Everything You Need to Know About LED Shop Lights
1) What is an LED shop light?
LED shop lights are the new LED version of fluorescent shop lights.
Shop lights are commonly used in garages and workshops (hence the name) where a simple but cost-effective lighting fixture is needed to illuminate a small area such as a tabletop or workbench.
Traditional fluorescent shop light fixtures are designed to accommodate 4-ft fluorescent tubes, which, compared to incandescent bulbs, provided longer lifetimes, lower electrical consumption and daylight balanced color temperatures. This has made them very appealing for workshop type lighting applications.
With the adoption of LED technology, the performance exceeds that of fluorescent lamps, making LED versions of a shop light a technical no-brainer.
LED shop lights have longer lifetimes and higher efficiency than their fluorescent counterparts, but for the most part adopted the same linear fluorescent form factor and are typically available in 4-ft lengths using a very similar fixture style.
The advantages of shop lights are numerous, but the primary ones are:
- Cost effective - a shop light fixture can be purchased for less than $15 USD
- Simple to install - a shop light fixture does not require complex wiring or electrical knowledge
- Adjustable - a shop light fixture's height and position can be adjusted easily. Typical 4-ft fluorescent/LED tube light fixtures are ceiling mounted, making them difficult to install, and permanently fixed into place.
- Wastes less light - a shop light fixture can be positioned exactly where the light is needed, so less light is wasted on illuminating non-essential areas, contributing to further electrical cost savings
Given all of those advantages, it's clear that for workshop-style lighting, shop lights are an excellent choice. But what about comparing fluorescent shop lights to LED shop lights? We see even more benefits for LED shop lights:
- The overall benefits of LED lights vs fluorescent lights hold true for shop lights - longer lifetimes, lower electrical consumption, no mercury
- Because shop lights are typically positioned closer to the ground, they are more susceptible to being struck accidentally by power tools or stray objects. Fluorescent tube breakages can be hazardous and require extensive cleanup effort. LED shop lights are usually made of extremely durable polycarbonate plastic, and even if they break, do not lead to any hazardous chemical leakage.
- Unlike fluorescent lamps that emit light in a 360 degree angle, LED tube lights direct light downwards. In a shop light fixture, this makes the actual efficiency of LED shop lights even higher than that of fluorescent shop lights, which lose some of the light directed upwards.
- LED shop lights can utilize enhanced light spectrum options including high CRI and photosynthesis optimization. This can be useful for workshops that require color accuracy, or even for growing plants.
2) What types of LED shop lights are available?
There are two primary types of LED shop lights available today: integrated LED shop lights and LED shop light retrofits.
Integrated LED shop lights have the LED chips and electronics mounted directly into the fixture (i.e. integrated) such that there is no longer a "lamp" that can be replaced. With longer lifetimes of LED technology, the idea is that the light will continue to emit sufficient light until the fixture itself becomes decommissioned.
LED shop light retrofits, on the other hand, keep the lamp separate from the fixture, making them replaceable. This typically involves using a fluorescent shop light fixture and replacing the fluorescent tube with a LED tube light. A fluorescent shop light fixture will almost always have a fluorescent ballast built into it.
In principle, integrated LED shop lights are the preferred option. After all, these fixtures are designed around LEDs, the newer technology. As a result, they typically do not include features like "lampholders" and truly integrate the LED emitters into the fixture.
By definition, the LED tube light retrofit approach attempts to work around the older fluorescent fixture design. This means that the LED tube light is limited in terms of mechanical and electrical compatibility as it must fit in the shop light fixture originally designed for fluorescent lamps. This would surely seem to be a disadvantage in terms of product performance and options.
In reality, however, economic forces in the lighting industry make things less clear-cut. Specifically, the sheer quantity of fluorescent ceiling fixtures in existing buildings has made LED tube light retrofitting a lucrative and sizable market. As a result, significant R&D work has been invested into LED tube light design as well as manufacturing. For the end consumer, that means a wide variety of LED tube lights are available at competitive prices, and in some cases, it makes sense to continue using fluorescent shop light fixtures and retrofitting them with LED tube lights.
Below, we provide recommendations depending on your situation.
We recommend integrated LED shop lights if:
- You are looking for maximum light efficiency and energy savings
- You prefer a simple, plug-and-play light fixture without any replacement lamps to worry about
- You do not own fluorescent shop light fixtures or can afford to purchase new LED shop light fixtures and pay upfront (primarily an issue for larger installations)
- Light color and quality options (including "upgrading") are not as important to you
We recommend retrofit LED shop lights if:
- You already own fluorescent shop light fixtures, or can purchase them at a low cost
- You have more stringent requirements or needs when it comes to color quality, such as color rendering
- You want to have the ability to easily change your lighting on a regular basis (for example, swapping out different LED tubes for different color temperatures)
- You are optimistic about future developments in LED tube lights, and want to be able to "upgrade" to a new LED tube light without needing to replace the fixture
- You are comfortable with potentially needing to rewire the fluorescent shop light fixture to bypass or remove the ballast
3) What are some features to look for in an LED shop light?
