Kitchen Under-Cabinet Lighting Recommendations
March 17, 2019 5:36 PM   Subscribe

I'm working with an electrician, and would like to have under-cabinet lighting installed that's Apple HomeKit or Homebridge compatible. I'm looking for brand, model, and technology (tending toward led, but also considering any other viable lighting) recommendations from folks who have this sort of lighting and like what you have, or who know folks who do.

I've been slowly automating the house with IoT devices, and we really need better illumination of work areas in the kitchen. I've been sourcing and configuring the technology myself and, where I need it, having an electrician help install or reconfigure outlets, junction boxes, etc. My primary control platform is Apple HomeKit, but I also have a Raspberry Pi running Homebridge (to integrate HomeKit-unfriendly techs like Sonos and Nest in to HomeKit), and I'm very comfortable with the computer/IoT aspect of integrating new products and accessories into our home.

But! This is mostly a question about illumination technologies for under cabinets in a kitchen.

My major concerns are getting enough lumens/foot-candles, and getting the lighting I install integrated into the home automation platform. A slightly lower priority is being able to get the right color temperature, which we tend to prefer warm, yellowish, 2700K - 3000K.

I'm highly tempted to get something like LIFX's Z LED strip (Amazon), because it would give a lot of control on hue and temperature, but my concerns are: Is it too much bling for what should just be solid under-counter work lighting, and is this something where it would make more sense to have a diffuser lens/cabinet sort of install?

I get the sense that lighting under one cabinet costs, no matter the tech/housing/lack of housing, about USD$100. So if I got fluorescent with a diffuser or LED strips or halogen or xenon it'd all cost similarly? Is that realistic?

I do want to avoid getting and installing a tech that would significantly heat up the work area. We only store spices and baking staples in the cabinets above, but my main concern here is neither of us really enjoy working hot if we can help it.

I'm treating the cost of the electrician/install a separate expense, so I'm just talking the actual equipment here.

As always, thanks in advance for any information and opinions, and for your time.
posted by kalessin to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've been thinking about doing something like this for a couple of months. It may be a little too janky for you, though.
posted by dforemsky at 5:54 PM on March 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

My general recommendation, having both connected lights and connected switches (and also currently-disconnected undercabinet lighting), is to opt for integration at the switch level when color changing isn’t necessary. Lutron Caseta plus dimmable LEDs has been a great setup. The advantage is that the bit that needs to be professionally installed is completely technology agnostic. The disadvantage is that you’ll need wall-switched power installed probably. The converse advantage is that you’d be able to wall-switch control it.

The desire for avoiding heat says LED to me for sure. Do you have moulding along the bottom of the cabinet that you can hide a light strip behind? That will increase your options.
posted by supercres at 6:20 PM on March 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Note: While I find Maker projects kind of compelling, I promised myself I'd buy commercial off-the-shelf components for this, so supercres' suggestion of a wired wall-switch type of thing is likely better. It's fine with me if I have to ask the electrician to lock out the outlets for the smart bulbs so they're always on, and replace the conventional switch plate with something like a Lutron Caseta which indeed looks rather the Rolls Royce of wall switch remotes for smart devices.

I also do not have moulding but am not averse to getting some installed. Are we talking putting a strip type LED in the gap between moulding and the wall?

Thank you both for your responses so far, and will try not to steer the discussion beyond this.
posted by kalessin at 6:55 PM on March 17, 2019

The OSRAM Lightify strips are particularly easy to use for under cabinet installations because they come in a set of 2’ strips.... you can buy additional cabling to connect them up in various configurations. Hue and Lifx come as a 2m single strip.

I have the ZigBee ones, the lights themselves are fine but I don’t like the ZigBee interface that they use much. But if you want HomeKit you can get the Bluetooth ones and Homekit will talk to it directly.
posted by doomsey at 7:43 PM on March 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I kind of went nuts and ended up with a mishmash of different IoT device types, which I pulled together using openhab on an rpi, including some customized (hacked-up) plugins and a bunch of wacky scripting. amazingly wife approves. ask me anything!
posted by doomsey at 8:02 PM on March 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

Layout: My upper cabinets have a moulding at the front and sides and the LED strips are tucked behind that. Think it might just be called “trim” at that point but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
posted by supercres at 3:45 AM on March 18, 2019 [1 favorite]

It is sometimes referred to as a lighting valence. It doesn't have to be a fancy molding, just something to hide the LEDs. Sometimes simple is better. You can use a piece of 3/4" stock that has a finished edge. Best if it matches your cabinet. Rip your 3/4" stock to a 1" width and then nail or screw it to the bottom of the cabinet flush with the cabinet front so that the 1" side is attached to the cabinet and the finished 3/4" edge is visible towards the front. For cabinets with visible sides, wrap this trim around the side as well back toward the wall. 3/4" will be just enough to hide an LED strip.

