Do LED Lights Work in Cold Weather? [Garage & Outdoor Lighting]

Cold winters and LED lights don’t mix, or so we’ve been told.

But is it really true?

When I lived in Pennsylvania, I had some LED lights that seemed to struggle in the cold weather. But that was over ten years ago, so I wanted to do a little research to see if that was still the case.

LED shop lights work very well in a cold garage or as outdoor lighting! In fact, LED lights perform better in extreme cold than in extreme heat. In addition to boasting higher efficiency and sustainability, they are ideally suited for cold weather conditions.

Cold weather isn’t the only benefit of adding LED lights to your garage. But first, a little background…

LED Lighting vs. Fluorescent Lights

Not so long ago, garages and warehouses were lit up exclusively by fluorescent tube lights. They had their issues, but they were cheap and gave off a fair amount of light.

Eventually, technology got better. We wanted lights that were more efficient, sustainable, and longer lasting.

Then along came LED bulbs.

Fluorescent shop lights usually come in four-foot-long tubes. Fluorescent bulbs boast longer life and better light hue than incandescent lights.

LED bulbs take that to a new level without sacrificing the functionality of fluorescent lights.

Why LED Lights are Perfect for the Garage

I’m not exaggerating here: LED bulbs were a revolution in lighting.

Older incandescent bulbs produce heat while converting electricity to visible light. This leads to wasted energy on the infrared side of the light spectrum, which humans can’t see.

By contrast, LED (or light-emitting diodes) are much more efficient at converting electricity into light. That means they result in brighter lights that don’t get as hot.

Because they’re more efficient, LED shop lights don’t necessarily need to be hardwired into your house. They can also work off a battery pack or solar panels powering your garage.

As a bonus, they are also smaller and shock-resistant. I don’t know about your garage, but I definitely appreciate that in my garage!

Why LED Shop Lights Work In Cold Weather

As I mentioned, LED shop lights don’t waste energy by producing large amounts of heat. This makes them more energy efficient than traditional light bulbs.

LED bulbs convert about 85% of electricity into visible light, compared to only 10% for incandescent bulbs (not a typo) or 15% for CFL bulbs (source).

Here’s why LEDs work better in cold temperatures than in hot temperatures…

The remaining 15% of the energy that isn’t converted to light gets converted into heat and ends up in a built-in “heatsink,” keeping it away from the light-producing diodes. However, if the temperature increases too much, it will cause the LED bulbs to fail.

The reverse is also true.

The electronic driver that causes LEDs to produce light will thrive in cold weather. Unlike fluorescent bulbs, LEDs don’t rely on a combustible source that can easily result in damage if exposed to cold temperatures.

Moreover, LEDs don’t depend on mercury vapor.

Have you ever noticed that fluorescent tube lights look terrible in cold weather? That’s normal.

Fluorescent lights work by ionizing the mercury vapor in the tube. Unlike traditional lighting, the light output of LED lights stays consistent regardless of how cold it gets.

Last but not least, LEDs are resistant to sudden temperature changes. Because they don’t have any glass components that can break easily, they are the ideal choice for your garage or workshop.

LEDs are one of the only suitable lighting solutions in climates that suffer from sudden rises and falls in temperature.

What is the operating temperature of LED Lighting?

Generally, LED lights work best in an operating temperature between -25F (-31C) and +140F (+60C).

That means LED lights are suitable for outdoor use anywhere in the United States and Canada!

The temperature inside your garage won’t fluctuate nearly that much, especially if you’ve insulated your garage. However, continuous temperature changes, heat, and high humidity in your garage can take a toll on your bulbs.

Heat: The Enemy of LED Lights

As I mentioned, LED lights have a ‘heat sink’ which captures the excess heat produced and keeps it away from the diodes. It’s necessary because if the internal temperature surpasses 85C or 185F, the LED bulbs will fail. 

Similarly, the external temperature has a similar effect on the bulbs.

As the external temperature rises, the internal components of the bulbs heat up. As this happens, the light output and efficiency decrease, and the bulbs’ lifespan is shortened.

LED Lighting Output in Cold Weather

You’ll hear the term ‘lumen’ thrown about a lot.

The lumen is the measurement unit of the quantity of visible light produced by a lightbulb. It can, therefore, express the performance of a specific light source.

Put simply, the brighter a light is, the higher its lumen rating will be.

If you’re not used to buying LED light bulbs, this will require a bit of a change in mindset.

Traditional light bulbs (fluorescent and incandescent bulbs) have always been measured in Watts, but that’s a measure of power usage, not brightness.

With the advent of LED, we now measure brightness in lumens.

Thanks to their much higher efficiency, LED lights create the same light as a halogen lamp with half of the energy.

For example, a LED light that uses 6.5W will produce the same amount of light as a 50W fluorescent light source. 

For more information on lumens, check out my article, which gives a simple formula to calculate how many lumens you need to light your garage.

Standard halogen lamps tend to lower their light output while needing more power during cold temperatures. This is because fluorescent lamps produce excess heat while producing light (back to that efficiency thing again).

3 Additional Benefits of LED Shop Lights

I hate to sound like an infomercial (but wait…there’s more!), but if all of this wasn’t enough reason to look at LED lights, even in a cold garage, here are three more reasons:

Longer Life

LED lights usually last up to 15 years, assuming a standard usage of 6 to 8 hours per dily. Unlike older light bulb designs, they don’t lose brightness or decrease in quality over time, so you’ll get that same bright light on day 1 as you will on day 5000!

Bright White or Warm Light: Your Choice

LED lights come in different color temperatures that range from warm, yellow light to hyper-bright blueish-white light.

What color temperature is right for your garage? It depends on what you use your garage for, but I have a guide to choosing the best color temperature for garage lighting to help you make the right choice.

Environmentally Sustainable

Picking a lighting solution that can help reduce wastage and electricity usage. Additionally, LEDs are free of toxic additives and mercury, and they are entirely recyclable.

Photo of author

Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including, Home Stratosphere, House Digest, Livingetc, and SFGate. Since 2018, he has helped over two million people transform their everyday garages into something they can be proud of. He lives in Central Florida with his wife and bulldog.