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How to install inexpensive, energy-efficient under-cabinet lighting

Earlier this week I showed you how we created a soft, even, warm glow on each shelf of our still-in-progress DIY bookshelf, all for about $30 total. Even better – it uses almost no electricity. (I think it’s 18 watts per entire 16-foot reel, even though earlier in the week I told you it was 3 watts. Still super efficient.)

Here again is what our bookshelf looks like all lit up with these fancy lights (keeping in mind the bookshelf is still under construction!).

We picked up these LED reel lights on Amazon at this link. This is what one reel looks like when it comes in the mail:
That’s about 16 feet of lighting. For our project, we needed two reels. These lights are available in different colors, and we opted for “Warm White 3100k,” which looks similar in color to an incandescent bulb. You also need to pick up a transformer/power adapter like this. We’re using two reels of light with one transformer and it works great.
Once your junk comes in the mail, just follow these steps for a quick trip to luminary heaven.

Step 1: Cut to Length

If you look closely at the actual strip, there’s a line about every two inches where you can safely cut it. Here’s a little diagram:

Source

Step 2: Stick to Surface

You just peel off the backing and the strip is already sticky, so slap that bad boy where ever you want. Each of our bookshelves has a little lip underneath it, because the shelf itself is made of 3/4-inch thick wood, but we nailed a thicker piece of trim on the front to make the shelves look chunkier. We stuck the lighting to the inside of that lip.

Imagine you’re a tiny dwarf sitting on our shelf looking out into the office. This is what you see:
So in this case, the lights actually face toward the back wall of the bookshelf, know what I mean?

Step 3: Connect the Transformer to the Lights

The transformer comes with a plug that just connects right to the lights, like this:
Connect the male end to the female end. (Immature snicker.)

At this point…

You can plug the transformer into the wall and you’ll have LIGHT. But if you want to connect more sections of light (like we did when we created a new section for each shelf), things get a little more complicated.

Optional Step 4: Attaching More Lights

Stick your next strand where you want it. Using two pieces of 12-volt wire from your local home improvement store, solder the wire to the pads on the light strip. Make sure you connect the positive side of one strip to the positive side of the other strip.

This is what the end of one strip looks like after being soldered:

At this point, you can stop where you are, plug in the transformer to the wall and you’re set. Or you can continue connecting different light sections until your whole house is illuminated.

Step 5: Hide Your Transformer

We just stuck ours on the top shelf up against the wall, and you can’t see it. If we were installing under-cabinet lights in the kitchen, we would probably hide it inside one of the cabinets. If you have a wall-mounted microwave, the cabinet above it usually has a power source you can use, and you can leave the transformer there permanently.

(EDITED TO ADD) Connecting a Switch to the Lights

In our office, the outlet where we plugged in the transformer was already connected to a light switch, so we didn’t have to do any electrical work there. You can wire an outlet to a light switch, but it requires a little bit more electrical how-to than we wanted to talk about in this post. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll see if I can get another tutorial out of my (sweet, strong, smart) husband. (I’m batting my eyelashes now in preparation.)

Notes about soldering

Most of these instructions assume you have a general knowledge of electricity and have soldered before, but if you don’t and you’re handy, you can learn how to solder pretty quickly by watching videos online and you can buy the same $10 soldering iron we have here.

Also, pretty please don’t do anything with electricity if you don’t know what you’re doing, because electricity can kill you and I’d rather have you stick around. No matter what, don’t plug in your transformer while you’re soldering. Email me or leave a comment if you have any questions about how we’ve done it, but please be careful.

If you’re terrified of soldering…

But you still want to be able to connect multiple sections of light, you should be able to use these connectors instead, but we’ve never used them and can’t vouch for them.

If you want to take it a step further…

These lights are dimmable using a $6 dimmer like this, but we opted not to do that for our bookshelves. Go on with ya fancy self.

By the way…

One of my most popular posts is this $4 pantry lighting solution. These lights would actually work better than what we have there, and we probably would’ve used them instead if we knew about them. There are TONS of handy uses for these things!

