How to Choose Under Cabinet Lighting

Perry Hiiman
September 13, 2022
How to Choose Under Cabinet Lighting

Having the proper lighting in any room is essential. Besides functionality, lighting also determines the aesthetic value of your home.
In kitchens and other work spaces, general lighting is often inadequate. If you stand at the counter with the light source behind you, your body forms a shadow over your workspace.
Under cabinet lighting illuminates your kitchen surfaces, allowing you to work efficiently without hurting your eyes.
Let’s shed light on the types of under-cabinet lighting and how to choose the best one for your kitchen.

What Is Under Cabinet Lighting?

Under cabinet lighting refers to lighting that goes on the walls beneath your cabinets to light up the surrounding areas.
Under cabinet lighting has a design that allows concealment to save space. The cabinet trim keeps the lighting fixtures hidden, so you’ll only see the light.
There are various installation options, so your choice will depend on your layout. In most cases, there’s no need to install electrical outlets or cords in unusual places.
Most under-cabinet lighting types come as a complete system. Every system has individual components, such as outlets, drivers, and lights. Since they are configurable, you can choose where to position them for maximum effect.

Benefits of Under Cabinet Lighting

  •  Better Light Quality

Under cabinet, lights enhance your kitchen’s light quality by ensuring your workspaces have adequate light.
Overhead lighting only often casts shadows, especially if you have several people moving around the kitchen. There’s always a risk of accidents due to sharp kitchen essentials like knives.

  •   Cost Savings

With under-cabinet lighting in your kitchen, there’s no need to switch on all the other lights in the room. You can comfortably work in a comfy environment while saving money on your energy bill.
If you install LED lights, you can have different switches for various sections, allowing you to save more.

  •  Higher Home Value

Most home buyers first check the kitchen and bathrooms to determine whether to proceed with the purchase. A beautiful and well-lit kitchen will enhance your home’s value.
After a major kitchen remodeling project, you anticipate recovering about 56.1% of the cost. If the market is prime, these numbers will only get better.
Under cabinet lighting is easy to install. Whether you’re building a new kitchen or taking on a kitchen renovation project doesn’t matter.
Experienced professionals will design and install inexpensive under-cabinet lighting. It may seem minor, but this detail could significantly impact your ROI.

Types of Under-cabinet Lighting

Under cabinet lighting is available in three primary forms:

  • Tape Lights

Tape or strip lights make adding light in complex areas easier. If you prefer low-voltage lighting in your kitchen, tape lights are ideal. They come as flexible long reels of about 16 feet, so you don’t have to worry about uneven surfaces or corners.
Although tape lights are helpful in challenging areas, they produce less light than lighting styles. If you have granite kitchen countertops, ensure your selected tape light has a diffuser. Granite countertops often create glare spots by reflecting individual light points.

  • Puck Lights

Puck lights are short, round lights positioned underneath the cabinets. They have a diameter of about two to three inches, with tiny screws holding them in place.
Older models have halogen or xenon bulbs which often produce too much light. Modern puck lights have energy-efficient LED bulbs that consume less power. They make adequate light to cover the countertop surface, so it’s best to have one puck light every 8 to 12 inches.
LED puck lights can use a low-voltage DC, so the number of lights you need will determine your power supply. Professional installers will conceal the power supply and transformer inside the cabinets to ensure your kitchen remains neat.

  • Light Bars

Light bars are long, thin light fixtures positioned on the cabinets’ underside. They are perfect for areas where you need even light distribution.
Puck lights can have bright light spots in some areas, but light bars evenly distribute light along the fixture’s length. Most light bars are fluorescents, so the electrical components and ballast are within the fixture. This compact ability makes them easier to install.
Most homeowners prefer LED light bars due to the enhanced light quality and safety. They are available in strip reels or integrated light bars.
LED light bars are easy to install because you can connect one bar to another to form a long row of lights for larger spaces. There’s no need to have separate wiring for every light fixture.

