Direct Wire Under Counter LED Lights

Plug in LED lights

My son’s house had under counter LED lights which are nice, but they were the plug in type which looked messy. They each had to be turned on separately. With a switch for the light over the sink right there I thought it would be a good idea to direct wire the lights. I planned to use the same fixtures except that they were put together with tri-wing screws that were recessed so deeply that I could not use my magnetic screw head kit to open the lights.

I decided to research other lighting possibilities. LED lights are typically run at 24 volts but most fixtures that I found also came with connecting cables that were quite short–extra connecting cables at the longest were six feet. I’m not sure how that is supposed to work when wiring across a kitchen sink and stove. DC wiring is tricky because it loses voltage over distance. The best solution seemed to be LED light strips installed in special channels and wired to a larger voltage transformer, but it would be quite expensive to cover just these few cabinets.

Installed GE junction box
Installed GE junction box

I found the answer when watching a YouTube video about installing under cabinet lights. I normally hate YouTube videos and prefer reading about installations but everything I read was general and didn’t address my problem. This video showed the use of small plastic junction boxes to connect GE extendable lights. There were also ideas about how to run wiring between the boxes. I found the junction boxes on Amazon and they were inexpensive.

Adding LED lights to switch
Adding LED lights to switch

The first junction was just above the switch so I could use regular romex to connect it. But the rest would be running in the cabinets and behind appliances so I needed to use metal armored cable.

Metal cable behind dishwasher
Metal cable behind dishwasher

I ran the cable into PVC conduit where it might be considered exposed like under the sink and at the back of the cabinets.

Metal cable in PVC conduit in sink cabinet
Metal cable in PVC conduit in sink cabinet

The cable was easier to run across several cabinets using the conduit too. I connected the cable to a junction box at the back of the cabinet next to the stove. From there I could run a separate wire to the other two GE junction boxes.

Extending the wires to two different cabinets
Extending the wires to two different cabinets

In order to use the lamp wire I just wiggled out the plug in wiring and routed the cut off lamp cords into the boxes. Unfortunately the rolling switch was in the way for two of the five lights. So I had to open the lights and rewire them with longer cords. I found a screwdriver set to open the existing fixtures. It was a Nintendo repair kit on Amazon and I ordered the whole kit since the sizes of the individual screwdrivers were not given. It was a good thing because it took several tries with different tools to get one large enough to catch the screw and open the lights.

Disassembling fixtures
Disassembling fixtures

The wires were soldered onto the light strip. So I enlisted my husband to re-solder the longer pieces of lamp cord onto the lights. The light strips have a nice plastic lens over the tracks that I removed for the soldering and slid back in when the fixtures were reassembled.

Soldered light strip
Soldered light strip

No house project however can be easy. When I was replacing the wires in the switch box, the box broke completely! I had cut out part of the back for the new wires and that must have weakened the box. While I was screwing in the switch, the channel for the screw cracked completely off. I had to take apart all the wires and cut out the old box.

Broken junction box
Broken junction box

I replaced it with an extra deep old construction box to help fit all the wires into it. Then I had to figure out what wires went with which device in the box! I had sort of kept them organized at least.

Replacing junction box
Replacing junction box

Finally everything was wired back together, the drywall holes repaired, the cables clamped to support them and the cover put on the cabinet junction box. But then the end cabinet light did not light so I had to take the cover off the boxes and look for the bad connection. It was in the junction box under a wire nut where one black wire was not completely in the nut. So that fixed and the covers returned, I was able to turn on the switch and see direct wired LED lights instead of a rats nest of cords!

I just have to spray some orange peel on the drywall patches and paint over them. And I have to fix all the drywall that was damaged by removing the tile backsplash.

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