New Under Cabinet Lighting: Utilitech Xenon Lights

Product Review

This past weekend my kitchen got a facelift: New lighting! We removed the old, barely functional, and extremely ugly fluorescent lighting fixtures under the cabinets, and replaced them with new xenon light strips. How did it go, and how do they work? Well, there are pros and cons to the new lighting; here's a look at both.

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First of all, a word on under cabinet lighting. It rocks. My kitchen is relatively small, and the only other source of lighting, besides a window, is one older light fixture in the ceiling. It's an awesome light fixture, but it doesn't give off a ton of light. So cleaning and cooking at night is difficult without some extra light.

The previous under cabinet lighting was fluorescent. Now, fluorescent lights are more energy-efficient and cooler to the touch, but we really disliked these fixtures. I am all for conserving energy but I am very picky about the quality of light, especially in the kitchen, and I just strongly dislike fluorescent lighting.

They were also very old, and disgustingly rusted and dirty. They had probably been in the kitchen for at least 20 years. They also had no covers, so any spattered food would go straight into the light itself.

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So, even though we rent, one small upgrade we planned and budgeted for was lighting. We painted the underside of the cabinets one weekend, after my husband took down all the old lights. Then we went shopping for new lights.

We went with these newish xenon-bulb lights because I liked the quality and temperature of the light and also because the bulbs run cooler than halogen and last a lot longer. My husband and my father-in-law put in the lights last weekend, and now here's where we get to the pros and cons.

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Pros of Xenon Strip Lights
• They give off really beautiful light. The light in my kitchen is usually quite cold, and these warm it up just enough. It's warmer than fluorescents, but not so warm as a halogen bulb. It's not pure yellow light; it's kind of golden. I love it. The new lights sort of glow under the cabinets, and they make the kitchen look ten times better than it did before.

• The lights are able to be plugged in or hardwired. We hardwired these into the existing wires, but if you just wanted one easy light under your cupboard these can be plugged into an outlet.

• They have 3-way switches: High, Low, and Off. The lights can be switched to a lower output which gives a nice warm glow plenty bright enough for most work.

• The light covers are easily removable for cleaning. This is really important to me, as I wanted to keep the lights much cleaner — especially since I don't have a hood over the stove, and I need to be able to clean the light cover as frequently as possible.

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A wider light over the stove.

Cons of Xenon Strip Lights

• They were a royal pain to install. My husband and father-in-law both have Ph.D.s in engineering, and it took them nearly all day to get four lights installed. (Cue jokes about engineering Ph.D.s... but my father-in-law has done extensive construction and electrical work, and even he was scratching his head a little.) The issue is the Utilitech construction. You have to take the lighting box apart to get the wires installed, and once you take the box apart it's really hard to put it back together. If you're just plugging them into an outlet this isn't an issue, but if you want to hardwire them then it is just an all-round pain.

• These still run hot. Like any incandescent light, these lights will warm up the cupboards they're placed under. They are under four cupboards in my kitchen, and since most of them just hold tools or dishes, this isn't a big deal. But I need to rearrange my oils cupboard to move my oils away from the warmth. Also, we are installing a dimmer for the lights that will keep them at a lower setting most of the time. But you can feel the heat from the lights, especially when they are on the highest setting. In the winter this won't be a problem, as my kitchen is always extra-cold and drafty, but in the summer I plan on always using the lower setting!

• At the lower light setting, the lights have a slight flicker or vibration that I've already gotten used to, but might bother some people.

Here are the actual lights we bought:

Utilitech 24 in. 60W Xenon Under Cabinet Light, about $40 at Lowe's
Utilitech 3-Light Undercabinet/Rope Light, about $35 at Lowe's

Do you have under cabinet lights? Have you ever installed them yourself? Any tips? And any thoughts on these xenon lights?

Related: Survey: Do You Have Under Cabinet Lighting?

(Images: Faith Durand)

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Faith is the executive editor of The Kitchn and the author of three cookbooks. They include Bakeless Sweets (Spring 2013) as well as The Kitchn's first cookbook, which will be published in Fall 2014. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Mike.

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