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11 min read

Recessed Lighting: How to Have a Well-Lit Kitchen


11 min read

Recessed Lighting: How to Have a Well-Lit Kitchen

KitchenRecessed Lighting: How to Have a Well-Lit Kitchen

We previously touched on the wonderful world of recessed lighting, but what areas of your home can benefit the most from such a great lighting style? Kitchens are becoming the focal point of a home, acting as a hub of sorts.

Traditionally it was considered by many as the heart of the home, where meals were made and shared and the day’s activities discussed in detail. Today, however, you no longer only prepare food and eat in the kitchen.

Over time it has become a space for the kids to finish their homework and a spot to gather when entertaining. So, this makes having the right kind of complementary lighting to bring out all of your kitchen's features an absolute must! Down below, we will discuss how to go about choosing and installing recessed lighting in your kitchen and the importance of under cabinet lights.

Everything About Recessed Lighting in Your Kitchen

First and foremost, if your goal is to truly bring out the best elements of your kitchen and to keep it properly illuminated, you’ll need a combination of task and general (ambient) lighting. Task lighting is the type of lighting that helps you carry out specific tasks, in this case, food preparation or working on homework. A key part of task lighting is its ability to reduce eye strain since it is bright enough to see details but not too bright to offer a distracting glare. General, or ambient lighting as it is sometimes called, serves the purpose of filling a large area with light.

Whether it’s a newly constructed home or just a straightforward remodel, the importance of recessed lights to emphasize spaces and features cannot be understated. This style of lighting can help you easily achieve the atmosphere you’re wishing for, illuminating the kitchen brightly and refreshingly all while maintaining a low-key presence since they do not hang down.

How should recessed lights be positioned?

Recessed lighting

source: Miserv

Setting up your recessed lights is not a difficult task but it’s not a walk in the park either. The first and perhaps most crucial step is to create a general plan for what kind of illuminated space you want, drawing a rough map based on the room's layout, furniture, as well as where the ceiling joists are placed.

Since the lights will most likely be installed between ceiling joists, it’s important to get a proper idea of what kind of space you are truly working with. If you have access to your house's blueprints, it will help move forward to the planning stage quite a bit faster as you’ll see the optimal areas more easily while being able to identify any issues in the ceiling above.

Now that you are creating your plan for how you want your recessed lights set up around the kitchen, you can decide if you wish to have specific focal points throughout the space. In some kitchens, a lack of light necessitates having a downlight to direct your focus when entering the room. In those cases, a recessed light installed above a breakfast nook, sink, or stove is indispensable for functionality. This step is not necessary for every kitchen however you may find this trick very useful.

Determining the distance that should be separating each of your recessed lights is a fairly simple process. Referred to as the ceiling height rule of thumb, this trick for spacing takes the height from floor to ceiling and divides that number in half. So, if you have a floor-to-ceiling distance of 8 feet, your recessed lights should be spaced about 4 feet from each other. This is, of course, a guide of sorts that tends to deliver even illumination throughout the space.

Considering the factors of the natural brightness of the room, the type of trim you choose, the bulb type and its wattage you may need or wish to space the recessed lights closer or further apart than the ceiling height rule would suggest. Another layout option is to place the recessed light around the perimeter of the room. This way the lights will be directed towards the countertops, illuminating your prep areas and eliminating the shadow effect that often occurs when you’re working on the countertop. Remember, the final placement of lights will be entirely up to your feelings and taste!

A major part of the process of installing recessed lights in your kitchen is choosing a recessed lighting system that will suit your functional and decorative needs. As there are many housing and trim options, it is recommended that you take time to compare and contrast options with your kitchen to ensure you will love what you choose and that the trims match the general decor and colour scheme of the rest of the kitchen.

At this point, you can begin to fix any issues that may have arisen during the initial installation phase. For instance, if you should notice any shadowy corners that need to be brightened or you forgot to put a focal light above the sink, this is the opportunity to add anything before the lights are installed and the job is finished. Take note that to avoid creating unsightly shadowing, it is best to install the recessed lights at least 3 feet away from the wall. Otherwise, you may risk creating shadows along the wall that may ultimately make the ceiling appear lower than it is.

As we mentioned earlier, a well-lit kitchen makes use of both general and task lighting to give you the most open atmosphere. If you’re looking for some general lighting trims that are sure to do the job while offering you aesthetic value, then you should consider baffle trims or even reflector trims. Baffle trims reduce glare since the bulb sits far back within the housing and the grooved walls help shape the light while reflector trims help amplify light thanks to the mirrored walls around the lightbulb.

On the other hand, in terms of task lighting for creating the types of focal points that make it easier to work in those respective spaces, you should consider eyeball trims which allow you some control over the light thanks to the fact that the socket in which the bulb sits can rotate to direct the light whichever way you choose. In fact, for this purpose, pinhole trims are also quite effective since they force the light through a small opening to create a strongly concentrated spotlight.

