Thinking of adding under cabinet lighting in your kitchen? Be sure to read this post before you buy any of the supplies!
To say that I am an idealist when it comes to house projects is a bit of an understatement. Usually something that I think we can knock out in a Saturday will take us at least week or two.
So when I started dreaming up an under-cabinet lighting plan for our kitchen, I envisioned making a quick trip to IKEA or Home Depot, grabbing a few light strips, sticking them under the cabinets, and calling it a day.
And left to my own devices, I probably would have followed through with that exact plan. I would have become frustrated when it wasn’t as easy as I pictured. And I would have ended up with kind of “meh” results.
Fortunately, I am married to an avid researcher. Donnie looks at projects from every angle and thinks them through down to the tiniest detail before jumping in fully. And while his approach may take a little longer than mine, it is always worth it in the end to get a spectacular result!
Another bonus of his in-depth research is that I can have him report back his findings here on the blog and save YOU a ton of research time! So Donnie is taking over today to talk about the BEST under cabinet lighting options for the kitchen. (You can see his follow-up post about how to install under cabinet lighting here.) I’ll turn it over to him now!
How to Choose the Best Under Cabinet Lighting for the Kitchen
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.
Abby and I anticipated adding under cabinet lighting in the kitchen even before we moved into our house. In preparation for this project, we even had the builders install outlets on the inside of our kitchen cabinets at either end, wired to a switch by our sink.
But even though it has been on our to-do list for a while, like most projects around the house, once I started researching different kitchen under cabinet lighting options, I realized it’s not as simple as it seems.
Choosing under cabinet lighting is harder than the actual installation. I did a lot of research (maybe too much!) before I purchased our lights. And I’m sharing everything I learned in this quick guide. I hope this will be helpful and save you some time on your own under cabinet lighting project!
Fluorescent vs. Halogen vs. LED Under Cabinet Lighting
Before I even started researching, I had three types of under cabinet lighting that I was considering: florescent, halogen, and LED.
Fluorescent Under Cabinet Lighting
This is the old style of lighting that was used in many kitchens in the 90s and early 2000s. The two advantages of fluorescent lighting are that it is cheap and energy efficient.
The downsides are many:
- The gas on the inside of the bulbs is toxic if broken, which also makes it a disposal challenge.
- Fluorescent bulbs last a long time, but lots of switching on and off significantly reduces their lifespan.
- After awhile, the bulbs take some time to “warm up” before they are fully illuminated.
- Eventually the lights can develop a ballast issue and start to emit a slight-but-annoying buzz.
- This one is subjective, but I am not a fan of the color rendering of any fluorescent bulbs, no matter what color temperature is used.
Halogen Under Cabinet Lighting
If you walk into any big home improvement store, you’ll most likely see lots of halogen under cabinet lighting options. Usually these look like little round pucks that are stuck to the bottom of a cabinet.
I get the sense that these are slowly being phased out as LED options become cheaper. But there are still a good number of halogen lights out there in the US. I believe in the EU, halogen lights are no longer allowed to be sold.
Halogen lights used to be popular because they were more energy efficient than the old-style incandescent bulb. But now with good LED options, halogen lights aren’t as practical anymore.
Downsides of halogen under cabinet lighting:
- Up to 90% of the total energy is in the form of heat emission, meaning only about 10% of the energy consumption is in the form of actual light. This heat issue is real. I remember in our college dorms, we were not allowed to use any halogen lamps.
- Bulb lifespan is poor compared with LED. There are lots of factors at play here, but in general, an LED light will last 50x longer than a halogen bulb.
LED Under Cabinet Lighting
LED lighting has really caught on this past ten years, and for good reason.
Here are the biggest reasons why I believe LED lighting is the best choice for under cabinet lighting:
- LED lights are energy efficient and have a ridiculously long lifespan. It’s not uncommon to have lifespan issues with cheap LED lighting solutions, but quality ones can last for 10+ years even with near continuous use.
- LED lights emit very little heat. This is important not just for energy efficiency but also for safety.
- LED lights have a high CRI (color rendering index) which describes the lights’ ability to show accurate color of lighted objects. There are some low quality LED lights out there with a low CRI, but the high quality LED lights on the market have a high CRI.
- LED lights are dimmable with the use of the right type of transformer.
