5 Affordable Luxuries for a Hard-Working Garage

Kyle Smith

Just having some time alone in the garage is a luxury for most of us, so building our dream shop with all the bells and whistles often stays a dream as we focus on simply enjoying what we have. Just because we can’t have 2000 square feet, a mill, a lathe, and a lift does not mean we should ignore little touches of luxury that make our projects more enjoyable—or, at least, more tolerable.

A luxury does not have to be a big-ticket item, merely something that makes you look forward to your time in the garage or that makes your projects run a little smoother. With that goal in mind, here are five affordable upgrades for just about any space.

Affordable Luxury #1: Good Lights

various garage project lighting
A small assortment of lights that make the world a little brighter—literally.Kyle Smith

Lighting technology has come a long way in recent history. Compact and efficient LED work lights are easy to hang, run tens of thousands of hours with little maintenance, and sometimes can even be put on a dimmer. That last feature may seem a little absurd, but I don’t particularly enjoy how surgical my garage can feel when I want to just hang out with friends.

Hardwired, battery-operated, or plug-in, lights are great options that can fit anyone’s needs at almost every price range. Consider lighting an investment. It might feel like a decent chunk of change now, but most lights will last years, and they will make working on just about anything more enjoyable.

Affordable Luxury #2: A Decent Stereo

Sajeev Garage Hi Fi Audio Stereo Radio
Sajeev Mehta

The jury has been split 50/50 here whenever I bring up having a television in the garage, but it’s pretty much universally agreed that a good stereo is a must-have. While the Panasonic boombox purchased with Pepsi points in 1996 might still be cranking out the tunes, if you care about sound quality at all, a good set of speakers and a decent amplifier are very affordable, and they allow you to advantage of any music format you might prefer.

Obviously, no one would want to keep records where they use an angle grinder, but not every garage is focused on fabrication. After I splurged for in-ceiling speakers and a tidy wall-mounted amplifier, it became so much easier to listen to music, and the sound doesn’t change much no matter where I am in the space—and my setup cost about $200. Do what works for you, and make it sound good.

Affordable Luxury #3: Sturdy Shelves

Kyle's garage shelves
Kyle Smith

Even the most minimal workspace must include storage. The prices of sturdy, strong, and decent-looking shelving are budget-level when you consider that it takes a lot to wear out shelves. Similar to the lighting above, good shelving is a buy once, cry once decision. Adjustable shelving can be had for just a couple hundred dollars, perfectly suited for the projects and parts you store currently. It can even leave you room to grow or change the space in the future. For the same price, you can also buy materials and build custom shelves for your space.

Affordable Luxury #4: Reels

ceiling mounted cord reel for garage
Kyle Smith

If your garage is bigger than a closet, the addition of extension cords or air hoses is less about convenience and more about necessity: Overhead or wall-mounted, retractable reels make it easy to keep tripping hazards to a minimum. These have gotten budget-friendly as of late—just be sure the wire gauge is appropriate for your use.

Some of the low-end, cheap electrical reels can be 14-gauge or smaller, while most heavy-duty plug-in power tools are best served by 12-gauge. Roll out the length of hose or cord semi-regularly to inspect for imperfections or damage. Cables and hoses that live on the floor pick up debris and, if those bits are rolled into a reel, they become grinding compounds that can damage cords over time.

Affordable Luxury #5: Rugs

rug for standing at workbench Kyle's Garage
Kyle Smith

Okay, maybe not a rug. We couldn’t imagine a garage with wall-to-wall carpet, but something that people can wipe their feet on, or a standing mat at your workbench are little things that go a long way to make a workspace feel less industrial and more like a place you enjoy being in. Use them to inject a little personality into your space, if you want: Novelty door mats can say just about anything, so we won’t give you any ideas.


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    I use a landline data cable instead of WiFi, which is much better. And a converted dentist lamp above my converted hospital bed for my motorcycle projects.

    buy your self a fluorescent or led light , one that goes across the hood from one side to the other that hangs from the hood , you will love it

    I also put up a TV and surround sound system but I found that my work productivity went down with the TV as I was constantly being distracted by it. The surround sound is awesome though!

    Double votes for lights – especially the type you can take under the hood or under the car. In the “old days”, you had a “trouble light” – on the end of a cord and with a hook – and they were indeed trouble. Inconvenient at best, and dangerous worst case. One could almost count on banging one and burning out or breaking the incandescent bulb at the worst time. Anyone who used one of the old ones could show you where they had burned themselves on the hot metal “reflector”.
    Nowadays, the small kind with magnetic bases throw better light and can go nearly everywhere (including in the trunk, which was a waste with an old corded trouble light). My oldest daughter got me two rechargeable ones that have three settings and almost infinite angle adjustments. I cannot count all of the uses I’ve found for them, both in and out of the garage.

