When it comes to lighting, few places in the home are more important than the kitchen. From general lighting to specific task lighting, a well-designed lighting plan makes the use and enjoyment of any kitchen a much brighter undertaking.
General lighting is what comes on as you first enter the room. It should brighten up the room well enough that you can see to enter and move around the room, and to perform basic tasks, such as getting something out of the refrigerator.
In many kitchens, general lighting is accomplished with one or two incandescent or fluorescent light fixtures, or by a group of recessed can lights. The general lighting fixtures should be controlled by a switch that is easily accessible as soon as you approach or first enter the room. If there are two entrances to the room, the same group of fixtures can be controlled from both locations using a 3-way switch.
Task lighting, on the other hand, comes from fixtures that are strategically placed to provide good lighting for performing specific operations, such as cooking or cleaning up. Since the general lighting sources are located high up on the ceiling and behind you wherever you are in the room, your body typically blocks or shadows some of that light, which is why specific lighting fixtures dedicated to specific areas are so important. Task lighting may be in the form of recessed cans, fluorescent fixtures, halogen lights, or any combination. To conserve energy and prevent overlighting or overheating the room, activation of the task lighting is generally broken up between several switches.
To lay out your task lighting, first envision how the kitchen will be used. One or more fixtures should be located over the sink, to provide direct overhead lighting for cleanup and food preparation. Recessed lights work well here, as they can be directed very specifically to light the sink. The over-sink fixture should be on its own switch.
Cooking tasks require their own light source as well. If you have a range hood that is located above your cooktop or range, the light that is located within the hood may be sufficient, or you can add a recessed fixture to the ceiling that is located to provide as much direct light down onto the cooking surface as possible. The fixture in the hood will have its own switch, and any other specific cooking area light should be separately switched as well.
Islands can present another task lighting challenge. Here again, recessed fixtures can be used to good advantage to light up the island, or you can consider one or more hanging pendant lights over the area. Some lighting designs will have the island lights come on as part of the general lighting, but most will target these lights with separate switches as well.
One kitchen lighting area that is extremely important but often overlooked are the counters. Between the combination of your body as you stand at the counter and the bulk of the wall cabinets, much of the counter area is severely shadowed, and yet this is where much of the work in the kitchen is done.
To overcome this, specific under-cabinet lighting is used. Perhaps the most common source are shallow fluorescent fixtures that are mounted to the underside of the upper cabinets. These under-cabinet lights come in a number of different lengths to make it easy to match the fixtures to the cabinet layout, and you should use an adequate number of them to provide even, shadow-free lighting on all the counters.
Small halogen fixtures, typically called puck lights for their resemblance to small hockey pucks, are also sometimes used in these areas. Puck lights are brighter, but may put out too much glare or too much heat in some areas, so take that into consideration as well.
Here again, you want to divide up the under-cabinet fixtures onto one or more specific switches. What usually works best is to envision how the counters will be used, and then group the fixture switching so that the desired counter or group of counters are lit at the same time. For example, if you regularly use one section of counter for food preparation, all the under-cabinet lighting over that section of counter should be on the same switch.
All of these fixtures should be available from local lighting stores, electrical supply retailers, and home centers. Remember to use only UL-listed fixtures and parts, and always consult with a qualified electrician for assistance on any wiring project you’re not comfortable with.
Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at firstname.lastname@example.org.