Undercabinet lighting dilemma and disappointment

ck_squaredOctober 31, 2013

Update - 11/6
Just met with the electrician and my GC and we think we have solved this problem! They are going to remove these existing UCL and replace with WAC tape lighting. That's the short story. It's more expensive, but we saved money elsewhere in the project so I am okay with spending this money. You can see them when I do a final reveal.

Original post:

The electrician installed our UCL the other day. I didn't even notice them that evening. He had to point them out to me the next day and when he did, I was flummoxed as to how I could have missed them! They look awful! We have a contemporary look going on with very linear lines on the base (and top) of our upper cabinets. There is no "skirting" to hide anything. It's just flat. With how much of a perfectionist my GC appears to have been all along (and he has been great, don't get me wrong), I am surprised that this is what he chose for our UCL (we never even got a chance to look at any samples).

Anyway, I've attached a few pics. One pic is straight on looking at cab, the other is a better view of the light and the last is with lights on (yuck!).

The dilemma is that he has wired for xenon and not LED (they are different? Who knew!). I've seen lots of possibilities of low profile LED UCL but not for xenon. Can anyone point me in the right direction for very low profile UCL xenon lights?

One other thing, GC suggested that we notch out a rectangle to hold some new UCL he found (Juno brand) that due to the cabinet design would mean the light fixture would "only" stick out 1/4".

Thoughts? Ideas? Help?

Thanks so much if you've read this long monstrosity (yeah, it IS Halloween, after all).

-- and because I'm one of those who can't figure out how to post multiple images in one post, they will be in three --

This post was edited by ck_squared on Wed, Nov 6, 13 at 14:58

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better view

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 6:50PM
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Lit view

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 6:52PM
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What about installing a light rail?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 7:01PM
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Yes, those babies got to go. I agree.

Good news though is direct wire is capable of both xenon and LED (with later, just have to know how to get the right transformer aka, power supply, as well as dimmer).

I do not know of any low profile direct wire xenon.

I do know you can by low profile direct wire LED, some with transducer and light diffuser all in one (Unilume) in white and black.

With your flat, modern cabinets, if you really want LED, tape or as mentioned light rail are available (lowest profile being tape).These are not direct wire, and are used by many and are very cost efficient.

You may want to ask your GC to scout around for someone who knows how to figure and install the later.

Pretty cabinets and window btw. Coming along nicely.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 7:43PM
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If the transformer box is there, can't the just pull new wires for LED tape lights and swap the transformer?

I'm getting super slim channels that will be routed into the bottom of my shelf so it flush.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 7:51PM
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By light rail, you mean edging along the edge of the cabs? GC doesn't want to do that and I understand why.

SW - do you think it would look okay with 1/4" sticking out? I"m thinking if they are puck lights that stick out 1/4" it wouldn't be that bad, but I don't like the idea of recessing a big rectangular light.

p.s. the window trim, along with the rest of the trim and doors on the first floor, will be enameled white.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 7:56PM
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I believe these are hardwired so no transformer.

Edited - now I've reread my GC's email and he mentions a transformer: "to go with LED lighting system now would be a bit costly. We don't have the right wiring in the walls, transformer locations, etc."

LP - what lights are you getting? There is room in the bottom of my cabs to route a channel.

This post was edited by ck_squared on Thu, Oct 31, 13 at 20:01

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 7:59PM
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"By light rail, you mean edging along the edge of the cabs?"

Yes. There is no recess under your cabinets, like with framed cabinets, so there is nothing to hide your UCL's.

Are you doing crown molding? If so, I'd suggest adding a complimentary light rail molding.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 8:01PM
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No crown molding per se. It's a 4" wide straight molding just like on the bottom of the uppers. He doesn't want to ruin the lines of the cabs by adding a light rail.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 8:03PM
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You can do a straight type of light rail molding to mimic the upper molding. It just won't be anywhere near as tall. You just need it to stick down far enough to hide your UCL.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 8:22PM
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Something like this.