    Definitely agree with the magnetic base lights. I have one and I won’t use anything else under the hood. Having a nice STRONG magnet is a must because I invariably will bump into the light. With a weak magnet, the dang thing falls over and drops down into that hard to reach place no matter what. The strong magnet causes the light to just quiver a bit and keep doing its job. And being rechargeable is a big plus.

    10-4 on the weak magnets – I’m about to glue some stronger magnets to the lights I now deal with. No to a TV, but a 5-disc CD player up away from the dust – excellent

    I put alexa in the garage and I just tell Alexa to play some tunes from Sam Cooke or Willy nelson . Your garage your choice. it goes off by itself, no knobs to turn or discs to change or buttons to push.

    Those “drop Lights” were always annoying. They always seemed to be pointing in your eyes while hanging, and if you moved it, it always cast a shadow on what you were trying to see. Then when you let go of it, it magically came back to your eyes. Plus don’t ever reach for it without looking.

    Headlamps……the ones you wear on your head. Invaluable for tight spaces and always seem to be pointed the right way.

    Burned too many carpets with trouble light with incandescent bulbs way back when.

    The more I think of it Lights are not a luxury they are a must. They are not that expensive and they can really change a work environment. It is not like a radio where if it is missing you can just humm.

    Todays LED lights are cheap and easy to install. I have 12 lights on the ceiling. It creates a no shadow shop. I then added 4 Craftsman drop lights I got on sale.

    I would like to add a couple lights on a small stand for detailing on the sides of cars.

    I also have various rechargeable lights for in the engine or under the dash. The most use full is the head lamp hat I have.

    I agree with the wifi too as this is great for running the computer for various jobs. I have a strong signal from the house for it and Dish Network.

    I am a venus flytrap in both cars and garage implements. I scored some warehouse grade shelving assisting with a demo job.

    Modern improvements in lighting are a god send for the professional and home mechanic alike. Gone are the days of burning the side of your face on a drop light or realizing you parked on the cord after you disassembled the car

    If you parked on the cord after you disassembled the car, you should still be able to move it. But if you realized after disassembling the car that you parked on the cord, then you have a problem! 😆

    My hose reel started as a luxury and immediately graduated to necessity. I mounted it just inside the garage door, on car door hinges so it clicks out facing the driveway for outside work.

    I’d suggest cabinets that close to shelves…a little harder to find cheap ones, but nice to not have everything covered in my grinding, welding, smoke, paint, haze/dust

    I found two different sets of heavy duty cabinets on Craigslist that were used in a medical office and a school. Much stronger than the ones you buy at the big box stores. One set cost me $60 and the other set was free. The latter set included three sets of cabinets that were about six feet long. I gave one of them to my son.

    When I was working we sold off a department that had a bunch of old big blue print cabinets no one wanted several of us got one each. Great for tools, clamps, you name it. Nice because everything is one deep and visible

    I did the same thing. The upper cabinets were narrow enought to place on the side of my 12×18 shed and still have room to open the doors of my MGB. The bigger base cabinets worked ok as they were behind the doors on the sides of the shed and when placed side by side the top served as a counter.

    In the last year we invested quite a bit in repairing and improving one of the garages. For less than I spent on one M12 magnetic work light, we purchased enough LED strip lights that we could run a body shop out of the garage. It feels like a luxury to just flip on the lights and NOT need to grab a work light to fix most things. Fewer drop lights mean having one or two battery powered lights is viable for most work, which means less clutter, which means easier to work.

    Heck, the only downside of the new lights is that the old halogen lights don’t get dragged out on cold nights anymore because of the hassle of the cords. They were light AND heat…

    Nailed It ! Only problem is Led lights make things so bright that you can see every imperfection when you detail a car. (not to mention all the dust on my black cars)

    A Hunter Lift ! A bit expensive but I don’t even think about that anymore. What I
    do think about is how its made the aging process (my own) much easier to deal with.

    A lift isn’t expensive when you total the costs of pain medication, chiropractic adjustments and loss of mobility from rolling around on a concrete floor for thirty years.
    Now, having to raise the ceiling by six feet can get expensive.

    100%. I have spend much of my automotive life on my back on concrete, gravel, asphalt, and grass. My lift was my retirement gift from my wife!

