Inexpensive Garage Lights From LED Strips




Introduction: Inexpensive Garage Lights From LED Strips

Hello all you happy people. Welcome to my first instructable.

This project came about as I recently rebuilt my garage and found myself in need of complete lighting throughout.

I had two main objectives: I wanted bright/even coverage and I wanted to do it as inexpensively as possible.

For a number of reasons I wanted to use all LED lighting for my project but the commercial products were cost prohibitive. At the time of this writing, 4 foot shop lights are going for $40 and higher. I did some research and before long came across inexpensive lighting strips from China. The strips are sold in 5m lengths (16.5 ft) and can be found on ebay for $5-7 each. But how to use them?

After a lot of thought, I came up with the idea of putting them directly onto my trusses. This would give me even lighting throughout and a clean modern look.

I found that one LED strip wasn't bright enough, so I added a second for more light. This is probably enough for general lighting but I wanted MORE POWER and added a third. Why not at this price, right? To give you an idea of the coverage, my garage is 24'x40'. I'm putting lights on 5 trusses and they are 8'6" off the ground.

The other piece of the puzzle is powering the lights. The LED strips run on +12vdc and require an external power source. You can easily buy 12v power supplies but I'm trying to go cheap, right? So I used old discarded PC power supplies. Cost? Free!

You won't need to know electronics for this project but you will need some basic soldering skills.

Let's begin!

Step 1: Prep the Trusses

Although the light strips come with adhesive, I found that it wasn't strong enough to support the weight of the lights when mounted facing down. Therefore I needed a better solution. Through trial and error I ended up with Scotch outdoor tape. This stuff is super strong and holds in extreme temperatures. It is 1" wide and works perfectly for attaching three LED strips to a truss.

Grab a ladder and roll the tape along the bottom of the truss. Only roll out as much as you can reach so that the roll doesn't fall to the ground and get dirty. Place the tape directly on the center of the truss.

I used a small roller to securely press the tape onto the truss. I think I bought this roller years ago for sealing the edges of wallpaper. A rolling pin would probably work as well or even better.

Step 2: Add the Lights

A note before we begin. I purchased LED lighting from two different sources on ebay. One had power connectors on one end, while the other had power connectors on both ends. Either one will work fine. Roll your LED strips so that the power connectors all line up in the same spot. This will simplify your life when it comes time to connect the power. In other words, if you have the single ended type, don't put one down one way, then another the opposite way.

Peel off some of the protective backing on both the tape and the LEDs. I found it worked best for me to run the center LED strip first then butt the other two along side of it. Do this step anyway you choose. One strip at a time if you like. To save myself going up and down the ladder a hundred times I did it like this:

Ran tape down the entire length, using the roller as I went.

Starting at one end I pulled an arms length of tape backing, Then pulled the backing tape off an arms length of the first LED strip and pressed it onto the center of the tape. I followed that by doing the same for the remaining two tapes.

You will now need to firmly press the LED tape onto the outdoor tape to ensure a good bond. Do not use a roller for this step as it may damage the strips. I tried using the palms of my hands with fairly good success, but the best solution was using pressure from both thumbs.

I repeated this step until I had covered the entire length of the truss.

It's very unlikely that the length of LED strips you bought will fit the truss perfectly. So what do you do? One of the many cool things about these LED strips is that you can easily cut them to length without damaging them. Each strip has little copper pads every few inches where it's safe to cut (and join) strips. Take care to center your cut.

Step 3: Run the Power Line

Now that the strips are up and looking good, you're probably excited to light them up. Time to run the power lines.

For this step I used 18 ga speaker wire. It was perfect for the job but you could use whatever you like. The wire just has to be able to handle the combined current load of the lights you are sending through it. Not a big concern unless you are running a lot of lights.

This is where you test your soldering skills.

Strip a little insulation off all the leads, then twist them together red to red and black to black. Simple eh? Solder the leads together. I'd strongly suggest you invest in a few pieces of shrink tubing for this project. Makes things tidy.