How to Choose Under Cabinet Lighting

When choosing the best type of under-cabinet lighting for your kitchen, there are some essential factors to consider.

  • Available Space and Placement

Ideally, the lighting fixture should remain hidden from the cabinet’s face to ensure a seamless appearance. Before you buy any lights, ensure you measure the space at the bottom of the cabinets.
Tucking the lights against the bottom will maintain the light fixtures away from usable space.
Placement of the lights is also an essential consideration. Light bars and puck lights are thicker, so it’s best to position them against the back of the cabinet.

  • Power Alternatives

There are various power alternatives for under cabinet lighting, including battery-operated, plug-in, and direct-wire options. Lighting with elaborate configurations requires professional installation.
Direct-wire under cabinet lights also require professional installation to ensure a seamless look without visible wires or plugs.
If you have existing under-cabinet lighting with older models, you can easily upgrade to LED models. Since the wiring already exists, the process with be easier and more cost-effective.
Remember that battery-powered lights require periodic battery replacement, and plug-in lights need a nearby power outlet.
Battery-powered lights are best if you only need illumination for short periods or if there are no nearby electrical outlets.

  • Type of Light Fixtures

The type of fixture you select will depend on the position you intend to place it. Here are some insightful tips on the location:

  • Countertops are often wide, open spaces that need more light than other kitchen surfaces. Larger light bars are more effective, especially for an extended work surface that requires continuous lighting.
  • If your kitchen design has an enclosed display case, shelf, or cabinet, it’s easier to install tape lights for illumination. These lights are customizable, depending on the amount of light you need and the layout.
  • If your kitchen is your primary workspace, you need more consistent lighting on all surfaces. It’s best to select permanent fixtures such as puck lights or light bars.

How to Choose Under Cabinet Lighting Components

Once you determine the best type of lighting for your kitchen, it’s time to think of the details of individual pieces. It’s essential to remember:

  • Size

The size of your light fixture should match the specs of your work surface or cabinetry for a proper fit. It should also align with your goal for that particular area. Ensure you measure the size of the fixture to allow concealing from the cabinets’ faces and edges.

  • Matching Under-cabinet Lighting with the Whole Kitchen Design

Your under-cabinet lighting should blend with the entire kitchen décor. You can start by considering the cabinet doors, flooring style, and general color scheme.
Glossy floors and cabinet doors have more reflection so ensure your lighting has no glare. The glare will be more subtle if you have polished doors but a dark floor.
Light-colored countertops and matte floors minimize glare, so you’ll need brighter lights. Matte finish countertops have a smoother reflection, but shiny ones like high-polished granite will have more glare.
If your countertops consist of bright or reflective material, it’s best to choose integrated lighting. The bulbs will be under a frosted lens, so you’ll have better light quality in your kitchen.
Such aspects should guide the brightness you choose for your under-cabinet lighting.

  • LED vs. Halogen vs. Fluorescent Under Cabinet Lighting

Your under-cabinet lighting can be halogen, LED, or fluorescent. Each has pros and cons, so let’s discuss a few to help you determine the best option for you.

  • Fluorescent Lighting

Fluorescent lighting is old school and most common in kitchens built in the 2000s or earlier. Modern fluorescents are less bulky, thinner, and durable and have better light quality.
Although they are cheaper than other lighting types, they consume more energy and are not cost-effective long term.
Fluorescent bulbs are generally durable. However, your kitchen will likely have more traffic than other rooms, so there’ll be more switching on and off. Such patterns will reduce the lifespan of your under-cabinet lighting.

  • Halogen Lighting

Halogen lights were popular due to their better energy efficiency than regular incandescent bulbs. However, new LED options made these lights less practical for under cabinet lights.
Halogen bulbs are inexpensive, but they produce too much heat. This excessive heat is a significant challenge, especially in the kitchen, where most foods require cool temperatures.
Halogen bulbs are environmentally unfriendly and have a shorter lifespan than LED bulbs.