What I recommend are 45 degree canted diffusers for the LEDs. Mount them just behind the valence trim at the front of the cabinet and aimed to the wall and downward at a 45 degree angle, so the light is projected toward the wall and downward, not directly at the countertop. If you mount LEDs pointing straight down you will have a row of bright dots reflecting off the countertop into your eyes, even with a diffuser. So aim them backwards at a 45 degree angle. I've used 45 degree diffusers. Stick the LED strip to the 45 degree angle.

You will need a dimmable LED driver. I like this one. It seems to work with most dimmers. Not all do. 24 watts should be enough for most installations but you can get a 45 watt version if you need more power. I used a Lutron Maestro dimmer. You control the dimming at the wall switch. You usually set the brightness just once at the wall switch and just tap the switch to turn on and off at the programmed brightness. No need for remote dimming.

You run the 120V switched leg from the wall switch to your LED driver. The LED driver can be tucked into the corner of a cabinet hidden away on the top shelf. It is an electronic transformer so doesn't generate much heat. A common location is that sort of useless cabinet above the range hood or microwave. Your electrician will have to figure out how to snake the 120V switched wire from your wall switch to your driver location.

Then you have to figure out how to route wires to your LEDs. Use 18/2 thermostat wire. If you are doing a full remodel, it is best to run it hidden inside the walls. You have to very carefully calculate and measure where the wire will poke out of the wall just below the wall cabinets but hidden behind your 3/4" valence. This is the low voltage 12V wiring so you can do it yourself if you like.

If not a full remodel, then you have to figure how best to run you wires on the surface and through the backs of your cabinets. Generally you don't want to run all of your LEDs off just one wire because the LEDs at the very end may be noticeably dimmer. Better to break it up into two or three separate runs all connected in parallel to the single output of your LED driver.

For LEDs, I've used Armacost FlexRibbon Pro. 3000K color. 60 LEDs per meter, 250 lumens per foot. I don't use the factory connectors. I solder my wire directly to the copper pads on the LED strip. Don't try to solder your thermostat wire directly to the pads. It is too stiff and and will break off. Use a short pigtail, a few inches, of thin 18 or 20 gauge stranded copper to make the soldered connection as it is more flexible.

I wouldn't consider the LEDs to be your primary task lighting, more an accent and supplement. Your real task lighting should come from light cans in the ceiling. One mistake with ceiling cans is the tendency to install them in some sort of symmetrical pattern, or worse, down the middle of the room. Instead they should be installed at various locations exactly where they are needed for countertop lighting. Best is so that they are centered over the front edge of the countertop, typically 24 inches from the wall. If you mount them farther out, they shine on the back of your head and all you see on the countertop is the shadow of your head. The one over the kitchen sink should be 12 to 14 inches from the wall. Over the refrigerator, more like 36 inches from the wall.

Horizontally, try to center your cans over the doors of your cabinets so that the cone of light falls symmetrically down the face of the cabinet. I use PAR30 25 degree LED spot lights. I prefer 6 inch cans because they have a much wider and lower cost selection of trim rings than 4 inch cans. A "Haze" can trim reduces the annoying mirror like daylight reflections when the light is off.
posted by JackFlash at 8:28 AM on March 18, 2019 [5 favorites]

Marking JackFlash's answer as "best answer" even though it didn't talk about IoT like techs, primarily. He did talk a lot about other aspects of lighting, which is super useful to know, so thanks!

The rest of you also had good answers, even the janky Maker kind from dforemsky. Thank you!

FWIW I will likely not use the Philips LED strip but another kind. I also got a LifX 1100 lumen dimmable, 16 million color bulb to put in the nearest-by down-facing can that's already mounted in the ceiling, which is already helping even before I get any under-cabinet lighting for task work. But I'll get it done. Thanks everyone. :)
posted by kalessin at 8:59 PM on April 1, 2019

« Older What are some niche hobbies you've come across?   |   I'm 21 and have never had a job. How can I start... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments