What is the Best Lighting for Unfinished Basement? Here are 5 best light fixtures

Trying to find the best lighting for unfinished basement is tricky. Bare concrete walls feel cold and don’t reflect light well. Exposed floor joists can make odd shadows. And mounting a light fixture is quite different on an unfinished ceiling.

My father is in his 60’s and has an unfinished basement. He’s decided he wants to make use of the extra space now that he’s retired. But he doesn’t want to invest in finishing the basement since his income is reduced. He’s hoping to use it as a workshop. But there are a few obstacles that make working down there a challenge.

I find it quite cold down there. And the bare bulbs that are there now provide very harsh lighting. He was also concerned about the low ceilings and having enough headspace to work.

I offered to help him with some low-cost updates that would help make the space workable. Since it can really improve the look of a room and will increase safety, we decided to start with upgrading the lighting. I did some research and found the 5 best options to provide lighting for unfinished basement ceilings.

In A Rush? Here’s My Pick!

Let’s take a quick glance at the products I will talk about here:

New Round Flush Mount Thin Ceiling Light |  LED Disc Shaped Thinnest Round Dimmable Lighting Fixture | Direct Wire Lights | No Drywall Work Required | 2700K Warm Light |12" White
Our choice
(Pack of 2) Barrina 4ft 45 Watt Extendable Utility LED Shop Light Workbench Light 6500K Super Bright White 4500lm 300W Equivalent Built-in ON/Off Switch Frosted Linear LED Light Bar
Mr. Beams MB990 Ultra Bright Wireless Battery Powered Motion Sensing Indoor/Outdoor LED Ceiling Light, 300 lm, White, 2-Pack
Lemontec Commercial Grade Outdoor String Lights with 15 Hanging Sockets - 48 Ft Black Weatherproof Cord Weatherproof Strand for Patio Garden Porch Backyard Party Deck Yard – S14 Black
CANARM LTD. IT356A04ORB10 James 4 Bulb Track Light, Oil Rubbed Bronze
New Round Flush Mount Thin Ceiling Light |  LED Disc Shaped Thinnest Round Dimmable Lighting Fixture | Direct Wire Lights | No Drywall Work Required | 2700K Warm Light |12" White
(Pack of 2) Barrina 4ft 45 Watt Extendable Utility LED Shop Light Workbench Light 6500K Super Bright White 4500lm 300W Equivalent Built-in ON/Off Switch Frosted Linear LED Light Bar
Mr. Beams MB990 Ultra Bright Wireless Battery Powered Motion Sensing Indoor/Outdoor LED Ceiling Light, 300 lm, White, 2-Pack
Lemontec Commercial Grade Outdoor String Lights with 15 Hanging Sockets - 48 Ft Black Weatherproof Cord Weatherproof Strand for Patio Garden Porch Backyard Party Deck Yard – S14 Black
CANARM LTD. IT356A04ORB10 James 4 Bulb Track Light, Oil Rubbed Bronze
$40.99
$49.99
$56.75
$39.95
$37.11
New Round Flush Mount Thin Ceiling Light |  LED Disc Shaped Thinnest Round Dimmable Lighting Fixture | Direct Wire Lights | No Drywall Work Required | 2700K Warm Light |12" White
New Round Flush Mount Thin Ceiling Light |  LED Disc Shaped Thinnest Round Dimmable Lighting Fixture | Direct Wire Lights | No Drywall Work Required | 2700K Warm Light |12" White
$40.99
Our choice
(Pack of 2) Barrina 4ft 45 Watt Extendable Utility LED Shop Light Workbench Light 6500K Super Bright White 4500lm 300W Equivalent Built-in ON/Off Switch Frosted Linear LED Light Bar
(Pack of 2) Barrina 4ft 45 Watt Extendable Utility LED Shop Light Workbench Light 6500K Super Bright White 4500lm 300W Equivalent Built-in ON/Off Switch Frosted Linear LED Light Bar
$49.99
Mr. Beams MB990 Ultra Bright Wireless Battery Powered Motion Sensing Indoor/Outdoor LED Ceiling Light, 300 lm, White, 2-Pack
Mr. Beams MB990 Ultra Bright Wireless Battery Powered Motion Sensing Indoor/Outdoor LED Ceiling Light, 300 lm, White, 2-Pack
$56.75
Lemontec Commercial Grade Outdoor String Lights with 15 Hanging Sockets - 48 Ft Black Weatherproof Cord Weatherproof Strand for Patio Garden Porch Backyard Party Deck Yard – S14 Black
Lemontec Commercial Grade Outdoor String Lights with 15 Hanging Sockets - 48 Ft Black Weatherproof Cord Weatherproof Strand for Patio Garden Porch Backyard Party Deck Yard – S14 Black
$39.95
CANARM LTD. IT356A04ORB10 James 4 Bulb Track Light, Oil Rubbed Bronze
CANARM LTD. IT356A04ORB10 James 4 Bulb Track Light, Oil Rubbed Bronze
$37.11

How to Select the Best Lighting for Unfinished Basement

Basement Lighting Considerations

Before beginning any lighting project, it’s important to look at all the variables. Consider overall lighting as well as each specific work area. You want to make sure there’s adequate lighting to work comfortably and safely. Assessing your needs will help you make a good basement lighting layout.

