seconds to several minutes.
- CFL (compact fluorescent lamp) lighting: CFL lighting is fluorescent lighting specifically designed to replace incandescent lighting and is often engineered to fit into the same fixtures that previously powered incandescent lights.
- LED (light-emitting diode) lighting: Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) are semiconducting light sources that emit light when current flows through them. They’re extremely low power and extremely long lifespan.
It is generally recommended that cool-colored fluorescent, CFL, and LED lighting be used in auxiliary workspaces such as garages and shops.
Even though they’re more expensive initially, most people are switching out their fluorescent and CFL lighting in favor of LED lights.
Advantages to LED and CFL lights:
LEDs and fluorescent lighting put out a much higher number of lumens per watt compared to incandescent lighting, which makes them more efficient.
For example, a 60-watt light bulb emits 800 lumens, while a similar brightness LED light only uses between 6-8 watts!.
Fluorescent and LED lights emit very little heat as by-product of their light generation and are less likely to cause a burn injury or inadvertently start a fire.
It also means you won’t need to look for ways to keep your garage cool, which is a big deal here in Florida.
Besides their fire and heat safety advantages, LEDs and fluorescent lights put out less heat and are more efficient too. Using these lights in your garage will mean you’ll spend less on air conditioning as well.
Better for your eyes
Cool lighting like LEDs and fluorescent lighting appear brighter to the human eye, increasing visibility. If you do any detail work in your garage, this will make it easier to read labels or find small objects.
Cool lighting has the psychological effect of increasing alertness and focus, while warm lighting creates comfort and relaxation. This makes cool lighting the better choice for work-oriented spaces like garages and shops.
Different Kinds of Garage Lighting
Now that we’ve covered the different types of lights, it should be pretty obvious that I highly recommend LED lights.
LED lights are more efficient and last longer than their incandescent bulbs. They’re not as cheap as fluorescent lights, but they don’t take as long to warm up to their full brightness.
Now let’s figure out what kind of lighting fixtures are best for installing in a garage.
Using your lumens-per-square foot criteria, you can determine how many light fixtures you need by taking your total requirement for your entire garage and dividing it by the number of lumens each fixture puts out.
See? I told you I’d keep the math simple.
Here are some of my recommendations, depending on your needs:
- Tube lighting: If you’re going with LED lighting, tube lighting is probably a good choice. This lighting goes by T5, T8, or T12 designations. Choose the T5 or T8 type bulbs, which are more energy-efficient than the T12 models.
- Shop lights: Typically, fluorescent lights but also available in LED, shop lights are a good choice for many small garages. They are fairly inexpensive and usually come with plugs, so no wiring is usually required
- Motion-activated lights: Motion-activated lights can be a good choice to improve light efficacy in your garage. While they can be a bit more expensive than some other light fixture options, they end up paying for themselves in cumulative saved energy costs.
How to tell how many lumens your light puts out
If you’re replacing light fixture and want something similar (or better) it may be tough to remember how many lumens your current bulb puts out.
Thankfully, there’s an easy way to tell.
On all lighting fixture and bulb packaging, there is a Lighting Label from the Federal Trade Commission. It breaks down the light’s brightness in lumens along with these other important aspects of a lighting source:
- Approximate annual energy cost
- Bulb life expectancy (in years)
- Color temperature (whether it is a cool or warm colored light)
- Whether or not the bulb contains mercury
Conclusion: Why lumens matter
We all want a brightly lit garage so it’s easier to work in.
Out of all the areas in a house, the garage is one space where it is critical to have great lighting, but in most homes, it’s one of the darkest rooms in the entire house.
Dim garages can lead to difficulties in finding equipment and tools, strain on your eyes and can lead to more serious consequences such as falls or other injuries. You should never have to use a flashlight or penlight in your garage to find something you need.
Hopefully this helps you to figure out how many lumens you need so that you can work in a brightly lit garage.
Once you calculate how many lumens you need for your garage, the next step is to find the best LED shop lights. Check out my super-detailed guide to garage lighting for more tips!