There are two choices when considering under-cabinet lighting — it can either be a plug-in system, which plugs into an outlet, or it can be a hard-wired system, which is hard-wired to work without an outlet. Although the hard-wired system is a more involved installation, the luminous, cord-free lighting it produces is often worth the extra work. Check out this article for step-by-step instructions for how to hardwire under-cabinet lights to improve your kitchen lighting.
Warning: Do not use lamp wire in place of electrical wire for this project. Lamp wire or cord should not be sealed inside of a wall. Using the wrong wire for this project could cause serious injury or a fire.
Step 1 — Choose the Lighting
Choosing the lights that will fit your kitchen best is one of the first steps with any under-cabinet installation. You can choose from bright fluorescent lighting or small, circular halogen lights. The fluorescents give off a lot of bright light that comes in handy when preparing food. The halogens are not quite as "white," and they work beautifully as accent lighting when the kitchen is not in use.
Step 2 — Decide on a Switch Location
Next, you will need to decide where the switch will be located. Are you going to install a brand new box, or are you replacing a current outlet?
For this article, we'll be replacing an existing receptacle. Find the breaker that supplies power to the outlet and turn it off. To ensure the power is off, you can plug something in, like a lamp, and make sure it does not work.
Step 3 — Cut a Channel
Cut a channel along the wall with the drywall saw from under the box where the switch will be to the area where the last light will be. Use the drill and keyhole saw to drill a hole through the studs for the wire to travel.
Step 4 — Drill a Hole
Underneath the cabinets, use the drill again to drill a hole where the wire for each light will be coming from. You may need to use the wire fish to run the wires down the wall from one light, through the channel, and to the next light.
Step 5 — Run the Electrical Wire
Starting with the last light in the line, begin running an electrical wire from light to light. Leave about 12 inches of cord at each opening. At the last light, there will be a length of cord 12-inches long hanging out. The next light will have two cords hanging out, one entering and one exiting, and keep going until you get to the first light after the switch. It should have one length of cord coming from the switch box and one leaving for the second fixture.
Step 6 — Connect Cords and Fixture
On the electrical cord and inside the fixture, separate the wires and strip about 3/4 inch of insulation off the wires. At the first fixture, connect the wires with the wire nuts. The black fixture wire gets connected to the dark or brass colored wire on the electrical cord with the plug on the end, and the brass wire heading to the next fixture. The same goes for the white wire that gets connected to the silver-colored wire of the cords.
Note: The electrical wire may be one color for both wires, but sometimes the hot or black wire is simply indicated with a black line running along the length of its insulation. Follow the wire from connection to connection so you keep the black fixture wires connected to the same strand of cord.
Step 7 — Wire the Switch
At the outlet where the switch is going, double-check that the power is off and remove the receptacle. Wire nut the white wire and the electrical wire that connects with the white fixture wires together. Screw the black wire that was on the outlet onto the bottom terminal of the switch, and the black wire that goes to the fixtures to the top terminal.
Step 8 — Use Electrical Tape
Wrap the switch with electrical tape, covering the terminals. Screw the switch back into the box. Install the switch cover and turn the power back on. Then, hit the switch and see if the lights turn on
Step 9 — Replace Drywall
Lastly, replace the drywall that you had to cut out for the channel.
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Dave Donovan is a freelance copywriter living in Atco, N.J. An electrician for 15 years, an injury forced him to pursue his true passion — writing.