I hate IKEA lighting – the under cabinet light saga

Posted by Jonathan on January 6th, 2008 filed in diy

It may be I’ve just had bad luck but I refuse to buy any more of the stuff.  Almost all the IKEA lighting pieces have turned out to be crap in one way or another.

The last to be ditched were a set of IKEA “NON” undercabinet lights.  They looked innocent enough –  little round halogen undercabinet lamps with a transformer and some low voltage wiring.

Unfortunately each transformer only powered 2 lights which mean installing a power strip in the cupboard where the transformers were going to hide out.  (I wanted a total of 5 lights which meant 3 transformers/power bricks).

Good point #1: They installed easily enough.

Good point #2: They were bright when they worked.

The bulbs KEPT blowing.  They blew so frequently there was always one not working in the kitchen.  (And yes, they had been installed per instructions and should have been fine in this location).  Being halogens, they run pretty hot – meaning that they warmed the underneath of the cabinets – and in turn meaning that the top surface of the bottom cabinet shelf also got warm.  Not dangerously so but enough that you wouldn’t want to keep chocolate just above the light.

The next problem was that the plastic surrounds started to become more and more brittle (presumably from the heat).  This then let to the little plastic clips breaking and in fact one simply disintegrated in my hands while I was attempting to change the bulb (remember this is a frequent requirement).

These are the IKEA lights after being removed (these were in free air and the vents were not blocked).


Notice the burn marks on the plastic wire shroud on the left hand lamp and the melted and broken plastic on the brittle lamp on the right.


The solution – a decent set of Xenons

I finally gave up and bought a set of WAC lighting HR-88 Xenons from YLighting.  I had read that Xenons run significantly cooler than halogens – leading to a longer lifespan for the bulbs.  Since I was desperate to get away from the continuous bulb replacement cycle the Xenons were attractive and I figured worth paying the price of a couple of years of replacement bulbs for.


The WAC HR-88 lights are all metal, glass and ceramic – so no more plastic to disintegrate into plastic crumbs.  In addition the wires are shrouded in heat resistant sleeving – another good sign.  They don’t have a plug-in solution like the IKEA lights but it really isn’t rocket science to pop them into a connector block and feed them in to the transformer.

The lamps themselves are easy to install… they can be flush or surface mounted.  Since our cabinets have a lip at the bottom (and the bottom shelf isn’t thick enough) I surface mounted them.  The lamps are the perfect height to be hidden behind the lip.


With the Xenon lamps I also ordered a 100W 12V transformer which could run all of the 5 Xenons from one power outlet.

We love the WAC Xenons.  They are all still in perfect condition and I haven’t had to replace a single bulb yet.  I am now disappointed I’d ordered a box of replacement bulbs.

The Xenon project ran around $120 for the transformer and 5 Xenon lamp units – so they’re more expensive than the IKEA lamps (priced to sell sell sell).  The difference is night and day though – these are obviously built to last!

6 Responses to “I hate IKEA lighting – the under cabinet light saga”

  1. Max Says:

    About 5 years ago I installed 5 sets (10 lights) in and under my newly installed Ikea kitchen cabinets. The wires are all hard wired behind the cabinets and the transformers are plugged into power bars out of sight above the cabinets. The transformers are now starting to die and I am only now finding out that Ikea does not sell replacement transformers for any of their lighting fixtures. And because they change the models and styles every couple of years, you cannot even buy an exact complete lighting set just to get the transformer. To change all of the fixtures would be a huge pain. My warning is beware! Ikea lighting is not made to last and when you do need to replace something from an older fixture, you’re screwed. Think about it before you install those cabinet lights! You’re better off buying standard low wattage lighting from a reputable home store.

  2. Peter Duke Says:

    Hey Max, You can replace the Ikea transformer with any 120v to 12v transformer that provides at least 300mA of output. You probably have some around from old electronics thing you no longer use. If not, they can be bought for a song on ebay. You will need to cut off the Ikea plug and splice the wires but that’s much easier than tearing out you lighting setup to replace it!

  3. Robert Says:

    I’m in the same boat. So you’re saying I can replace with any transformer that converts from 120V AC to 12V “AC” or “DC”? I have both. Thanks!

  4. Florence Mills Says:

    power strips are very useful but they octopus connection is dangerous:.`

  5. Amp Accessories  Says:

    sometimes power strips can overheat specially if they are poorly designed.-:

  6. Chuck Says:

    The conversion is 120V ac (or 250V ac in Europe) to 12V ac. Some low-voltage lighting transformers have multiple taps so you can select the best tap to give you 12.0 V ac (need a “true rms” voltmeter). That way, you can get a bigger transfomer that will run cool, last a long time, and you can set it for 12V at a lower load if you do not have so many bulbs. Also, a “magnetic,” or linear transformer is bigger but will last longer and run cooler than an electronic transformer, which can fail instantly if you use the wrong dimmer or have a lighting wattage different than what the transformer is designed for. Short answer — (1) 12V ac is 12 V ac, so anything that produces 12 V ac will work. (2) You get what you pay for.

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