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Under Cabinet Lighting: A Buyer Guide

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Whether you are a homeowner or a home builder, under cabinet lighting is a design choice that is both practical and elegant. The soft glow of under cabinet lighting can create a romantic atmosphere at night or be strategically placed to highlight favorite dishes and collections. In kitchens, bathrooms, and offices, this lighting style transforms previously unusable countertops into usable work spaces without the need for ceiling clearance or wiring. Placed flush against upper cabinets, the source of under cabinet lighting is usually hidden, creating a sophisticated ambiance that increases home resale value.

Are you thinking about adding under cabinet lighting to your home? We’ve created a buyer guide to help walk you through the various lighting options on the market so you can compare, contrast, and ultimately be more knowledgeable and prepared when it comes time to purchase.

The Basics

Under cabinet lighting is just as it sounds: lighting that originates from underneath cabinets. In most cases, under cabinet lights are attached to the bottom of wall-mount upper cabinets, usually in the kitchen, bathroom, or home office. Of course, under cabinet lighting can also be placed on top of upper cabinets with light directed upward, or under the toe kick of lower cabinets. Under cabinet lighting illuminates countertops, desks, and tables underneath the upper cabinets, providing a usable space at night.

Under counter lighting is either battery operated or wired, with the lights themselves and any plugs hidden from view. To accomplish this, molding is usually applied to the bottoms and tops of cabinets to disguise the lighting. The lights themselves are typically low-profile so as not to show below the molding.

There are several different types of under counter lighting, ranging from the easy to install and affordable to the high-end that may require professional installation.

Under Cabinet Puck LightsUnder cabinet puck light

Named because they resemble hockey pucks, under cabinet puck lights are small circular disks of light. Puck lights can range in price depending on the material and range of glow of the lights. Plastic pucks with three small lights, like this model from Sea Gull Lighting, are  more cost-effective than all-inclusive stylish lights like these from Sonneman. Some puck lights come in a pack, already wired together and including a plug for easy installation. Other lights are purchased individually and then wired with others directly into a transformer. Be sure to check if a puck light is sold in a pack of several or individually, as this can really affect your budget.

Under Cabinet Linear Lights

Linear lights are rectangular lights where the light, wiring, and on/off switch is included all in one unit. Usually made of plastic, linear lights are an affordable under cabinet option. One or two long linear under cabinet lights can be enough for a small kitchen and multiple, smaller linear lights can be used throughout a large kitchen.

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Under cabinet strip lightUnder Cabinet Strip Lights

Under cabinet strip lights are thin bands of plastic where small bulbs are built right into the plastic. The most common strip lights are rope lights, which are an affordable option for rentals where lights cannot be installed or wired. For a more permanent solution, LED strip lights are a great option. Unlike rope lights, the LED bulbs of strip lights shine farther and much wider, for a more solid glow. LED strip lighting can be slightly tricky to install as the strip of lights only works above the cut (see below for more details).

LED vs Non-LED

Many lighting manufacturers are now using LED bulbs for their under cabinet lighting. LED lighting emits very little heat, making it a great choice for the kitchen, traditionally the warmest room in the home. LED lighting also lasts years (up to 17 years if run 8 hours per day), eliminating the need to replace hard-to-reach bulbs and fixtures where the bulb is built into the light. LED lighting is also cheap to run and will not significantly increase your electric bill. This is especially important to justify the costs of “non-essential” lighting like under cabinet lighting.

LED tape lightLED Tape Lights

Thin, flexible LED tape lights are sold on a roll and can come in multiple colors. Available in various lengths as well, the tape sticks to cabinets and can be cut to fit a specific width. It should be noted, however, that once cut, the rest of the tape is rendered unusable. This means that if a 16 foot long strip of LED tape light is cut from a 20 foot long spool of LED tape light, the remaining 4 feet of LED tape light cannot be used and will not light. It is highly recommended that measurements be taken before purchasing LED tape light to prevent as much left over tape as possible, therefore reducing waste and saving your budget.

Powering and Wiring Under Cabinet Lighting

When selecting under cabinet lighting, it is important to consider the power source of the lights. Battery powered lighting is the easiest solution, but batteries must be replaced often, which can be a pain as under cabinet lighting is hard to reach. Hard-wired and plug-in lighting is the smart alternative. While hard-wiring takes a little more effort upon installation, once wired, you won’t need to bother with your lighting after the initial install.

Under cabinet lighting is often sold in packs (like these puck lights from Sea Gull), wired together and with a plug included. To use these lights, you will need a hidden outlet somewhere near or inside your upper cabinets. Outlets used for built-in microwaves can also be used for under cabinet lighting. Simply plug in the lights and enjoy!

If your lighting is not already pre-wired to a plug, you will need to hard-wire your lighting. We recommend hiring an electrician for this. The professionals can connect your under cabinet lighting together and hard-wire them so any cords or wires are hidden. Even better, they can connect your under cabinet lighting to a switch for the ultimate convenience. If you attempt to hard-wire under cabinet lighting yourself, be sure to call the lighting manufacturer beforehand for advice.

For an example of a quick under cabinet light install, check out this video from DIY Network.

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We hope this guide has left you better informed about under cabinet lighting. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below or call our team of product experts at (888) 426 – 2323 to speak with a trained professional.

Shop SUPPLY.com’s selection of under cabinet lighting now!

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