Lights! Cabinet! Action! Ways to brighten storage spaces
If you are having trouble locating rarely used dishware or nearly slice your fingers during food prep, lack of light may be the problem.
Sometimes overhead lighting isn’t enough to reach under and inside cabinets or shine upon tasks you may be working on. They may illuminate a whole room or offer natural and ambient lighting, but shadows cast by upper cabinets can make precision countertop tasks such as slicing and dicing, well dicey.
Adding cabinet lighting can be a simple DIY task or as complicated as requiring professional installation. It just depends on what you want to illuminate.
Under-cabinet lighting fills the room with a warm glow without annoying glare, and it illuminates under-cabinet spaces well. This moderate upgrade will improve the look of your kitchen and bathroom and make life easier.
Homezada suggests when choosing lighting for under your cabinets, consider opting for a warm, soft tone over harsh, bright lights.
You can also install lights in glass-front cabinets for a designer-inspired look on a budget. Depending on the look you’re going for, installing under-cupboard lighting can be a simple DIY project, or it can require the expertise of a professional, licensed electrician.
Rosie-Certified Partner TWD – Design. Build. Remodel., suggests that when planning the design and layout of your kitchen, plan for plenty of lighting for the overall space especially if you have a limited supply of natural light.
If doing a new build or remodel, talk to your contractor about incorporating things such as under-cabinet lighting for dark corners, task lighting for prep areas, backlighting within select cabinetry, lit toe kicks to maximize visibility, and adding dimmable lighting for ambiance.
Types of lighting
There are three types of cabinet lighting power sources to select from: direct-wire light fixtures (hardwire), wireless, or plug-in.
Direct wire under-cabinet lights produce the most custom look without dangling cords. This option usually requires an electrician for installation. Wireless or battery under-cabinet lights are easy to install yourself. The batteries will need to be replaced over time.
Let’s shine some light on your options.
Plug-in lights — A plug-in fixture attaches to the underside of a cabinet or shelf and is plugged into a nearby electrical outlet. Plug-in lights must be turned on and off using a switch on the fixture. The wires are not hidden, but you should be able to secure them to the wall for a less messy look.
Battery-operated — Many fixtures operate with batteries. This is an ideal energy-saving feature and helpful if there is not an outlet near the desired lighting location.
Puck lights — Round, easy-to-install, touch-operated disks can be mounted on a variety of surfaces, including wood, tile or Velcro. They are an effective way to highlight different textures, such as tiles or countertops. Their LED bulbs provide a pool of light that is focused and pronounced. Puck lighting can be hooked to a switch, but it’s generally battery powered. Some models are dimmable, operated with a remote control, or have a motion sensor.
Light bars — Light bars provide an even, balanced look. They can be linked together through connectors or cables so that they work on the same switch.
Mounted strip lights — For brighter illumination, choose a fluorescent strip, track light with halogen bulbs, or puck lights with halogen bulbs.
Tape lights — Also known as strip or rope lights, they are clear plastic tubes filled with small LED bulbs that cast a soft glow. This style is easy-to-install, can be trimmed to size, and placed just where you need the extra illumination. Choose from battery-operated or plug-in.
Ashley Baker from Statewide Lighting, a Rosie-Certified Partner, notes they use diode LED tape light for 95% of the cabinet lighting they do.
“They are great and very sleek, only the size of literally a piece of scotch tape and offer different wattage options and kelvin color temperatures,” she says.
“Customers can bring in their granite sample to hold under each color temp and see what they like best with their granite, sometimes the cooler colors actually make the granite pop much better than the warmer tones.”
She continues to explain that diode comes in 16.4-foot rolls that can be cut every two inches. When shopping, bring a drawing with measurements of the cabinet layout including power sources so the lighting expert can design the system ensuring you get the proper drivers and connectors to maximize the tape and hide any jump cables that go behind stoves or hoods. There are also color-changing options for a “super-fun” look around a bar or outdoor barbecue.
● LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs are ideal for under cabinet lighting. They are energy efficient and do not release a lot of heat LEDs are tiny and can fit almost anywhere.
● Incandescent bulbs, while more affordable, quickly burn out and require a lot more energy.
● Halogen lights can create a significant amount of heat. If you select halogen, be sure to use them with a dimmer.
● Fluorescent bulbs are very energy efficient, and they last an extremely long time.
Motion-activated — Have chicken parts on your hands? Motion-sensor lighting allows you to turn on and off the lights hand-free. This is a great setup if your outlet lacks an on-off switch, or if you frequently have messy hands in the kitchen while cooking or cleaning and want to turn the light on without touching anything. It also means you can have light only when you need it, without worrying about turning it off when you don’t.
DIY installation tips
If you just want some extra lighting to evenly spread across the counter, add LED ropes, strips, tape, or puck lights. TWD explains how:
● Mount the strip, rope, tape or puck close to the front inside edge of the wall cabinets, so the light will be on the objects you’re working with or looking for.
● The lighting should produce a nonglaring light.
● The lighting should be small and light, not heavy or bulky.
● The lighting should be sturdy, in case it gets bumped.
● The lighting should be cool to touch as to not damage the cabinets or their contents.
● For a more integrated look, consult with your contractor.
Choices, choices, choices
The editors at The Spruce independently researched and tested cabinet lighting. These are their recommendations as of February 2021.
Best puck light: Ecolight 3-Pack Battery Puck Light at Lowe’s
Best motion-activated: Black+Decker LED 5-Bar Under Cabinet Lights Kit at Lowe’s
Best battery: Ecolight 12-in Battery Under Cabinet Light Bar at Lowe’s
Best hardwired: GE Enbrighten LED Under Cabinet Light at Amazon
Best rechargeable: LightBiz LED Under Cabinet Light Bar at Amazon
In addition to seeing more clearly, under-cabinet lighting may save you money on your energy bill, especially if you use an LED light fixture. It has the potential to save money because you don’t have to illuminate the whole room just to get a little bit of light on the countertops below.
Placement is also key. Make your core prep places a priority because this is where under-cabinet lighting will be the most essential. Installing fixtures above a display space, such as on a sideboard can serve as accent lighting, to highlight pottery or vintage china.
Place lighting along the kick plates at the bottom of cabinets and inside dark cabinets or drawers. Mount them on staircases to prevent falls in the dark.
Make sure all outlets and switches are perfectly lined and located in the right places.
Caution: Be careful with under-cabinet lighting placement, however, as high-wattage halogen bulbs can put off a lot of heat and shouldn’t be installed near anything flammable.
If you choose the DIY route, the process should be fairly simple as the lighting kits generally have good instructions. But if you’re not experienced with electricity, you should hire a licensed electrician.
Join Rosie on the House every Saturday morning from 8 a.m.-11 a.m. on KTAR News 92.3. If you’d like to send us questions or comments, email mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Twitter and “Like” us on Facebook. For more do-it-yourself tips, go to rosieonthehouse.com. An Arizona home building and remodeling industry expert since 1988, Rosie Romero is the host of the syndicated Saturday morning Rosie on the House radio program. Call 888-767-4348 with questions and comments.