More Uses to Consider…

There’s also a waterproof version of these lights that could be pretty fantastic outside on a patio, deck or near a pool. Or stick some behind your bathroom mirror for a fancy glow. Because these lights are only 12 volts, they could even work in boats or vehicles, if you’re a baller like me.

I hope this makes sense! If I’ve missed anything in the instructions that would make installation easier for you, let me know in the comments and I’ll try my best to fill in the gaps. Good luck with your adventures in illumination!



DIY lights for bookshelves or under cabinets. Such soft, even light and it's SO cheap to buy and install!



UPDATE: See how we used these LED lights to make a lamp run on batteries.

P.S.: Check out our other lighting projects here, and more of our handy tutorials right here.
This post contains affiliate links.



Let's connect

Comments

  1. Lisa says:

    I’m filing this post away for my future built in bookcases, Kelly! Thanks for sharing and girl, you could never be boring!!!

  2. I don’t really understand electricity. It’s that whole magic thing. But you better believe this is going to pop up on every computer Nate signs into. He’ll blab something about it being tax season and him only being home 1 day a week…but I will get under cabinet lighting. :P

  3. Jonna Coughlin says:

    Hi! I am wondering if you used a switch of any kind on your bookshelf lighting? The transformer plugs in, so do you have to unplug it every time you want to turn out the undercabinet lights? Thanks so much!

    • Kelly says:

      GREAT point. I don’t know how we forgot to talk about that! I just updated the post to answer your question. Here’s what I added. If that’s not helpful enough, let me know and I’ll try to answer better. :)

      (EDITED TO ADD) Connecting a Switch to the Lights
      In our office, the outlet where we plugged in the transformer was already connected to a light switch, so we didn’t have to do any electrical work there. You can wire an outlet to a light switch, but it requires a little bit more electrical how-to than we wanted to talk about in this post. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll see if I can get another tutorial out of my (sweet, strong, smart) husband. (I’m batting my eyelashes now in preparation.)

  4. I’m definitely filing these away for when I makeover the china cabinet in my dining room. These are SO awesome. I’m super impressed with this sparkly and non-stop-action post. ;)

  5. I don’t own a soldering iron, but I know how to use one (I took a metalworking class in college). I want to put these lights everywhere!!! Thanks for the links & tutorial!!

  6. Okay, so you lost me at “soldering”, but I’m still filing this away for my future kitchen. It looks like an excellent solution for under cabinet lighting.

  7. These look amazing. The bookshelf was beautiful before, but the lighting takes it to a whole new level. Great job!

  8. Hmm…. very interesting, I never seen those before! Thanks for sharing!

    *first time reader.

  9. The history of dust. HA! Thanks for this, this is so good to keep in mind. I love how the shelves look like they glow.

  10. Damn, I wanted it to be easier than this. I am the handyman in our house and I’m not sure that soldering is in my future. But then again, you never know.

  11. Jennifer B. says:

    I was trying to figure out how you hid the 12v wire in the bookselves as it looks like you drilled through your shelf in the first picture you have of the strip hung (dwarf pic). Where did that wire go to remain hidden and out of sight?

    • Kelly says:

      Oh good question! The tall vertical columns in the bookshelf are actually hollow. All the lights are connected to 12v wires that go through tiny holes that we drilled in the side of the vertical columns at each shelf. The wiring runs up to the top shelf and connects (through another drilled hole) to the transformer there. So essentially all of our wiring lives in those thick vertical columns and stays hidden there. I hope that makes sense!

      • Jennifer B. says:

        Wow, you replied. Thanks.
        That makes a lot of sense- I should have gone back through the photos to deduce that.

