How to Install Under Cabinet Lighting

Project details

Skill

1 out of 5 Easy Requires following the directions, but no heavy lifting

Cost

$100 to $125

Estimated Time

2 to 3 hours

There's a missing element in most American kitchens, and it's not a $7,500 range or a 4-acre refrigerator. No, it's simply good lighting. And a well-lit kitchen begins with under cabinet task lighting.

These hidden fixtures, which are fairly easy to retrofit beneath upper wall cabinets, bathe the countertop in bright white light—a boon for everything from dicing veggies to reading recipes. Connect the fixtures to a dimmer switch, as shown here, and you also have the key to dramatic accent lighting or a night light for midnight snackers.

If you're a bit tentative about working with electricity, don't worry. This installation is simple and shock-free, as long as you cut the juice at the breaker box first.

For those who want to upgrade their kitchen with under cabinet LED lighting (seen in the video above), the installation isn’t as straightforward and requires someone with expert electrical skills.

Under Cabinet Lighting Overview

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

How to Install Under Cabinet Lighting

1. Trace outline of new electrical box

Photo by Kolin Smith

2. Remove old electrical box

Photo by Kolin Smith

3. Run a new length of cable

Photo by Kolin Smith

4. Install the light fixture

Photo by Kolin Smith

5. Install cable connector

Photo by Kolin Smith

6. Install the new electrical box

Photo by Kolin Smith

Tip: Before sliding the two-gang box in the wall, test it to make sure the fins pop up.

7. Install a GFCI outlet

Photo by Kolin Smith

Tip: Twist wires together with lineman's pliers before screwing on wire connectors.

8. Connect the new dimmer switch

Photo by Kolin Smith

Tip: For LED lighting, be sure the switch is designed specifically for LED use.

9. Finalize fixture and wall plate

Photo by Kolin Smith

Tip: Never touch a halogen bulb with your bare hands; your natural skin oils can damage the bulb. It can also get extremely hot!

Different Types of Light Bulbs

Illustration by Gregory Nemec

There are three basic types of bulbs used for under cabinet 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.


Tools

Tools & Materials

  • Flat pry bar
  • Phillips and slotted screwdrivers
  • Drywall saw
  • Wire stripper
  • Lineman’s pliers
  • Drill/driver
  • Spade bit - 1⁄2 inch
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