Under Cabinet Lighting


source: Miserv

Another great way of keeping your important kitchen areas well-lit is through the installation of under-cabinet lighting. Often, recessed task lights that are installed too close to the cabinetry create unwanted shadows which can eclipse certain areas like the countertops. The underside of your kitchen cabinets provides a great place for task lighting since it's so close to your countertop prep space. Under cabinet lighting also helps to shine a light on the backsplash, helping to tie all the warmth in the kitchen together.

Different Types of Under-Cabinet Lighting

Under cabinet

source: Miserv

Three types of undercabinet lighting are derived from the bulbs that are used; incandescent, fluorescent, and light-emitting diode (LED). Incandescent options are based on the traditional shape of the bulb which emits a warm, almost yellowish-white light. While the tones of light they emit are familiar and they are inexpensive to replace, if they run for an average of 3 hours a day, then they will last about 2 years which means they have the shortest lifespan and highest energy use of all three types.

Secondly, fluorescent options come in two types: linear fluorescent lamps and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Linear fluorescent lamps are the most common for under cabinet lighting as they’re thin and can be easily installed behind the cabinet trim, giving you light in a very discreet way.

These fluorescent lamps are a great addition to any kitchen under cabinet setup since they shine brightly and have an average lifespan of 7 years if used for about 3 hours per day. Lastly, LEDs have become a very popular option for under cabinet lighting as they don’t use very much energy but deliver consistently bright light and last quite long, in many cases more than 10 years without replacement.

However, rather than burning out like traditional light bulbs, LEDs just dim over time as they become weaker, which is an indication that they do need to be replaced. The only major drawbacks of LED under cabinet lighting are the initial cost, which is higher than both other options, and that they tend to produce more heat than fluorescent lights.

Different Under-Cabinet Light Fixtures


Puck lights

Puck lights are round, hockey puck-shaped light fixtures that fit nicely under cabinets thanks to their low-profile design and the fact that they don’t need to be hard-wired since they’re often battery-powered. This type of under-cabinet light comes in variations of the conventional LEDs, and classic incandescent, and may come with some adhesive to stick them under your cabinets, making for a very hassle-free installation. When installing puck lights, it is very important to be aware that too much or too little space between each light could leave your countertops unevenly illuminated.

To avoid pools of light, bear in mind that one puck light is good for covering 8 to 12 inches of the length of your cabinets.  This LED option is perfect for anyone looking to spruce up the look of their kitchen while getting the added functionality of task lighting and avoiding the costs of installation. However, you should know that puck lights have a tendency to burn quite hot, which may not be suitable for underneath your cabinet.

LED tape lights

LED tape lights are just what their name implies: long, flexible tape-like strips with small LED bulbs embedded within them. They adhere to the bottom of the cabinet thanks to the peel-and-stick adhesive and are a perfect option for small kitchens. The great part about light strips is that they are customizable to your size needs and if your strips are too long then you only need to cut them down to size. Also since they’re LED-based, you can expect a solid lifecycle from this under-cabinet light source.

The biggest drawback of tape lights is the intricacy needed to connect the linked strips to the circuit but with the help of a licensed electrician, this should not be much of an issue. While LEDs burn very brightly, LED tape lights will not provide enough light to make them a primary source of illumination so keep that in mind when considering this type of lighting.

String lights

String lights are very similar to tape lights in that they are also long strips with LEDs within them. Rope lights, however, have LED light strings contained within the plastic tubing, making the overall rope very thin and quite easy to install. One of the downsides to rope lights is that they give off less light than the other fixture types, making them better suited to add complimentary light rather than task lighting. Another downside is that, from an interior design perspective, they can look cheap and make your space feel like a college dorm room. If you think rope lights work for underneath your cabinets then it's suggested to try and see how they’re displayed in the store so you aren’t left disappointed after your purchase.

Remember that all undercabinet lighting should disappear underneath the cabinet's recess so that no glare bothers those sitting around the table and that the light's profile is discreetly hidden. A good idea for light placement is to have your under cabinet lighting face the backsplash to avoid any potential glare. It is also worth noting what material your countertop is made out of, as glossy counters will reflect the light while matte-looking countertops will minimize any reflected light, creating serene light patterns underneath your cabinets. Furthermore, consider the fact that lighter-coloured countertops will reflect more light, making your lights seem brighter than they are.

When it comes to recessed lighting, whether in your kitchen or elsewhere in the house, it's crucial to remind yourself that there is no universal plan and that ultimately, your lighting system should be unique to your space and individual needs.

It’s important to recognize that hiring an electrician for this type of job is an absolute must! Some electricians can even help consult on better lighting placement and the best type of light for that particular space. An electrician will also be capable of determining if your new recessed light and under cabinet setups will overload your current circuitry and what steps to take to alleviate this should it happen.

Author: David Ben-Zaken

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Last modified 2023-11-07

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