        • Laura says:

          Thank you for asking that, Jennifer. I was looking through the comments hoping someone had asked, because I couldn’t figure it out either! :-) I LOVE this lighting, and am definitely keeping it filed away for the built in bookcase I have planned! It’s going to look a lot like this one, too, unless I can manage a spot for a freestanding gel fireplace in the middle…

  12. Yep, I think I’ll also file this one away under “Projects for Rick.” He would understand every bit. We could definitely use this in our dining room hutch!

    And I’d love to hear about the history of dust sometime, if you ever need a break from the sparkle and sizzle…. :)

  13. Kelly,

    Thanks so much for the tutorial….sounds pretty doable. I also went and checked out your $4 light fix! So glad you like creamy and crunchy peanut butter! LOL!
    blessings,
    karianne

  14. I wish I was a tiny dwarf sitting on your shelf, learning everything as you go! Instead, I’ll pin this and go back to this great tutorial when we finally install lighting under our cabinets. Thanks!

  15. Denise says:

    Amazing Kelly, thank you so much for sharing.

    I know these things often come with instructions, but never simple ones and these steps are so easy.

    I can use a soldering iron and I can use sticky backed stuff so I should be able to do this, but think I will get it checked before I plug in – Look out my souper cool shelves that will magically appear in my lounge now and look just like these :)

    Well, that is after we have boarded the loft so we can have some storage, built the base for the shed in the garden, built the shed, replaster the hallway, put in a new staircase, decorate the hallway, fit the patio doors in the dining room, knocked down the wall from the kitchen to the dining room, blocked up the back door in the kitchen, knocked down the understairs cupboard in the kitchen, completely rebuild the kitchen….. phew…

    Well, there again, I just might do the lounge sooner so that I can have a haven away from everything else :)

  16. Andrea Howe says:

    This is awesome! We’ve talked about doing this because the lighting in our kitchen is so poor. Thanks so much!

  17. I probably want to do this in shelves at our house someday but the best part of this post is your humor, you crack me up!

    Great instructions :-)

  18. Maryann says:

    What a great idea. I know I’ll be using this one! Thanks for the detailed instructions. Can’t wait to read about your cabinetry!

  19. Pamela says:

    Great idea. I’m on it. Currently we have Ikea under cabinet lighting and they get far more hot than I like and use too much electricity. This is such a great idea and I ‘can’ solder. Win-Win!

  20. Melissa McAdams says:

    I hope I haven’t missed something here so you don’t have to repeat yourself. But I’m wondering how you were able to plug so many wires into your transformer? Am I missing something? I may be a little confused.

    If you cut extra strips for each shelf, and soldered wires to each one, how do you plug ALL those wires into one transformer? I hope I’m making sense.

    Love the shelves. We’re in the process of doing this ourselves. And, one more question…

    How would your installation of the lights have changed if you decided to do it before almost completing the shelving? It looks like that’s the best, if not only, way. Just curious (since I’m in the process of doing mine).

    Melissa

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Melissa, Just sent you an email, let me know if you didn’t get it!

      • Phillip says:

        Hi Kelly,

        Thanks for this great article – I just came across it, and it’s very close to a project in our own home office. We’ll be using 3-4 of the LED rolls, so it’s very helpful seeing your pictures and results.

        How did you connect the strands from multiple strands together? Did you connect them all together at the transformer? If so, did you solder them all together, and then to the female connector?

        Have you had any problems with the transformer? The link has some negative reviews, so I’m wondering if it’s still working fine for you.

        Love your site! I enjoy your articles and your humor!

        • Kelly says:

          You can connect the end of one strip to the beginning of the next by soldering a wire between them, or you can connect them all directly from the transformer. We saw those negative reviews on the transformer but haven’t had any issues at all. Best of luck!

          • Phillip says:

            Thank you for the quick reply! My order of lights and transformer arrived, and the lights are even brighter than I expected.

            This is a project I’ve wanted to do since moving. The shelves themselves are just pieces of wood, so I’ll trim them down first and add front facings. This will beef them up a bit and give a place to hide the lights.

            Thanks so much for your tutorial — seeing your approach and the results were exactly what I needed.