- LED lights turn on instantly. There is no “warm up” period as with fluorescent lights.
For me, LED lights were the clear and obvious winner for under cabinet lighting.
Once we had decided on the type of lights we wanted to use, we still had a few more decisions to make…
Pre-Made LED Under Cabinet Lighting vs LED Light Strips
In my research I quickly realized that LED lights were the way to go. After I had decided on LED, there were two types to consider: a “pre-made” option and a light strip option.
The “Pre-Made” Option
There are lots of “pre-made” under cabinet LED lighting options out there. The light is encased, usually includes some sort of diffusing shield, and has its own plug/power source.
Our original plan was to use the under cabinet lighting from IKEA, which is a type of pre-made LED lighting. Their under cabinet lights are high quality and low profile and can be combined in different configurations from a single power supply. They also have a color temperature (more on this later) of 3000K, which is exactly what I wanted.
The problem with IKEA’s lighting system for me was that the light strips only come in 15”, 18”, and 24” lengths. That may be perfect for someone who built out an entire IKEA kitchen (like we did in our last house!). But for the setup in our current house, those lengths just weren’t going to be flexible enough. I needed to light various cabinet sections from 7” all the way up to 34.5”. IKEA’s lights would have left me with too many unlit sections.
GE also makes some pre-made under cabinet LED lighting options, but they pose the same problem– not enough length options for my needs.
The LED Light Strip Option
Before I started this project, I was somewhat familiar with LED light strips. My son used some of these lights in his game room to light his computer desk with various colors and effects. Abby had also sent me a few tutorials she found online of people who use light strips for their under cabinet lighting in their kitchen.
I didn’t really love the idea of light strips at first. Peeling and sticking lights on the underside of our cabinets seemed a little cheap to me. It felt like a temporary solution. I later realized there were other mounting options, which made me feel better about this solution.
I also didn’t like how in some pictures designed to show off the LED light strips used as under cabinet lighting, you could see all these tiny little dots reflected in the kitchen counter. It looked like hundreds of tiny little spot lights shining on the countertop instead of a more diffused and consistent look. Fortunately, I found a solution for this as well!
The main reason we went with the LED light strip option is that it’s infinitely customizable. The light strips run on a low voltage system (just like our landscape lighting).
There are lots of advantages to this, but a huge one is that the light strips are designed to be cut to any desired length. That’s a game changing feature and allows for a truly custom installation that matches our kitchen cabinet dimensions perfectly.
So we could get this more custom look, we chose to use LED light strips for our under cabinet lighting project.
Once we had settled on the LED light strips, we then had to decide on…
The Best LED Light Strip Color Temperature for Under Cabinet Lighting
Though it might seem like a small detail, color temperature is an EXTREMELY important decision that has a huge impact on the final look of the under cabinet lighting. If you’re not familiar with color temperature, here is a really quick rundown:
All light has a color “temperature” that is is expressed in kelvins (“K” for short).
A color temperature in the 5000K range would be more of a “cool” temperature that in some settings could appear a little bluish.
2700-3400K would be more of a “warm” color. Some would maybe call this “yellowish,” and it would be in the color temperature range of an old standard incandescent light bulb.
If you like the feeling of the super bright and “bluish” fluorescent lighting you would find in a big office building, you may like a color temperature in the 5000K to 6000K range.
If you prefer more of that softer and warmer feeling, you may like light in the 2700K to 3400K range.
The Color Temperature We Chose
Fortunately, the color temperature decision was an easy one for us. A few years ago we replaced all the CFL bulbs in our recessed lighting on our main floor with LED options. We did a lot of research and chose a 3000K color temperature.
I think it looks it’s the perfect balance. Any “warmer” (lower kelvin) and it would be too yellow or too orange. Any “cooler” (higher kelvin) and the light would feel too blue and harsh. 3000K has been our go-to color temperature ever since.
Because our entire kitchen already uses 3000K lights, we wanted to make sure our under cabinet lighting matched. Fortunately, there are lots of LED light strip options in 3000K.
There is, of course, the option to buy the crazy color-changing RGB LED light strips that can be set to endless color options. It is possible to mix red, green, and blue LEDs in such a way that it creates a 3000K light, but from what I’ve read, the results are less than perfect. Since we likely wouldn’t use any of the other colors anyway, we decided to stay away from the color-changing options.
