Under Cabinet Light Fixtures Guide & Basics
Uses for Under Cabinet Lighting
Typically, you’ll find under cabinet lights used as kitchen light fixtures. Whether you’re mixing, shredding, slicing, or dicing, having task lights in the kitchen creates a space where cooking is easier, safer, and more enjoyable. Under kitchen cabinet lighting can also be a nice accent to your decorating scheme.
However, they are not just for kitchen countertop lighting. The bright, focused illumination from an under cabinet light’s slim profile is also ideal for offices, work stations in hospitals or doctor’s offices, bookcases, shelving, and more. Basically, it excels as an application in any area where you need task lighting and want the look to be contemporary and subtle. So, whether you need LED under counter lights for a kitchen or some other space, we have what you are looking for.
Make sure to check out our installation video of Emily, one of our employees, and her husband installing our most popular under cabinet light in their kitchen.
Heard of these light fixtures by another name, and wondering if you’ve come to the right page? Under cabinet lights are also regularly referred to as under counter lights, undermount lights, under the cabinet lighting, task lighting fixtures, kitchen under cabinet lighting and under cupboard lighting.
If your main priority is to find the light fixture that uses the absolute minimum amount of electricity, you will want to check out our LED under cabinet lights. You’ll find light fixtures that use as little as 5 watts of electricity.
Efficiency is a general term that can be measured in a few different ways. For example, you might compare the amount of light output per watt of energy consumed. In fact, the term for that is efficacy. Our fluorescent under cabinet lights have the best rated efficacy out of our selections, so we consider them to be incredibly efficient as well. These under cabinet lighting options deliver impressive light output while consuming very little energy.
Keep in mind that using a dimmer will maximize efficiency of your light fixture as well. If you select a xenon light fixture and install it with dimmer switches, you will decrease your energy use significantly, while adding a lighting feature that enables you to control the ambiance!
For more assistance in choosing energy-efficient kitchen undercabinet fixtures check out our blog post.
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If you’re installing your lighting directly beneath kitchen cabinets that are storing perishable food, you have to consider heat output from the light fixtures. Here’s the deal: LED light fixtures are cool to the touch. Next on the heat output scale is fluorescent under cabinet lights, which also give off very little heat. Xenon lights are a little hotter than fluorescent but still cooler than halogen – the hottest type of undercabinet light.
We are often asked which fixtures produce light that’s similar to incandescent lighting. Did you know that xenon lighting is a type of incandescent light source? The only distinction between the two is that there is a little bit of xenon gas incorporated into the glass envelope of a xenon light bulb. That gas helps lengthen the lifetime of the light fixture. Essentially, xenon light fixtures are incandescent lights that have been engineered for increased efficiency. You can also find the familiar warm glow of an incandescent light bulb in warm white fluorescent light or warm white LED lights. Look for color temperatures of 3200K or lower.
For those of you with granite countertops in the kitchen, you may be wondering about how the under cabinet lighting will reflect. Since granite is a highly polished surface, you are going to see a reflection of the light fixture no matter what. The best way to minimize the reflection is to ensure your light fixture has a lens over the light bulbs.
Check out our animated image below to see how under cabinet lights provide both excellent task lighting for your kitchen counters and attractive accent lighting for your backsplash.
This image rotates every 4 seconds between the lights being off and the lights being on.
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Under Cabinet Lighting Installation Tips
Here’s a short video showing an installation of our Xenon Line Voltage Thin Under Cabinet Task Lights. Note that these light fixtures were plugged into an outlet behind the refrigerator. Plug-in kitchen under cabinet lighting is a great option for renters that cannot install permanent fixtures, or for someone that is not comfortable with electrical work.
When installing under cabinet kitchen lighting, we usually recommend the fixture be placed as close to the front/face of the cabinet as possible. This is a matter of personal preference (in the video, the installation is closer to the back wall), but if you are looking for the best task lighting for food preparation in the kitchen, installing the light at the front of the cabinet will give you the brightest illumination for countertops.
On the other hand, if you’re installing under cabinet accent lighting for decorative illumination – perhaps inside a display cabinet over a piece of artwork – you should center the light fixture over the artwork or decorative piece.
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When it comes to electrical power features, the main thing people are not familiar with is line voltage versus low voltage. A line voltage under cabinet light is one that connects to the main power source directly (usually, that’s the 120 volt power source in the wires behind your walls). A line voltage light fixture is made to operate on 120 volts. A low voltage light fixture; by contrast, operates on either 12 or 24 volts. So, it requires you to use transformer which will “step down” the voltage from 120 volts to 12 or 24 volts, depending on what your light fixture requires.
Some low voltage under cabinet lights have the transformer built-in within the light fixture. Some require you to use a “remote transformer” which will be installed somewhere nearby. You might install it under the cabinet along with the lights, inside the cabinet above or below the lights, or even in an attic or basement. You will want the transformer to be out of sight but also easily accessible (so don’t install it behind a wall). Also, don’t place it too far away from the light fixture or you run the risk of voltage drop.
So, why would you choose a low voltage light fixture over line voltage if it requires an extra component? One advantage of low voltage is that it tends to give off less heat than line voltage light fixtures. Also, low voltage lighting usually enables you to have smaller light bulbs – and thus, smaller light fixtures. That’s why most of our puck under cabinet lights are low voltage.
There are two basic options for wiring under cabinet lighting: hardwire and plug-in. “Hardwiring” a light fixture means connecting it directly to the source of electric power using a ROMEX® wire. Of course, plugging in the light fixture means simply connecting it with a cord and plug to the nearest electrical outlet. Most of our under cabinet light fixtures can be installed either way, and come with the hardware for both.
If you see that an under cabinet light is “linkable,” it means that it can be connected easily to a second (or third) light fixture with either a Flexible Connector or a Linking Cable. You can install a long line of under cabinet lights flush with one another using these accessories. If the light fixture is not linkable, you can usually still connect it to another, but it will require the use of household ROMEX® wire. Note that flexible connectors or linking cables should not be used to connect an under cabinet fixture directly to line voltage power.
A quick note on dimmers: If you are installing a dimmer, remember that it should always be connected between the source of electricity and the fixture. For example, if you are using a dimmer to control a low voltage transformer, always install it between the source of power and the line voltage (120 volt) side of the transformer, not the low voltage (12 or 24 volt) side.
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The Complete Guide to Under Cabinet Lighting EBook
If you want an all-access-pass into the world of under cabinet lighting, download our free ebook to learn how to choose, install, and maintain under cabinet lights for just about any project you can think of! Whether you are a seasoned handyman, a first-time DIY enthusiast or just a curious bystander, this book can answer all your questions and then some. You will emerge a scholar of underlit cabinetry, ready to tackle any task lighting project with expertise (and a handy reference). Download the PDF, or click here to find it in the format of your dreams.
What’s Inside the Book?
Chapter 1 – The Essentials to Great Lighting
Chapter 2 – Choosing Under Cabinet Lights
Chapter 3 – How to Install Under Cabinet Lights
Chapter 4 – Under Cabinet Lighting Maintenance
Chapter 5 – Beyond the Cabinet: Lights in Uncommon Places
Chapter 6 – Glossary