Preferred way to switch undercabinet lights - single or separate?

seosmpMay 3, 2013

[I also posted this on the Lighting forum. I know folks here will have input as well :).]

I'm trying to finalize my lighting plan.

I will have recessed 4" Cree LEDs (dimmable) - basically centered in aisles (around an island) since I will have undercabinet lighting for lighting the counter while working.

I plan to use LED undercabinet lighting (tape/strips) on a dimmer.

Now, my question is - what is the typical / preferred way to switch UCL This will include cabinets to the left/right of the cooktop/hood, corner cabs, and left/right of the sink/window (basically an L shape).

Is it more typical to put all of these on the same switch? Or maybe put the cooktop area on one switch, and sink ones on another, or each disjoint area on separate switches (left of cooktop on one, right of cooktop on one, etc.)?

I'm leaning towards a single switch just for ease of turning them on/off, but I can see how you might want to turn just the one on where you're currently working???


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For us, we plan on keeping the UC lights on their dimmest setting to provide atmosphere in the evening and turn them up when working, so we want to have them all on a single switch. If we were getting them ONLY for work lighting, it might make sense to turn them on individually.

I recently bought 3 LED plug in strips from IKEA ($60 total) to mount for my parents in their kitchen...they aren't redoing their kitchen any time soon, so this option seemed best. Each strip plugs into an outlet and each turns on/off separately - it annoys me and I wouldn't want it that way in a new kitchen although I'm glad they have the lighting since it makes it easier for my mom who has vision issues. Still, if I could have come up with another choice as cheaply as I did with the IKEA lights where they could turn on the lights all at once, I would have probably done that.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 12:14PM
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I'm switching them all together on a dimmer. At least that's the plan, GC is currently carefully mapping the apparently illogically wired kitchen.

It would drive me batty to want to turn them on, say for example at night for soft lighting (need to see your way to the powder room) and not be able to get them all at roughly the same level.

I know, I know, first world problems. But it probably is about the same amount of work either way if they're hard wired.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 12:30PM
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The more switches you have, the more switches you have. We have outlets and switches littering our backsplash, and can toggle three different sets of undercabinet lights (plus the range). It's ugly. And when leaving we have to walk around the room flipping all the switches.

We save some energy by only using the lights we need, I guess. But I can't imagine ever wanting to work in one spot and specifically NOT have the lights on somewhere else. The advantage I can think of is that wherever you're standing, the switch for the lights in the immediate area might be within reach (instead of on the other side of the kitchen.

If you have a nice backsplash, I'd put them all together just to avoid holes. If you don't care, I'd put them in larger groups so the switches are more convenient to where you'd be working - maybe one for the sink "L" and a second for the range-side areas.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 12:41PM
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VERY GOOD POINTS!!! Decision made - thanks!

Now - does sharing a common switch/dimmer require the "direct wiring" option? Or can they be the plugged into outlets?


    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 12:48PM
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I know that you can have one electrical outlet that turns on/off with a light switch, but I don't know if you can control multiple ones that way...someone who is better versed at electrical wiring will hopefully step forward on that.

Is there a reason why you don't want hardwired UC lighting? (I ask because I'm just starting down the lighting-adventure path.)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 12:56PM
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I'm for less switches, especially since LED lighting doesn't consume much electricity.

In our last house I installed outlets just above our upper cabinets. They were high up enough as not to be visible. A regular switch in the backsplash controlled power to the outlets and the LED power supplies plugged into the outlets. If a power supply goes out, unplug it and plug in a new one. That setup worked out quite well, so I will be doing that in our new house.

I plan on using the LED tape strips available at Home Depot (Armacost brand). They are well rated and less expensive than other setups that I have seen. They do offer a dimmer for them as well.

Here is a link that might be useful: Armacost LED Lighting

This post was edited by gpraceman on Fri, May 3, 13 at 13:04

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 12:58PM
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Well, not sure about the outlets. I would guess that if they are all on one circuit by themselves you could control that circuit with a switch, but I'm not good enough with electric to know the answer. Seems like it would be like when you seperate one outlet in a room to control with a switch for a light that you plug in.

