Bright Ideas

What to Know Before Installing Under Cabinet Lighting

Posted by Alafiya Shabbir on Jul 13, 2016 4:29 PM


There’s nothing like an elegant set of under cabinet lights to finish off the look of a new kitchen. Whether it’s a new build or a kitchen renovation, it pays to take some time to plan out your lighting before you start. Here are some important preliminary steps to make sure you don’t find yourself in a bind after you’ve installed (and paid) for everything.

1. Take into consideration the colour of your kitchen.

When it comes to lighting, the colour of the light you choose plays a big role in the overall mood of your kitchen. For natural materials (like wood), you may look for warmer coloured light (with a low colour temperature), or for stainless steel and modern finishes, you may opt for brighter, whiter light (with a high colour temperature). If that last sentence was confusing, check out this explanation. You should test out your wall, cabinet, and backsplash colour samples by going to a lighting distributor and viewing them under different coloured lights.

2. Plan where you want to put your lights.

Sketch out a layout of your kitchen and plan where you want your lights to go. Do it once completely and then walk away from it. Come back again later to see if you still like your original plan. It’s better to change your mind before you’ve actually started the project. This will also help stop you from going overboard and buying unnecessary additional fixtures.


3. Decide on your light pattern.

Under cabinet lights can come in different shapes and sizes, from small puck lights to long stretches of LED strips. The light pattern from each shape will differ, so keep in mind what kind of finish you're looking for when you pick your fixture.

4. Take into consideration the sizes of the connectors, jumper cables, and power feeds.

When you plan the layout, don’t just measure the size of the light fixtures. Connector pieces and power feeds can take up several inches of space – and you don’t want to end up with bits of light sticking out from under your cabinet. In the same way, make sure you don’t get jumper cables that are too short to cover the distance between fixtures. That ends up being both wasteful and annoying.

5. Think hard about what you want to illuminate.

Do you have an amazing backsplash feature that you’d like to draw people’s attention to? Or is the area in question going to be used for a lot of prep work and a well-lit countertop would be appreciated? Knowing what you want your lights to do will help you pick the right fixture and the angle at which to install them.


6. Think hard about what you DON’T want to illuminate.

You know that one corner that ends up with all the appliances? Or the tucked-away storage space for all your kitchen odd-and-ends? It’s likely that you don’t want to draw too much attention to these areas. Don’t put lights where you don’t need to – selectively placing under cabinet lights will make a bolder statement than just lighting everything.

7. Bring in a light sample to be sure.

No amount of planning and visualization replaces being able to bring in the real deal and test in out in your kitchen. Ask your contractor or distributor if they’re able to source some samples for you. The better your relationship with your contractor (or distributor), the more likely it is that they’ll and get this for you, which is something to think about when picking the right person for the job.

This step is especially important if you want a fixture that has an adjustable angle feature – test out the spacing of light-to-cabinet before buying the whole set.

8. Think about where to put your power supply.

Having it too close to your oven or fridge can be problematic due to the threat of overheating. Ideally, find a nice, cool corner to mitigate heat-related electrical issues.


9. Understand the load limitations of your under cabinet lights.

When you string together multiple fixtures in a line, you put an additional load on your power supply. Make sure you don’t go over your limit, and play close attention to the product specifications. If you don’t know the limit, ask your manufacturer (ours, for example, has a 32W limit per run).

You can increase the number of runs attached to a power supply by using splitters, which are optional accessories that should be available as part of the under cabinet lighting kit. For a better understanding of these terms, check out our installation post here.

10. To Dim, or not to Dim?

When it comes time to make a decision about getting a dimmer, take a second to consider if you will ever actually change the light setting. Being able to adjust the level of light can be an extremely valuable feature, but not if you’re not going to use it.

If you do choose to get a dimmable light fixture, ask your manufacturer for a recommendation as to which dimmer to buy. Ideally, you’re looking for one with a trimpot adjustment, which helps to diminish distracting flickering associated with other options.

11. Hardwired versus Plug-In installation.

You also have options on how you’d like to install your under cabinet lights. A plug-in install can be done easily at home, but a hardwired option, which requires a certified electrician, gives you a clean, wire-free finish that keeps your lights looking sleek and unobtrusive. Decide which option works better for your needs and budget.

12. Try getting cabinets with a valence.

A valence is essentially a lip or projection of the cabinet door over its base. This projection helps hide the under cabinet lights, and create the illusion that there’s just a continuous stream of light being projected from the bottom of your cabinets, instead of from a bunch of smaller lights.

Or, if you still haven’t selected your cabinets, think about asking for an under cabinet channel being built-in to (or rather hollowed out of) the bottom of your cabinets. This way, even without a valence, you can hide the lights in the structure of the cabinet itself.



That should give you a good list of things to think about. If you want more information on any of these topics, check out our other under cabinet lighting posts. If the information you’re looking for isn’t there either, comment or email us and we’ll help you find it.

 If you’re ready for the next step and need some help planning, click on the big blue button to request a free custom kitchen layout to help you get started on your project!

Request a Kitchen Lighting Layout 

This post was written in consultation with Geoffrey Walling, a lighting specialist at RAB Design Lighting.

Topics: Under cabinet LED