You Guide to Under Cupboard Lighting for the Kitchen
What is under cupboard lighting?
Under cupboard lighting is exactly what it says, specialist lighting designed to fit underneath a kitchen cupboard. It is a type of task lighting used to highlight areas of the kitchen where sufficient light is needed to do detailed jobs such as food preparation and cooking.
The different type of under cabinet lighting available are:
- T5 fluorescent tubes – Fluorescent tubes with a diameter of ½ inch. The small size enables them to be easily concealed under the cabinet, making them a hugely popular choice. Depending on the size of the cupboard T8 bulbs can also be used. A miniature tube commonly used under cabinets is a 12 inch 8w T5 tube, these are very low in energy consumption and readily available.
- LED strip light ribbons or LED spotlights are the most energy efficient and long-lasting option for under cabinet lighting. LED strip light ribbons have a self-adhesive backing so can be fitted under any cabinet, regardless of the fittings in place.
- GU10 halogen spotlights can be fitted in recessed fittings under cabinets.
- M11 lamps look similar to GU10 spotlights and are available as low energy LEDs or as halogen lamps.
- G4 and G9 capsule bulbs are small 2-pin bulbs available as halogen or LED bulbs.
- Certain CFLs are small enough to fit into circular recessed fittings under cabinets. The Sylvania 6w Micro Lynx GX53 840 is a CFL puck light suitable for use under cabinets. Or if you prefer LEDs, try the Sylvania 3w Micro Lynx F LED GX53 840, an LED alternative.
- Battery operated LED puck lights offer a quick-fix, wire-free solution for under cabinet lighting.
Cabinets with fluorescent lighting
The two most important things to look for with under cabinet lighting are:
- Illuminance level
Illuminance level – the amount of light that is cast onto the work surface
In this setting, there needs to be enough light to complete intricate tasks safely, such as food preparation. The illuminance level of a kitchen counter should be at least 300 lux, if the under cabinet lighting is combined with overhead ambient lighting. If the under cabinet lighting is going to be used on its own then it will need to be 500 lux. The lumen level of a bulb will be clearly marked on the light bulb box.
Uniformity – how even the level of light is
Uneven light levels can create pools of light and areas of shadow, causing glare and making it difficult to perform tasks.
The main reason for uneven lighting on a counter top is when there are not enough bulbs installed – for example, two recessed lights may not be enough to light a long counter top and could create shadows between the light.
If you choose fluorescent tubes for your under cupboard lighting then choose bulbs of the same length for the entire kitchen to achieve the highest uniformity level. Choose the longest bulb available that will fit under your cabinet – multiple smaller length tubes fitted across a cabinet can create pools of light. The same principles apply to LED tubes and both types of bulbs should be mounted at the front edge of the cabinet and angled towards the splash back to avoid glare.
Other factors to consider when fitting under cabinet lighting
GU10 spotlights shinning on glossy worktop
Type of counter top
Glossy counter tops create much more glare and reflections than matt finish counter tops. If you have glossy countertops in your kitchen (particularly dark ones as these can be even more reflective), glare can be minimised by fitting a lens over bare bulbs to disperse the light.
For dark countertops (particularly matt finish surfaces), fit bulbs with a higher lumen level to compensate for the dark surface.
Cabinet with LED strip lighting
Recessed vs surface mounted lighting
Whether you choose recessed or surface mounted lighting will depend on the type of cabinets you have in your kitchen. Cabinets with a trim or lip on the bottom can accommodate surface mounted lighting without it being seen, whereas cabinets with no trim benefit from recessed lighting so the bare bulbs are hidden.
Wiring for under cabinet lighting
There are three options to power this type of lighting:
Hardwired lighting is best done during a kitchen remodel as it requires the wiring to be fitted behind the plaster and finishes so there is no exposed wiring. The lights will be powered by the mains electricity and controlled by a wall switch. In most cases a dimmer switch can be fitted. They will require an electrician to install them. Hardwired under cabinet lighting is the most difficult to install but offers the most seamless finish.
Plug-in lights are also powered by mains electricity but they are simply plugged into a wall socket so will have exposed wiring. Plug-in lights don’t have the capacity to be dimmed.
Battery operated lights require no wiring or installation as they run off a battery rather than the mains supply. Battery powered lights are usually puck LEDs with an adhesive backing, so you won’t have a lot of options for the type of light you choose if you opt for battery powered.
Dimmable under cabinet lights
Generally under cabinet fluorescent lights are not dimmable, however, it depends on the ballast that is fitted. A dimmable ballast would need to be fitted to control the dimming, but generally the smaller T5 tubes commonly used in these fittings (below 14w) don’t have dimmable ballasts available for them. 14w T5s and over can be fitted with dimmable ballasts. Examples of dimmable tubes include T5 and T8 tubes, PL-Cs, PL-Ts and PL-Ls (this excludes lamps that have a household type cap ES and BC, as these do not need control gear as they run off direct 240v).
Fitting dimmable bulbs and ballasts enables you to alter the light levels in your kitchen and create an appropriate atmosphere for any event, from intimate dining to family homework sessions. In order for the light bulbs to be dimmed, select dimmable light bulbs (this will be clearly marked on the light bulb box) and ensure they’re fitted to a compatible dimmer switch and ballast.
Frequently asked questions on under cabinet lighting
How much under cabinet lighting do I need?
This will depend on the size of your cupboards and the amount. Choose the longest bulb available that will fit under your cabinet – this will avoid creating gaps between the lights, leading to issues with uniformity.
Are LED under cabinet lights dimmable?
Yes, provided that the LED bulbs you choose are dimmable and you install a compatible dimmer switch. Plug-in and battery powered LEDs cannot be dimmed.
What is the cost of under cabinet lighting?
This will depend on the type of lighting you choose and how many lights and fixtures you need. As a rough guide, it costs around £30 for the bulb, fixture and installation. However, the type of bulb you choose will have an impact on the price, for example, a miniature fluorescent T5 tube can cost as little as 90p, a strip light can cost around £1.70 and an LED GU10 bulb (used for under cabinet recessed lighting) can cost around £3.50 per bulb.
Is under cupboard lighting with motion sensor available?
Yes, the easiest option for this type of lighting are battery operated LEDs with a built in motion sensor.
Is wireless under cabinet lighting available?
Battery powered LED puck lights are the best option for wireless under cabinet lighting as they usually come with an adhesive backing so can be attached directly to the underside of your cupboard with no wiring needed.
For a long term solution and better light quality, installing hardwired lighting that is operated by a dedicated wall switch creates a seamless and professional finish with no visible wiring.