Below are some unique LED shop light features that you may find useful.
The brightness of an LED shop light is usually given in lumens. If you aren't familiar with this metric, you can use the following as a rough ballpark estimate:
Incandescent bulbs: 15 lumens per watt
Fluorescent lamps: 50 lumens per watt
For example, a 1500 lumen LED shop light can be thought of as being roughly equivalent to a 100 Watt incandescent bulb (1500 lumens divided by 15 lumens per watt) or a 30 Watt fluorescent lamp (1500 lumens divided by 50 lumens per watt).
How is this useful? Well, if you have a fluorescent shop light that uses 2 lamps that are 30 Watts each, you can estimate that you will want roughly 3000 lumens from your shop light to maintain the same level of brightness.
Color temperature is a number that describes how "yellow" or "blue" a light's color is.
- 2700K is considered the same color as the classic incandescent light bulb
- 3000K is slightly bluer and is similar to halogen bulb light color, but still has a warm, inviting yellow color to it.
- 4000K is often called "neutral white" because it is neither blue nor yellow - and is the middle of the color temperature scale.
- 5000K is commonly used for determining color, such as for prints and textiles
- 6500K is considered natural daylight, and is a good way to approximate appearance in outdoor lighting conditions
The color temperature we recommend will depend on the specific use or activity, as well as your personal preference.
In general, lower color temperatures create a more relaxed or "warm" atmosphere. An LED shop light for a residential garage might be a good candidate for 4000K or below.
Higher color temperatures allow for better color acuity. 5000K allows for a very neutral and clean white light that allows for improved color perception that 4000K and below would not, due to its yellow bias.
If you want to replicate natural daylight conditions, 6500K would be the optimal color temperature.
CRI: pick 80 or above
CRI is a bit tricky to understand because it is not immediately visible from just simply looking at the emitted light from a shop light.
CRI is score ranging from 0 to 100 which measures how accurate objects appear under a light. The higher the score, the more accurate.
What does accurate really mean, anyway?
Let's say you are trying to paint your car in your garage, which doesn't get any natural light. A perfectly accurate LED shop light would make the paint color look exactly the same as it does under natural daylight.
An inaccurate (low CRI) LED shop light, however, would make the paint color look different. Despite your best efforts, you may find that once outside, your car's color no longer looks the way you thought it would!
Well, what is a sufficient CRI number?
- For non-color critical tasks, we recommend purchasing LED shop lights with a minimum of 80 CRI.
- For enhanced appearance and color accuracy, we recommend 90 CRI or above.
How do you know what an LED shop light's CCT or CRI is? Virtually all manufacturers will be able to provide this to you on the product specification sheet or packaging.
Shop lights have traditionally used a pull-chain for its on-off switch, and many LED shop lights continue to use this design.
Alternatively, you can also find some designs that use a rocker switch mounted onto the unit itself.
If you are using multiple LED shop lights in a single area, you may find it challenging to have to separately run wires from each fixture to a single outlet or power source. Instead, daisy chaining allows the fixtures to connected one after another, simplifying your installation.
Most LED shop lights include a chain that allows the fixture to hang from the ceiling. Some will also allow for flush mounting directly onto the ceiling.
Some LED shop lights will include reflectors on the side of the fixture, to help direct the light downwards. This can be helpful to increase the brightness over a specific area, and simultaneously reduce glare.
4) How do I install an LED shop light?
Below, we'll go over general tips and recommendations for installing an LED shop light. For specific mounting and usage instructions, please refer to your shop light manufacturer's manual.
Determining the Installation Location
The first step to installing the LED shop light is finding a suitable location. You'll want to make sure that the light is situated directly above the workbench or work area. Make sure that the ceiling or mounting surface above this location can support the weight of the shop light.
Most shop lights connect to electricity via a regular wall-plug. You will want to make sure that you can safely run an electrical cable to the shop light. Especially if you are daisy chaining, confirm that the power draw of the fixtures will not exceed that of your electrical cables.
Finally, confirm that the provided chain and mounting height allow for the fixture to hang at an acceptable level. A fixture that is too high may not provide enough directed light to the workspace, while a fixture that is too low could present a serious hazard if it gets in the way of people or other objects (especially power tools). Although LED shop lights do not contain mercury, they still operate on line voltage, which can cause serious injury or death.
Mounting the Shop Light Fixture
Follow your shop light's user manual. Always observe electrical safety, and cut power to all outlets and wires that you will be working with.
Once mounted, an integrated LED shop light fixture should be ready to go.
A retrofit LED shop light requires the fluorescent tube to be replaced with a compatible LED tube light. We recommend reading our LED tube lights guide for finding and installing an LED tube light into a fluorescent shop light fixture. A 3-in-1 LED tube light can make installation into a fluorescent shop light fixture a much simpler process, since it does not require any ballast rewiring.
LED shop lights are an excellent choice for illuminating a work area. Integrated LED shop lights are available as a "lampless" solution, but LED retrofit shop light fixtures can present a wide range of possibilities as well.
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