Need advice on kitchen lighting to meet California code

aussiesMarch 27, 2008

We're currently planning to remodel our small townhouse kitchen. The kitchen is roughly 11' by 9' (slightly smaller actually, due to an encroaching closet). We are hoping to have undercabinet lighting, possibly recessed lighting, and mini-pendants over the little bar counter between the sink and adjacent dining room.

I have heard that California code requires us to have 50% of the lighting as low-energy. We had wanted to be able to dim lights, but I'm not sure if low-energy lights are dimmable.

What is the best way to meet the code requirements but still achieve a nice look in the kitchen? e.g. better to have fluorescent recessed lighting vs fluroescent undercabinet lighting?

Any and all advice would be much appreciated! TIA

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

If you search this forum for "Title 24" you might find some helpful ideas.

The requirement is that 50% of the fixtures' rated wattage must be high-efficacy. The vast majority of light sources qualifying as "high efficacy" are fluorescent. LED is an up and coming technology, but the ones currently worth having are very expensive. Either way, since the high-efficacy fixtures use so much less electricity, the ratio of incandescent to high-efficacy fixtures is much less than 1:1. For example, it would take three 18W fluorescent fixtures to balance out a single 50w incandescent fixture.

Fluorescent doesn't dim so well. It can be done, but the fixtures necessary to do it within the law are expensive, and most people don't seem to like the effect.

You'll find some people circumvent the intent of the law by installing far more fixtures than the room requires, just so they have enough fluorescents (which they don't intend to use) to be able to install the incandescents they actually want. Others install cheap fluorescent fixtures with the intent of switching them for incandescents after the inspections are complete. These approaches generate, of course, some controversy.

I don't live in CA but, if I did, I might combine non-dimming fluorescent recessed lighting with dimmable xenon undercabinet lighting. Someone else did this, and reported really liking the results.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 1:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

My lighting is not yet installed (hopefully this weekend), but I had to deal with Title 24 requirements. I thought carefully about which lighting I wanted to be able to dim, and which I could live without dimming. My kitchen is only slightly bigger than yours. I decided that it was more important (for me) to dim the overhead lighting than the cabinet lighting.

I ended up grossly over-using fluorescents so I could use two 100W incandescent fixtures from Rejuvenation. I put in four dimmable fluorescent cans (26W each), non-dimmable T4 fluorescent undercabinet fixtures, and TWO non-dimmable T5 fluorescent fixtures on top of each cabinet (I have 10' ceilings in most of the kitchen). I made sure that the T4s and T5s have individual rocker switches, so I probably will only have a couple turned on at a time (at least for the over-cabinet T5s).

The dimmable fluorescent cans were expensive (more than $100 for the Junos that I used) and so was the special Lutron TuWire dimmer (about $65).

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 1:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ugh, Title 24. I'm not a fan. As demonstrated by flatcoat, it's actually forcing people to use *more* power just so they can hang one or two simple decorative fixtures in their kitchen.
People cheat by mounting "throw away" fixtures to toss out after the inspector goes through.

I've mentioned it before. The new LR6 LED recessed light takes care of your concerns. Just search for LR6 on Google. It is high efficacy (better than fluorescent), uses only 12 watts and can be dimmed with any dimmer.
Compared to a dimming fluorescent can, it's about 1/3 the price. It's more expensive than a standard fluorescent, but the fact that it lasts 50,000 hours and uses half the energy as fluorescent makes up for it.
There is no warm up time and the color quality is far superior to fluorescent. It's actually been noted by the Dept. of Energy that it is the most energy efficient downlight on the market.

Now here's the stupidity of the way the law is written. You're correct, for every one watt of low efficacy light, you need one watt of high efficacy. So you're actually "punished" by using a highly efficient light like LED.
For example, if you use ten 26 watt fluorescent cans (260 watts), you have 260 watts of low efficacy light you can use.
But, if you use ten LED recessed lights (which produce the same light output), you only have 120 watts of low efficacy you can use. Then take into account that LEDs are not environmentally poisonous as fluorescent and will last a good 8 times longer (at least) than fluorescent.

I'm a huge fan of the LED light because you can now light up a whole kitchen with LED light (recessed, under cabinet) for a total energy usage of under 150 watts. And I'm talking a decent sized kitchen. And the prices are in line with current fluorescent fixtures.

    Bookmark   March 28, 2008 at 5:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi lightguy. We're just starting a California kitchen remodel. Our kitchen designer specified fluorescent under-cabinet lights. We'd prefer LED for the energy savings and maintenance-free operation. I did a Google search and found a bewildering array of vendors out there. The one thing they have in common is $$$--typically $125 per linear foot! Can you (or anyone) vouch for a particular warm-white LED setup that works well for dimmable task/mood lighting and hides under the cabinet reveal? And preferably costs an arm or a leg, but not both?