      • David Monaghan says:

        Hi Kelly,
        I saw this project sometime ago and saved it for future use, guess what I am just about to do build something similar to the bookcase in the article. You answered a query from Mellissa by email about joining a number of cut strips at the transformer.

        Can you send me the same info?

        best regards

        David

  21. Ross says:

    I found a cheaper way to get the lights. You will need to buy the power source seperately but http://www.aliexpress.com/product-fm/576421974-3528-300-5M-LED-Strip-SMD-Flexible-light-60led-m-indoor-non-waterproof-warm-white-red-wholesalers.html
    the lights are actually 60 per meter instead of 30 per meter so they are twice as bright and only $8.99 per 5 meter roll
    You can even get colour changing lights that work with a remote control

  22. Julia Uthoff says:

    Could you send me the instructions for adding the switch. Thanks so much. Enjoy your site. ju

  23. Aashiek says:

    Thanks for a great post. I’m redoing my TV lounge and will definitely use these ideas to add accent lighting behind the TV and the surround sound speakers. Do these LED lights give off any electrical interference that may affect the TV signal?

  24. Tasha says:

    So I found your blog via Pinterest and I want to do everything! ;o) Such neato ideas – keep ‘em coming!

  25. Shirley says:

    We want to add shelves on that big empty blank wall you see when you go down the steps to the basement and wanted to light them but didn’t know how. Thanks for the wonderful directions and links to sites to buy the lights and transformers. We’ll be lighting that boring stairway in no time.

  26. Patty says:

    Do you know how long this lighting will last? I have some fiber optic lights and they are guaranteed for 1000 hours. Thanks for the great post.

    • Kelly says:

      I’m not sure yet. We’ve had them for about 9 months now and they’re still going. I’m not sure if they come with any guarantees.

  27. Mr Capers says:

    Hi Kelly,

    We have these led light tapes all over our kitchen. Inside cabinets (with glass doors), under cabinets to light the counter, and down at the toe kick for night lights. But, we set it up with a dimmer and the dimmer hums – not too loud but you can hear it when it is quiet.

    We also did leds in ceiling cans in the living room and we are getting RF interference – static – does your wizard have any suggestions about our dimmer humming and the RF interference?

    Thanks, love your installation . . . You write good!

  28. Jenn says:

    Dear Kelly,

    Thanks for your tips which were very helpful. I am experimenting finding it difficult to aim the LED strips in such a way that they light up the book fronts without getting in your eyes. Tried putting at the bottom of the shelf facing upwards but on the lower shelves, the lights get in your eyes. Also, tried recessing them but they still do get in your eyes on the lower shelves since they are below. Put them in a V-groove which we cut on the floor of the bookshelves so that they would aim away from the front and onto the books, but we still see the light dots on the lower shelves. Was wondering what your experience was with your lighting solution of how the LEDs cast light on the books in the bookshelf filled with books to in the way you installed the lights? Do the LEDs throw light on the fronts of the books since the LEDs are aimed towards the back of the bookcase on the top? Would appreciate any advice. Thanks!

    • Kelly says:

      We didn’t experiment much or really think at all about it – we just threw them up facing the back wall because it was the only way we could think to hide the lights. It does a really good job of lighting the front of the books without being visible. It probably depends though on how deep your bookshelves are and how close to the front of the shelves you put your books. Our books are all a few inches back – they don’t sit right on the front edge of the shelves – so they do get lit pretty well that way. I hope this helps!

  29. Jenn says:

    Thanks, Kelly. In the end we gave up on the idea of having a clear back to our bookcase and to use frosted glass on the back wall of our bookcase which solved many problems, and followed your method. You are right, it does shine nicely and gives good light that way. It also projects enough light on the back of the books to give a lovely glow on the back wall. And in fact, it is nicer with the frosted back as it glows nicely and you can still see the book backs.

