Now that you hopefully have a workbench, you need to install proper lighting. Ideally your garage workshop should be a bright and shadow free zone. There are several ways to do this, but the solution I will show seemed to be the least expensive, and has been very effective. Essentially, I will walk you through building a custom garage lighting fixture that simply plugs into an existing wall socket, with a wall switch for easy use. The cost of this project works out to be approximately $15/light fixture (including light bulbs), and should take 1 day to complete (helps to have 2 people, but can be done with one).
Step 1: Map out where you want your light fixtures to be
If you have a workbench, I suggest putting a fixture up every 4 feet and directly over the bench to prevent shadows. In our garage, we needed workbench lighting, but also wanted the entire area to be bright, so we mirrored the bench lighting on the other side of the garage for a total of 8 fixtures. When our lights are on, the garage is bright as day, and because the fixtures are fairly evenly spaced in all directions, we have virtually no shadows.
Note: When mapping out your fixtures, keep your garage door clearance in mind if you plan to place any lights in between the tracks.
Step 2: Map out the details
Now that you know where your fixtures are going, you need to determine how you will get power there. I would not bring more than 4 lights together in one connection, because it makes for a very bulky connection; try to run only straight lines and “T’s” for connecting your lights. Place your electrical connection box fairly close to the outlet you intend to use. We used the ceiling outlet, since only one of the two was being used for our garage door opener, but you can use any outlet. In your design, you can bend conduit, but it should only have 2 bends per stretch, otherwise your wires will not push through easily. If you need more bends, you can always add an additional j-box with a cover to access the wire for pulling.
Step 3: Create your BOM (Bill of Materials)
Here is a list of materials you will need (quantities will vary depending on how many fixtures you are placing):
- Light Fixture – however many you plan to put in
- Light bulbs – 2/fixture (bright white 13W energy efficient bulbs work great for this purpose)
- Square ceiling J-box w/ ½’ knockouts – one for each light fixture, plus an extra for connecting your power cord (make sure you choose a j-box that is compatible with the light fixture)
- Wall switch with j-box and metal cover – make sure the j-box has ½” knockouts
- ½” Conduit – map out the total length you need, and buy 1-2 extra lengths just in case (it is about $2/10’ length)
- ½” Set Screw Connector – every time the conduit connects to a j-box you need one
- ½” Set Screw Coupling – these connect conduit to conduit and you may or may not need them, so have them on hand
- Cable Clamp – for clamping the power cord securely into the j-box
- ½” One Hole Straps – to strap long stretches of conduit to the ceiling or wall
- Drywall screws – for installing the j-boxes
- Power cord – we used an old extension cord we had laying around, but you can buy extension cords meant for this kind of application (make sure it has a 3-prong grounded plug and at least 14 gauge wire)
- Wire nuts – make sure to comply with the specs on the wire nuts, you may need a couple of different sizes.
- Black and White 14 gauge solid wire – make sure you have enough to run the lengths you mapped plus some extra for slack. You can use white wire in place of black as long as you mark each end with black electrical tape, showing that it is being used as black.
- Pipe Bender – if you have bends scheduled in your layout you will need this, or you can buy pre-bent pieces to couple in
- Hack Saw (reciprocating saw or jig saw with fine metal blade will also work) – for cutting the conduit. You can also get a conduit cutter for about $30.
- Rat Tail File – to file inside of the pipe on cut edges, preventing possible nicks in your wire (if you used a conduit cutter, you may not need this, just make sure the inside is smooth to the touch)
- Wire stripper
- Electric screwdriver
Step 4: Prep your fixtures
The light fixtures only match up with the j-box one way, so make sure you know which way you want the lights facing. Punch out the ½” knockouts in the j-boxes where conduit will be connected (the easiest way to do this is take a flat head and hit the knockout with a hammer, then use pliers to twist it until it breaks away). Install conduit clamps on each j-box where conduit will be connected (make sure you leave the screws facing the open side of the j-box so you can get to them later). On your electrical only j-box, install the wire clamp for the power cord in the same manner. The light fixtures themselves also require some assembly, so it is a good idea to get these prepped now.
Step 5: Install your j-boxes and conduit
First, install all of the j-boxes with at least 2 drywall screws each. If you have several lights in a row, measure out from the wall equal distance on each side, and snap a chalk line so your lights stay even. Next, you need to install the conduit pieces to connect all of the j-boxes according to what you laid out. It is easiest to hold the conduit up and mark where to cut, as opposed to using a tape measure (when measuring the conduit, make sure you leave enough slack that you can get it into place). If you have a piece of conduit that is too short, you can always use a coupler to create a longer stretch. For long stretches of conduit, make sure you use straps to secure it to the wall or ceiling.
Step 6: Run the electrical
Run the pair of black and white wires through the conduit, connecting each adjacent j-box with wires. Leave about 4” of wire hanging out of each box, so you have enough to work with later on. Additionally, you need to run a pair of black wires from the electrical box to the switch box with no breaks (pull through one section at a time).
Note: If your wire comes on spools, you can use a broom stick clamped to the table to hold the spools while you pull wire from them
Step 7: Connect your wires
Note: I am not an electrician and am not claiming to be one; please refer to a wiring manual for further detail.
For each light fixture, strip all wires about ½” back. Twist all white wires together with pliers (make sure to twist clockwise, and that you are twisting the copper itself and some insulation to increase the mechanical bond), and then do the same with all black wires. Trim your twisted connection and cap it with a wire nut, twisting clockwise (make sure to use the proper size nut for the gauge and number of wires being connected). Also, make sure there is no exposed wire below the wire nut; if there is, simply trim the twisted wire shorter and twist the nut on again. Each light fixture also has a bare wire which is ground, and we will be using the conduit to ground our lighting fixture. When you go to fasten the light fixture to the j-box, take the ground wire and hook it around the screw clockwise, and then tighten your fixture. Lastly, adjust your fixtures as desired and screw in your light bulbs.
Once all of the light fixtures have been connected, you can connect your wall switch. Strip both black wires, and use the 2 push-in slots on the back of the switch (one for each wire). If your switch does not have this option, use the 2 brass screws by hooking each wire on clockwise and then tightening the screws. At this point, screw the light switch to the j-box and add the cover plate.
Lastly, we want to connect the power cord (make sure the cord is not plugged in when you do this). After stripping all of your wires, connect the black wire from the power cord to one of the black wires from the wall switch (doesn’t matter which one). Now, twist all the remaining black wires together, and then do the same with all of the white wires, capping them with the appropriate wire nut. To finish grounding your fixture, take the green (ground) wire from the power cord, and hook it onto the j-box cover screw, just as you did for the lights. Tighten the screws, add the cover plate, and you are done!
I hope this was helpful and gives you some ideas for alternative inexpensive garage or basement lighting. You can also use this method to create custom power strips, which we did under our office desk, and will also be doing behind our workbench. Feel free to leave comments or questions.