You could avoid soldering by using wire nuts or crimp-on solderless connectors. I prefer solder for the solid connection.

I used low voltage staples for my runs spaced about 3 ft apart.

Note: If you are making a long run that requires multiple LED strips to cover the distance, do NOT daisy chain or power one from another. If you do, the more LEDs you add the dimmer the lights will become. Take your time and wire each strip individually. In other words, run the power in parallel, not in series. By wiring in parallel, each LED will have full brightness. On the first truss I made individual power runs for each of my 9 LED strips. This was way too much work. After that I wised up and ran one power 'bus' the length of the truss and tapped off the bus to each LED strip. I used the same 18 gauge speaker wire for this. Much less wiring, much less ladder time, much neater installation. Live and learn eh?

Step 4: How Many LED Strips Can I Run Off of a Power Supply?

Eventually you will find yourself asking this question. Here is how I determined how many strips per power supply.

On the side of most PC power supplies there will be a chart that tells you the current load per voltage rail. On my power supply photo you'll want to look at the intersection of the YELLOW +12V Column and the 300W Output row. It reads 14A. In simpler terms, this says that when using a 300 watt power supply the 12volt yellow wires can output up to 14 amps of current.

Okay, now that we know how much current we have to work with, the next question is: How much current does each LED strip require? A search of the LED specs shows that each 5M strip draws 30 watts of power. Interesting, but still doesn't answer our question. How many 30 watt LED strips can I run off a 14amp power supply?

To answer that question I searched online for a power calculator. I entered the value of 12 for the voltage we're using, and the value of 30 for the Power of each LED strip, hit calculate and it tells me that each LED Strip will require 2.5 amps of current.

So to answer the question of how many lights can I run off a power supply, the answer is..... it depends.

In our example the power supply we used can output 14 amps. Divide 14 by 2.5 and you get 5.6. Or in other words, you should easily be able to run 5 strips off this power supply.

I also said the answer depends. It depends because power supplies will vary in their current ratings. The example I used was just for this one particular power supply. Many dedicated 12vdc power supplies are rated at 30 amps for example. More amps = more LEDs. Look at the label and do the math.

Step 5: Make the Power Connections

It's time to connect your LED strip lighting to the PC power supply. There are a couple of ways you could do this and now is the time to make that decision.

Hardwire: Connect the power leads of the LED strips directly to the PC power supply. This is an okay solution but what happens if you ever need to replace a power supply? You'd have to cut and resolder/crimp a new one in place. There's nothing wrong with this solution. I just choose the next option.

Connectors: Solder a PC power connector on the LED power ends and connect it to the power supply. This way if the power supply dies, you have a quick disconnect. Be up and running again in seconds with minimal hassle

At this point we should talk about the power supply. A PC power supply is not instantly ready to use for our project. We need to make one quick modification for the power supply to turn on when plugged in.

This guy does a pretty good job of converting a PC power supply into a source for your lights. Remember, we're only interested in using the +12 volts.

Once the power supply has been modified and you have your connection on the LED lights, connect the two and plug it in.

Since this was a new lighting installation and my only source of light, I installed switched outlets between my trusses to power the PC power supplies and in turn, the LED strips. Walk in the door, flip the light switch and let there be light!

Step 6: Final Thoughts and Sources

I'm really happy that this gamble paid off. The lighting is bright, even, and fantastic. I believe I spent maybe a tenth of what a commercial application would have cost.

The LEDs are available in all colors but two flavors of white. Cool white and Warm white. Cool is similar to florescent lighting where Warm is closer to incandescent. I went with all Cool white. While it looks terrific, I think it's slightly too blue. If I were to do it over again I would have gone 2 cool, 1 warm.

They also come in a waterproof version. The non-waterproof ones are a bit cheaper and that's what I used.

I ran out of lights during the project and had to buy more from a different source. The second ones were cheaper but had two small dead spots. Get what you pay for? Regardless, dead spots are not a big problem. They can be easily cut out and replaced.

Even though there is plenty of light, I think it still needs more light directly over the workbenches. I like LOTS of light. But your mileage may vary. I'm going to convert my old shop light into LED using this same method.

