What Kind of Lights Should I Put in My Garage?

If you’re like me, you’ve probably stood in front of the lighting section of Lowe’s or Home Depot, trying to figure out what kind of lights to buy for your garage.

It can be a tough choice.

Choosing the proper type of garage lighting can make the difference between a dark and dangerous garage and one that is bright and inviting.

The kinds of lights you should put in your garage depend largely on garage use. Still, most garages involve a combination of ambient, task, and accent lighting. LED shop lights are highly recommended for most residential garages.

Whether you use your garage as a workspace or just someplace to store your stuff, different types of lighting will make it more efficient and fun to use.

Keep reading to learn more about the kinds of lights available for garage designs.

It Matters How You Use Your Garage

Think of all the possible ways to use your garage: parking your car, storing holiday decorations or clothes, grow rooms/indoor gardening, as a workshop or arts & crafts room.

Here are some of the most common ways people use their garages:

Each of these uses requires a different type and amount of light. Upgrading your garage lighting can be expensive, and it consumes a lot of electricity.

So it’s important to know what kind of lighting you need based on what you do in your garage. Once you know that, you’ll need to figure out how much you need to work safely in your garage. 

Woodworking or crafting requires much brighter and more focused lighting than simply parking your car or storing your holiday decorations.

You need to consider how you use your garage when deciding what lighting to buy. 

Why is Garage Lighting Important?

Most common garage accidents that result in injury are caused by insufficient lighting.

This is especially true if your tools and supplies are scattered on the floor where anyone can trip over them.

With dim lighting, it’s harder to keep your garage organized. After all, it’s tough to keep things neat in the dark, right?

It’s in your best interests to install garage lighting that lets you see everything in your garage clearly. It could prevent a trip to the emergency room.

How to Improve Lighting in a Garage

If you want to get more light in your garage, there are a couple of different paths you can take:  

  • Natural lighting options: A small skylight or windows in your garage door is a great way to add ambient lighting.
  • Add motion sensors to LED lights: This isn’t recommended for fluorescent lights, but automating LED lights with a motion sensor can save a lot of money on utilities in the long run.
  • Add auxiliary lighting. Bright desk lamps and secondary garage lighting can brighten a workbench for more intensive tasks that require more visibility.
  • Think of recessed lighting as an investment: Recessed lighting probably isn’t your best choice (more on that later). However, it almost always looks better than light fixtures hanging from the ceiling. Because of that, it could increase the value of your home if you ever decide to sell it. Expect to pay more upfront, though.

Types of Garage Lights

There are several significant types of lighting that we need to think about. You may want some of each in your garage in certain places.

Your garage will likely be some combination of:  

  • Ambient lighting: Ambient lighting is generalized, overhead lighting that spreads evenly across the entire room. This is the best type of lighting for general purposes and for car storage.
  • Task lighting: Task lighting is concentrated lighting where higher levels of visibility are necessary for detail work. Use this where you need maximum visibility for detail work, such as woodworking or home improvement projects.
  • Accent lighting: Accent lighting in garages is decorative lighting, best for displaying memorabilia or hobby items. Since it’s designed to be supplemental, it doesn’t have to be as bright as task lighting and doesn’t have to be as diffused as ambient lighting.  

Every garage will need strong ambient lighting for general use.

However, the amount of task and accent lighting you need will depend on your garage and how you intend to use it.

For example, if you use your garage as a workshop, you’ll need brighter, more focused task lighting than just using for parking your car.

No matter which types of lights you choose, be sure to get low-bay lights instead of high-bay lights. High-bay lighting is designed for tall warehouse ceilings and won’t work as well on residential garages.

LED vs. Fluorescent Lighting for Garages

In most cases, LED lights are a much better than fluorescent lights because LED lights are:

  • Brighter at the same wattage
  • Doesn’t get hot as fluorescent lights do
  • Doesn’t require a ballast
  • It is directional, so it can be concentrated in one area easily, while fluorescent lighting is more diffused (omnidirectional)
  • LED lights aren’t affected by temperatures
  • They are much better ‘grow lights’ due to a reduced fire risk and an optimal light spectrum.

The one drawback to LED lighting versus fluorescent lighting is that the lighting fixtures themselves tend to be more expensive. However, once you factor in the energy savings and increased life, LED lights become less expensive overall.

Also, fluorescent lights have a limited number of times that they can be turned on and off. They will degrade more quickly than LED lights under the same conditions. 

Shop Lights vs. Recessed Lighting

When I purchased my house, I had four additional recessed lights installed n my garage ceiling. My thought was that would be enough to adequately light my garage.

That turned out not to be the case, but I was still very thankful that I could use the existing wiring when I installed my Hykolity shop lights.

Recessed lighting vs. LED shop lights in my garage

Recessed lighting has the advantage of installing inside your garage ceiling, so it has a much more finished look than shop lights. However, they’re not nearly as powerful as an equivalent shop light.

Most single recessed lights, or can lights, output around 1,000 lumens, while a shop light can be 4-5 times as powerful at a similar cost.

On the other hand, shop lights are external fixtures that either mount to your ceiling or hang down from a chain.

Recessed lighting can provide a sleeker-looking overhead lighting scheme than traditional fluorescent ballasts for ambient lighting. 

How Much Lighting Does My Garage Need?

The amount of light you need in your garage depends on how you plan to use it.

A good benchmark for garage lighting is between 130 and 150 lumens per square foot.

I mentioned lumens briefly in the previous section, so let me explain it now. Lumens measure how much light a bulb puts out, and the more lumens, the more intense the light.

This follows the standards set forth by the Lighting Handbook of the Illuminating Engineer Society (IES). 50 lumens per square foot is the minimum amount of light for general spaces, while workspace areas need 300 lumens per square foot.

From personal experience, I’ll say that having 130 lumens per square foot in your garage is a game-changer. Everything is so much brighter. It feels almost like a sunny afternoon, except indoors.

When I need additional focused light, like when I’m working on my RC cars, I use my Barrina T5 LED shop lights as under cabinet lighting.

Once you have the general ambient lighting in your garage, it’s time to focus on adding task lighting to specific areas.

It’s most important to focus on having enough focused lighting over workbenches, tables, and other areas where you’re working on small, detailed projects.


If you’re ready to take the next step with your garage lighting, I recommend checking out my LED shop light comparison article.

I spent over forty hours testing some of the best reviewed LED shop lights to see which one would work best in my garage. It’ll be a great resource for you as you decide which kind of lights to buy for your garage.

Photo of author

Tim Wells

Tim Wells, the founder of Garage Transformed, has been featured in dozens of home renovation publications, including BobVila.com, 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.