Effective Shop Lighting

Let's get some light in here so we can see what we're doing. February 8, 2008

I need to redo my shop lighting. I'm currently using incandescent bulbs and some halogen. My shop height is 10' to the bottom of rafter chords and 6' to peak. Rafters on 8' centers. Does anyone have advice on metal halide or other options? I don't get much natural light from windows, and brown OSB on walls and ceilings don't provide much reflection. I have a work/assembly on one end, tools in the middle, and storage on the other end. Shop is 36' x 48'. I really need great lighting above the work area.

Forum Responses
(Furniture Making Forum)
From contributor H:
Before you do anything, spend a few bucks and paint your walls and ceiling. Even if it's just sprayed on white primer. You'll notice a big change.

From contributor J:
I installed rows of 8' fluorescent fixtures from end to end in my shop. The fixtures and bulbs are inexpensive as well as the cost to run them versus any incandescent alternatives. Then if you need task specific lighting, you put smaller incandescent lights right where you need them, i.e. above the workbench, over the bandsaw, etc. Also, contributor H has a very good point - spraying some white will make a huge difference in the amount of light in your space. Those brown walls are sucking up a huge amount of light, making what you currently have for lighting very inefficient.

From contributor B:
There was quite a good article in FWW some time ago that covered that subject. I was building my shop at the same time and incorporated all the suggested items.

- Floor and first 3' of wall are painted a light gray, all else is painted flat white.

- 8' fluorescent lights (12' ceiling) with a high CRI 6' oc along the long axis of the shop (28' x 52'). Nice thing about that placement is that I don't have any shadows.

I have some task lighting, but really do not need it. The lights are switched 3/switch for energy conservation.

One item I would change is the length of the tubes: 4' tubes are cheaper and easier to mount and handle. Also, I clean the tubes about every 3-4 months, and wiping off the dust makes a huge difference.

I would stay away from halogen (too hot, too much of a point source), HID and other metal halide lamps (too expensive - CRI is worse than fluorescent lights and they hang down from the ceiling, decreasing your effective clearance).

From contributor P:
I downloaded the basic version of this program VisualLightingSoftware.com. It works very well - you input your workspace dim and the chosen light fixtures and bulbs and it will give you the spacing/layout of the particular light you chose.

From the original questioner:
Thanks. I regret not painting the shop when it was empty! It sounds like fluorescents are the way to go, I was just unsure of the quality of light.

From contributor R:
What you really want are some of the new T5 fluorescents. Don't look for them at Homey Dopey; you have to go to an electrical supply house. They have 4 bulb 4' fixtures, 54w per bulb, that put out twice the light of two 8' two bulb units and it is 5K ultra white light! They also have polished chrome reflectors; they will hurt your eyes to look at them. Figure about $175 per 4 banger with bulbs; not cheap, but worth every penny. And did I mention they are very energy efficient?

From contributor S:
I would work on painting as much of the shop as you can. I used an airless spray and sprayed on the cheap contractor grade paint (pure white base) from Sherman Williams. I then went with a 12% gray (looks pretty much white) epoxy on the concrete floor. Finished with banks of 8ft fluorescent high output lights. HO requires different bulbs and ballast than regular fluorescent. It looks very bright all the time. People kid me - makes them feel like they walked into a clean room. You might try some drop ceiling panels, maybe small patches over work areas. Say an 8ft x 8ft over a machine, with a light fixture in it.