If you are unsure what white light “color temperature” to choose, there are some dynamic tunable white LED options. Many of these allow you to “tune” the color temperature from 2700K to 6200K and everywhere in between. The downside is that these tunable lights are more expensive than static color temperature lights of the same quality.
Because Abby and I already knew what color temperature we needed, we purchased static temperature 3000K strips.
Other Under Cabinet LED Light Strip Considerations
Most LED light strips express brightness in lumens per liner foot. There are lots of recommendations out there, but the consensus seems to be that your desired lighting brightness will depend on how you want to use the light.
If you intend to use the light as your main lighting in the room (no other overhead lighting), you’ll want to choose super bright LEDs that provide light in the range of 500 to 1,000 lumens per foot.
If you intend to use the under cabinet lighting as task or accent lighting, you’ll want to find lighting in the 200 to 500 lumens per foot range.
For very subtle accent lighting, 100 to 200 lumens per foot will be a good choice.
Abby and I chose lights that provide 266 lumens per foot. We already have several can lights in our kitchen, as well as three pendant lights over the island, so we didn’t need our under cabinet lighting to be super bright. 266 lumens per foot provides us with a brightness right at the bottom end of “task” lighting.
When choosing LED light strips and supplies, it’s important to know if you want your lights to be dimmable or not.
I chose a brightness that I think will be perfect in our kitchen, so I didn’t feel the need to buy supplies for a dimmable setup.
Our LEDs are capable of dimming, so if I do decide to make the lights dimmable in the future, I can just buy a new transformer and also replace our existing light switch with a dimmer.
Finally, we decided to buy some aluminum mounting channels for our LED lights. These can be cut to any length and attached to the bottom of our cabinets.
These look nice and provide a solid base for the LED strip, but they also give the option of adding a plastic cover. There are clear options and also frosted options. I chose frosted covers to provide a bit of light diffusion and help prevent all the tiny little LEDs lights from reflecting off of our countertop.
With all of the major decisions made, we were able to compile our final list of under cabinet lighting supplies!
The Under Cabinet Lighting Supplies We Chose
We purchased our supplies from Flex Fire LEDs. I had a few questions about compatibility between light strips, connectors, and mounting channels and they helped me find the right product with their live chat feature.
Here are the supplies we ended up using:
- Accent Series LED Strip Light (3000K color temperature, 24 volt input, 16 foot length)
- 2x LED Plug-in Power Supply Adapter (Added on the coaxial connector with screw terminal, 24 volt system; Note: We chose 24 watt size based on the length of our setup. This article can help you determine how many watts are needed for your specific project.)
- Single Color Solderless Grip Connectors
Note: We purchased C1 connectors with bare wire to connect the light strips to the power supply. In our situation, we had two outlets with two separate power supplies, so we needed two connectors with bare wire. It’s better to get the ones with 36” of wire because the length gives you more flexibility, and they can always be cut down.
The other connectors you need depend on your situation. We have wooden sections that divide the underside of our cabinets from one another, so I needed to bridge this gap with wire. The the pre-made jumper connectors with wire in between are 6” long which is a bit longer than I needed. Instead, I made jumper connectors out of C1 connectors with no wire and the extra wire from unused connectors and extra wire.
Sometimes it’s hard to envision exactly what connectors you will need. I thought I had a good idea in my mind, but once the project started I made some adjustments. Fortunately, connectors are very cheap, so it makes sense to buy a variety and more than you need.
- Gemini Mounting Channel Kit (mounting channel and frosted cover with accessory kit; Note: These mounting channels work well with the specific LED strips and connectors we chose. The frosted cover doesn’t change the color temperature of the lights, but it gives them a diffused look.)
Choosing Under Cabinet Lighting: Final Thoughts
This was definitely one of those projects where the “research” portion took longer than the actual installation! But putting in the legwork up front is definitely worth it to get a beautiful end result.
And speaking of installation– we’re not leaving you hanging! You can catch the step-by-step tutorial for installing under cabinet lighting here.
Choosing Under Cabinet Lighting: Frequently Asked Questions
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Have you installed under cabinet lighting in your kitchen? We’d love to hear your best tips in the comments below!
Thank you so much for following along! Have a wonderful day!
This post contains affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosures here.