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Under-Cabinet Lighting Buying Guide

Illuminate a workspace or add ambience to the kitchen with under-cabinet lighting. Our guide helps you navigate the options for lighting you’ll love.

under cabinet lighting in a kitchen

Fixture Types

puck lights in place under a kitchen cabinet

Under-cabinet lighting is available as pucks, strips, tape or ropes. 

Puck lights are available in a variety of finishes to match your décor if they’re visible. The light can be positioned straight down at the work surface or directed toward the backsplash for a more ambient glow. And if you have display shelves or glass cabinet fronts, puck lights are easy to install under shelving for accent lighting.

Spacing is important when installing puck lights. Buy enough pucks to allow for one light for every 8 to 12 inches of cabinet space.  This creates an even light, without pooling or scallops.

Light strips come in several lengths, with customizable options for irregular cabinetry, and with both normal and low voltages.  For the most even light distribution, choose fixtures to match your cabinet length. 

If you are installing several light strips, look for linkable fixtures.  This means you’ll have several fixtures connected, working off one outlet.  You’ll control all of the fixtures with one parent fixture, including both power and dimming capabilities.

Tape lights are a space-saving lighting option. Tiny LEDs are embedded in a flexible tape strip that secures to the bottom of the cabinets with a peel-and-stick adhesive. Tape strips operate off a standard outlet; however, linking the light strips and running the associated wiring can be tricky. If your floorplan isn't straightforward, it may be best to hire a professional for installation.

Rope lights have a larger diameter than tape lights. LED light strings are housed inside plastic tubing that can be installed under cabinets or along toe-kicks. Generally, rope lights are sold in 12-, 24- and 120-volt variants.

Because it's hard to gauge the look of the light from package descriptions, visit the in-store display for light output and color temperature. And to keep things consistent, try to buy all fixtures from the same family of products to ensure color continuity throughout your kitchen.

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Good to Know

Directional under-cabinet lighting allows the user to direct the light source down at the countertop or back towards the backsplash. These fixtures are usually special order, not in-stock. Speak with a sales associate for additional details.

Under-Cabinet Lighting Installation

under cabinet lighting in a red kitchen

Regardless of the lighting scheme you choose, under-cabinet lights come with three installation choices:  plug-in, battery and hardwire.  Plug-in lights and battery-operated lights are DIY-friendly for easy installation and instant gratification.  Hardwire lights require a skilled electrician.

Bulb Types

Chart of under cabinet lighting options: fluorescent, led and xenon

The type of lamp you choose influences the amount of light you’ll get and how much energy your fixture uses.

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Color Temperature

under cabinet lighting reflecting on a cake in a glass stand

Color temperature of the bulb affects the appearance of cabinets, countertops and food. Correlated Color Temperature (CCT) is measured in kelvins.  2,700-3,500k casts a warm glow, while 3,500-5,000k creates a cool light. Lights with a warm glow are great for ambient lighting.  Cooler temperatures are brighter and good for task lighting.

Lighting Placement

under cabinet lighting in a kitchen with a natural colors

Whatever type of light you choose, check the fixture’s profile to make sure it will disappear in the recess under your upper cabinets.  Not only is this important for aesthetics, it also reduces or eliminates glare – especially for persons seated across the room.

When placing the light, avoid glare by affixing the light fixture to the front of the cabinet, just behind the face frame, and orienting the light to shine toward the backsplash.

If you can’t find a suitable fixture profile, the solve is a bit of decorative moulding attached to the front edge of the cabinet.

Lighting Systems

Some under-cabinet lighting systems let you customize your kitchen experience with add-ons. In addition to lighting, you can add docking stations, speakers, tablet cradles and additional hidden outlets for a more functional workspace.

Considerations

under cabinet lighting in a darker kitchen

Before you shop, ask yourself:

  1. Is my main goal to create task lighting or to create ambience in the kitchen?
  2. Do I want anything under my cabinets besides lighting, like tablet cradles, docking stations or speakers?

Think about the outcome:

Countertops matter to the under-cabinet lighting you choose.  Matte countertops create smoother lighting schemes, while glossy counters create quite a bit of reflection.  To minimize reflection, choose light fixtures with a lens to soften light output.

Light-colored counters reflect more light than darker counterparts, making your under-cabinet lights appear brighter. If you have dark counters, consider a lamp with higher lumens to achieve the desired level of light under your cabinets.