Buying and installing under-cabinet lighting

Show off the best features of your new kitchen with under-cabinet lights. By installing lights on the underside of your kitchen cabinets, you’ll add both functional lighting for food prep and great-looking lighting for your next get-together with your family and friends.

In this article, we’ll provide you with a comprehensive overview of your under-cabinet lighting options, what you should look for, and—when you’re ready to move forward—who you need to talk to for installation help.

What is the best type of under-cabinet lighting?

What are the best under-cabinet lights for the kitchen? Just like your countertops, cabinets, sink, and appliances, this is really an “eye of the beholder” type of situation. There are so many options for under-cabinet lighting that finding the right one often comes down to both your personal taste and how you want your lighting configured.

In the sections below, we’ll review several types of under-cabinet lighting. First, we’ll discuss the key differences between wired and wireless lighting. Then, we’ll get into different types of lights, comparing and contrasting xenon, fluorescent, and LED lights. Finally, we’ll discuss the different shapes that these lights come in and what kind of functional light they provide in the kitchen.

Wired or wireless under-cabinet lighting?

There are advantages and drawbacks to both these forms of under-cabinet lighting.

Let’s start with wired lighting. Wired under-cabinet lights come in two options: hardwired or plug-in. In a hardwired configuration, an electrician—like those here at Wagner—helps you connect the lights directly to the circuit, just like you would for your ceiling lights or fan. The advantage of this setup is that there’s no visible “cord”—in fact, your under-cabinet lights are not visible at all. They’re also not taking up an outlet in your kitchen like plug-in lights would.

Plug-in lights are more convenient (no electrical work required), but also mean you have an unsightly cord dangling from the upper cabinets down to the outlet. There are circumstances in which homeowners can make it work, however. If you have an outlet inside one of your cabinets, you can drill a small hole in the bottom of the cabinet and run the plug to that outlet. Before you do, confirm that the outlet can handle the demand placed on it—especially if you’re using the other plug for your kitchen’s microwave.

Wireless lighting might sound high-tech, but it’s really just another word for “battery-powered.” For this lighting configuration, each of the lights may have their own battery, or they may link together to a single battery pack. In either case, the downside here is that you’ll need to routinely replace the batteries as they die. If you’re going with this option, look into rechargeable batteries to cut down on your battery replacement overhead.

Under-cabinet lighting options

Most of the under-cabinet lights used in countertop showrooms use xenon lights. They emit an incredibly bright light that shows off the best elements of your countertop.

However, many homeowners have started to move away from this type of lighting. While it is incredibly bright and relatively inexpensive, xenon uses a lot of energy and burns incredibly hot. It can make working in your kitchen feel like you’re prepping food under several heat lamps—less than ideal for hot summer months.

Fluorescent lights are cooler than xenon and use less energy, but they don’t shine quite as brightly. That may not be a dealbreaker for most homeowners, but it often puts them at a disadvantage when compared to LED fixtures, which can do everything they can do and a little bit more. Still, fluorescent lights are less expensive than LEDs and a good fit for a wide variety of homes, which helps explain why they remain a popular option for kitchen renovations.

LED lights come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes, from battery-powered puck lights that adhere to the underside of the cabinet to strip lights, often sold in rolls. While they are typically more expensive than xenon or fluorescent lights, LEDs are efficient, long-lasting, bright, and dimmable—everything a homeowner could want. If you’re looking for your under-cabinet lighting to be a long-term investment in your home, we recommend you go with LED lights.

Under-cabinet lighting shapes

When it comes to under-cabinet lighting, there’s no such thing as “one size fits all kitchens.” In addition to the options we’ve already discussed, you can also choose between multiple forms of lighting. Here are just a few of your options.

Puck lights are exactly what they sound like: hockey puck-shaped lights that are spaced a few inches apart from one another. Instead of a solid light across the entire countertop, this creates a “spotlight” effect. It’s a different look, but one that might be right for your kitchen. Many puck lights come in a battery-operated configuration for easy installation. Some are even tap-activated.

Light bars are probably the most popular type of under-cabinet light. These bars are essentially long rectangles. When placed side-by-side along the underside of your cabinet, this shines consistently bright light on your entire countertop. Most light bars are hardwired. If you’re interested in adding this type of under-cabinet lighting to your kitchen, you’ll want to talk to our team.

Finally, light strips are becoming increasingly popular. These LED lights are inserted into a flexible strip of plastic, which means they can go in more places than light bars or puck lights can. For example, due to their small size and durability, some homeowners are putting light strips below the doors of their bottom cabinets, illuminating their kitchen from below. Most light strips are also smart-home compatible.

Installing under-cabinet lights

As mentioned in the sections above, the type of under-cabinet lighting you choose determines the level of installation you’ll need. Most homeowners can install battery-operated (wireless) or plug-in lights themselves. However, for hardwired under-cabinet lighting, you should definitely bring in a licensed and experienced electrician.

Our electricians can help you figure out how to best mount and connect your under-cabinet lights, so that the connection is both seamless and invisible from the kitchen. We’ll ensure that the electrical connection is safe, and that operating your new lights won’t overload your already-taxed kitchen circuits—as previously noted, a potential concern with plug-in lights. Finally, we’ll test everything with you and ensure your kitchen is just the way you want it.

Whether you’ve just started shopping for under-cabinet lights or you’ve already purchased some, contact our team here at Wagner. Our friendly and helpful electricians are ready to help. We’ll take your kitchen from under-lit to fully lit. Just give us a call.