Are LED Shop Lights Worth the Money?

Is it time to replace the long-standing tube fluorescent light fixtures for LED shop lights? We test three different LED shop lights against a new T8 tube fluorescent shop light to find out if LED shop lights are really worth the money.

 

The workshop at our Michigan headquarters was in need of new lighting. We had a hodgepodge of lights, and most of the old tube fluorescent fixtures were in need of new bulbs, starters and/or ballasts. We were thoroughly impressed with the Truck-Lite LED headlights we put in our Ford trucks, so we thought it was time to test LED shop lights to see if they were really worth the money.

 

The first one we found was the Big Ass Light. At 13,000 lumens, it just short of blinding. It has an awesome design and is so robust, they say on their website you can run over it with a truck and it will still work. It’s also spendy: $399 for one. And that’s a 23-inch long light at that. Big Ass Light claims that you only need one for a single-car garage with ceilings up to 14-feet tall.

 

Then we found the low-cost unit for our comparison. At Costco, we ran across the FEIT Electric LED shop light that looks like your traditional 4-foot dual-bulb fluorescent fixture, and they only cost $40! That sounded too good to be true. Of course the light output was 3,700 lumens, making the Big Ass Light 3.5 times brighter, but for 1/10th the cost, you could buy a lot of these FEIT LED shop lights. This is the only LED light in this comparison that can either be suspended of flush mounted; the others must be suspended.

 

With the extremes in the test purchased, we went searching for a middle ground. We found our solution at Home Depot, with the Lithonia Lighting 2-foot White LED High Bay Light for $189. It measures 22 inches long by 15 inches wide and produces 11,200 lumens. It’s more industrial (think 1960s sweat shop) in appearance than the other two lights, but the lumens to dollar ratio is extremely good. Unlike the others in this test, it does not come with a power cord.

 

Finally, we purchased a Lithonia Lighting All Season 4-foot 2-Light Grey T8 Strip Fluorescent Shop Light, plus two Phillips T8 Cool White bulbs ($8) for our baseline. The bulbs are 40-watts each, for 5,600 lumens combined.

 

The Comparison

We wanted to make the comparison as fair as possible, so we set up a way to suspend each light over a work bench in exactly the same location. The face of the lights were 100-inches off the ground, and about 50 inches from the work surface of the workbench. The shop has no windows, so all of the light is controllable.

 

We set a camera on a tripod and used the manual mode to create a visual comparison of what we saw with each light. By taking each picture at the same shutter speed and f/stop (and ISO), the pictures show the difference in brightness between the lights. More than, just brightness, though, the brighter lights let you see more detail in the dark areas. However, there was a more dramatic difference to the human eye between the dimmest lights and the brightest compared to what shows in the photos – we’ll add more to that subject below in the Our Opinion section.

 

We also tested heat output. If you have a shop full of fluorescent lights, you know they produce heat. Although not as much heat as incandescent bulbs of the same wattage, the heat can make a difference in hot summer months, adding heat to an already uncomfortable work environment. LED lights still produce heat, although it is from the circuitry needed to make them work instead of the light bulb.

 

The Data

Who doesn’t love monster comparison charts? Here’s the one for this LED shop light comparison. Most of the data is self-explanatory. For temperature readings, we used an infrared gun, measuring both the bulbs and the hottest part of the fixture. The ambient temperature was 78 degrees. We let the lights operate for 20 minutes before recording temperatures.

 

Big Ass LightCostco FEIT Electric LED Shop LightLithonia Lighting 2-foot White LED High Bay LightLithonia Lighting All Season 4-foot 2-Light Grey T8 Strip Fluorescent Shop Light
Lumens13,0003,70011,2005,600
Color5,000K4,100K4,000K4,100K
Watts1223814964
Expected Life150,00050,00060,00030,000
Measurements (L x W; rounded to nearest inch)23 x 947 x 522 x 1548 x 6
Measured Temperature at Light Source (degrees F)938992102
Measured Temperature at Hottest Point on Fixture (degrees F)998411776
Cost$399$40$189 + $6 for power cord$18 + $8 for 2 bulbs
NOTES: Lumens, color, watts and expected life data is from the manufacturers’ website or packaging. Cost was price found online July 20, 2015.

 

Our Opinion

First, we have to point out that we were testing one of each light, but to the make a well-lit workshop that’s enjoyable to work in, you will want multiple lights spread out, providing good coverage throughout the shop. You’ll also want to make sure that you have a light over a workbench, and that the center of the shop (where your 4×4 will be parked when you work on it) is well lit. So the reality is that one light won’t do it – you’ll need multiples of whatever one you pick.

 

Big Ass Light

It’s hard not to lust after the Big Ass Light. It looks cool, and it is without a doubt the brightest. But the price is pretty outrageous. Comparing the manufacturers’ claims, the Big Ass Fan has an expected life three times greater than the other two in this comparison, so that factors into the cost. In our 17 x 30 foot workshop, we would want four of these fixtures in order to have good lighting in most of the work areas – and we’re not sure that would really provide great lighting in the entire shop – which would cost around $1,600. And dare we say that these lights might be too bright? The fact that it’s only 23 inches long instead of 4-feet like a traditional workshop light makes the light more central and focused. As a single-light source, it is intense on the area just below it.

