Replacing Inefficient Under Cabinet Lights

Favoring form over function is a very common design error that DIYers tend to make. The beauty of a fixture can be incredibly convincing; especially, during the remodeling process. Unfortunately, the draw of form doesn’t last as long as the desire for quality function. If you’ve found yourself in this conundrum with energy draining halogen, xenon, or fluorescent light bars don’t worry there is an easy solution to your woes. Even better, the switch brilliantly balances function and form so you can have the best of both worlds.

Replacing your original incandescent under cabinet light bar can be done in a few simple steps, but there are a few things to consider before you sling on your handy-dandy tool belt. The first step is determining the type of fixture being replaced and the voltage currently being routed towards that fixture. Once you know the answer the these simple questions you can easily start your search for an updated, energy efficient model.

Step 1 – Hardwired or Plugged in

Hardwired Kitchen Lights

While you may know off the top of your head what type of installation you currently have it is always a good idea to double check. Some easy indicators to determine if your system is hardwired is to check if your under cabinet lighting system is controlled by a wall switch. While some plugs are controlled by an outlet, more times than not a system controlled by a wall switch is hardwired. Another quick check is to find where your system receives power. Do you have a hidden outlet in a cabinet or do the wires go straight into the wall? If your system hooks up to a power outlet you have a plugged in system, if the wires go straight into the wall it is safe to say your system is hardwired. Now for the slightly advanced check – voltage! 

Step 2 – Voltage

Voltage Graphic

Next you need to check whether your under cabinet light system is 120 volts or 12 volts. If your system is plugged in take a look at the transformer (plug) it should have the specs regarding voltage in and voltage out written on its base. While there is a very good chance a plugged in system is 12V, it pays to double check. If the transformer doesn’t have the specs don’t worry a voltage meter can easily verify the voltage coming through the outlet. A voltage meter will definitely be needed if you have a hardwired system, even though the majority of hardwired fixtures are 120v. Always be sure to double check as it will determine the system you select next or will guide you through a different installation process.

Step 3 – Setting the Mood

Kitchen Lighting Mood

Once you know if your system is hardwired or plugged in, as well as the voltage powering it you can now do some shopping! The hue of your LED under cabinet light bar can mirror the same effect as your original fixture or you can move to a different tone. The decision is yours! If you don’t want to have to choose one color, go with a 3 in 1 LED under cabinet light bar which allows for warm white, moon white, and cool white in a single fixture. If you originally had a fluorescent fixture the chances are you’ll lean towards a cool white option, if you had halogen you’ll favor warm white. Luckily with LED you have light hue options, so you can shape the beauty of your design without sacrificing the functionality of your kitchen.

Step 4 – Installation Tips

Under Cabinet Light Installation

While we always recommend hiring an experienced electrician, we know some DIYers would rather take on the challenge themselves. If your system is 120V with a hardwire the easiest replacement fixture would be an LED under cabinet light bar. This fixture would allow you to use the existing leads so you wouldn’t have any extra work of installing a hidden plug in your cabinet. The best part about a hardwired system is the ability to use multiple jumpers so you only have to hardwire the fixture in a single location. Plus, your lighting is controlled with a wall switch which feels elegant and chic.

The other option takes a little bit more handy work. You could relocate the hardwired lead to a plug inside of one of your cabinets. This would allow you to step down the 120V with a 12V transformer. This is desirable if you plan on using puck lights or tape light. If you do plan on the second option make sure to check local building codes and hire an electrician to install the plug properly. This option may appeal to you if you’re looking to trade out the light bar for a smaller profile fixture. Tape light is tiny so it makes it nearly impossible to see under your cabinet, it also provides better light output than a box fixture or puck light.

If you currently have a 12 volt plugged in system, we’d definitely recommend LED tape light. This change would be a very simple swap, remove your current LED light bar and install the 3M tape light system in its place. Simply plug and play and your system is good to go! While you could use puck lights, tape light allows for an even glow across your counter top, more light, and is offered at a better cost. Puck lights should be used in glass feature cabinets to enhance decorative items with focused illumination.

Don’t worry about sacrificing function for form, with LED technology you can now have both.

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