As the core of the home, the kitchen should be given special attention when it comes to both how it looks and how it functions. Kitchens should be without wasted space, but there should be form attached to each function so that it is more inviting than a high-output restaurant. It should also bring with it a high degree of visibility, not only to show off your cherry or marble counters, but to allow you to see what you are doing with your food. This seamless enmeshment of aesthetics and operation requires checking every detail, right down to the lights under the cabinet.
Under cabinet lighting is the one-two punch of good kitchen design. It is meant to light up drainboards and counters like you would a workbench, to show the space where you will be doing your chefly duties, and to give the room added ambience. To do this requires yin and yang balance of the types of lights you use. Before you ever even think about which lights to buy, you must know how to choose.
Under Cabinet Lighting: Hot or Cold?
Before you wire anything into your house, you need to decide whether you want warm or cool lights. The difference here is between inviting lights that offer a hearthy, healthy glow, or clinical lights that are more stark, cooler, but better for illuminating a work area. To do this, you must think about the CCT (Correlated Color Temperature) of the lights. CCT is measured in kelvins (k), with the range of 2,700k-3,500k being soft and welcoming and anything above 3,500k becoming frosty and better suited for showing where you will be handling the knives.
In addition to selecting lights that suit your purpose, you must also think about the overall effect they will have on the appearance and appeal of your kitchen. If you are using a more modern kitchen with dark accents and stainless steel, you’ll often want cooler lights to make the hard lines stand out. If you have a kitchen that is all wood grains and rich, autumn colors, you’ll want warm lights to set them off and beckon people in.
Types of Bulbs
Along with the CCT of your lights, you should think about the type of bulbs and style of fixtures that you’ll be using. Under cabinet lights are made of three kinds of bulb, xenon, fluorescent, and LED.
Typically warmer, these tend to use the most power, which will cause a noticeable increase in your power bill. They also have the shortest life span.
Cold and clinical, these are also cheap to obtain and will use a minimum of power, which will give them a longer life. If you want to warm these up, using a simple cover can do the trick.
Light-Emitting Diode lights tend to run more toward cold, but have warm options available. They cost the most up front, but will also run much longer than any other kind of light, meaning less replacement over time. They have the smallest impact on your power consumption, though whether they are a better deal than going fluorescent is a toss up.
Besides picking the bulbs you want, there’s also the question of how to get the lights to turn on. They will need to either use an outlet, run off their own battery, or be wired directly into the grid.
If you have a spare outlet in your kitchen that sits right where you need the light to go, this might be your best choice, though it will add an extra cord into the mix, which can interrupt the lines of your kitchen, since it’s hard to hide. The upside here is that you don’t need to pay an electrician to wire it up, nor have a battery die on you while you’re mid-slice. If you have an outlet that is tied to a wall switch, this can also allow you to turn all the lights on at once.
For anyone who doesn’t have an outlet handy – or has a typical modern kitchen overrun with microwaves, toasters, slow cookers, coffee makers, electric grills, and blenders – going with a battery-powered set of lights is an easy solution. These will need to be turned on and off manually, since they work autonomously, which gives you the choice of choosing when and how to use the light. Since lights have a low power draw, especially if you go with an LED or florescent option, you’ll rarely need to swap out the battery and it won’t touch your electric bill.
Painfully complex or costly, installing new lights and running wires through your cabinets is a headache, but also the only way to get lighting that looks completely natural and blends seamlessly with your decor. This enhances your control, as you can choose how the lights are controlled, but the trade is spending more dough or having to work out the wiring yourself.
The final choice, when you’re sure of your needs and know what kind of bulb you want, is to determine the shape of your lights. There’s four general options here.
As common as dirt and easy to find, light strips are typically fluorescent, since they have long bodies, and can attach under the cabinet with fixtures that are either permanent or removable. They can run off outlets or be hardwired into the house, though hardwiring will require good electrical know-how. If using these all around your kitchen, you want them to be linkable so that one plugs into another, allowing them all to run off a single outlet. Otherwise you are running cords to each light.
Small strips of lights that are stuck onto the underside of your cabinets with adhesive, these are small and demure and best used for apartments since they can be taken off harmlessly. Sadly, if you’re using more than one strip of lights, it can get tricky to install since they rarely link up.
Bigger than tape lights, this is a string of bulbs, usually LED, that are put inside plastic tubing. They can be run anywhere, but installation can be difficult and chaining these together is usually tough. These are better reserved for mood lighting than for brilliant illumination. These are more often used underneath lower cabinets for lighting up your floor, rather than being placed over your work space due to their more muted glow.
Individual lights placed at even intervals along the underside of the cabinets, puck lights are gaining in popularity, though that’s not to say they’re good. Puck lights can come in any form, but they are often better for making a kitchen inviting, since the lights tend to cause pools of light and dark, which isn’t ideal for working. If you go with puck lights, space them only about 8-inches apart to minimize odd shadows.