“Just enough light to prevent tripping and dying” seems to be the default for residential garages. Builders will install one (maybe two) standard light bulb sockets in the ceiling of a two-car garage and call it good; likewise, garage door openers are usually equipped with one or two sockets and a low power limit.
Such was the case in my garage, which had a single light socket in the middle of the ceiling when we moved in. Over the years, I tried to make it better. I put two additional light sockets in the ceiling. When CFLs came along, I put 150-watt-equivalent CFLs in each socket. The garage door opener had two sockets of its own, but they were each restricted to 100 watts of actual power. I put 150-watt-equivalents there too, since they each only drew an actual 45 watts. But all of this was still a weak solution:
- When CFLs are cold, they don’t put out much light. Tell you what, Michigan is pretty damn cold for a good part of the year; you turn on the lights to take out the garbage, they won’t deliver full brightness until after you’re done. That sucks.
- The CFLs in the garage door opener were under the steady-state power limit, but the in-rush current during startup was very high – so high that sometimes the tiny relay contacts in the garage door opener got tack-welded together. You’d come home from work in the evening, go out to the garage the next morning and discover that the lights had been stuck on all night; the only recourse was to cycle the light button on the opener repeatedly until the contacts broke loose and the light turned off.
LED lighting is maturing nicely, and these days you can quality fixtures with useful brightness. So a few weeks go I finally bit the bullet and went shopping. I found these LED fixtures at Home Depot
: 5200 lumens each.
But how many to get? A bit of Googling turns up lots of guides, like this one.
In the end I bought four fixtures, giving me 50 lumens per square foot; by that guide, not as bright as a bathroom, but brighter than a kitchen. Sounds about right.
But in addition to more light, I went one step further: I didn’t just want brighter lights, I wanted those bright lights to come on/off with my garage door opener so that I could have that bright light while walking out to my car on dark mornings or coming home after sunset. But four fixtures = 232 watts, beyond the garage door opener’s stated limit.
What to do????
It turns out I had a big relay gathering dust in my junk drawer, so I bought a project box and some other bits and pieces, and spliced in some cords:
The idea is that the relay (in the box) draws power from an outlet using the male end of the big black cord. The brown cord connects to the little white lamp socket adapter, and is the thing that controls the big relay. So the garage door opener closes its little internal relay, powering its lamp socket, which turns on the big relay in my project box and supplies mucho power from the male end of the big black cord to the female end of the big black cord.
So how to keep the wiring tidy? Simple. You need a marine charging inlet.
Here’s my relay box, installed on the garage door opener frame:
That CFL on the ceiling is in the original single socket the garage was built with. Look behind it, and you can see where the charging inlet is installed (the female end of the big black cord isn’t plugged into it in that pic):
The back side of that charging inlet is wired to all four LED fixtures installed elsewhere on the garage ceiling. Here’s the brown cord and socket adapter, connected to the opener’s lamp socket:
My experience with CFLs has been that their brightness is typically overstated. I assumed the same would be true for these LED fixtures, but now that I see them, I think they’re understating
their brightness. These things are awesome:
Now we get full bright lights welcoming us home in the evening or seeing us out to our cars in the morning. And they will deliver full brightness as soon as they turn on, no matter how cold it gets. I still have the three old light bulb sockets in the ceiling (you can see two of them in that photo), controlled by a wall switch, but I don’t foresee using them much; I’ll probably just use the light switch on the garage door opener.