Energy-Saving Lighting Options for Your Kitchen

Written by Julia Marcum
Updated October 10, 2016
kitchen island with pendant lights
Sometimes the best kitchen lighting comes from multiple sources.

Learn how to layer kitchen lighting without hiking up your utility bill.

When we purchased our home three years ago, our kitchen felt like a cave. Not only were the walls painted dark, there was only one window and a buzzing fluorescent light to illuminate the whole room. It wasn't pretty, but even more so, it wasn't functional. 

Every room could benefit from two or three light sources, but especially the kitchen. Not only is it unsafe to julienne those peppers without proper lighting, poor lighting also makes washing dishes difficult, and cooking and entertaining unpleasant. 

Many people view lighting in the kitchen — or any room for that matter — as a big energy spike on their utility bill. But the U.S. Department of Energy says replacing your home's five most frequently used light fixtures or bulbs with Energy Star products can save you $75 a year. 

By simply changing out a bulb, you can feature the lighting you want without shelling out major moolah for your electricity bill each month. Here are six ways you can layer lighting in your kitchen. 

Recessed Lighting

Recessed Lighting

Recessed lighting is popular for ambient light, or your main source of light in a room, because it spreads pockets of light over all of the main areas in the kitchen. Instead of a traditional incandescent or halogen bulb, opt for LED kitchen lighting. LED bulbs use a fraction of the energy needed for a regular bulb and they last for years.

Under-Cabinet Lighting

 

under-cabinet kitchen lighting

If you're going to choose just one lighting feature to add to your kitchen, under-cabinet lighting is a strong choice. It not only improves your home’s value, it also provides task lighting for your countertops and illuminates that backsplash you spent days picking out and installing. The oldest technology, xenon, is great at color rendering but consumes a lot of energy, which is mostly wasted on the heat it gives off. 

Alternatively, fluorescent under-cabinet lighting uses about half as many watts as xenon lights to produce the same amount of light and is very budget friendly, too. The downside is, like other fluorescents, the color rendering is poor.

LED under-cabinet fixtures, bars and tape lights use only 25 percent as much energy as xenon lights and half the energy of fluorescents. Because the bulbs last so long, you'll save money on replacements over the years, although the upfront cost will be more than fluorescents.

In-Drawer Lighting

Fumbling through the Tupperware drawer or your spice storage would be infinitely easier if lights came on when you open the drawer. Install LED strip lighting on the inside of drawers and cabinets. Not only does opening an illuminated drawer feel fancy, most options run on batteries so the perk won't even touch your electric bill!

Over-Island and Sink Lighting

Of course, those pendants over the island and sink look really nice, but they also add excellent task lighting and visual interest. Whether you spring for fixtures that make a statement, or something more subdued, layering in pendants adds depth to your kitchen's lighting plan. 

To save energy here, opt for an LED bulb that suits your fixture. If it's more open (like a glass globe shade), keep the lumens low so it won't be too harsh on your eyes. If you have a fully shaded fixture, you can go for higher lumens. To save even more energy, keeping this kind of accent and task lighting on a separate switch makes it possible to only use the lights wanted or necessary. 

When we're entertaining, we like to just have our pendant lighting on for an intimate feeling. They give off a nice glow, and light up the food spread. When we're in full-blown cooking mode, it's nice to have all of our lighting on. Either way, LED bulbs help keep energy use low.

Toekicks

LED toekicks are a great place to add an additional glow to your kitchen and bring all new meaning to "under-cabinet lighting." Attaching strips of LED lights to the top of your base cabinets, toe kicks add another dimension of light. You can use them as a night light, slick kitchen illumination after dark or even connect them to a motion sensor so they'll turn on as you walk into the kitchen for your midnight snack.

Natural Light

skylights provide natural light in kitchen

Before we renovated, I mentioned our kitchen only had one window and everything felt dark. It forced us to turn on a light even during the day. When we renovated, we worked three Energy-Star labeled windows into our budget and it changed everything. 

We increased our home's "envelope seal" with energy-efficient windows (a well-sealed envelope, coupled with the right amount of insulation can make a real difference on your utility bills). But we also made it so our kitchen is bright all day long, and sunlight provides free light that brings out true colors in the cabinetry and countertops. 

If you aren't willing to trade wall cabinets for windows like we did, or maybe adding windows isn't an option with your home's exterior, consider looking up. Skylights, or even more affordable solar tubes, can bring in (free!) natural light and brighten your kitchen even more.  

Savings

A lighting update in your kitchen doesn't always require all new fixtures. Swapping out incandescent bulbs for LEDs or bulbs with the Energy Star logo on them saves you money immediately. Energy Star-certified bulbs use 70 to 90 percent less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, produce up to 90 percent less heat so they're safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home cooling. They also last 10 to 25 times longer, which saves $30 to $80 in electricity costs over a bulb's lifetime. 

All this means you'll have more money for those dreamy pendants, in-drawer lighting, an extra switch so there's no need to turn all of the lights on at once, or the budget to squeeze some more natural sunshine into your kitchen. 

Don't settle for installing a single light fixture in the center of your kitchen and calling it good. Layer lighting and opt for energy-efficient bulbs. You’ll want to be in your kitchen more and you’ll save money.

Julia Marcum writes the blog Chris Loves Julia. Find her on Instagram @chrislovesjulia.