Under Kitchen Cabinet wiring

jerry_njJanuary 23, 2011

I would like to install fused lower amp wiring under my kitchen cabinets to power low power florescent lighting. There will be 3 fixtures each under 20 watts, thus the total load would be less than 100 watts, or about 1 amp at 120 vac.

The feed is 20 amp to the kitchen outlets but it seems one may be able to put a 5 amp inline or auxiliary fuse in the line feeding the under cabinet lights and be safe wiring the fixtures with 16 gauge (or even 18 gauge) wire. The wire would be visible, but out-of-sight. I have seen such wiring in kitchen displays at Lowes, for example, so I assume it is up to national electrical code requirement. I didn't see any in-line fuse, but I'd think it not safe to connect 16 gauge to a 20 amp protected circuit. Of course, people connect 16 gauge lamp cord (extension) cords to 20 amp protected outlets all the time. I understand extension cords must be visible, but they could still be subject to an overload when no one is looking.

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There is no such thing as tapping a 15 or 20 amp branch circuit with smaller wire, even if an auxiliary fuse were available. Problem #2 is your not allowed to use the 20 amp counter top circuit for any sort of light, even if it draws 4 watts. You have to utilize an existing lighting circuit or pull a new circuit to power the lights you wish to add.

Most displays at lowes or home depot no where near meet code. They even have installers that will come to your house and do a non code compliant installation. I keep meaning to take some pictures of a how to display at my local HD store, even though it's probably illegal to take pictures of their poor work. One display has receptacle outlets and switches wired mixing 12 and 14 gauge romex wire, 2 wires under each ground screw both wrapped counter clock-wise, GFCI wired backwards, 3 wires turned sideways under a staple which is 1/2" from face of the stud, and all wires cut 3 inches too short. They do a great job of demonstrating to homeowners how to properly do electrical work!

    Bookmark   January 23, 2011 at 11:50PM
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Thanks spencer,

Most of the time the wiring code makes sense to me, but not this time concerning the use of backsplash receptacles to power under cabinet lights. I have had for many years 15 watt (est) florescent lights under kitchen counters with the UL listed 14 gauge (or smaller) wires plugged into two backsplash receptacles. To this I add a toaster, a coffee maker, and microwave, and blender. Only the microwave has anything near 12 gauge wire. The house is 25 years old, so none of the outlets are GFI protected. All bathrooms have GFI duplex receptacles - my update.

I was planning to use the circuit that feeds the over range hood (simple light blower, no microwave) to feed the under counter lights rather than have the wires hang down to the backsplash. This only because my wife thinks it looks messy, not a code-driven decision. I'll check, but I'd be surprised if the range hood light has a separate circuit.

If there is a safety concern here, and there should be for the code to step in, it escapes me. Hum, perhaps one is supposed to use the backsplash only when they are using the plugged in device, e.g., a mixer, say, which is unplugged immediately following its use.

Thanks for the tip on HD (Lowes, etc.). I'd think they would use licensed (if NJ in my case issues licenses) installers...especially if sent to install in a customer home.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 9:56AM
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What about my permanently affixed Can-opener plugged into
the small appliance circuit? My built-in Microwave has to have a
dedicated circuit but not this? The logic escapes me. I could
probably plug in a desk lamp and no-one would bat an eyelash.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 3:26PM
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The code doesn't regulate what you plug into your kitchen counter receptacles, only the way those receptacles are wired.

Even if you disagree with the code, believe me, you're better off to follow it. If you don't, when it comes time to sell your house and the home inspector spots your non-compliant work, you may find yourself in dire straits looking for a pro who can come out to re-do your work before closing. And it won't be cheap.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 4:50PM
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"The code doesn't regulate what you plug into your kitchen counter receptacles"

Apparently it does when it comes to plug connected under cabinet lighting.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 5:03PM
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Right, that's what I got from Spencer, and that was the ??? in my mind, making sense out of the code relative to the existing under-cabinet lights. Again, these are the lights I'd like to wire with power coming into the under-cabinet from wiring that is installed under the counter and is not visible to one using the kitchen... unless they, like the inspector, bends down and sticks their heads under the cabinets. I see a way to bring the power in from behind, or from the side, not from the backsplash area plugs.

Seems if one sells with a lights plugged into the backsplash violation the thing to do is remove the lights before the sale inspection takes place...easy to do, unplug and remove a couple of screws for each light.

I don't try to argue with The Code, but I remain inquisitive, and like to see how it make sense from a safety point of view. I don't see it for the lights plugged into the backsplash outlets.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 5:28PM
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If the lights are permanently installed they are not allowed to plug into the kitchen counter circuits.

If you want to plug a light in for temporary use go right ahead.

You should install GFCI receptacles on all the kitchen counter receptacles.
It is cheap protection and one of the places numerouse jurisdictions wil not allow grandfathering.
No in-wall wiring needs to be altered to install GFCI receptacles, even if no ground is present.
All the connections are in the device box.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 7:28PM
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Right on the GFI. I think I have a couple of the duplex outlets in my basement parts box. All I'd need is a new cover plate to accommodate the rectangular shape and mid test/reset buttons.

My wife loves the code requirement regarding attached lights. Of course she doesn't know about the code, but she knows she doesn't like to looks of the wires going up to the under cabinet lights.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 8:00PM
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"she doesn't like to looks of the wires going up to the under cabinet lights."

She probably will not like the most common work around, putting a receptacle inside the cabinet on another circuit to plug the lights into.

No GFCI is required sine the receptacle is inside the cabinet.

At least the wires do not hang down.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 8:39PM
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That is basically my plan, to change the over range hood to a simple light box, it isn't vented outside anyway. Then I could cut through to the bottom of the cabinets from the light circuit inside the light box. Thus, my thinking wouldn't it be nice to go smaller gauge wire and to protect that wire with a low amp fuse, say 5 amps. This could separate me from the limited use rule for the backsplash outlets. Code/practices seem to allow for light gauge wire when the circuit has limited volts and amps. For example, "bell wire" for thermostats and bells. Why not "lamp cord" protected with a 5A fuse for lights under a cabinet?

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 10:21PM
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Low voltage lighting gets around the rules. While you have to overly up size wire for longer runs to reduce noticeable voltage drop, short runs of 12 volt lights can be done with tiny wire and spliced without boxes. There is no code approved way to run 120 volt lighting with wire not rated for the 15 amp or 20 amp circuit it is connected to.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 10:54PM
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Thanks, I did see a selection of LED under cabinet lighting fixtures at Lowes. I'll bet, and will check, that the fixtures convert 120 vac to the low voltage DC needed to operate the LEDs....thus, no escape from the code on 120 vac. At least if I can find a 15 amp service in the existing delivery of power to the kitchen (e.g., lighting) I can use 14/2 romex which is much easier to bend in tight spaces than is 12/2.

I suppose the key safety factor is protecting the wiring that can not be seen, under the lip of the cabinet. A good idea perhaps, but seems like overkill given the current general practice of routing extension cord (lamp wire) behind sofas, and other visual obstructions.

Thanks, I'll take this valuable input into my planning.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 8:23AM
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