I found that different factors affect lighting in a basement.

You have to work around low ceilings and a lack of natural light in most basements. But an unfinished basement presents even more obstacles. Unfinished basements are usually colder, and they lack reflective surfaces. The unfinished surfaces also create a variety of challenges when it comes to mounting light fixtures.

I found this helpful guide from HGTV that has some good advice on basement lighting. They advise you to start by making a good lighting plan. You should make your plan before you start any other work. If the fixtures aren’t in the right place, your plan won’t be very helpful.  They also offer recommendations on what bulb type to choose. Along with a nice break down of the different lighting terminology to help you figure it all out.

How Much Light Do You Need?

If you’re not sure how much light you need for your space, there are ways to help you figure that out. The 1000Bulbs Lighting Blog says it’s time to stop thinking in Watts and start using Lumens. They recommend 20 Lumens per square foot to light floor areas, 30 Lumens per square foot for tables and raised surfaces and 50 Lumens per square foot for task lighting.

You can also try out this handy Visual Interior Tool which helps determine the amount of light your fixtures will provide. It works on rectangular rooms and calculates the average illuminance based on the variables you enter.  This could help you determine the optimal basement lighting layout.

Don’t forget to take the time of day you use the basement into account when planning your lighting. Even if your basement windows are small, they will alter the light in the room. You will need more light to work in the basement at night than you do during the day.

Thinking Outside the (Light) Box

Sometimes to find a solution to an unconventional problem you need to look at it from a new angle. The video below comes up with a creative solution for lighting an unfinished basement ceiling.

Instead of finishing the ceiling, they decided to take advantage of the space between the rafters. By mounting the lights between the joists, they gained a few extra inches of clearance. They also painted the ceiling and lights a dark color to hide any imperfections.  This also helps make the mounting boards less noticeable.

This downtown Savannah loft featured on Houzz, makes interesting use of spotlights in their loft with unfinished ceilings.  They mounted the spotlights on the side of the joists and directed them up towards the ceiling and off to the sides to avoid harsh glare.

Lights That Work Well in an Unfinished Basement

If you’re looking for style as well as function, opt for industrial style lighting. Since an unfinished basement already has exposed beams and pipes, you can play up these features.

As we saw in the video above, track lights are a good option for unfinished ceilings. They provide multiple light sources with just one fixture. When mounted between the joists they are low profile. They are also easy to mount on wood joists if you have the clearance.

Better Homes & Gardens suggests adding a pendant light over a work area to provide good task lighting. You just want to make sure this is in an area with no traffic. Low ceilings and pendant lights can be a bad combination.

String lights between or on the joists provide good light and create a nice, warm atmosphere. My dad is more concerned about task lighting rather than ambient light, but I think lighting can be functional and still look good!

Lights to Avoid in an Unfinished Basement

In the Fine Home Building forum, they discuss basement lighting. One post recommends not using fluorescent tube lighting in an unfinished basement because they do not work well in the cold. They also mention tube lighting not working well in high humidity. Since unfinished basements are often damp and cold, fluorescent tube lights should probably be avoided.

The Build Direct blog advises you steer clear of bare incandescent bulbs. They provide a harsh, yellow light that isn’t welcoming. Instead, opt for soft white bulbs that provide a warmer light. They also discuss other ways to brighten up your basement.

You also want to be careful about how much clearance the lights have. A basement with low ceilings should stay away from lighting that hangs down too far. Pendant lights should only be used to as task lighting in non-traffic areas.

5 Choices for Lighting for Unfinished Basement Ceiling

Round Flush Mount Thin Ceiling Light

This flush mount light is really low profile. It measures less than 2” high and provides a clean modern look. They do not require any recessing so this light should work well on my dad’s ceiling. I think these would look good mounted on the ceiling between the joists.

We will need to check how far apart the joists are to make sure we select the right size. This light is available 5.5”, 8”, and 12” diameters. Depending on how far apart the beams are, there may not be enough room to mount the 12” lights between them.

PROS

  • Low profile
  • checkEasy to install
  • checkDoesn’t need to be recessed
  • checkMultiple light levels

cons

  • May be too wide for some joists
  • exclamationLED bulbs can’t be changed
  • exclamationRequires special dimmer

This fixture also offers your choice of light levels.

