In this report
Cabinet face-lifts
Cabinet lighting
Add task lighting
Cabinet storage
August 2008
send to a friend printable version
Add task lighting
Kitchen cabinets with under cabinet lighting
Bright idea  Undercabinet fixtures put light where you need it.
Undercabinet lighting is sold at home centers and lighting stores, and on manufacturers’ Web sites. Home centers tend to have the lowest prices, but undercabinet lighting selection is more limited. Plan on one 12-inch undercabinet light fixture, or three puck lights, for every 4 feet of countertop. Install fixtures toward the front of your upper cabinets so that they cast task light onto more of the work surface. If your cabinets don’t have a built-in valance to hide the task lighting, either add one (most cabinet companies offer a 2-inch molding) or choose a fixture with a sleek housing that’s not as noticeable.

Corded lighting is easy to install: Just screw the housing to the underside of the cabinet and plug in the cord. But you’ll have to hide that dangling wire. For hardwired models, you or your electrician will have to tap into a nearby outlet, usually one found along the countertop backsplash. Undercabinet lighting fixtures are either line-voltage (usually 120 volts) or low-voltage (usually 12 volts). Low-voltage models come with a transformer that steps down the voltage. Look for fixtures with a built-in transformer. Otherwise you’ll need to hide the transformer in a cabinet.

How to choose

See Cabinet lighting types to learn the pros and cons of different undercabinet lighting, then keep these tips in mind:

Select the bulb. Undercabinet fixtures with fluorescent bulbs are energy efficient, easy to find, and inexpensive—the ones we tested cost $30 or less. But many don’t accurately show reds, oranges, or purples, and they can change the look of food and countertops.

Halogen and xenon bulbs deliver bright light that accurately renders colors, and they’re dimmable. But both use much more electricity and burn hot, with halogen being the hotter of the two types. One halogen fixture, the Apollo 1630, reached 440º F in our tests. Hot bulbs can pose a safety risk, create extra heat, and might cause food stored in the cabinet above to soften and melt.

Light-emitting diodes, the newest choice, were the most energy efficient undercabinet lighting by far. Their low-profile housings tend to be relatively discreet. But most of the LEDs we tested still produce narrow beams of light, like a spotlight, rather than the even, wide beams best for task lighting. Plus the new technology can be pricey. Except for the $180 American Lighting 021-0001, the LEDs produced a bluish light that can change the colors of some items underneath it. (Learn more about LED lights.)

Consider the counter material. Choose strip fixtures with a frosted lens to minimize the glare on dark glossy materials, such as black polished quartz or granite. Also avoid puck lights, because even with a diffused lens, they cause a "headlight effect" on those counters.