See the M2 light rail molding below. That sticks out very little past the front edge of the cabinet.

This post was edited by gpraceman on Thu, Oct 31, 13 at 20:28

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 8:23PM
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ck_squared, I admit I got a little TKO with our UCL. Took me hours. It didn't help that my GC only wanted direct wire too. It raises the price tag, or, at least it did for me. And I had a 3/4' light rail to work with.

Would 1/4' reveal bother me? If it was truly only that much, probably not. It depends where you see it: from the back would be easiest on the eyes, but most like UCL up front to shine down on work space. But as a compromise, if your GC routes a rectangle for the light and hides most, I think it'd be ok, if in an acceptable color to you.

I'm linking the Juno Pro UCL for you to see colors of the lights. Note the depth of the box however. Perhaps he has a newer one in mind.

Btw, Kitchler has direct wire UCL, with vertical diameter of 1 inch. I played with them one day in my kitchen and found the parts wouldn't stay together. I ended up going with Unilume for many reasons and am very satisfied (well, not 100% with dimming).

Still, given your flat surface, LED tape with in cabinet transformers if you have enough switches along the sides of the cabinets might be most fruitful and economical. A lot of GC's don't know how to do them, and like direct wire for speed of completion.

Here is a link that might be useful: Link: Juno Pro direct wire

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 8:23PM
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SW-thanks for that information. I'm going to pass some of it on to GC and see what he says. The Juno lights say they are 1"H, so it seems we'd have room to recess the whole thing if they allow it.

I'll also ask again about switching to LED.

gp-thanks for your input on the light rail. Something to consider.

Appreciate the help from everybody! Just love all the knowledge here!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 8:52PM
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"...He doesn't want to ruin the lines of the cabs by adding a light rail..."

But he thinks your lights don't ruin it? Huh?

IMO, the light rail would be far preferable to lights sticking down like that or at all. But, YMMV.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 9:06PM
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I know, buehl! I'm just perplexed by his statement!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 9:10PM
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I have the same problem and have held up the electrician while I "researched" low,low profile lights. He also has hard wired as if for the type of lights you have. There will be some retro work and holes in the walls, but it is worth it not to have the xbox look under the cabinents. Really? Do they think we are blind and a little dull?
"Environmental Lights" has them. You can send them cabinent details, like the contractor's plan that has the cab. dimensions. Give all details like what kind of switches. They will also ask you to attach pictures of whatever would be helpful to them. They will do a plan in ONE day, and send it with an estimate.
I found out about them on the lighting forum.
I am not sure electricians know the latest in lighting technology; mine doesn't know about these lights either, but he will next week.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 9:24PM
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ida - that's very helpful information. I will pass it on to my GC and electrician. Do you have a rough idea of cost of the Environmental Lights vs. what are apparently my basic xenon fixtures? Like twice as much or just a little more or what?

Thanks so much!

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 10:18PM
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Check out the Philips color kinetics led lights - low profile, direct wire, no transformer, not inexpensive, but nice build quality.

    Bookmark   October 31, 2013 at 11:32PM
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>A lot of GC's don't know how to do them

Just yesterday the contractor who's been doing the kitchen for one of my neighbors this summer while she's up north invited me over to show off his finished work. He was very proud of what he'd done, and she has a situation something like yours--giant outdated LED under-cabinet light bars that protrude a bit below the light rail. (At least she has a rail.)

I asked why he didn't do tape lights and he just looked at me. It was pretty obvious that it wasn't even that he was resistant--he clearly had never heard of such a thing.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 12:18AM
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LED tape lights only have around a 3/8" profile. They are so much more inconspicuous and less "spotlightly". Your GC needs to come into the second decade of the 20th century. LOL! He's still stuck in 1998 when Xenon was the hot new thing.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 7:44AM
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Ck-we DIY'd led tape lights, hard wired.. He can do it! I think if he just checked into it a little he would realize how uncomplicated it is. Good luck!