    Bookmark   March 29, 2008 at 11:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

LED strip lights should be nowhere near that much. Bruck lighting has an LED rope light which I've used successfully. I think it averages around $50.00/ ft (including driver and attachments). It may be less now.
You can check out
Dimmability is harder since different LED fixtures work in different ways. I think Bruck has a dimming option which isn't too expensive.
I think searching on the web for LED is going to be frustrating. There are so many people selling them that you have no idea what is good or bad.
The best bet is to call around to local (and not so local) lighting showrooms to see what they use.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 1:11PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I'm normally rather OCD about doing things "by the book." However, California's Title 24 is so far beyond the pale in a country that is supposed to be founded on the principle of liberty that I don't have a problem with circumventing it.

My approach would be this:

1. Figure out what you actually want in your kitchen.

2. Install those items that conform with Title 24.

3. If the result of 1&2 is obviously screwy, install an inexpensive fluorescent fixture or two to make the design plausible.

4. After final inspection, install the rest of what you really want.

N.B., I read comments in another forum from a pro electrician stating that their company had accumulated a stock of inexpensive fixtures that they install, that then come out after final inspection...

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 6:32PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

In my opinion, recessed MR-16 halogens are a superb way to light counters that are not beneath cabinets. I haven't myself used pendants, but I would expect the same for them.

I am not aware of any recessed fluorescent fixtures that would be as effective as MR-16's for lighting counters. (Perhaps someone else knows of some.)

So in that application, I don't see a good "Title 24 compliant" solution.

For the undercabinet lights, I personally think the fluorescents fixtures I've seen are too bright. Others may disagree. They are, however, cooler (thermally) than xenon U/C lights; heating up the bottom shelf of cabinets that may contain food is not, in my opinion, a good thing. I think dimmable fluorescents here, probably with ~3000K lamps, would in principle be a good way to go. However, I understand that dimmable fluorescent U/C lights are quite costly.

That is something you'll need to research (i.e., see in person and decide what you like).

I see two scenarios here: 1) You decide on fluorescent U/C lights; 2) you decide on xenon U/C lights. (N.B.: I don't consider halogen "pucks" to be an option, because they get too hot.)

In the first case, I would install the U/C lights the way I want them, and one cheap fluorescent light in a spot roughly centered in the room, at the location where you want something else later. Fix it all after final inspection.

In the second, install a couple cheap fluorescent U/C lights (they don't have to light the whole counter) and the room-center light. Fix after final.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2008 at 7:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I agree with solarpowered and lightguy.... we are dealing with so many ridiculous regulations in California....and not just with lighting....after inspection change them out.

My designer and contractor are suggesting the fluorescents go above all of the cabinets to meet code, this way I can use regular lighting with dimmers throughout the rest of the kitchen. If your cabinets go to the ceiling you are out of luck on this one though....

    Bookmark   March 25, 2009 at 5:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

We are doing the lighting for our new house right now. Most of the house is LED (we are in CA). Our building inspector loves it! We found some candelabra bulbs that are LED that go into standard screw in fixtures (about $35 ea) that last about 8-10 years, and are using Color Blasts for wall washes. Bruck has beautiful lights, including many pendants, that are LED. Our entire house (7000 sq ft), including range, fridge, water heater, ... can run on a 15KW generator, since it is out in the boonies and often the power is down for several days at a time.

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 10:08AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I've been reading up on LED (Light Emitting Diodes) vs CFL (compact fluorescent Lights). LED doesn't have the waste hazard like the CFL's do and lighting forums are saying LED's are the way to go, but are they warm lighting or cold?

I'm in the middle of a complete reno and know that the U.S. is completely eliminating the manufacture of incandescents by 2014...I'm just hoping that technology will offer us some more ambient, warm light in these higher efficiency fixtures... and soon!

Here is a link that might be useful: U.S. eliminating incandescents by 2014

    Bookmark   May 9, 2009 at 1:02PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

HI there.

The Cree units, for example, come in a warm white and a cool white.
There's no hard rule as to which one is correct. It really boils down to preference.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2009 at 5:28PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

As suggested, we put up lots of unnecessary fluorescents to off set incandescent. Spent a lot on the fl. fixtures and electricians fees. Our inspector didn't even look or ask questions about the lighting. Glas we passed but could have saved a lot!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 2:45PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Let's brainstorm all about lighting and scene controls
Hi everyone, Let's face it, understanding lighting...
What light would look nice over the sink?
Hi, I'm stumped trying to find a pendant light to go...
My stairwell will be my photography gallery
I am going hang my photographs almost all the way to...
Gary Conrad
Pendant light shades
Hi! New to the forum- don't know what took me so many...
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™