So your kid’s bicycle tire is flat, your wife’s car is making that disturbing noise under the hood again, and you still haven’t untangled the extension cord from the last time you vacuumed out your truck? Welcome to my world. You know there’s a tire pump and a trouble light (probably with a burned-out bulb) SOMEWHERE, and as soon as someone moves those twenty bags of play sand off the extension cord, you’ll get it untangled – no, really! I think WE are who the inventors had in mind when they came up with the Chamberlain Garage Power Station.
The folks at Chamberlain recently provided us with a Chamberlain Garage Power Station to evaluate. The power station combines an extension cord, trouble light and air compressor into an overhead unit. They share a retractable hose/cable, and the unit clings unobtrusively to your ceiling, patiently waiting to be summoned into action. I lugged the box into my garage, chose a likely spot on the ceiling, and got ready to power up. Here’s a quick promo video from Chamberlain:
Installing The Chamberlain Garage Power Station
The Chamberlain Garage Power Station was pretty simple to install; anyone with basic DIY skills and tools can easily handle it. I installed it by myself with no problem, but I’m incredibly strong for an old guy; it is somewhat heavy (Chamberlain lists the weight at 32 pounds), so you may want to recruit someone to help you hold it in place if you haven’t been eating your Wheaties.
You’ll need a drill with a 3/16” bit, a tape measure, a pencil, a Phillips head screwdriver, and a socket wrench with a 7/16” socket and a 6” extension. The instructions say the extension is optional, but you’ll save yourself a bit of time and aggravation if you have one, according to reviewers who tried to do it without one. One last thing – unless you’re really tall, or have a low ceiling, grab a stepladder.
The first thing you’ll want to do is find a good location. If you have a workbench in your garage, somewhere above it would likely be ideal. Any place else you’d like a little extra overhead lighting would also be a good candidate, as the unit can also accommodate two 50W halogen bulbs for task lighting. In any event, try to find a location close to an electrical outlet; it’s best to avoid using an extension cord to power the unit. If you have to use one, be sure it’s at least 16 AWG. The air hose/utility cord is 25’ long, so unless you have a really big garage, you can mount it pretty much wherever you want and still be able to stretch it to where you need it. Just make sure it won’t interfere with the operation of your garage door.
The mounting holes on the Chamberlain Garage Power Station are 16” apart, which coincide nicely with standard 16”-on-center joist spacing. If your framing is 24” on center, you can mount the unit on a single joist. If your ceiling is finished, use a stud finder to locate your joists. In any case, once you’ve chosen your location, mark two spots 16” apart, predrill with your 3/16” bit, and you’re ready to put that bad boy up.
To access the mounting holes in the power station, unscrew and remove the task light covers. And now, a super-secret HomeFixated insider tip: the instructions have you wait until the unit is up to connect the ground wire to the task light covers and install the bulbs. It’s much easier to do it BEFORE you put the unit up; attach the bulbs and ground wires to the task light covers, and just let the light units dangle. Later, after the unit is in place, you’ll just have to twist the bulbs into the sockets and re-install the task light covers onto the unit. Next, put a washer and small rubber isolator on the lag screws, push them through the holes, and then slide the large rubber washers onto the screws. The washers fit snugly, and hold the screws in place as you turn the unit upside-down and lift it into position.
Get your socket on one of the lag screws (this is where you need the 6” extension), and start it into its hole. After it’s in a few turns, start the other screw in, then alternate tightening them until they’re good and snug, but don’t over-tighten them; the rubber spacer should be compressed but not flattened. I used my sporty impact driver, which saves some time. You could also use a cordless drill with a socket attachment, but a ratchet works fine, as the lag screws are only 2-1/2” long. Now you just have to plug in the light bulbs, re-install the task light covers, and plug it in. You’re ready to work!
The Power Station In Action
To activate the Chamberlain Garage Power Station, you simply pull the cable down from the unit. Note: when you do so, the task lights come on, and the compressor kicks on briefly, which can startle the crap out of you if you’re standing on a ladder right next to it. Or so I’ve been told. At any rate, just pull the cable over to where you need air or light or power, release it, and it will lock in place until you’re task is finished. Then simply tug on it and feed it back into the unit. Don’t just let it go; it rewinds quickly, and would probably trash the light. It doesn’t have a fancy 2nd retraction speed like the RoboReel we reviewed a while back. When the Power Station is fully retracted, the task lights shut off, power is cut to the compressor and extension cord, and peace descends upon the planet. It feels like they used good-quality components in the reel; the hose unwinds and retracts with a good, solid, smooth feel.