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 8:43AM
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I'm getting push back from my GC telling me that it would be "very costly" to change (from xenon) at this point (ripping out walls changing from 120V to 12V or 24V for LED).

He also says nobody will notice them (if we go the channel route with 1/4" sticking out)... but I will!

Why couldn't they just jam the 120V back into the wall and add whatever transformers are needed for LED? Am I not understanding something right regarding the LED tape lights and how they are installed?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 9:55AM
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In order to use led lights you will have to step down the power requirements from 120V to 12V which will require an adapter/driver. This adapter when connected will need to have access whether it be hidden somewhere or inside a junction box, but it can't be in accessible. The route it will take is 120Volt supply line to step down adaptor/transformer/driver, to controller/on-off/dimer/ etc, to led light strip of a maximum of 16.5’ to 20’ before an amplifier needs to be installed which I don’t believe is your case.

Question to you is, do you have a location in mind where someone can gain easy access to this connection point from 120V to 12V that you won't come to dislike and not be costly? If so that I don't see the problem with the conversion.

This post was edited by Renosarefun on Fri, Nov 1, 13 at 11:30

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 10:04AM
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Sophie Wheeler

Put the transformer either under the cabinet or in the cabinet or on top of the cabinet. It really isn't that difficult to do. If you GC can't do it and is giving you push back, ask him for a credit and hire an actual electrician. They do this kind of stuff all the time. The lights he used would probably be better with a simple light rail, but I don't care for the pools of light effect on the counters that the individual lights like that offer.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 10:10AM
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robo (z6a)

Those beautiful cabinets deserve a lot better than that light.

I think a lot of people hide the box for their LED tape lighting in a cabinet somewhere, kinda like this:

Maybe not ideal but something to consider.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 10:19AM
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Thanks everyone.
Reno, I appreciate your expertise! Holly, GC is using an electrician... he is looking into alternatives as well as the GC. Robo, I could live with that setup inside a cab.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 11:48AM
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"Why couldn't they just jam the 120V back into the wall and add whatever transformers are needed for LED? Am I not understanding something right regarding the LED tape lights and how they are installed?"

Only the dead wires (and you may need them for outlets), can be buried or cut...Any wire that is live must be accessible, they can't just jam it back into the wall. Doesn't mean they can't do this. How much work depends on how they wired the 120 volt that is there now.

How low voltage (tape or otherwise) are installed. In most cases nowadays there is a driver (or two) NOT a transfomer. Big advantage- drivers are smaller so can be hidden in a cabinet or above, give off very little heat, and allow longer runs than the older transformers without voltage drop.

Most drivers plug into an outlet- typically in a wall cabinet- low voltage wires are routed from the drive to light, and light to light. Often several lights are wired directly to the driver, and also often only one light connects to the driver and then the lights are chained together. Low volatage wires do not have to go in the wall, they can be in the cabinet. There are small plastic channels available to slide wires in to keep things tidy.

In your case- Assuming you are putting in a backsplash and since it hasn't been installed it is not all that bad. A band of rock can be cut the lenght of the splash allowing access, wires dealt with, use some of the existing 120v lines to put an outlet in the bottom of the wall cabnet, then replace the rock. Taping doesn't have to be perfect if there is going to be a splash.

You can mount the driver toward the bottom of the cabinet but still mount the driver toward the top- it can be up to 6ft from the outlet- just have to work out routing the wire- which is 120 volt- with the plug on it. The driver can be six feet from the first light (sometimes longer but depends..)

For lights- with the cabinets in place routing for a recessed light is not reaonable.

So you options become low profile metal channels, low profile hockey pucks, or something that shows but looks good and appears to belong there. Running the low volatge wires is going to be difficult for hockey pucks, likely require a false floor inside the bottom of the caibinet so I'd go for one of the other two.
There are a lot of options for low profile leds, some come in sizes, some using the tape. I carry and use Hafeles since they give me the most options, are plug and play, and allow multiple connections- they also offer a service (at least to dealers) where they will design the entire system for you.

