Under cabinet lighting is a great feature in any kitchen, offering functional light to the desperate counter space that would otherwise be shaded by upper wall cabinets. Not only is it practical, but the under cabinet lighting also provides a unique and attractive aesthetic to enhance any kitchen décor.
When purchasing under cabinet lighting, it is important to understand what types of lighting are available and the pros and cons of each. The two main sources of light under the cabinet are halogen lighting and LED lighting. While each option installs cleanly and offers generous amounts of light, there are many differences between the two.
Before examining under cabinet lighting products, the fundamental characteristics of each type of light source should be understood. Halogen lights work similar to incandescent lights in that they produce light by burning a tungsten filament when connected to a power source. The only difference is that the glass bulb that covers the filament is filled with halogen gas. This allows the glass to stay closer to the filament without melting; thus allowing the size of the bulb to be more compact. The halogen helps to recirculate the burned tungsten atoms back to the filament making it last longer. To ensure that the glass does not melt, it must be thicker to withstand the increased heat load.
For various reasons, halogen lights have been popularly used as an under cabinet light source. They are compact bulbs that last longer; making them an ideal light bulb to mount under a cabinet. Unfortunately, they still consume the same amount of energy as incandescent lights and burn even hotter.
The light emits diodes
LED lights (light-emitting diodes) generate light by emitting photons of energy. This is a purer form of light that does not produce energy in the form of heat. LEDs are created by assembling a semiconductor material such as aluminum gallium arsenide inside a lens connected to a power source. Science is all inside the semiconductor. Through a semiconductor there is a PN junction. When an energy source excites electrons through this PN junction, visible light is produced in the form of photons. The use of LEDs as the light source offers the most efficient illumination. Because no energy is wasted to produce unnecessary heat, it is considered the most energy efficient light source and an ideal light source for under-cabinet lighting.
Comparison of products
The way manufacturers have applied these technologies to under cabinet lighting products reflects the properties of each source. Because halogen bulbs produce so much heat, they are typically mounted on a 120V light bar that also employs an air circulation system to cool the bulb and cabinet surface. This wastes more energy producing light and the fixture is often bulky and more visible than desired.
The LED lights under the cabinet are drastically more compact. They do not require a cooling system, and because they consume very little power, they are often powered by low-voltage sources. A 12-volt AC / DC adapter can effectively illuminate countertop space below 12 feet or more of cabinets. And because the strips are powered by low-voltage power, installation is simplified. The LED light strips and components can be connected in a chain of male to female plugs originating from the power supply that simply plugs into an outlet. Low-voltage adapters can also be wired into standard conduit supply, in addition to dimmer switches, resulting in a clean, professional installation with even more energy-efficient capabilities.
When the properties of halogen and LED lighting are compared to each other, it may not be clear why halogen under cabinet lighting ever existed. The answer is simply that LEDs never produced usable amounts of light until recent developments in semiconductor technology. Now that more capable semiconductors are being developed, LEDs are being implemented in many different consumer products in ways that never seemed imaginable.