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Tips for Planning Kitchen Wiring and Lighting:

Designing and Implementing a Plan for Wiring a Kitchen Takes Forethought, Electrical Building Permit, and Inspections

© 2008 by all rights reserved; content may not be copied, rewritten, or republished without author’s written permission

A Remodeled kitchen with natural lighting

Remodeled kitchen with natural lighting

This article was updated on 02/15/20.

Today’s kitchens consume a lot of electricity. They are chock full of minor and major kitchen appliances, A Typical GFCI RecepticalGFCI outlets, and dedicated lighting fixtures. In the design phase of kitchen design, It’s important to consult the local electrical building code; you may need a licensed electrician and building permits!

Forethought and planning is crucial. The amount of electricity used in the modern kitchen at specific times surpasses any other area of the home. For example, when the stove, oven, and range are all in use use during the Thanksgiving meal preparation.

After careful thought you’ll know if the project is just too big to take on, in which case you’ll want to consider a contractor. In that event, it may be helpful to research through friend's experiences and the BBB.

And how about your refrigerator? It’s plugged in day and night. Anyone with kids in the home knows what a battle it is to keep the food cold and fresh.

There’s much more to electrical service in your kitchen area than meets the eye. Lurking behind the scenes are dedicated electrical receptacles, many feet of Romex or nonmetallic (NM) cable, an assortment of kitchen lighting fixtures, a wide range of appliances, and much more.

Are you considering remodeling your kitchen with any of these items? How about supplying power to a laundry room, workshop, or “man cave”? A simple load test will tell you if you need to add a circuit or two.

Types of Kitchen Lighting

Bathroom Baseboard Corner View The kitchen demands a lot of light; it’s the site of food preparation and consumption. Not so long ago, family gathering and entertaining occurred in the family room or living room but more and more the modern kitchen is included with the advent of the great room and open kitchen architectural design.

  • Track lighting: Track lighting is especially helpful. When the family chef is busy working his magic at the kitchen counter, his body casts a shadow on the work area from that central light fixture (see the picture above, click on it for a larger image). LED light bulbs or low voltage halogens are common with conventional or monorail track lighting because they focus the light exactly where needed.
  • General purpose lighting: Most kitchens start with a fluorescent fixture somewhere close to the center of the room. Using “daylight” (color rendering index (CRI) of 100) fluorescent tubes give the overall kitchen a natural feel.
  • Undercabinet lights: But what happens when the work area is under a wall-mounted kitchen cabinet? A good solution here is to install undercabinet lighting fixtures. Halogen light bulbs are a good choice unless the heat generated is too much. In that case LEDs might be in order.
  • Can and pendant lights: These round-shaped lights perform a dual function; they focus on key points in the room and add character.
  • Cove lights: These are usually mounted above kitchen wall cabinet units and point the light upwards. The ceiling (especially with white paint) reflects it back down into the room covering a wide area.

Locating for Kitchen Light Switches

Kitchen lighting switches should be strategically placed. The main light switches should be located at all entrances to the kitchen using 3-way light switches. These control the primary light fixtures. Currently, common electrical building codes designate putting all the kitchen lighting on a dedicated 15-amp circuit.

Electrical Outlets for the Kitchen

The local building code handles the electrical outlets in the kitchen in a strict manner. For example, they usually dictate that the refrigerator is on a dedicated circuit. It’s unlikely to trip the circuit breaker by itself in normal circumstances, but your food is a big investment and must be protected from spoiling.

Also, the code often requires 2 separate circuits for countertop receptacles because of the large number of appliances that might be operating concurrently. Additionally, 1 GFCI outlet per circuit is required in spot that are likely to get wet. It’s usually specified that these be placed on a 20-amp circuit.

Kitchen Appliances Have Their Own Requirements

Major kitchen appliances like the cooktop, oven, or electric range need a 120/240-volt circuit. For smaller appliances that plug into outlets, install a 120-volt circuit.

Almost all modern kitchens feature a garbage disposal unit beneath the sink. Route wiring from the disposal to a switch on the wall by the sink, close to or on the backsplash but far enough away that it’s convenient but won’t get wet. Place the garbage disposal and the dishwasher on the same circuit.

It’s now easy to see why so much consideration should be given to electrical service in a new kitchen or when renovating an existing or vintage kitchen. And the cautious DIY remodeler will be prudent and over-install kitchen wiring. You just never know when that new must-have gadget will burst onto the scene.

You should be able to do this remodel yourself. But if your local electrical building code requires a licensed electrician to sign off on it (and it most likely does), you will need to hire one. With this knowledge of how to wire a kitchen you won't need to be oversold by a contractor, should you need one.

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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