How to Choose Under Cabinet Lighting

Updated September 2015 to reflect the latest lighting technology and to present a helpful new infographic to assist with choosing an under cabinet light.

If you’re only going to choose just one lighting feature to add your kitchen, make it under cabinet lighting.  It provides task lighting for your countertops to make them ideal for food preparation and cooking, it illuminates the backsplash on your wall to create beautiful accent lighting, and it can also be used as night lighting for your kitchen.  Once you install under cabinet lighting, you’ll never want to go back.

Many lighting designers talk about creating “layers of light” for your kitchen.  Under cabinet lighting serves as a crucial “layer” for great design.

That being said, there are a ton of options to choose from.  How do you know what style of under cabinet lighting is right for your kitchen?  Hopefully, this guide will make it a little easier to make your selection.

It’s a good idea to choose your light source first.

1. Fluorescent, Xenon, or LED?

Fluorescent Under Cabinet Lights

Fluorescent under cabinet lights are the very energy efficient in providing a given amount of light. Moreover, fluorescent light sources give off very little heat. This is a great feature depending on what is stored in the cabinet immediately above the under cabinet fixture or, perhaps, what is lying 12 to 18 inches below the light. While most fluorescent fixtures cannot be dimmed, they can be a wonderful, inexpensive option.

Xenon Under Cabinet Lights

Xenon lights are not quite as energy efficient and do give off some heat but they have full dimming capacity, and they give off an attractive warm light. (If you love the warm glow of an incandescent light bulb, xenon under cabinet lights are for you). While they’re not cool to the touch, the amount of heat emitted is still substantially lower than halogen lights. Heat output can be an important consideration with under cabinet lighting since you’re often installing the lights directly on the underside of food storage cabinets – and above any produce sitting out on the counter.  For this reason, we don’t sell halogen under cabinet lights.

LED Under Cabinet Lights

If you’re looking for the most energy efficient option, go with LEDs, which are often dimmable. LEDs are also cool to the touch and will last for 50,000 hours before needing replacement bulbs (that’s almost six years). The initial price tag is a bit more expensive but if you consider your future savings in energy, LED under cabinet lights start to make a lot of sense. They also give off a brilliant white light that is very appealing for kitchen design.

2. Puck or Linear?

The style of the fixture is another consideration. We usually recommend installing linear under cabinet lights because they provide uniform, well-distributed light for the entire countertop and eliminate shadows. However, a number of people prefer the style of under cabinet puck lights for the kitchen, which create pools of light in more focused areas. Either type of light works fine, this is really just a matter of preference.

3. Recessed or Surface mount?

A lot of people assume that non-recessed under cabinet lights will have fixtures jutting out unattractively from underneath the cabinets. This really isn’t the case –most of the surface-mount options are so thin that you’d have to literally stick your head underneath the cabinet and look up to see the actual fixture. The good news is that it’s hard to go wrong on this decision.

Low-Profile Surface Mount Under Cabinet Lights

The most low-profile surface mount under cabinet lights are the Microfluorescent T4 Light Fixtures. The Xenon Line Voltage Thin Under Cabinet Task Lights are also very low-profile and are some of our most popular under cabinet lights. Our VP, Chris Johnson, actually installed these into his home. Check out his blog post to see before and after pictures if you’re interested.

4. Hardwire, Plug-in or Battery Operated?

Lighting fixtures that are “hardwired” are connected directly to the power source using a ROMEX® wire (this is what is used behind your walls to wire your entire house). Plug-in under cabinet lights, of course, require you to plug in a cord to your nearest electrical outlet.  Decide what your preference is for type of installation and placement – if there’s not a well-placed outlet in your kitchen, you’ll probably want to choose hardwire, or go completely cordless with a battery operated under cabinet light. A number of our under cabinet lights can be set up to be either hardwire or plug-in, but there are a few that do not have both options, so just check out the product listings of hardwire under cabinet lighting and plug-in under cabinet lighting.

The FAQs tab on our under cabinet lighting page has some really helpful information to explain the options even further. Good luck installing your under cabinet lights, and don’t forget to tell us how it goes! Comment on this post with any questions and/or post your photos of your recent lighting project on our Facebook page.


More Resources:


Emily Widle

Emily Widle

Emily graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in journalism. She enjoys scouring the news to report on the latest in the lighting industry as well as bringing valuable remodeling tips and exemplar home projects to light.

  • Amy

    Living in Florida, heat output is my primary concern for lights. I’m disappointed that your article does not address this for LED and compare it with the flourescent and xenon. Where can I find an analysis of light output vs. heat output for the 3 types of lighting? (Actually, it would be great to see incandescent in the mix as well).

    • Chris Johnson


      If heat output is your primary concern for your under cabinet lights, then you will want to stick with fluorescent or LED. Definitely stay away from halogen, a type of incandescent light, because halogen generates a lot of heat. Xenon, another type of incandescent light, generates less heat then halogen, but definitely more than fluorescent or LED.

      Now, let’s talk light output…you should be able to generate a comparable amount of light from both xenon or fluorescent. The benefit of fluorescent is that you will also produce less heat and use a lot less energy producing that light. In fact, fluorescent lighting is the most energy-efficient for a given amount of light. While LED lighting is the most energy-efficient in terms of the least amount of energy used, they do not, yet, produce the same light output that you can get from fluorescent.

      So, to sum up…fluorescent under cabinet lights will not produce a lot of heat and they will produce more light output than LED.

      I hope this helps.

  • Pingback: Under Cabinet Lighting Install: From Start to Finish | Pegasus Lighting Blog()

  • Andy Rosenberger

    I have old fluorescent under cabinet lights which I have replaced the transformers on, and now they are shot again. The little bulbs don’t last very long anyway, and I am wanting to replace them with an alternative. I am thinking LED strips would make the most sense, but there is a HUGE inventory of stuff out there, and I am frankly overwhelmed by the choices. Perhaps you could give me some guidance. They are presently hard wired to a switch and vary in length, 12″, 24″, and 42″.

  • Pingback: A Guide to Choosing Under Cabinet Lighting (Infographic) | Pegasus Lighting Blog()