One source for lights: They've only been up for a week but seem to work fine.

Just pick one that has free shipping and a good rating. Expect a week or two shipping from China to the US.

You can get them from any of a hundred vendors on ebay. Do a search on: 5M 300LEDs SMD 3528 5050 5630 3014 RGB Flexible LED Strip Lights

If given the option, choose the 5630 non-waterproof variety. At least that's what I used.

Computer Power Supplies: I work in IT and have access to lots of discarded computers. That's exactly what you want. Ask the IT guy at a nearby school, or business or anywhere that's large enough to have an IT staff. Be friendly, bring candy, most likely they'll have a few laying around that they'll give you.

The other option is to buy a dedicated 12vdc power supply from ebay. Search for: 12v regulated power supply. This one sells for about $20

If you go this route instead of the PC power supply, just connect the red and black wires from your LED lights to the power terminals on the power supply. This would honestly be an easier solution but I had easy access to free power supplies so I saved myself $100+

The tape I bought from Amazon. I looked at a few China knock-offs on ebay but didn't trust the quality. Go with genuine 3M.

Because this project uses low voltage DC current, it is both safe and legal for you to do yourself. The most dangerous part of this project is standing on the ladder.

One last thing. This project is fairly labor intensive. Expect a lot of ladder time!

This was a fun and rewarding project. I hope you find this Instructable useful!

In hindsight....

I was about halfway through this project when I realized that it would be perfect running under solar energy.

Why/how? The entire thing runs on 12vdc the same as your car battery. Solar panel kits are getting really cheap and it would be pretty easy to connect to the lights. While this wouldn't work for lighting your house, for occasional garage lighting I think solar would be a perfect solution. Another project for another day.

14 People Made This Project!


  • Creative Misuse Contest

    Creative Misuse Contest
  • Water Contest

    Water Contest
  • Fix It! Contest

    Fix It! Contest

384 Discussions

why not put the lights together on the work bench, tie them on with zip ties or tape put them on aboard wide enough to hold 3 and then screw/tape /affix them to the trusses. Oh by the way I really liked your video and clear understqndable instructions about how to do it all.

"safe and legal" wiring - ahem - Please invite your homeowner's insurance agent over to inspect your work. Please invite your city's Electrical Inspector over to inspect your work. Your wiring and your lighting are more code violations than I can count. If you value your family's life and you want your homeowner's insurance to pay for fire damage, then you must only use UL Listed & Labeled light fixtures.

8 replies

No, you are wrong. Only part of the circuit is 12 VDC. The other part of the circuit is the 110 VAC power supply that converts 110 VAC to 12 VDC. Low Voltage circuits can cause a fire just as easily as 110 VAC. Don't believe me: put a metal jumper wrench across the terminals of your 12 VDC car battery. You are using the mindless illogical argument of "a Red Herring". You are not responding to the comments I made. The Do-It-Yourself-Wrong wiring project is NOT the installation of a code approved Listed & Labeled UL approved light fixture system.

It's low voltag! Doesn't anything under 48v fall under the code requirements?

Mine are using UL power supplies ( if you can count on that - A LOT of counterfeit UL products out there) and those will just plug in to a switched outlet already there. It's kind of like pluging in a charger for youy laptop.

Leave m red herring out of this. Im sure that powere supply is fully certified and protected. Not to mention ths outlet its plugging into. The lights themselves woukd get no hotter than a baby toot. What gets hot on your store bought lightbulb replacments are the controls. They would concern me more than this setup. Car battery compaired to a pc power supply is like compairing a bycicle to a motorcycle.

If I misspoke about it being safe and legal, I apologize. All the power supplies I used are UL listed. I assumed the 12vdc lighting was legal because you can go into any big box store and buy DIY kits for under counter lighting, etc. This is the same concept. I'm sure many of those are not UL listed.

