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Addition by Illumination: Under-Cabinet Lighting Can Make Your Rooms Come Alive

By Jay Harris | January 25, 2013

Have you ever noticed how under-cabinet lighting can make a room, almost any room, look better? Kitchens, studies, laundry rooms and bathrooms can all be improved by this simple addition.

While there are a plethora of lighting options, each has its own virtues and methods of installation. If you’re interested in complementary lighting in any of your rooms, take a look at this helpful primer on lighting choices and tips for installing each.

LED lighting

© francisco -

LED Lighting

LED bulbs are all the rage these days and this remains the case with under-cabinet lighting.

Pros: They’re energy efficient, bright, and can last for decades. While they’re known for their stark white-blue luminance, some newer bulbs imitate the warmer white glow of incandescent bulbs, making them a good possibility for any space.

Cons: The higher price tag may scare off some potential buyers, but LED proponents will tell you that the energy they save makes up for the elevated cost. Another thing to consider with LED lighting is that while the bulbs themselves are quite small, the lighting system itself is comparable in size to fluorescent or incandescent lamps.

There are several under-cabinet applications for LED lighting.

LED Tape lighting, also called strip lighting, is a popular under-cabinet choice for its low profile and easy installation.

Installation Tips:

  1. Locate the power source. Make sure the light cord is long enough to reach it.
  2. Adapters are usually included, but if they’re not, you can find them at your local hardware store.
  3. Hide the driver somewhere it cannot be seen, like on top of the cabinet.
  4. Some rare cases may require you to install mounts and then attach the strip to the mount.

LED stick lighting is nearly identical to LED tape lighting except the lights are housed on a rigid plastic or metal “stick.”

Installation Tip:

  1. Stick lighting normally requires the simple installation of a few brackets for holding the fixture; they’re normally installed with a few screws.

LED spot lighting is often used if focused bright light is the goal.

Installation Tip:

  1. For recessed lights it is extremely important to match the light size to the size of the drill bit you use. If the holes are too large the lights will fall through.
Incandescent lights

© Sergey Nivens -

Incandescent Lighting

Incandescent lighting is the most common form of under-cabinet lighting due to its low cost. Although incandescent bulbs have gotten a bad rap due to their inefficiency and short life, more expensive varieties, like xenon and halogen, last longer, and are slightly more energy efficient than standard bulbs.

Pros: It’s cheap, there are several options, the lighting is warm, and it’s easy to replace bulbs when they burn out.

Cons: They have the shortest life, about two years if the light is used three hours per day. They are the least energy efficient. 

Those considering incandescent under-cabinet lighting have three choices: puck, light strips, and linear fixtures. 

Puck Lighting: Puck lights look similar to hockey pucks, hence the name. These lights are popular choices for those who would like to have circular pools of light, rather than an entire area lit. They have a low profile of about two inches which means they can be mounted under cabinets or recessed easily.

Installation Tips:

  1. Measure the wire length. You’ll need to measure from light to light. Don’t forget to account for the power source.
  2. Use a staple gun or plastic clips to hold wiring in place. 

Light Strips: Incandescent light strips are similar to LED strips in that they too can be cut to fit any area. They provide warm, uniform lighting for the desired area.

Installation Tips:

  1. Some strips may be mounted, others may be stapled
  2. For low voltage systems, a transformer will be necessary.

Linear Fixtures: Sometimes referred to as light bars, these come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Multiple halogen or xenon lamps produce the light in these fixtures. For more illumination, consider xenon lamps.

Installation Tip:

  1. You will want the bar to be nearly as wide as the area it will mount to, so be sure to measure beforehand.
Fluorescent undercounter

© amikosa & Fotolia

Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lighting is a third option for under-cabinet lighting. They are more energy efficient than incandescent lighting, though outperformed by LED bulbs. These fixtures are sometimes sold in two classifications: regular and premium. Some companies opt to include multiple brightness settings as opposed to dimmers.

Pros: Fluorescent bulbs offer better efficiency and longer life as compared to incandescent ones.

Cons: They’re more expensive than incandescent bulbs. Bulb life can be shortened by frequent on/off operation.

Compact Fluorescent Puck Lighting - These perform like incandescent puck lights, but better. They can be plugged in or hardwired depending on the product and wishes of the installer.

Installation Tips:

  1. As with every installation, measure twice, mark, and then drill once.
  2. Measure the wire length. You’ll need to measure from light to light. Don’t forget to account for the power source.
  3. Use a staple gun or plastic clips to hold wiring in place.

Linear Fluorescent Fixtures - Again, these fluorescent fixtures are very similar to their incandescent neighbors, they just perform better.

Installation Tip:

  1. Measure the area where you plan to mount the bar. You will want the bar to be nearly as wide as the area it will mount to.

Take Away

Complementary lighting can give rooms in your home just the look you’ve been aiming for. In theory and if price is of no consequence, LED technology is superior, but in reality, every room is different. If you’re considering under-cabinet lighting, take a trip to your local hardware store and see examples of each lighting type in person. That way, your complementary lighting will be tailored specifically to you.

Additional photo credits: Feature Home Depot "How To" image - courtesy © pics721 -

Jay Harris is a Home Depot "on the floor" sales associate and a regular contributor to Home Depot's blog. His interests include home automation and solar panels.
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