I have heard of dimmers that work on up to a certain number of LED lights that are all controlled by one remote. I think it is Environmental Lights that had them. Didnt pay close attention though as I was interested in a different product.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 1:00PM
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andreak100 - the reason I was asking is that my cabinetmaker is actually discussing putting in the UCL (literally in the last couple hours). My assumption was always that the contractor would do it. So the cabinetmaker is stating he needs an outlet on each wall for the UCL (note we were discussing lighting in the glass cabinet which I just learned he will install). So I'm wondering if this will give me a clear answer on who I should have do the UCL. If using the outlet method won't allow me to do the single dimmable switch, then I will definitely have the contractor do it. I may decide to go this route either way, but it's nice if the decision is made for me! :)

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 1:03PM
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gpraceman - thanks for the information! The cabinetmaker told me that's what he typically does - outlet above the cabinets. Unfortunately this won't work in my situation since my cabinets will go to the ceiling. Apparently there are some electronics that also need to be hidden - again these would be above the cabinets if they were open to the ceiling. So I think we'd have to do an outlet under the cabinet, and then put the electronics somewhere in an upper cabinet (e.g. highest shelf so won't be seen).

williamsem / all - thanks for the info!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 1:09PM
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@seosmp - As long as they can wire the outlets onto the same circuit, then you can use a single switch. If there are obstructions they cannot get around then you will need multiple circuits.

Though, if you have multiple outlets, dimming them may become an issue. To have one dimmer, you would need to dim the AC side. A LED power supply that is dimmable is much more expensive. If you don't mind multiple dimmers, you can get less expensive dimmers that connect to the DC side of the LED power supply.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 1:11PM
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Sophie Wheeler

When you are using low voltage, it becomes an issue of how many watts can the transformer handle. You will end up with several transformers and several switches because of that.

Even cabinets that go to the ceiling can have electrical outlets at the top. You do the rough in with the location inside the upper, and then when the cabinets are installed, you cut a hole in the cabinet back, and there's the rough in waiting on the outlet cover. Then it's an easy matter to just plug in the transformer and have it live on the top shelf. You will still have to drill holes in the cabinets to get the wires down under them, as well as the control switches, but it can be inconspicuous and hidden with some cord cover stuff inside the cabinets.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 1:59PM
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@hollysprings - I was concerned about having to use multiple power supplies with our upcoming remodel. With the LED strips that I intend to use, it looks like I can do all of my under cabinet lighting with a single 30W power supply and a 12ft run of LED tape (cut appropriately to go under each cabinet). That power supply can power up to 24 ft of those LED's, so I could do my upper cabinet lighting as well, but I'd actually rather that be on a separate switch. You can go up to 48ft with their 60W power supply. The reviews on these LED lights indicate that they are plenty bright.

Here is a link that might be useful: 12 ft. LED Warm Bright White Tape Light

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 2:17PM
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I have the exact same configuration you do. We went with a single switch to the left of the stove and it has worked well for us. I've never really been doing a task to the right of the sink and thought, "I wish there was a separate light over here." There is a separate light over the sink which I often use in isolation for quickie stuff happening over there - like rinsing the last ice cream dish and putting it in the DW - and it does the job for that.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 2:37PM
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I went with one dimmable switch for UCL - DH thinks we should have done 2 - but I like one.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 7:44PM
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We just discussed logistics of my UC LEDs today. Aside from fixing all the wrong stuff already here, I think that will be the hardest electrical item. I think we will end up with shallow junction boxes under each seperate section, so four total, with wire running from one to the other. It will take a lot of coordinating with the cabinet guy. Hopefully it will be hidden by the light rail, but I've been told I can paint the boxes also.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 7:57PM
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My UCL is dimmable (xenon not led) and all hardwired. I had the GC use my garbage disposal switch for the UCL's (then used an airswitch for the disposal). All are on the one switch. Since they were hard-wired, no transformer or outlet needed. It has worked out well. I have an L-shape and they are all on the one circuit.

I do think I have too many outlets/switches still on my backsplash, but in the end function won out over form. I'm putting pretty switch plates on them and calling it done!

    Bookmark   May 3, 2013 at 11:03PM
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