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Lighting for Countertops

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    Harry Whitver

    1. Plan Carefully plan your lighting. Actually draw a plan showing cabinet, light, and switch locations. Spec the lights to be used and their features. Show details of how the light works with the cabinet and its valence.

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    2. Low-Voltage Application A switch controls the outlet above the cabinet. More than one above-cabinet outlet may be wired to a single switch. 1) Switched outlet. 2) Lighting transformer must be located for easy access. It may be plugged into the switched outlet or hard wired via a junction box. 3) Low-voltage wiring need not be protected. Route through cabinet, stapled in hard-to-see locations. 4) Low-voltage fixture.

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    3. Line-Voltage Application Carefully locate wiring so that it exits the wall at exactly the right height. If you’re off just a little, the wire may not be hidden by the cabinet’s valance. 1) Exposed line-voltage wiring must be protected with conduit or other rigid armor. 2) If a fixture is dimmable, you can use a dimmer switch. 3) Pin-based fluorescents count as high-efficacy fixtures.

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    4. Mount the Fixture In general, fixtures should be located as close to the front of cabinet as possible.

    Use manufacturer-supplied mounting hardware. Route wiring cleanly and as invisibly as possible.

The best solution for task lighting in a kitchen is a light close to the working surface, directed at it with nothing in the way. The underside of an upper cabinet provides the perfect spot.

There are all sorts of under-cabinet lights to choose from, from pucks to LED strips to fluorescents to tracks. Variables include brightness, heat, dimmability, mountings, and even color of light. Prices vary, ranging from about $15 for a Xenon puck to several hundred dollars for high-end LEDs. It’s a good idea to consult a lighting professional for assistance when making your choice.

The very name “under-cabinet light” indicates the need for several trades. Don’t gloss over that. Get the framer, cabinet maker, and electrician on board up front. Each will have questions and comments pertinent to the others.

Most under-cabinet lights are low voltage, requiring a transformer, though line-voltage lights can also be used. We’ve shown tips for both types here.