One (pricey) option I thought of when I first saw your problem- it may not be for you but pic attached. This is an exposed light, mounted at the back as yours are (most tapes are mounted to the front), is meant to be seen and serves additional functions BUT note that these are much more expensive than low profile leds or tape lights.

Just an aside- the only times I've run into this kind of issue it was caused by the electrician deciding to overrule what I designed and supply his idea of lights. Had one where he thought the led strip lights were too expensive so insisted on hard wire flourescents which required under cabinet molding. Using the cheap lights the client (who had not wanted undercabinet molding) spent $300 more than if they used the expensive lights I specified- never had a problem with a GC on it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Hafele Balance

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 12:02PM
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Jakuvall, do the LED tapes provide enough lumens for counter task-lighting (and how many lumens would that be), or are they just for counter "ambient" lighting?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 12:17PM
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sjhockeyfan- yes they do.

Bear in mind that lumens are a measure that is accompanied by distance from the light source. IOW for most undercabinet tape lights I use warm Loox LED 2015. These provide 400 lx at 9-13/16", and drop to 140 lx at 19-5/8". I have had customers dim these but it is easier to dim than add light :) I find them brighter than my aging Juno Trak 12's set at 4" but then I need to replace some bulbs.

I typcially use the 2013 tapes for in cabinet tasks and (often need them dimmed once we've achieved an even light level) which are 200lx and 70 lx respectively.
Cool lights typically provide greater lumens.
Other notes:
I always have tape lights set at a slight angle (usually 30 degree blocking) toward the back splash when in shallow channels. Doesn't work out well with deep channels used for very dark shiny counters.

- dimming LEDs drop the kelvin temperature.
-the other factor with LEDs besides Kelvin is CRI- color rendering index- how colors will appear. While cool always have a higher CRI- the CRI from brand to brand can vary.

I'm convinced that CRI has a bearing on perception of brightness- higher CRI seems to appear brighter- But that is just an opinion based on observation, have never bothered to research that. (Maybe I should go to another LED seminar and ask :)

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 12:34PM
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I can't offer any advise but can understand your frustration. I, too, didn't realize all the lighting options for UCL and glass cabinet lighting until everything was hardwired, installed & the walls were closed & drywalled. I have the ?Xenon puck lights recessed into the cabinets. The pucks aren't visable but this is not what I would had chosen had I been given options.
My big frustration is all the outlets & light switches which will be part of my backsplash. Maybe we all need 6 months of GW studying before beginning a kitchen reno/build. I was focused on cabinets & appliances, not electrical work.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 12:53PM
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Agree with you, romy. This can be such a learning curve for this lighting stuff AND for some of us it comes at the end of the 'decision fatigue burn-out phase' which just makes it more difficult to figure out. I hope the UCL's that my DH chose work out well. :/

ck squared: stand your ground... what your GC did there makes no sense esp. given his comment about light rails spoiling the lines of the cabinets. You'll find something that works wonderfully with the help here.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 1:05PM
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Jakuvall - thank you for chiming in with your expert information. There is so much to think about. I hope that I can convey the right information to my GC and Sparky so that I don't offend; I don't want to tell them how to do their jobs, yet I feel like I must!

romy and deedles - I really thought I had done my due diligence but I guess I did sort of ignore the lighting.
GC said we discussed this months and months ago when all of his subs met up at our house. But I'm quite sure the details regarding UCL were never addressed and they certainly didn't give me any samples or told me that they would end up looking like they do!

Another question, DH is wondering if can we use the existing standard 120 volt wiring in place of wiring new low voltage wire. Will the 120 volt wire carry the low voltage charge?

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 1:41PM
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A light shield would ruin the lines...more than the big honking light hanging out?!! I would look into a very basic straight edge light shield.

