Adding under cabinet lights to your kitchen is an inexpensive upgrade that makes your kitchen more inviting and more functional, and you don’t have to have a contemporary styled kitchen to enjoy the benefits of this upgrade. Even a traditionally-styled kitchen can easily incorporate under cabinet lights without altering its look because most under cabinet lighting is hidden behind the cabinet valance, and is not seen when it is switched off. This type of kitchen task lighting is available with many types of bulbs, including incandescent, fluorescent, halogen, and xenon bulbs.
Some of the simplest lights for use under kitchen cabinets are “puck” or disk shaped lights that install simply and use small incandescent bulbs. Typically, these lights are housed in polycarbonate and have a polished aluminum reflector to maximize light output. The simplest of these plug in to regular electrical outlets located along the wall or backsplash behind your counter, so even an amateur can install them with little trouble. The biggest challenge is routing the electrical cord so that it is unobtrusive, but you can buy special clips to accomplish this.
Many people choose fluorescent lights for their under cabinet lights. They’re energy efficient, and the bulbs last a long time. These are usually hardwired lights, so either you or your electrician will need to tap into an outlet, but this is an easy install for an electrician (or a DIY-er skilled in electrical work). A lot of fluorescent lights designed for under counter use are rectangular and fairly flat, so that they are completely unobtrusive. Many use mini bi-pin T5 type bulbs, which are fairly inexpensive and rated for about 7,500 hours of use. The main drawback of fluorescent lighting is that it can distort some colors (oranges, reds, and purples).
Halogen lights for under cabinet give off bright light and do not distort colors, and some models are dimmable. They do, however use more electricity than fluorescent or incandescent lights, and they can get quite hot. Because they create extra heat, it’s a good idea not to store food in the cabinet above halogen lights, particularly foods that could soften or melt (brown sugar, chocolate, etc.). Replacement bulbs for halogen lights of this type generally cost from $5 to $15 and are rated for 2,000 hours of use.
Xenon lights also give off bright light and don’t distort colors, and they do not burn as hot as halogen lights. Xenon bulbs are comparable in price to halogen bulbs, but last longer. Also, unlike halogen bulbs, you can handle xenon bulbs with your bare hands, because skin oils do not damage them.
When choosing your under cabinet lights, consider your countertop material. If you have shiny countertops, consider lights with frosted lenses so that you avoid a “spotlight” effect on the countertops. For every four feet of countertop you want to illuminate, choose one 12-inch fixture, or three puck lights. Many designers recommend installing the fixtures toward the front of the cabinets so that they illuminate more of your working surface. And if your cabinets do not have a valance that would hide the under cabinet lights, you can easily find two-inch cabinet molding to fit to the fronts of your cabinets, or you can choose low-profile light fixtures that are barely noticeable.
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