LED Kitchen Cabinet Lighting – In, Over or Under
The main source of lighting in just about all kitchens is ambient lighting – the combination of natural light from kitchen windows and overhead ceiling lights in one form or another. It’s the kind of lighting that we’ve been using for generations. However, it’s not necessarily the most effective way of illuminating our kitchens.
Interior designers and lighting consultants are fairly unanimous that the optimal approach is ‘layered lighting.’ Essentially this means using lights at different locations for different purposes. They suggest the use of ‘task’ and ‘accent’ lighting to supplement ambient lighting. Together these create a more balanced, functional, and visually compelling environment suited to the varied tasks that take place in our kitchens.
Apart from incandescent lighting, which we are all familiar with, there are halogen, compact fluorescent (CFL), xenon and LED (light-emitting diode) lighting options. When you want to incorporate task or accent lighting in, over or under kitchen cabinets, LED lights offer a range of advantages.
Bar LED Lights
Bar lights are a thin, one-piece that comes in various lengths. They are usually installed along the width of a cabinet, on its underside. (Photo by LedWorld.ca)
Strip LED Lights
Strip lights are very compact in size, and are flexible. Available in various wattages and densities – the number of LED lights per meter of tape varies from about 20 to 120.
Easy to Cut
Strip LED lighting can be cut to length with scissors and often include a sticky tape on the back for easy installation.
In a Groove
Bar lights can be recessed into a groove for a sleek, no-see appearance.
LED lights are the most cost-effective and versatile lighting options around. Features include:
While the initial purchase price of LEDs is higher than other lighting options, the long-term return on investment is also higher, as they consume less power and have a considerably longer service life than “traditional” bulbs.
Pucks, bars and strips
LED lights suitable for use in cabinetry come in three basic types, and can be surface mounted or recessed. They’re generally available in a warm white colour (about 3000K), a cool white light colour (up to about 5500K), and in an RGB format to produce a near-endless array of colors.
Puck lights come as individual units or in strings of multiple pucks pre-wired together with a plug for easy installation. They’re best used for task lighting as their light is much more narrowly focused. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for the distance that puck lights should be installed, or else you’ll end up with dark shadows in between the focused light.
Bar lights consist of solid one-piece fixtures (similar to under-counter fluorescent lights) and come in various lengths that can usually be linked together. Unlike fluorescents, they are quite thin. Typically you’ll install a bar light along the entire width of the cabinet. Some are screwed in place, while others use PSA tape. As with puck lights, they work well for task lighting.
Strip (or tape) lights are the most compact in size, making them ideal for accent lighting. As the name implies, these are flexible lengths of thin LED lights. Because of their size they can be almost invisible when installed. You’ll see them referred to as SMD LEDs – small LED lights are surface mounted on flexible strips of printed circuit board. These strip lights come in various wattages to provide different light output levels and in different densities – the number of LED lights per meter of tape – which can vary from a low of around 20 to about 120. More lights per meter will provide greater brightness (a higher lumen level). A typical 1-meter strip with 30 LED lights would produce about 430 lumens, whereas a 1-meter strip with 120 LED lights would generate close to 1,000 lumens.
Where to use LEDs
Because they’re so compact, and have such low heat emission, you can use LED lights just about anywhere in your kitchen (and other rooms, for that matter). While these lights are most often mounted to the bottom surface of upper wall cabinets, you can also install them on top of cabinets, inside cabinets (underneath shelves), at the base of lower cabinets (just above the toe kick), and even under valances or along cove moulding. Mounting options really depend on the layout of your kitchen and the lighting effect you’re looking to achieve.
If your cabinets don’t have a recessed bottom, you can install a length of trim to hide the LED lights from view. For new cabinets, the lights can be installed in a channel routed into the cabinet base. Likewise, puck lights can be flush mounted into cabinet bottoms. If installing lights inside cabinets, you can add narrow trim to the bottom of shelves; if installing on top of cabinets, add a narrow decorative moulding atop the cabinets.
The easiest LED lights to install are those powered by batteries. They’re an option where a receptacle isn’t close at hand, and you don’t want to tap into an electrical circuit. However, batteries are a more costly source of power, and replacing those batteries can be awkward if the lights are hard to reach.
All flexible LED strip lights and virtually all LED puck and bar lights use low-voltage power and have to be connected to a transformer that converts 110V to 12V or 24V (depending on the requirement of the LED light being used). The transformer plugs directly into a receptacle. If you don’t want to use one of the wall receptacles in your kitchen, you’ll have to install a new receptacle or a junction box to which you can connect your LED lighting. You can install the junction box and receptacle in one of the bottom cabinets or on top of an upper cabinet.
It’s often a good idea to have task and accent lighting controlled by separate power switches so that you can use the lights independently. It’s also worth considering the installation of one or more motion sensors that automatically turn lighting on and off as you enter the kitchen. Some LED lights come with these built-in sensors. If you plan on installing a dimmer switch to use with your LED lights, ensure that the dimmer is specifically designed to work with the lights.
Installing LED lighting is fairly straight-forward. For flexible strip lighting, all you may need are scissors and a tape measure. Sticky PSA tape on the back of the strip lights make them very easy to install. Typically you’ll place them at the front edge of cabinets. The strip is clearly marked where it can be cut, and ends are easily connected together with solder-less connectors. Bar and puck lights can either be screwed or taped in place. In all cases, read and follow manufacturers’ guidelines.
Most lighting and fixture retailers will have LED lighting options available, along with an installation service. If you choose to install your own lighting, then a wide range of LED strip, puck, tape and rope lighting, as well as diffusers, dimmer switches, channels, controllers and mounting hardware are available from LeeValley.com and LedWorld.ca. If you’re looking for LED bulbs, then head to HomeHardware.ca.
Give it a try. You’ll find that LED lights are surprisingly easy to install, and they make a huge difference in the character and atmosphere of your kitchen.