 

Bottom line: It lives up to its extreme claims, but won’t work for us as the primary lighting in our workshop. We’ll use it over a workbench in addition to other lighting in the shop.

 

Lithonia Lighting 2-foot White LED High Bay Light

This is the one that we were prepared to like the least. At $189, it’s still not cheap. We were bothered that it didn’t come with a power cord, and the overall look and feel doesn’t make us desire it. But, when we wired it, hung it and turned the light on, we liked what we saw. The light is only 22 inches long, but is fairly wide at 15 inches. While this isn’t the traditional 4-foot long shop light, the extra width makes it a good source of even light. And it is bright. There is a noticeable difference to the eye between the 13,000 lumens of the Big Ass Light and the 11,200 lumens of the Lithonia Lighting LED light, but the Lithonia light is plenty bright. It was also the hottest of the LED lights we tested. The top of the fixture measured 117 degrees F, roughly 20 degrees hotter than the Big Ass Light and 30 degrees hotter than the FEIT LED light. This light also had the highest energy consumption at 149 watts.

 

Bottom line: A good workshop light that might be suitable for primary lighting (with 4-6 lights for our 17 x 30 workshop). Definitely a bright LED light that would be good for a workbench or work area.

 

FEIT Electric 4-foot LED Shop Light

Usually when something is so much less expensive than everything else in the test, we don’t expect good results. The LEIT Electric 4-foot LED shop lights cost 1/10 what the Big Ass Light did, and produce roughly 1/3 the lumens. We like that they have the 4-foot long footprint of a traditional fluorescent shop light, and that they can be flush-mounted on the ceiling or suspended. And they are super lightweight. They were, however, the dimmest of all the lights (including the T8 fluorescents) that we tested.

 

Bottom line: As a single-light, these just don’t cut it, and they wouldn’t be our choice over a workbench. But, at $40 each, we can afford to buy 10 of them for the cost of just one Big Ass Light, and mount them spaced evenly on the ceiling, for very good, even lighting in the entire shop.

 

Summary

We like LED lights. They are bright, they don’t flicker or hum, they reach brightness instantly and they are supposed to last a long, long time. They are also less affected by temperature, with most of the lights we tested claiming that they will work down to -40 degrees F, compared to fluorescents that, at best will light down to 0 degrees, but usually are not as bright and don’t’ work well in cold temperatures.

 

The data above tells much of the story, and the comparison photos help show a visual difference. Although there is a much bigger difference when viewing the workshop with the lights in person than what is shown in the photos. You may look at the photos and think that any of these lights would be fine. In reality, a single T8 fixture or just one of the FEIT LED shop lights would not cut it.

 

After all of the testing, we bought 10 of the FEIT Electric LED lights and use them as the primary lighting in our workshop. We hung the Lithonia Lighting LED light over our workbench for a brighter light in this work area. And we use the Big Ass Light in an adjoining warehouse over a work area.

 

If we could wish for new lighting products, we would love to have the FEIT LED lights with about twice the light output, but still cost under $100. We like the Lithonia Light fixture, but would like to get the power consumption and heat down considerably. We’d also be more apt to use them as primary lighting if they were a bit less expensive. LED shop lights are still a relatively recent product, so we will see what new offerings pop up in the coming years.

3 thoughts on “Are LED Shop Lights Worth the Money?”
    Matt 'macgyvr' Rowland August 21, 2015,1:25 pm

    A very timely article. I’m looking to upgrade the fluorescent fixtures in my shop. Any idea on how much money could be saved with an LED fixture over a fluorescent fixture on the amount of electricity consumed? I like light and the 30×40 side of my shop has 50 2 bulb 4 ft fluorescent fixtures. So I’ve been doing some research.

      Cole Quinnell August 22, 2015,2:50 pm

      That’s a great question Matt. The amount of energy you’ll save depends on which LED light you go with, what watt of your current bulbs are and the cost electricity in your area. In our test, if you went from the T8 bulbs to the FEIT LED fixtures, it goes from 64 watts to 38 per fixture, or a 40% reduction. With 50 fixtures, that’s a pretty significant reduction in overall electricity use.

    Thad Wright August 24, 2015,12:47 am

    As I am making plans to build my new home shop in the next year, lighting is also a concern of mine. I have used florescent lighting in the past with varied success. I have had very expensive fixtures that have been nothing but problems, and cheap fixtures that worked well for a fairly long time.
    I am mainly interested in purchasing lighting that will last a long time with little maintenance (think of changing out bulbs and ballasts) and burn less electricity than traditional florescents. Adding the costs of replacing bulbs every year and ballasts almost as often, and electricity, makes florescents nearly as expensive as the expensive LED lights in a few years.