Kitchen Lighting: Brilliance on a Budget

Adding quality lighting to your kitchen doesn't have to involve big, expensive fixtures or exhaustive remodeling, as long as you think carefully about what you want to accomplish and then use a little creativity.

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Bring Light Down to Your Level
Looking for a quick budget-minded lighting makeover? Try mid-level task lighting. "If you want to do something interesting in your kitchen," Richard says, "get some lighting in the mid-zone by using ready-made halogen fixtures. Attach them to the bottom of your cabinets, turn them on and you'll feel like you have a whole new kitchen." Over your sink, he suggests, replace the customary single light with a funky fixture with arms, or a couple of hanging pendants, for an inexpensive but dramatic change.

"Having light down lower is mood-elevating," Richard says.

Take Your Time
"Frugal" need not be a synonym for "frumpy" when searching for the right fixture, but to find unique lighting that meets your budgetary and design needs, you'll need to lurk a while in stores or online. "The Internet is your friend for budget lighting," Richard says, "and if you want do things cheaply, you have to spend the time looking for the right piece." Try the online catalogs of your favorite budget retailer and don't forget to browse eBay.

Think Long-Term - Not Short-Term - Savings
Although the initial cost of energy-efficient fixtures may be slightly higher than those that use traditional incandescent bulbs, keep in mind the true costs of higher energy consumption and more frequent bulb replacement when you're budgeting for lighting. "We're seeing lots of new under-cabinet lighting with [more efficient] halogen and xenon bulbs," Frankie says. "But what's really becoming popular is LED lights. The technology is advancing, making LED a more affordable option."

LED, which stands for "light-emitting diode," is a lighting technology that is long-lasting and extremely energy-efficient.

"The initial cost is more expensive than incandescent," Frankie says, "but the light bulbs last something like 60,000 hours." That's nearly seven years of continuous, cool-burning light.

Do It Yourself
Labor is another hidden cost of adding kitchen lighting. "The best advice I can give anyone is to learn how to do lighting yourself - take a class, take a seminar," Richard says. "If you need someone to help you, go to one of your smaller, family-owned lumber stores and ask the guys at the counter for a handyman they trust. They'll often be less expensive than the ones who operate out of the larger stores, plus they'll treat you fairly and talk to you straight."

The bottom line: Plan carefully when it comes to design ideas, function, energy efficiency and cost of installation. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the dramatic kitchen lighting results you can get on a modest budget.

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