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Installing a light fixture under an upper cabinet can provide more directed task lighting on counter surfaces below it—which can be important if the work usually done there involves using a knife or other sharp kitchen utensils. Work areas lit in this way are safer because shadows are eliminated from the work surface. Under-cabinet lights should be placed where they will illuminate the work without shining in someone's eyes.
With the tools and materials listed below and this step-by-step guide, you can install under-cabinet lighting yourself quickly and easily. Be sure to turn off all power to the cabinet location at your home's fuse/breaker box before working with electrical systems.
Experienced: 1 day
Handy: 1 1/2 days
Novice: 2 days
Plan the wiring so as many holes as possible will be covered when you're done. If the countertop backsplash is removable, remove it and cut a channel in the drywall or plaster that will be completely covered by the backsplash. Drill holes in the studs to accommodate cable. (If you can't remove a backsplash, allow time for patching and painting the wall afterward. Or, install tile between the countertop and the wall cabinets.) Examine each light to determine exactly where the cable will enter and exit. Cut narrow holes in the wall where the cable will enter the lights. Cut carefully so the hole will be covered when the light is installed.
Cut a hole for the switch box, and run cable into it from a power source-perhaps a nearby receptacle. Do not connect the cable to power. Run cable from the switch box to the hole for the first light, then from the first to the second light, and so on. Let about 16 inches of cable hang from the holes so you'll have plenty of slack to make connections. Most local codes allow fluorescent lights to be used as junction boxes, so you can string the wire from light to light. Check to be sure.
Attach the Lights
Disassemble the lights, and remove the lens and fluorescent tubes. Clamp each cable to the light as you would clamp cable to a box. Have a helper hold the light as close to the rear wall as possible while you drive screws through the light and into the underside of the cabinet. Be sure that the screws won't poke through to the inside of the cabinet.
Wire the Lights
Plan so that wires will not come within an inch of the ballast. Splice wires with the leads inside the light, black to black and white to white. Position the wires flat in the base so they will not get in the way when you add the fixture body. Gently push the bottom portion of the light into position. If it does not go in easily, take it down and realign the wires for an easier fit. Attach the fixture base.
Wire the Switch
Install a switch box with the cables clamped to it. Splice the white wires together. Attach each of the black wires to a single-pole switch (don't use a dimmer with fluorescents). Connect the ground wire to the switch and to the box if it is metal. Wrap the body of the switch with tape so the terminals are covered. Shut off power to the receptacle or junction box that will supply the power. Splice white to white and black to a black or color wire. Restore power.
Cable Inside the Cabinet. Cut holes in the cabinets. Lay BX or MC cable on the inside. Plan exactly where the cable will enter each light below the cabinet. Because you can't slip excess cable into the wall cabinet, you'll have to cut the cable precisely.
Cable Under the Cabinet. Attach the lights under the cabinets, string cable under the cabinet, and staple the cable in place using cable staples. Measure and cut carefully so the cable is flat along the length. Check your local code before doing this; it is not allowed in some areas.
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Get Enough Power
A friend has a long walk that leads to his garage. He wanted to light the path with low-voltage lighting and bought a kit, plus a few extra lights. Unfortunately, when he turned the system on, the lighting was extremely dim. The transformer couldn't supply enough power for a long cable with so many lights. Ask the salesperson if the transformer you're buying will do the job you want it to do.
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