You can pick from 2700K, 3000K and 4000K LED lights. This is a good feature for a dark basement where a brighter LED may be required to provide enough light. The frosted lens cover helps create a soft, uniform light even with the brighter bulbs. The light is dimmable but requires a specific LED low voltage dimmer.

Get these lights from Amazon .

Barrina 4ft Frosted Linear LED Light Bar

The Barrina Frosted LED Lights are a good solution for an unfinished basement. They are really bright and don’t flicker or hum. And since they are not hardwired, they are really easy to install.

The Light Bars can be mounted separately or connected together to provide light where you need it most.  One problem is that the connector cable isn’t very long. This limits how far apart you can put the lights if you want them connected to a single power cord.

PROS

  • Low profile
  • checkEasy to install
  • checkReally bright
  • checkLong life-span

cons

  • Not connected to main power
  • exclamationLED bulbs can’t be changed
  • exclamationShort connector cord

They are narrow and low profile, so they’ll work well installed on the ceiling or on the joists. And they will operate in temperatures from –4°F so there will be no issues in an unheated basement.

Get these lights from Amazon .

Mr. Beams MB990 Ultra Bright Wireless Battery Powered Motion Sensing Indoor/Outdoor LED Ceiling Light

Mr. Beams Wireless lights seem like a really easy solution for adding extra light to almost any room. They don’t require any wiring so you can install them almost anywhere.  These would work well in addition to my dad’s existing fixtures since he doesn’t want to invest in new wiring.

This video shows how easy it is to set up and install the Mr. Beams battery powered lights:

The lights are operated by an automatic motion sensor, so you won’t have to worry about finding a switch in the dark. The auto shut-off helps conserve battery life. You should get about a year’s worth of light from a set of batteries.

The motion sensor has a wide range of 18 feet so it will work even in larger rooms. The light features a diffuser that helps spread light over a wider area. And it’s weatherproof so the cold and damp in the basement won’t affect it.

PROS

  • Auto-shut off conserve
  • checkAuto-shut off conserves battery life
  • checkHands-free operation

cons

  • Not connected to switch
  • exclamationLights turn off without motion
  • exclamationBatteries will need replacing

You wouldn’t want to have these lights as your only light source though. The motion sensor shuts the light off after 20 seconds of inactivity. Having an alternate light source will make sure you don’t get left in the dark.

Get these lights from Amazon .

Lemontec Commercial Grade Outdoor String Lights

The Lemontec Outdoor String Lights with 15 bulbs provide nice ambient light. Warm overall light helps make an unfinished basement feel a bit cozier.  String lights should probably be combined with additional lights for better task lighting.

The 48-foot cable gives you plenty of length to run along the joists. You can connect up to 8 strands together to light a large size room. There’s a loop over each light which makes them easy to hang securely.

PROS

  • Provide good ambient light
  • checkEasy to install
  • checkWeather resistant
  • checkDurable

cons

  • Not connected to switch
  • exclamationBulbs are fragile

The weatherproof cord means they’ll stand up to damp and cold conditions in an unfinished basement. These lights are durable and come with a full money back guarantee.  Which could come in handy since the bulbs are a bit fragile.

Get these lights from Amazon .

Canarm Ltd. James 4 Bulb Track Light

The James 4 bulb track light is a good option for lighting for unfinished basement ceiling.

By mounting the fixture to the ceiling or the side of the joists, the lights won’t cut into the available head space.  And the dark bronze color will blend nicely with the unfinished wood ceiling.

PROS

  • Can be installed on ceiling or wall
  • checkFully adjustable heads
  • checkBright light

cons

  • Bulbs difficult to install
  • exclamationReplacement shades hard to find

The light uses four 50-watt bulbs so it gives off plenty of light.

The supplied bulbs can be switched for LED compatible bulbs. The alabaster glass globes provide good light diffusion. The four lights are fully adjustable. This is helpful for the workshop, so you can direct the light where it’s needed most.

One problem with this light is that the bulbs can be tricky to install.

Get these lights from Amazon .

Best Lighting for Unfinished Basement: Our Choice

We found a few good options for lighting for unfinished basement ceilings. But the Barrina 4ft Frosted Linear LED Light Bar  seems like the best choice for my dad’s basement. The light output is really bright and they’re easy to install. My dad likes that he doesn’t have to add any extra wiring to install them.

They can be mounted on or beside the joists. And their low-profile design means they won’t cut into the available headspace.  Using them in combination with the existing fixtures will provide both overall and task lighting.

The lights are LED and not fluorescent, so there’s no hum or flickering. And Barrina lightbars are rated for cold temperatures, so they will work even if the basement is unheated.

Get these lights from Amazon .

How to choose the best lighting for unfinished basement? Here is what you need to consider

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Last update on 2020-10-19 at 22:09 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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