  30. Zoe says:

    Hey Kelly,

    I found your blog through Pinterest (as many others seem to have) and im planning on doing this to my kitchen cabinets. I was looking on Amazon at the transformer you recommended and see a lot of bad reviews for it. Has it held up well for you? or do you recommend something else better now? Just dont want to buy it and have it fail like the reviews go on about.

    Other than that this looks amazing thank you!

  31. Somethingsaurus says:

    If you had a lamp with a wide enough stem you could put the batteries in there.

    I agree with the idea of rechargeable batteries. There are plenty of sources that you could use but you would have to get to the 12 volts and have a way to charge them.

    One thing I did was to take apart an old CFL bulb and use the base and soldered the whole system to that. This way you can always put a regular bulb in it if you like. When I finish, I will post photos to somewhere.

  32. Bob Foreman says:

    OK, I’m a fan — Sign me up.! Actually, I DID just subscribe. LOVE your blog and the great Ideas you two come up.! Keep up the Good Work. SUGGESTION> RE: the cabinet lighting Do you have one for EXTERNAL lighting Effect..?!? Sidewalk (light) edging / Steps or Deck accent lighting / EMERGENCY or LED ‘Night lights’ <(for use in Power Failures).
    Can you steer me in the right direction — I'd like to start a similar blog. NOT as a 'competitor' — frankly you've inspired me to just 'give away' a truckload of inventions / ideas / How To's / bits & pieces of knowledge = I refer to them as: "U.L.T.B.O.I's" Seemingly, “Useless Little Tid-bits Of Information”.

  33. Leslie Lusk says:

    I am currently SO frustrated. I think I’m going to have to stop over, because for whatever reason, the only lights that are working are plugged directly into the transformer. None of the ones I connected are turning on. Uggggh. I WILL figure this out. I WILL. I WILL.

  34. Deborah says:

    Wow! Thanks for this and your other excellent lighting tutorials. I am a new follower via Feedly Reader. Have a great week!

    Hugs,
    Deborah

  35. Alyssa says:

    This looks great. I was looking at your tutorial on cordless lamps and I was wondering if it would be possible to make the lights on a bookshelf battery operated, and if so, how would you rig up a switch?

  36. Blossmgirl says:

    Fabulous! Now, if you want to put an on/off switch and are powering this light strip with batteries, what would you do differently? I’m using this terrific idea for under cabinet lighting in my camper.

    • Blossmgirl says:

      Whoops, I see the post right above mine asked the same question. What kind of switch? I’m a total newbie to ANY thing electrical – which is why I’ve hired guys to do my rewiring. This, I can do, I think.

  37. P Harris says:

    Has the transformer gone bad as someone had asked. I have been hearing problems with them. Just wondering before I use.

  38. Judy Shepherd says:

    Do you think this would work for under counter kitchen lighting when the back splash is already tiled? I’ve been told that I would have to tear out the back splash, install wiring, then re-tile.
    Thanks,

    • Kelly says:

      Yes, I definitely think it would. You would probably just stick it to the bottom of the cabinets and run the wiring up inside the cabinets. I don’t think it would affect the backsplash at all.

  39. Liz says:

    I am sooooo glad I happened to find this post. I was looking for something else and can’t even remember what that was because I’m so excited to find out about this lighting. And so happy I can still buy it on Amazon! My office b0uilt-in is not as spectacular as yours, but it’s almost finished and I’ve been kicking myself for not thinking ahead and saving room for lighting. This is a perfect solution because they take up like no room. Love it! Thanks!!!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Update: We posted a tutorial for installing these lights, if you’re interested! Check it out here. [...]

  2. [...] cut to any length, which uses almost no energy and is cheap. We used them to light our bookshelves (see that tutorial here): And just for fun, here’s what they look like with the whole strip lit by this one 9-volt [...]

  3. [...] to any length, which uses almost no energy and is cheap. We used them to light our bookshelves (see that tutorial here): And just for fun, here’s what they look like with the whole strip lit by this one 9-volt [...]

  4. [...] We just found an AWESOME new lighting solution that might’ve worked better than this. Check it out here! [...]

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