Under-Cabinet Lighting: Your Kitchen Task Masters

Chop, dice, prep, and clean without eyestrain—or nicking your thumb with a knife. Under-cabinet lighting eases kitchen chores and shows off your style.

Spaced 25 to 30 inches apart, under-cabinet lights prevent you from working in your own shadow. Image: Ivan Hunter/Photodisc/Getty Images

Without under-cabinet lighting, you are likely working in your own shadow at any perimeter countertop. Eliminate dark spots and frustration with under-cabinet fixtures spaced approximately 25 to 30 inches apart.

You can purchase under-cabinet lighting kits, fixtures, bulbs, and other supplies at home centers, lighting stores, and online. Here’s a rundown of the options.

Under-cabinet lighting fixtures

Hard-wired under-cabinet lighting systems connect directly to your home’s 120-volt electrical system. The advantage is that the lighting is reliable, wires are completely concealed, and the lighting turns off and on with a convenient wall-mounted switch.

Although costs depend on the type of lighting you choose and the complexity of your project, expect to pay about $300 to $400 for a six-light system, professionally installed in an average 10-by-12-foot kitchen.
 
A low-voltage system uses a transformer to reduce current to 12 or 24 volts. (Some fixtures feature a built-in transformer.) A low-voltage system uses less electricity than line-voltage fixtures and you may be able to save on labor costs by installing a low-voltage system yourself.

A four-light low-voltage kit with transformer will cost about $35.

Plug-in under-cabinet lighting features DIY fixtures that you mount with screws and plug into a nearby wall outlet. The cord will be visible from the bottom of the cabinet to the outlet and the fixtures must be turned on individually. Cost, however, is modest—about $8 per light.

Battery-operated under-cabinet lighting skips wiring altogether. The fixtures are inexpensive and easy to install with screws or adhesive backing. The drawback is that you turn them on one at a time and change batteries periodically.

Expect to pay about $20 for one multi-light bar or $30 for a set of 10 individual fixtures.

Bars or pucks?

You’ll find two basic formats for under-cabinet fixtures—light bars and pucks. Light bars are rectangular and stretch light over a wider area. Pucks are small, round, and concentrate light in a smaller area.

What type of light?

Fluorescent bulbs produce energy-efficient light with a cool or bluish cast. The bulbs last from 5,000 to 20,000 hours and save money over the long run. Under-cabinet fluorescents cannot be dimmed.

To mimic the warmth of incandescent light, select a warm white fluorescent or one with a color temperature rating of 3200K or lower.

LEDs, or light emitting diodes, provide more than 50,000 hours of illumination and are exceptionally energy-efficient.

Zenon is an incandescent light source with a hint of zenon gas for longer life. A zenon bulb lasts about 8,000 to 10,000 hours and emits a pleasing, warm light.

Halogen bulbs provide a very intense, directed light but burn especially hot, causing their popularity to wane in recent years.