What code violations are you talking about? What danger is there to the families life? I invited my cities electrical inspector over to take a look and he thought it was terrific. I mentioned your concerns and he shook his head and I'll just omit the rest of the conversation for your sake. So again, since you seem to be in panic mode about something, please explain your fears and quote your sources and expertise.

You are simply lying about an Electrical Code Inspector approving your Do-It-Yourself-Wrong lighting system. My expertise is Master Electrician doing commercial and residential for over 30 years. The code violation is simply the improper installation of home made light fixtures that are NOT code approved Listed & Labeled UL Approved luminaries.

ever, completely trust double sticky tape to hold anything of value or will
have anything of value under it!Heat
and age will weaken the bond with nasty results.

have stapled the 3M tape every couple of feet as you can’t really get a good
bond to unsanded wood.Then, after
mounting the actual light strips (using Chinese double sticky) I’d recommend
using Tie-Wraps or similar every couple of feet around the beams to support the
final assembly.

4 replies

B.S. 3M UHB lasts until about a week before he double hockey sticks freezes over. When my son and I built his CNC Plasma Table, the best option was to mount about $700 worth of gear rails with double sided tape. It has endured 20 deg F to 110 deg F and water and mechanical abuse and works as good as new.

The typical double sticky tape from the home store is probably not going to perform well over time.

But doing some some research on the 3M site. It is recommended to paint or seal bare wood prior to using the recommended double sided UHB tape. Adhesives is a science of it's own, I worked with a group of engineers one of whom had a Phd in adhesives. That's how I knew to look into it and make sure I had the right stuff to use with the materials being bonded.

The typical double sticky tape from the home store is probably not going to perform well over time. That said I like the idea of staples because it might be easier and cheaper.

Gosh I hope you are wrong. That would have been a great idea of stapling it onto the trusses. Wish I had thought of that. Fortunately, it's been two+ years now and still holding great.

I've had good luck with acrylic adhesive mounting tape. I think all or most of the 3M UHB tapes use this type of adhesive. Use FIRM pressure in places where it's safe to apply, and let it sit in a warm place for a day or two before stressing. If the light strips are flat enough, perhaps they can be mounted, using thin acrylic adhesive transfer tape, to an aluminum strip. Again I'm speculating, but that might help them keep cool. For those with vacuum pumps, a vacuum bag setup might apply uniform pressure to the tape without breaking anything. If taping directly to wood joists, a better bond may be obtained if you apply shellac, sanding sealer, varnish or paint to the wood to give a fairly smooth surface. Unless the adhesive (not the foam) is very thick, anyway. In any case, make sure everything is clean. If you're sticking it to difficult plastics, there are special tapes for low surface energy materials. Lots of info on 3M sites listing what adhesive is best for what material.Or, if you want to go to the trouble, you can flame or plasma treat. I gather that the latter requires a fairly high voltage electric arc, and possibly an inert gas.

A lot of double stick tape uses rubber adhesive. There's more strength after a short period of time, but otherwise I think it's usually inferior.

"Inexpensive" is clearly a subjective term here. You claim this was cheap, but you have not provided any actual total dollar figures.

Let's do a little math...

Five 40 ft trusses = 200 linear feet of lighting and adhesive. The adhesive you used costs ~$15 / 37.5 foot roll. That's 6 rolls = $90 in adhesive.

200 linear feet x 3 = 600 feet of LED strip, or 183 meters.

183 / 5 = 37 rolls of LED strip x $7 = $259 in LED lighting.

37 rolls x 30 watts = ~ 1200 watts of 12V power. There are a lot of ways to get this, but I'm going to go with your example of a 300W power supply for $20, so 4 x $20 = $80 in power supplies.

So... $90 + $259 + $80 = $429

That's before you run ANY power wiring to the LEDs, which I'm going to make a conservative guess of 250' of wiring = 3 x 100' rolls of 18 ga speaker wire at $12/roll. (30 feet down each truss for 3 connections per truss, then bringing the wires all to the same corner of the garage)

So... $429 + $46 = $475.

Name brand 4' fluorescent shop lights cost approx $12 ea in contractor pack; add bulbs at $2 ea in contractor pack and you're talking $16 each.

