Should you change your garage light to a fluorescent?

If you spend a fair bit of time in your garage, a fluorescent garage light will pay for itself in a short time. You’ll have ample light for a fraction of the energy cost of halogen or incandescent garage lighting.

Since not everyone agrees on terminology, I’m going to cover two different kind of fluorescent garage lights here – so whatever led you to this page, I hope to help you!

  • Fluorescent lighting for garages: Fluorescent lights (typically long tubes) that can be used to light up your garage brightly and more cheaply than incandescent bulbs
  • Fluorescent work lights: Caged lights with a hook, typically used for car maintenance.

Fluorescent lighting for garages

If you have a workshop in your garage or do a lot of car maintenance, a fluorescent garage light mounted on the garage ceiling (or hanging from the roof rafters if there is no ceiling) is a more energy efficient choice than incandescent lighting.

Long-tube fluorescents have been around for decades, and typically use about a quarter as much electricity as incandescent bulbs. They are ideal for lighting up large spaces inexpensively. But they are a bit of work to install, if you’re replacing an incandescent bulb with a fluorescent garage light tube.

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) are a good option for a garage light where you have good light levels with incandescent bulbs, but want to conserve energy. Just replace each incandescent bulb with a fluorescent bulb. To decide whether it make economic sense to replace the bulbs, use my CFL savings calculator. If you only use the garage a couple of hours a week, replacing the incandescent lights with compact fluorescent garage lights may not be the best way to save energy.

If your garage is like mine – a single incandescent bulb in the middle of the garage ceiling – you may well want more lighting so you can use the garage for more than storage. It’s really hard to turn a garage into a workroom or auto shop with poor lighting. In that case, it makes more sense to replace your one or two incandescent fixtures with several long-tube fluorescent fixtures. Long tube fluorescent lights provide more even light distribution and are more energy efficient than compact fluorescents. For example, a compact fluorescent has a luminous efficacy of 45-60%, while a T8 tube with an electronic ballast has a luminous efficacy of 80-100%. Even if we give CFLs the benefit of the doubt, you’ll get at least 33% more light out of a T8 tube than a CFL for the same electrical input.

If you really want to cut your electricity costs, or you want to use solar electricity to light up your garage, consider the Sunforce 81099 Industrial Solar Utility Light, pictured on the right. This light is a great choice if your garage gets plenty of sunlight and you work in there during the day (it comes with rechargeable batteries and a full charge provides light for about three hours). It includes solar, AC, and DC chargers, so you can charge the batteries off your electrical supply or off a DC battery when you’ve used up the stored solar energy and the sun isn’t shining.

The light is bright and it will last 3 hours on a charge. For the cost of a 10 watt panel, it’s like getting the light for just a few dollars.

Fluorescent work lights

If you spend a lot of time staring under the hood of a car, a fluorescent garage light probably means a work light to you. There are a number of good-quality fluorescent work lights available, such as the Bayco SL-976 fluorescent garage work light shown at left.

This model (available from for about $38) comes with two 13-watt fluorescent bulbs whose combined equivalent in light output is equal to a 125 watt incandescent bulb. The model also comes with a 25-foot cord. This fluorescent garage light can be set to full or half brightness (the switch has three positions – off, one light, both lights).

If you’re really serious about saving on your garage lighting bills, you might consider an LED garage light instead of a fluorescent – for example the 100 LED Rechargeable Work Light pictured at right, available from for about $51. But before you do this, compare the savings between both options, using my CFL savings calculator and LED savings calculator. Unless you spend eight hours a day under the hood, the LED option may not be more cost effective than a fluorescent garage light, taking into account both the up-front cost of the light and the cost of the energy used over the life of the work light, although LEDs have the advantage of lasting longer and being less prone to breakage.

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