The Ultimate Workshop: Lighting and Electrical Layout
Unless you're an experienced electrician, it's advisable to leave this part of the project to professionals. However, you should know your needs and be in on the planning and supervision of wiring and lighting installation. Here, electrical specialist Ricky Clowers offers expert advice for a successful electrical installation.
As with the functional design of the workspace, a good electrical plan begins with a diagram. Knowing the location of your large pieces of electrically powered equipment, as well as your key workspaces, is vital in determining where best to place electrical outlets, dedicated circuits, receptacle heights, switch boxes, etc.
Larger pieces of equipment such as table saws should be powered via dedicated circuits. In one workshop, a 20-amp dedicated circuit was installed near the location where the table saw would later be placed. Each additional piece of large equipment also had a dedicated circuit. The outlet installed on each of these was a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) circuit. The GFCI receptacle is equipped with a measuring device that will shut down the power to the circuit immediately in the event of a short, reducing the possibility of electrical shock. Once tripped, the GFCI receptacle can be reset easily with a switch on the front panel.
Note: The GFCI receptacle is a safety device designed to reduce hazards to users and is not necessarily designed to protect equipment.
Consider the total number of ordinary electrical outlets you'll need, and keep in mind this rule of thumb: It's hard to have too many outlets. In other words, people typically find that they eventually need more outlets than they first anticipated. In the case of our model workshop, nine receptacles were installed in addition to the dedicated circuits. The nine receptacles are in three circuits, with three receptacles on each circuit.
Consider also the best height for your receptacles. It may be beneficial to install workshop outlets higher on the wall than is typical in a home setting. This eliminates the problem of limited access to outlets when work surfaces or equipment are placed along the walls of the workshop. Higher outlets are also more convenient for plugging in and unplugging small power tools, which is something that happens frequently in a workshop.
It's usually best to wire overhead lights so they are on a separate circuit from the wall outlets. In that way, if a power overload from a tool trips a breaker, the lights will remain on since they are on a separate circuit.
The breaker box for the workshop should have the switches clearly labeled to indicate which switches control what circuits. Some workshops have equipment that requires 240-volt outlets. Applications with this higher voltage requirement may include air compressors or welding equipment.
Adequate lighting is critical in a workshop setting. Think about your general lighting needs first, then about specialized needs for specific areas. There are a number of lighting options available.
- Fluorescent overhead fixtures are generally a good choice for overhead lighting. Fluorescent fixtures are inexpensive, easy to install and energy efficient, and they put out a lot of light. Mounted overhead and away from walls, they cast a nice, even light down over the entire workshop.
- Undercabinet lighting is not just for the kitchen anymore. This type of lighting can be placed underneath shelves and cabinet bottoms to illuminate a very specific area of work surface. This type of lighting is ideal in smaller areas for detail work.
- Track lighting is another good choice for overhead lighting and is best suited for illuminating particular areas of a room. Flood bulbs can be used to light a larger area, while spot bulbs can focus concentrated light on a smaller space. An advantage with track lights is that individual lights can be redirected into different areas should you decide to rearrange your workshop.
- Portable floodlights are handy for specific jobs. Directional, height-adjustable and very bright, they're perfect for putting plenty of light in awkward or out-of-the way places. They're also ideal for working on your car.