  • LED Under Cabinet Lighting

Modern kitchens often have LED lighting mainly because they burn cool. It’s essential since they’ll be on the underside of cabinets that likely contain stored food.
LEDs can be expensive upfront, but they are more durable and use significantly less energy. They are more cost-effective than other types of lighting in the long run.

LED Color Temperature for Your Kitchen

It’s essential to note that brightness and color temperature are different aspects. Brightness partially depends on the amount of lighting and bulbs’ lumen value.
Darker kitchens require brighter lights, while lighter countertops require dimmer light due to reflection. Light fixtures utilize the kelvin scale to guide color temperature selection. Color temperatures range between 1,000K and 10,000K.
Lower numbers near 1,000K indicate more red light, which is warmer. Higher numbers near 10,000K indicate more blue light, which is colder. Under cabinet lighting requires a color temperature between 3000K and 5000K. 5000K lies more towards cool white, while 3000K is more of a soft white spectrum.

  • Color Temperature for Modern White Kitchen Cabinets

Cool white is the most suitable color temperature for white kitchen cabinets. This means the color temperature range should be between 4000K and 5000K. White cabinets require a “white” colored light. If you choose a warm-colored light like 3000K, it will likely appear pink against the white cabinets. Most under-cabinet lights are available in 5000K, 4800K, or 4000K.

  • Color Temperature for Traditional Wooden Kitchen Cabinets

Wooden or dark-colored cabinets work best with a warm white color temperature. Warm white ranges close to 3000K on the Kelvin scale.
You can also choose a neutral white color temperature which is about 3500K, depending on your type of cabinets.
If your kitchen has a more rustic design with darker or earthy tones, the most suitable LED fixtures are between 2700K and 3000K. The yellowish light will complement the wood tones and create a warmer feel. Cool white color temperatures above 3500K against wood cabinets can have a less aesthetic appeal.

  • Voltage Options

Most LED lights are available in 48V, 24V, and 12V DC input versions. The voltage you select depends on the type and size of your kitchen remodeling project.
24V and 12V versions are the most popular for LED under cabinet lighting. The 24V version makes it easier to use wiring where necessary. For instance, the power supply may be under the sink or in a different room.
The 12V version allows shorter cut segments and functions efficiently with 12V battery/solar systems like in a mobile home.

Additional Features

You can add versatility to under-cabinet lighting by adding features such as:

Remote Controls

Modern under-cabinet lighting allows the remote control to dim, change color or turn on/off.


Incorporating a dimmer in your under-cabinet lights allows you to modify the ambiance and add brightness during specific tasks like food preparation. They also help reduce energy consumption since the lights are not always 100%.

Give your Kitchen a Personal Touch!

Any kitchen design today requires under-cabinet lighting. It’s a great way to revamp the space and add more depth to your kitchen.
While it’s possible to DIY some home improvement projects, lighting requires a professional touch from our team at NYKB. Lighting is customizable, so we’ll work with your particular taste, style, and preferences. Our experienced team understands all aspects of under-cabinet lighting, from design to installation and maintenance. Schedule your free consultation today and watch our experts turn your dream kitchen into reality.

The goal of renovation and remodeling is to ensure satisfaction upon completion of your project. Construction can be very frustrating, and without a professional contractor, things can go wrong.

About Author

Perry Hiiman

Perry Hiiman was born and raised in Tel Aviv, Israel. He planted his roots in Manhattan, New York in 1992. A few years later, Perry met his wife and had three lovely daughters. Perry has always been excited about home improvement and design. He has been in the service industry for over 25 years. Perry and his partner founded New York Kitchen and Bath in 2001. They pioneered the One Stop Shop concept of home improvement and design firms. In addition, Perry is a New York State licensed contractor, OSHA certified, and a New York State licensed mold assessor. He specializes in custom design and is genuinely passionate about what he does—bringing people’s dream projects to life.

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