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Hardwiring LED Under Cabinet Lighting: A How-To Guide

Hardwiring LED Under Cabinet Lighting: A How-To Guide

Posted by Chris Johnson on Sep 16th 2015

When you spend a lot of time in your kitchen, ample LED under cabinet lighting can make your culinary adventures more satisfying and less frustrating. These types of fixtures and undercounter lights provide focused illumination for tasks, letting you achieve the right amount of brightness for everything from chopping vegetables to filling containers for meal prep. While you can put adhesive-backed fixtures in these spaces, properly installed kitchen under cabinet lighting is the way to go for consistent results.

Installing LED Under Cabinet Lighting

Hardwiring LED under cabinet lighting to a wall switch may be the most convenient way to install them in your kitchen. The hardwiring arrangement lets you turn your lights on and off and even dim them without having wires and plugs in your cooking space. When it comes to installation, however, hardwiring typically is the most involved option for expanding kitchen lighting. Read on for step-by-step instructions if you're searching for advice on how to hardwire under cabinet lights.

1. Prepare for kitchen under cabinet lighting installation.

The first step required to install undercounter lights or LED under cabinet lighting is picking out the fixtures. Before you choose, however, measure areas where the lights will go to be sure your kitchen under cabinet lighting fits in your available space.

2. Consult with an electrical contractor before you start.

Before you begin, it may be helpful to seek advice from a professional electrical contractor. They can help answer any questions you have regarding electrical details. Also, local industry professionals can make certain you're satisfying all the appropriate electrical code requirements relative to your city, county and state. 

2. Plan for wiring for LED under cabinet lighting.

Knowing where you want everything to go before you get started simplifies the process of installing kitchen under cabinet lighting. For example, where do you want to place the light switch? Do you need it close to your cabinets or alongside the rest of your kitchen lighting controls? Determining the answers to questions like this also helps you know how much wiring you need since installation requires running electrical wire within the wall, looping it from one fixture to the next.

You may find it helpful to sketch out the kitchen area including cabinets and dimensions. A rudimentary sketch can help you adequately plan how many lights and how much wire are needed, and help you visualize how it will look once installed. Additionally, making changes to a drawing is much easier (and cheaper) than making changes during installation.[SF1] 

3. Position your LED under cabinet lighting.

For even lighting throughout the kitchen space, linear lights that run along the length of your cabinets are an excellent choice. Task lighting that runs along your counters should sit close to the front of the upper cabinet to provide lighting to the edge of the countertop. Corner cabinet lighting should be balanced to cover the countertop area sufficiently without causing shadows.

4. Gather tools and mounting hardware.

Most LED under cabinet fixtures come with a pack of appropriate hardware to use for installation. This includes screws that don't penetrate the bottom shelves of your cabinets plus the right-size cable bushing and wire connectors for proper installation. You may also need the following tools:

•            Screwdriver

•            Wire strippers

•            Wire fish

•            Wire nuts

•            Electrical tape

•            Electrical wire and pressure connectors

•            Drill with keyhole saw

•            Drywall saw

5. Disconnect the power.

Locate the correct breaker and turn off the power supply to the switch outlet where you're going to hardwire the lights. Ignoring this step can be dangerous and result in serious injury or death.

6. Attach the lights.

Position the lights according to how you laid them out earlier. Take apart the under-counter lights and screw them where you want them to go. To make this easier, it helps to use a pencil to mark the bottom of the cabinets. Some undercabinet lights come with paper templates or a removable mounting plate to help make these screw marks.

7. Cut the wall.

Depending on where your backsplash is located, you may have to peel it away from where you're installing kitchen under cabinet lighting. Cut a channel behind the backsplash using your drywall saw. The channel should stretch from under the switch box to the right near the farthest light. Finally, use the drill to bore a hole through the studs so you can run the wire.

8. Run the wire.

Next, use the drill again to create a hole for each individual light's wire. A wire fish may be helpful here for running the wires down the wall from one fixture through the channel and onto the next fixture.

9. Run the cord.

Beginning with the farthest fixture from the switch, run electrical wire from one fixture to another. Leave about 1 foot of cord at each opening.

At the farthest fixture, you should have a foot of cord hanging out of the end, and the fixture next to it should have two cords hanging out (one entering and one exiting).

Do this for every light until you get to the one closest to the switch — this light needs one length of wire coming from the switch box and one leaving the light on its other side.

10. Connect the lights.

Isolate the electrical wire inside each LED light, separate the wires if necessary and remove about 3/4 of an inch of the insulation from them.

At the closest fixture to the switch, attach the wires with the wire nuts.

Next, connect the black fixture wire with an electrical wire in the wall with the plug on the end and a wire heading to the next fixture. Do the same for the white fixture wire.

11. Wire the switch.

At the switch outlet, make sure the electricity is off, then remove the receptacle.

Bind the white wire and the connecting strand of cord together with a wire nut.

Screw the black wire on the outlet onto the switch's bottom terminal, then screw the black wire that goes out to the lights into the switch's top terminal.

12. Cover your work.

Cover the switch's terminals by wrapping them with electrical tape. Then, screw the switch back into the box and attach the switch cover.

13. Test the lights.

Restore power to your lights and flip the switch to see if they work.

14. Patch things up.

Now that you've successfully installed your LED under cabinet lighting, you can redo the drywall you had to slice away for the wire channel. Reattach the backsplash after you finish, and enjoy your new kitchen under cabinet lighting!

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