Step 10: Choosing the light

undercabinet lighting, light bulbs, fluorescent, halogen, xenon
Illustration Gregory Nemec
«»
There are three basic types of bulbs used for undercabinet lighting:
fluorescent, quartz-halogen, and xenon.

Fluorescents burn cooler, use less electricity, and are more affordable; but they can hum, flicker, and produce a yellowish light. Choose a fluorescent fixture with a high-quality electronic ballast for quick starts and quiet operation, and use a cool-white bulb. Fluorescent fixtures operate at regular line voltage (120 volts).

Halogen and xenon bulbs cost more to operate and replace, but they emit a very bright white light. Halogen's light is brightest, but xenon burns cooler and lasts longer. Xenon fixtures use low voltage; a transformer steps the voltage down from 120 to 12 or 20 volts. Halogen fixtures come either way. If choosing low voltage, look for a fixture with a built-in transformer.
Ask TOH users about Electrical

Contribute to This Story Below

    Tools List

    • flat prybar
      Flat pry bar,
      to remove the old electrical box
    • Phillips screwdriver
      Phillips and slotted screwdrivers
    • drywall saw
      Drywall saw,
      to cut the hold for a new electrical box
    • spade bit
      1/2-inch spade bit,
      to bore a hole in the wall for a new cable
    • wire strippers
      Wire strippers,
      to remove insulation from wires
    • lineman's pliers
      Lineman's pliers,
      to cut and twist together wires
    • drill
      Drill/driver,
      to drive screws and bore holes

    Shopping List

    1. Light fixture Undercabinet lights are available in fluorescent, halogen, and xenon models. We chose low-voltage halogen for its bright white light (see "10: Choosing the Light"). Measure upper wall cabinets to determine what length fixtures to buy—23 inches and 47 inches are typical sizes. You can gang them together for long runs.

    2. Dimmer switch needs to be compatible with the light fixture you choose.

    3. GFCI receptacle Once installed, this outlet’s ground-fault circuit interrupter will shut off instantaneously if you receive a jolt.

    4. Two-gang, old-work electrical box This larger box replaces the existing single-gang receptacle box in the backsplash wall. An "old work" box is for remodeling—its "fins" unfold behind the drywall to lock it in place.

    5. Two-gang wall plate

    6. 12/2 NM (nonmetallic) electrical cable plastic-sheathed cable often referred to as Romex, a trade name. The 12/2 designation refers to its two 12-gauge copper wires—a neutral and a hot. It also holds a bare ground wire. You’ll need 6 feet of cable, including loose wires you’ll cut from this for Step #6.

    7. Ground pigtail connector; cable connector; wire connectors

    8. Wood or plastic cable protector may be required by some municipalities to protect exposed cable. Make from wood or buy as "nonmetallic raceway" in 5-foot lengths.