I understand your pain-we wired for xenon, and then I decided I did not want a lightshield. BUT...to hide the cab lights we had to have one as it was too late to wire for LED...

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 1:54PM
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Definitely enough for task! Ours were on a dimmer and I LOVED them. Used them all of the time for task and then dimmed down for a nightlight. They had an amazing range. Easy enough to see to reach middle of the night Motrin or cough syrup but dim enough that your eyes don't need to adjust and you don't have to completely wake up. ;)
I can't wait until we have them again.

Ours controller 'thingy' as pictured above was mounted under our sink base if I remember correctly-installed completely out of the way.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 2:23PM
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I don't understand why special wiring is needed for LED with the newer ones they have now. I have these LEDs from Good Earth lighting and love them. They can be either hard wired or plugged directly in. Mine are hard wired and there is no power supply/transformer. And they are fairly low profile, being only a little over 1" thick. But I still have a light rail

Here's the link to ones sold at lowes

Here is a link that might be useful: Good Earth lighting at lowes

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 6:16PM
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CK & Jakuvall and others,

CK, so sorry you are dealing with this. Jakuvall, once again, your expertise is so appreciated. I wish you were my KD.

My contract says 5 undercounter lights, so I fear I am going to get 1990 technology. I will bring this topic up now. I was blown off when electrician here first time, with KD, and I said I wanted all outlets horizontal. All I heard was how much money to redo, but most were new. I fear this will be be next area of disappointment.

CK, as your backsplash not yet installed, I hope you print out jakuvall's commentary, and come to a resolution that is satisfactory to you. I do feel your pain and disappointment.

    Bookmark   November 1, 2013 at 8:37PM
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Interesting read and info here on UCLighting. I'm looking at LEDs myself and after reading all the posts I'm a bit confused about LEDs and dimmer switches. I already have halogen UCLs but want to replace them with much cooler LEDs. I have a 120v wall switch already in place which operates the Halogens, just off & on, no dimmer. Would it be alright to replace the typical wall switch with a dimmer switch to operate the new LEDs? Would a wall dimmer switch connecting to an LED transformer mess things up (voltagewise)? Say in this configuration :

Wall dimmer switch ---- LED transformer --- LED lights (--- = wiring)

Sorry for the tangent on topic, hope it's not too confusing.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 10:16AM
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@vgkg - You could, if you have a power supply that is dimmable. A LED dimmiable power supply is much more expensive than a non-dimmable one.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 10:50AM
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Vgkg - you don't even need a power supply at all if you get the ones that are hard wire/plug in kind. Just a dimmer at the switch. That's what I have. I think each light must have a built-in transformer

Here is a link that might be useful: Good earth LED

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 11:13AM
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Vgkg- as to the Hafele, which I'm most familiar with. A standard 30 watt driver lists at $60, a 40 watt dimmable magnetic driver lists for $159 and you need a magnetic dimmer.
I usually use in line dimmers with low voltage systems. Some connect to the driver, others mount in line between the driver and the first light. Which depends on brand.

    Bookmark   November 2, 2013 at 11:32AM
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bumping to the top for update

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 2:59PM
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Glad to read your update that you're switching to WAC LED tape. Good, reputable LED lights. I think you'll like them when installed.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 3:12PM
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You may want to give some thought to the temperature rating of the tape lighting. I've now seen all 3 versions of Hafele 833.73.xxx Loox 12V LED tape: the 3200k (too warm) the 4000k (perfection, for my cool toned backsplash) and the 6500k (yikes). It really makes a big difference, and as long as you are choosing and paying, you should know your choices.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 3:15PM
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Glad to know this is going to be worked out for you. Your cabinets are just too beautiful to have those black boxes visible

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 9:05PM
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kks - thanks! Yes, I will be making sure about the temperature rating. I'm glad to know the correct terminology rather than just going by the color the light makes.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 9:37PM
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