How to Install Under-Cabinet Lighting Without Tearing Out the Walls

Brighten your kitchen workspace without breaking the bank

Deane Biermeier
Written by Deane Biermeier
Updated September 28, 2022
A mother and her son spending time together in the kitchen
Photo: Westend61 / Westend61 / Getty Images
Difficulty

Intermediate

Perfect for handy homeowners.

Time to complete

4 hours

Allow extra time if drywall repair is necessary.

Cost

$100–$500

Make room—this DIY requires a lot of supplies!

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What you'll need:

TOOLS

  • Multi-bit screwdriver
  • Electric drill
  • 1/2-inch spade bit
  • 1-inch spade bit (optional)
  • Ceramic drill bit (optional)
  • Small pry bar
  • Hacksaw
  • Drywall saw
  • Handsaw (optional)
  • Voltage tester
  • Wire stripper with cutter
  • Cable ripper tool
  • Fish tape (optional)

SUPPLIES

  • Under-cabinet lighting fixtures
  • Old work electrical switch box
  • Old work electrical outlet box
  • Junction box (optional)
  • Flex metal conduit (optional)
  • Electrical switch and cover plate
  • 14/2 sheathed electrical cable
  • Wire nuts
  • Cable clamps

Everything is easier in a kitchen with under-cabinet lighting, from chopping vegetables to reading recipe cards. As a bonus, learning how to install under-cabinet lighting will make it look like you spent a fortune on upgrading your lighting scheme. Here are the steps for installing under-cabinet lights, whether you’re installing new cabinets or feeling inspired by kitchen lighting ideas.

Preparing for Under-Cabinet Light Installation

There are a couple of things to consider before you add under-cabinet lighting to your existing kitchen. First, you’ll likely need a permit to perform the work. Check with your municipality for their requirements before starting the project. Next, purchase under-cabinet lights that fit the width of your upper cabinets to keep things simple. If you need several lights next to each other, choose models with adapter cables that can connect multiple fixtures.   

Before starting, remember that adding under-cabinet light involves working with the electrical in your home. Without the proper knowledge and training, you could risk injury or damage to your home. If you’re not confident with your ability to work with household wiring, leave this job to a pro. 

  1. Locate a Power Source

    Modern kitchen electrical circuits are typically not allowable as power sources for lighting. Locate a 15-amp electrical outlet on an adjacent wall to the kitchen or a nearby room’s lighting or receptacle circuit. Try to choose a location where you can run wiring without too much difficulty. 

    If finding a source proves impossible, contact an electrician to install a new power source. 

  2. Plan Out the Wiring to Easily Cover Holes

    Choose the most straightforward route to run wires to the kitchen and the new switch, depending on the power source location. Try to select a way to cross as few wall studs as possible. Take advantage of the vertical spaces between studs to run a wire up or down the wall. The goal is to create as few holes as possible when installing the cables.  

  3. Turn Off the Power

    Turn off the electrical current to the power source at the service panel or breaker box. Test your voltage tester on a known live circuit to ensure the tester is working correctly. Then test the power source circuit to ensure that the current is off. 

  4. Outline and Cut Out a Hole for the New Electrical Box

    Trace the outline of the remodeling switch box on the wall. Ignore the winged sections. The hole you make should be rectangular only. Use a drywall saw to cut out and remove the shape. For a location with tile, use a ceramic drill bit to create a series of holes along the outline and pop out the rectangle. Check to ensure a snug fit for the box, but don’t install it yet. 

  5. Install the Wires

    man checking wiring in kitchen power outlet
    Photo: Wavebreakmedia / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

    Remove the power source outlet and disconnect the wiring. Pry the electrical box off the wall stud and remove it from the wall, leaving the wires behind. Remove the baseboards between the source and the switch for power sources not on the same wall as the new switch or more than a stud space away.

    Cut the drywall away below the height of the baseboards and use a 1-inch spade bit to make holes in the bottom of the studs. Run the wiring through the holes from the source and up to the switch location. Replace the baseboards to hide the drywall holes.

    Decide the location of the first light fixture, and find the knock-out plug on the light fixture. Hold the fixture in place, and mark a drill location for a wiring hole. Use a 1/2-inch spade bit to make a hole in the wall directly under the upper cabinet.

    Install the wire from the switch location to the fixture using fish tape. If necessary, run additional wires from one fixture to the next by running a cable down the inside of the wall and cutting holes in the back of the lower cabinets and wall. Use the 1-inch spade bit to get through wall studs. 

    Adding a junction box and flexible metal conduit through the base cabinets can simplify this step. Save the discarded sections of the cabinet and drywall for repairs later.

  6. Install the Light Fixture

    The hard part is over. Now let’s install some lights. Remove the electrical connection box cover from the light fixture, remove the knock-out hole plug, and install a cable clamp. Insert the wiring from the wall into the fixture while holding the fixture in place.

    Use an electric drill with a screwdriver bit to attach the fixture to the underside of the upper cabinet. Tighten the cable clamp screws to secure the wire. Repeat the procedure for each fixture and wall wiring location. For connectable fixtures, install the connecting cables.

  7. Connect the Wiring

    Having a basic understanding of fixture and switch wiring connections is all you need for this part of the project. Connect the bare ground wire to the fixture’s ground screw or wire. Use the cable ripper to expose a few inches of the wires. Strip about a 1/2-inch of sheathing from the black and white wires. 

    Use wire nuts to connect the black and white fixture wires to the black and white wall cable wires. Replace the fixture’s electrical box cover, and repeat for each fixture if necessary.

  8. Wire the Switch and Install the Faceplate

    With the fixtures in place, you’re ready to move to the switch wiring. With the remodeling switch box not yet in its hole, insert the wall cables into the back of it and pull out several inches. Place the box in the hole and tighten the screws to secure it. 

    Use the cable ripper tool to expose a few inches of wires on both cables. Strip 1/2-inch of sheathing from each wire, and use a wire nut to connect the white wires. Twist the ground wires and a pigtail wire together and secure them with a wire nut. Connect the pigtail ground wire to the light switch’s ground screw.

    Connect one black wire to the top conductor on the switch and the other to the bottom conductor. Install the switch and cover plate into the box.

  9. Connect the Wiring to the Power Source

    Now, let’s get some power going. At the power source location, insert the cables into the back of a new remodeling box. Install the box and tighten the screws to fasten it in place. 

    Rip the sheathing and strip the wires for wiring connections. Connect the ground wires and a pigtail wire together with a wire nut. Attach the pigtail wire to the receptacle grounding screw. Connect the black wires to the hot side of the outlet and the white wires to the neutral side. Install the outlet and cover into the box, and install the light bulbs (if you’re not installing LED lighting).

  10. Turn the Power On and Test

    kitchen with newly installed under cabinet lights
    Photo: FOTOGRAFIA INC / Getty Images

    Back at the electrical panel, turn on the breaker switch for your new under-cabinet lighting, and test them to ensure they’re working. Repair any holes that remain in the drywall. 

DIY Under-Cabinet Lighting Installation vs. Hiring a Pro

If you’re up to doing it yourself, installing under-cabinet lighting will build on your existing DIY skills and help save some cash. However, the project requires working with electricity, which can be dangerous. If you’re not skilled in performing this kind of work or are unfamiliar with basic household wiring procedures, contact a local electrician to handle the wiring and installation of your new lights. The average cost of under-cabinet lighting installation is around $265 per fixture.   

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.