    I installed Race Deck floor tiles over my tired concrete last fall. It really transformed the garage. It feels warmer and quieter (likely psychologically only), but it took 30 years to get to this point.

    A TV is actually a really good thing to have. Especially one that is either smart enough to connect to the internet or has HDMIs to accept something that does connect to the internet. Need some music or noise in the background while working? Just play. Need help figuring out the correct way to install something? Pull up Youtube and watch someone else that has already gone through all of the frustration and learn how to do it effectively.

    I waited a long time to finally build a shop, and was able to spoil myself. Had the floor poured dead flat, epoxy coated (would not do the flakes again as you can’t find small hardware you drop), did a 6″ pour everywhere so I can relocate the 2 post lift if needed. Fully insulated and sheet rocked and painted white. Have tons of lights on the ceiling as well as 8 solar tubes and a whole house fan, which is great for controlling exhaust fumes when a car is idling in the shop. Did pull down air, water and electrical and plumbed all walls for air. Have various led mag base stick lights as well as a led light on a tri-pod, which is great to put under a car on the lift. Was also able to include a bathroom and washer and dryer for shop rags and clothes and a deep stainless steel laundry sink and cabinet. Built a closet for the air compressor, a Quincy 2-stage vertical 60 gal, but it’s still loud. Have a good sized Eastwood media blast cabinet and a roll around oil drain. The house came with a two car garage with a separating wall and a 1 car garage. The shop shares the wall with the 1 car garage so I can walk through the garages to the shop when it’s raining. The only thing I’m missing is a mini-split system for the summer. I worked hard for it, but still feel spoiled.

    That Corvair Again…looking past it I see a non insulated wall and a flammable ceiling. The insulation and sheetrock add more than a finished look, they add safety from not needing spot heating and paper flammables…adding to that the need for less lighting (reflective white walls) sound deadening, and surfaces for mounting wall items. BTW insulation and sheetrock are pretty cheap…it is the finishing that gets a little pricey. However I found with the cabinets, racks, and assorted tools hanging, no one can see the sheetrock seams.

    It is a duct-less, small capacity, split system. Typically not a heat pump, although I suppose you can buy one with that option. I installed one in my workshop instead of a window A/C.

    Thanks for your comment about decorative flakes in the floor coating making it difficult to find small parts that drop onto the floor.

    I second that, I never thought about that the flakes would make it hard to find small parts, was going to put flakes but not now, but they sure make the floor good looking!

    Without the flakes, the floor gets real slippery when wet. I’m considering adding the flakes when I redo my shop floor soon.

    We just epoxied a floor at work and included a silica “sand” texture. It is a solid color, and not slippery. It can be a little harder to clean, but you have to pick your poison!

    I was going to post this but decided to scroll first. I knew someone had to have done it already 🙂

    That’s a solid list, but I’ll add one…

    Since my garage is in the basement and shares the small 1/2 bath with the finished part of the basement I decided to use lever door handles on the garage side and lever faucet handles of a smooth design. They’re easy to simply wipe clean plus you don’t need to grab them with your greasy fingertips to turn them on. It has worked well for me and the wife isn’t mad at me for getting everything dirty. 🙂

    I had that exact Radio Shack amp and tuner for my office. It was a fun little set up, but for my garage I’d want something more powerful with greater fidelity.

    I got an Alexa thing (Dot?) plugged into my 1970’s Sansui stereo. Got a good WiFi signal and you can play pretty much anything you want with Amazon music for a few bucks a month. Got to where I refoamed my 1970 Ohm speakers to get really nice sound

    Great coincidence! I am still using a mid-70s Sansui receiver I bought as a teenager and 4 years ago I replaced the speaker cones. Added an auxiliary cable so I could stream music. Excellent garage system.

    Mine is a lower end, I think 1000X. But in my USMC days in Japan I stepped it up to a Sansui 9090DB. My wife still says its overkill. But thats her opinion

    As a Vietnam vet, I had the Sansui (2000) and big speakers for many years. Decent receivers and speakers can be found cheap in thrift shops. I volunteer at a shop for a domestic violence nonprofit and see all electronics that are donated. Unfortunately, I’m limited to a 22×24 double garage on a mountainside lot. For a small space, “obsolete” Bose, Harmon Kardon, or similar IPod docks can be had for little money and typically have a remote. They have great sound for a small space and I use a splitter into the Aux port for a small CD deck and a Bluetooth adapter. Takes up less than 14 inches of shelf space.

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