Got a high ceiling, or a short reach? You can easily control how far the power unit hangs down from the ceiling. There is a docking ball around the cable that stops the unit from retracting; when it comes in contact with the base, this is what shuts off the power. To adjust the work light assembly to hang at a different height, just loosen the screws on the ball, slide it to where you want it, and tighten ‘em back up.
I used the LED trouble light to poke around under the hood of my truck. There’s a rubber-coated switch on the handle to turn it off and on, and it takes a firm poke to use, but it worked fine. It was pretty dark in there, and the LEDs lit it up nicely.
Chamberlain doesn’t provide specs on watts or lumens for the trouble light, but I’d say it was roughly equivalent to a 75-100 watt bulb. Chamberlain claims the LEDs will provide 100,000 hours of working life, which is way the hell better than the two or three uses my incandescent bulbs provide before I drop the light and blow them up. Hopefully the LEDs are a bit more rugged. One weird thing: even though the LEDs are arranged in a rectangular grid, the light pattern comes out circular.
To try out the air hose, I dragged one of my daughter’s bikes out of the barn. The tires were pretty well flat, so I depressed the lever, clamped the air hose on the valve, and it started filling immediately. The nozzle fit snugly onto the valve, and the tire filled quickly; it took about 30 seconds to get the pressure gauge showing just over 50 lbs. To release the hose, you just depress the clamp and pull the nozzle off, and the air shuts off. There’s also an inflator tethered to the air hose with a needle valve for filling basketballs and the like.
I plugged in my old Craftsman ½” drill to test out the extension cord function, and drilled a few 7/8” holes through some old 2X4’s. It worked like, well, an extension cord; the drill worked fine. One thing to be aware of while using the extension cord feature: The outlet is rated for 10 amps max. If you’re planning to use the extension cord for something that draws a lot of juice, check your amperage to avoid damaging the item or overloading the cord. My circular saw, for example, draws 15 amps; guess I’ll still have to untangle my heavy-duty extension cord for that. Using a shop vac, a ½” drill, a grinder, or most similar power tools shouldn’t be an issue, though.
Does The Power Station Deserve A Spot On Your Ceiling?
It states in the manual that the Chamberlain Garage Power Station is intended for light-duty use only. Just the size of it should make that obvious; this thing is intended to earn its keep inflating bicycle and car tires and basketballs, and giving you a convenient trouble light and extension cord, not running air tools or inflating tractor-trailer tires. If your expectations are reasonable, you’ll probably be pretty happy with this product. It’s compact, out of the way until you need it, and provides decent utility.
Suggestions for improvements? The most useful one would be a better pressure gauge. It wasn’t very accurate; mine showed a bit over 50 lbs. of pressure when there was actually only about 40 lbs. in my bicycle tire. And why does the pressure gauge go to 180 lbs. when the max PSI rating is 100 lbs.? A gauge that goes to 110 lbs., with increments of less than 5 lbs., would make it easier to dial in the pressure you’re after (assuming a more accurate gauge). It might also be easier to control if the air flow was controlled by a lever, instead of trying to unclamp it and pull it off when inflation is finished, but that’s just personal preference. Meanwhile, keep a good handheld gauge around to double-check your pressures.
The one thing most reviewers downgraded this product for was the lack of included bulbs. The unit requires two halogen bulbs (MR16 GU10), which are not provided, and which most people don’t have lying around. There is no mention of the lack of bulbs on the box, not that I could find, anyway. If you don’t know this ahead of time, you’ll be making another trip to the store, probably uttering some impolite phrases as you do so. I’m guessing Chamberlain could significantly improve customer satisfaction by including the bulbs, even if they had to raise the price a few bucks. Another alternative might be to simply install LED lights right in the unit, or even skip the lights altogether; most garages already have some type of overhead light, and unless this will be used over a workbench, it might not be all that useful.
That said, the Chamberlain Garage Power Station is a well-made, fairly well designed product, which should be very useful for the average homeowner. The time and aggravation savings alone will make it a favorite for me; no more wondering where I left the trouble light (and then finding a new bulb for it), dragging out an extension cord for two minutes of work, or firing up my compressor to inflate a volleyball. And the best part is, when the chore is finished, just tug on the cord, and it’s put away – and it’ll be there for you the next time! I wish all my cleanup was that easy.
The unit comes with a two year limited warranty on the compressor motor, and one year on the rest of the product. More info on Chamberlain’s home products, along with tips and giveaways, is available on their Facebook page. The Chamberlain Garage Power Station is available from Home Depot for $129. The MR16 50W bulbs are available at Home Depot, or if you plan ahead, you can get them for $2.45 each with free shipping from Amazon.