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How to Install Outdoor Garage Lights

A step-by-step guide to lighting the driveway with outdoor garage light fixtures with a motion sensor.

Installing Outdoor Garage Lights

One of the simplest, most effective ways to enhance the safety and security of your home is to add a motion-sensor floodlight to the garage. The dual-lamp model installed here comes on automatically if something—or someone—crosses its field of vision.

If you’re hesitant about working with electricity, don’t worry. We’ve greatly simplified the process by safely tapping into an existing garage circuit and by running the wires through surface-mounted metal tubing, called conduit. This technique speeds the installation by eliminating the need to blindly pull wires through walls and ceilings.

All of the supplies required for this project are sold at hardware stores and home centers, including the thin-wall metal conduit, which is referred to as EMT for electrical metallic tubing.

Outdoor Garage Light With Motion Sensor Overview

Outdoor Garage Light With Motion Sensor Diagram Illustration by Gregory Nemec

The outdoor garage light shown here has two lamps and an infrared motion sensor, which automatically turns on the lights if a person or vehicle approaches the garage (they go off after a few minutes). Home electrical projects like this typically require you to connect wires to the main electrical panel and then fish them behind walls, under floors, and above ceilings—not an easy job.

However, the wiring for this driveway floodlight is confined to the garage, so you can tap in to an existing electrical outlet and then use easy-to-install surface-mounted metal conduit to run the wiring.

The 1⁄2-inch-diameter conduit, known as EMT (electrical metallic tubing), is sold at home centers and electrical suppliers for about 20 cents a foot. You can also purchase right-angle conduit connectors ($4) and preformed curved elbows ($3) that allow you to turn corners with the rigid metal.

Master electrician Allen Gallant suggests replacing the two-plug outlet with a combination GFCI receptacle and switch ($22) brought out from the wall with an extension box ($4.50). He prefers to assemble a fixture from separate parts (about $60 total) instead of buying a single unit because that way he’s able to upgrade the quality of the motion sensor.

WARNING: Before starting this project, turn off the electricity to the garage at the main electrical panel. Then test the garage receptacle by plugging in a radio or lamp to confirm that the power is off.

How to Install Outdoor Garage Lights (With Motion Sensors)

1. Attach the Extension Box

Man Attaches the Extension Box For Installing Outdoor Garage LightsPhoto by Richard Howard
  • After turning off the electricity to the garage, remove one of the existing wall receptacles.
  • Screw the metal mounting plate that comes with the extension box to the electrical box in the wall.
  • Use a screwdriver to pry the round knock-out plug from the top of the extension box. Attach a 1/2-inch metal conduit connector to the top of the box.
  • Fasten the extension box to the mounting plate with the two long screws provided.

2. Connect the Conduit

Man Connects Conduit Photo by Richard Howard
  • Measure from the top of the extension box to the garage ceiling and then subtract 1 1/2 inches. Saw a piece of conduit to that dimension and file smooth any sharp burrs.
  • Slide a right-angle connector onto one end of the conduit. Insert the other end into the connector on the extension box.
  • Put a conduit hanger on the conduit. Check that the conduit is perfectly plumb, then mark the hanger’s position.
  • Move the conduit and screw the hanger to the wall. Slip the conduit back into place and secure it by tightening the screw on the hanger.

Tip: Use a magnetic torpedo level, which sticks to the conduit.

3. Install a Preformed Conduit Elbow

Man Installs Preformed Conduit Elbow Photo by Richard Howard
  • Hold a conduit elbow against the wall corner and cut a piece of conduit to fit between the elbow and the right-angle connector.
  • Insert the conduit into the right-angle connector; if it’s longer than 12 inches, install a conduit hanger.
  • Join elbow to the conduit with a straight coupling.
  • Continue installing conduit across the front wall, ending it over the center of the garage door. Use hangers every 12 inches.

4. Bore Through the Garage Wall

Man Bores Through Garage Wall With Spade Bit For Outdoor Garage Light InstallationPhoto by Richard Howard
  • Measure from the top of the doorway to the ceiling and subtract 1 inch. Then move outside and mark the siding that dimension up from the center of the door.
  • Bore a level hole through the garage wall with a 7/8-inch-diameter spade bit.
  • Inside, connect a junction box to the conduit running across the front wall. Then screw the box to the ceiling.
  • Run a length of 14/2 nonmetallic cable (Romex) from the junction box through the hole to the outdoors.

5. Attach the Round Outlet Box

Man Attaches Round Outlet Box To Install Outdoor Garage FloodlightsPhoto by Richard Howard
  • Fasten a cable connector to the hole in the base of the round outlet box.
  • Feed the nonmetallic cable through the connector, then tighten the connector screw.
  • Fill the hole in the wall with silicone caulk or putty.
  • Press the round outlet box flat against the siding and secure it with two 2-inch-long galvanized decking screws.

Tip: Use a connector wherever a cable or wire enters a box.

6. Pull the Wires Through the Conduit

Man Pulls Wires Through Conduit To Install Outdoor Garage LightsPhoto by Richard Howard
  • Remove the cover plate from the right-angle conduit connector that’s nearest the wall receptacle extension box.
  • Feed an electrician’s fish tape into this connector and push it through the conduit until it comes out the extension box.
  • Use electrician’s tape to attach one each of black, white, and green 14-gauge stranded copper wires to the fish tape.
  • Pull the fish tape until the wires come out of the connector, then undo the fish tape.
  • At the junction box, push the tape into the conduit. Reconnect the three wires to it, then pull them into the box.

7. Assemble the Outdoor Garage Lights

Man Assembles Outdoor Garage Floodlights Photo by Richard Howard
  • Carefully screw the motion sensor into the center hole in the round lamp-holder cover.
  • Thread the two lamp holders into the holes on either side of the motion sensor.
  • Finger-tighten the motion sensor and lamp holders; don’t use pliers. Final tightening and adjustment aren’t done until after the garage light is mounted on the garage wall.

Tip: If desired, spray-paint the outdoor garage lights to match the house. But not the sensor — paint might impede its performance.

8. Make the Connections

Man Connects Wires To Turn On Outdoor Garage Lights Photo by Richard Howard
  • Trim the cable coming from the round outlet box to 6 inches and use a utility knife to cut away the plastic sheathing.
  • Use wire strippers to remove 1/2 inch of the plastic insulation from the black and white wires.
  • Join the cable to the garage light.
  • Attach the garage light with machine screws and insert bulbs.
  • Make the wire connections at the junction box and switch. Then turn on the power and adjust the lamp holders and motion sensor.