NYC Renovation Q's

What's the best way to add lights under my kitchen cabinets?

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Q. I live in a co-op with an old, dark kitchen, and I'd like to install lights under the cabinets to make it brighter. What exactly does this job entail? Can I do it myself or will I have to hire someone?

If you're even a little bit handy, this is the perfect DIY job, especially if you're keen to take on your first home project. (You can, of course, hire a handyman, which would probably cost about $200 for two hours of work; it may make sense to go that route if you're already redoing your kitchen cabinets and can lump this in with an existing job.)

For one thing, there's no electrical work involved—all these lights plug into existing outlets—and most of the lighting options (including the ones mentioned here) can be screwed in or stuck on to your cabinets. Depending on the size of your kitchen and number of cabinets, it shouldn't take more than a a couple of hours.

Some lights come with their own mounting kits, but if you don't get those, you'll need cable or saddle clips, a screwdriver and screws. The screws should be long enough to secure the clips to the base of your cabinets, but short enough that they don’t go through the base of the cabinets, obviously.

As far as cost goes, you can spend as little as $20 or as much as $200; Ikea and Home Depot both have versions of under-cabinet lights, including ones that dim. (A good place to start at Ikea is the Inreda or Dioder lighting series.)

The trick to pulling this off without it looking amateurish is to hide the cables as much as possible. If you're lucky, you can secure them behind a natural recess at the base of your wall cabinets—even an inch of overhang will be enough, since you'll be running the lighting directly along the base. 

Alternatively, if you don't want to pick up a screwdriver—or can't put holes in your cabinets—you could go the less permanent, adhesive route. One method is to use heavy duty, double-sided tape or Velcro tape or clips with sticky backing to mount the lights. Or forgo those lights altogether and use stick-on lighting strips (like these from Ikea or Home Depot). Just make sure to wash and dry the cabinet surface to get rid of any grease first; nothing sticks well on a greasy surface.

Related:

9 things I learned from my two-year DIY renovation

Rental-friendly DIY fixes for 3 common lighting problems

8 rooms that bask in the glow of bespoke lighting 

Brighten up a long, dark hallway with a DIY fix

A step-by-step guide to a DIY backsplash

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