You have $349 in JUST getting your lights up in the rafters.

That makes approx 22 conventional shop lights but true, you DO have to do 120V wiring. I'd personally rather do 120V wiring than the cobbled-together job you're suggesting any day; would be less time on the ladder anyways.

You say you work in IT... you have access to oodles of computer power cords that would normally be tossed in the trash. These make great pigtails for shop lights, and now all you have to do is run a few extension cords with 3-way taps. as long as the wiring isn't permanently attached, these are legal, and no more cobbled-together looking than your solution. ;)

Now... here's the real rub. I know from personal experience that the LED lighting you used is utter shite quality-wise. I bought the same stuff myself for undercounter lighting, and it lasted a year before ALL of them turned yellow and dimmed considerably, and a dozen dead LEDs over about 20m of lighting.

So... your "economical" turns into lighting with 70-90% cost turnover every 2-3 years... and labor-intensive turnover at that.

Fluorescent shop lights need new bulbs at ~10% cost turnover. That takes 60 seconds per fixture.

LED tubes for conventional fluorescent fixtures are getting cheaper by the minute. They're nowhere near as cheap as fluorescent tubes, for sure, but if you upgrade as the old tubes die, they become an attractive option.

Unless you're planning to leave your garage in the next 6 months, I think your math is weak.



2 replies

I looked at and compared costs for my situation quiet closely. Compared to adding at least two circuits to my breaker box, running the wiring, switches and outlets etc then buying and installing LED type tube fixtures, Florescent replacements type. (I can do the above electrical work myself BTW...)

Doing these LEDs turned out to be cheaper and at least no more work. Plus this solves my problem of limited height. I am mounting mine on 2" furring strips attached then to the ceiling and saving at least 6-8" overhead clearance in my unusually low garage. I also expect to have the added benefit of having better and more shadow free lighting, end to end in every corner, for what is going to be one stall of my garage converted to a shop environment.

My cost is going to be about 2/3 at most of installing standard shop lights!

I'm not trying to win over converts to my way of thinking. Just showing what I did. It was a hell of a lot of ladder work but I king of enjoy that after staring at a computer all day on my job. It's been a couple of years now and the LEDs have held up great. No regrets. I'd do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Nice project.

- As for cost, LEDs are coming down fast. I've seen 60w equivalent screw in bulbs at "Dollar Tree" for, wait for it, one dollar! I replaced some failing 48" fluorescent tubes in my garage with LED tubes. (The type where you remove the old ballast and wire directly) I don't know when you wrote this, but in 2017, they are running as low as $5 each and were so much brighter that I only needed one to replace every two old ones. If you're really cost conscious and as OCD as me, you can make a spreadsheet that calculates lumens per dollar to find the most bang for the buck.

- Color. I prefer cool white for task lighting, workshop, kitchen counter, etc. Warm white is a nice relaxing color good for the living room or bedroom. (Although my wife prefers warm for the kitchen, and who am I to argue?!) Oddly enough, the color temperature specs are the opposite of how they are named, 4000 for war and 6000 for cool. Really?!)

- Fastening: I consider the 3M tape you used to be overkill. That stuff is awesome, but I use staples, thumbtacks or hot glue to tack it in place. If you're careful, you won't poke holes in the electronics! One safe way is to bridge across the strip with something like a scrap of tie wrap and staple at the ends, maybe on the sides of the truss.

- Versatility. I mounted my kitchen under counter strips on planks of thin plywood. They are loosely clipped in place and out of sight so appearance isn't critical. For power blackouts, I can pull them out, move to the living room and hook up to a 12 volt deep cycle battery. Mounting the strips less securely also makes it easier to replace if some go out.

- Power supply: I have a box of old power bricks from retired computer equipment. Many of them are 12 volt. You can also find bins of these at thrift stores. They are good for smaller runs like kitchen counters.

1 reply

Thanks. I live in northern Minnesota and looked for the strongest and temperature resistant tape I could find. Even though expensive, I think it was worth every penny.