In-home kitchens where task lighting or light layering is desired, undercabinet lighting is a must. Not all undercabinet lighting is the same or accomplishes the same thing, so there are several variables to think through before you start shopping.
What Do You Want the Light To Do?
There are basically three types of lighting (and this goes for undercabinet as well), and they are general illumination, task, and accent. General illumination (also called “ambient”) underneath cabinets complement the overhead lighting in the room. Great task lighting illuminates countertops below in such a way it helps to do tasks without glares or shadows. Accent lighting is used to highlight or draw attention to objects.
Types of Fixtures for Undercabinet Lighting
There is a variety of under cabinet lighting fixtures. First, you’ll need to decide if you want incandescent lighting (xenon or halogen bulbs fall in this category), fluorescent lighting or LED. Then, there are fixture styles. Disks or pucks create circular ponds of light and are typically used for accent lighting. Task lighting is best accomplished with self-contained LED products such as the Self-Contained Glyde by Ambiance Lighting Systems or the Unilume Collection by TECH Lighting which uses LED remote-phosphor technology that illuminates as an even, glare-free wash of light along its entire length. Finally, for general illumination, products such as LED tape or the Ambiance Lx Lighting System provide task and accent in addition to general illumination.
What’s Important to You?
With all the variables to keep in mind, much of the choice is a matter of individual taste:
Fluorescent, Incandescent or LED?
LED lights are going to cost more upfront. However, they’ll last way longer; some will last 30,000 to 50,000 hours compared to incandescent lighting’s average of 10,000. Plus, you’ll save energy as the watts, i.e., the power consumption will be much lower than fluorescent or incandescent. Finally, LEDs don’t heat up like another lighting.
A lumen is a measure of the total amount of visible light, or, plainly put, the measurable light from the fixture. Oftentimes, you’ll see lumens mentioned in concert with watts. For example, the fixture “gives 800 lumens (light output) per 18 watts (energy consumption).” This is an efficacy detail most lighting companies will provide.
This stands for “Color Rendering Index.” It’s the measure of a light source’s ability to show natural colors on, for example, fruits and vegetables. Although incandescent bulbs are 100 CRI, the closer to 100, the truer the items will look in that light. The newest technology has brought the CRI for LEDs up to 80 to 90, making them not only the most efficient light source but also the closest to an optimum CRI.
To differentiate the various hues of white, artificial light sources have a correlated color temperature or CCT. CCT is measured in Kelvins (K), and this temperature rating communicates the tone of white light that will emit from the undercabinet fixture. Warm light usually has a 2,700K to 3,000K rating, while 3,500-4,000K creates a brighter, cooler white light. While the CCT is subjective, some experts might suggest a mid-range Kelvin rating (a warm 2,700K) if you have dark cabinets or a 3,000K rating if you have brightly colored ones, because CCT affects the appearance of cabinets, countertops, and food.
Do you want surface-mounted, self-contained or recessed lighting? In the recent past, surface-mounted lighting was so thick and unsightly, it could be seen under the cabinets. Now, technology is so advanced, surface-mounted lighting is thin enough to be out of sight unless you bend down underneath the cabinet looking for it.
This should be avoided. Dots on the countertop from the fixture is not desirable, particularly if you have a granite countertop or one made of similar, shiny material. There are under cabinet lights that use the latest, innovative LED know-how—such as edge-lit or remote phosphor technology—which will eliminate pixelation.
Go for dimmable lighting, period. It doesn’t cost that much more. When dimmed, the lighting’s functionality increases by setting a mood or serving as a night light.