Published on May 29, 2021

Over-the-island chandeliers, breakfast nook pendant lights, and countertop lamps get all the attention when it comes to illuminating your cookspace. But there is another important, often-overlooked addition: under-cabinet lighting. The accent feature is designed to lend a soft, shadow-free glow and make tasks at the countertop, sink, or other prep areas a little more seamless (especially at night when you are too tired to flip on every last switch). 

These days you can find kitchen under-cabinet lighting that suits your space and reno schedule best. Strip lights, for instance, are very simple to install yourself thanks to their adhesive backing, as are battery-operated puck lights. Then you’ve got widely used hardwired bar lights, which feature an aluminum shell that makes them extra-sturdy but often requires a professional to install. (Psst: HomeAdvisor’s directory makes it super-easy to find an expert in your area.) To answer all your pressing under-cabinet lighting questions—How much should I spend? Where should I buy them?—we went to Tim Vislay, director of sales for the Showroom Channel at Legrand, for answers. 

What to Look For

For a more generic view, you want an LED light source that is dimmable, has a color temperature of 2,700K to 3,000K, and a color rendering index (CRI) of 90+. “Any warmer than 2,700K and it is too orange, and anything above 3,000K is too blue,” says Vislay. The rise of light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs means you don’t have to worry about replacing them constantly (they’re energy-efficient) and, unlike halogen bulbs, they don’t generate excess heat that will accidentally melt your butter. “Fluorescent is more efficient than halogen; they last longer and use less energy, but they’re not as efficient as LED,” he adds. 

Low voltage (12v or 24v) uses a driver or transformer that provides power to the fixture from an outside source. This is what allows the strips to be very small. “Some low-voltage fixtures have the transformer or driver built in, and they become a bit boxier and bigger to house the transformer,” says Vislay.

The Cost

According to HomeAdvisor’s 2021 estimate, the cost to install light bars under cabinets ranges from $330 to $400, including mounting the fixtures, adding a low-voltage transformer, and routing cable from the transformer to the lights.

How to Install

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Courtesy of Naked Kitchens

“Power is the most important piece to this puzzle,” says Vislay. You’ll want to situate the lights as close to the edge of the cabinet as possible so the countertop is bathed in light. The installation should only require a couple of screws (or better yet, simply peeling adhesive backing). “If you can, attach a thin strip of aluminum under the cabinet to attach the tape to. This will allow the adhesive to stick better than it would to wood,” the pro recommends. 

Shopping Guide

The Best-Looking

Legrand’s Adorne Under-Cabinet Lighting System brings an array of modular components that tuck neatly away, offering convenience while hiding underneath your cabinets. Choose either a white or titanium finish, with prices ranging from $90 to $120 per linear foot.

The Best Overall on Amazon

This DIY-friendly kit (it comes with self-adhesive pads, extension cords, and mounting clips, as well as screws if you really want to secure it) has nearly 4,000 positive reviews on the site. While you can simply run it from a wall outlet, there’s also the option to flow it through your electrical system if you want to hide the cords for a long-term solution and operate it using a wall switch. 

The Best Dimmable One

Another tool-free pick: This one features a warm white light and 10 (!) brightness levels within its ultra-slim LED light bars, so you can make the move from accent lighting to task lighting in a flash. Better yet, it’s all controlled by a motion sensor anytime your hands are too messy to hit the switch. “Halogen is always dimmable. Both LED and fluorescent can be dimmable, and you must make sure the label reads that they are dimmable,” says Vislay.

The Best Battery Operated

These get their name from their shape (they look like they belong on a hockey rink). In this case, the look isn’t the appeal but rather the fact that they don’t have to be installed in a series, allowing you to customize the placement. The pack comes with a remote control dimmer that works from up to 15 feet away and a timer that lets you conserve battery life. 

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