Kitchen Lighting Specifications

Compare the specifications of various kitchen lamps to determine the best lighting for your space.

Before you install lighting in your kitchen, familiarize yourself with all the pertinent recommended and required specifications in your area, found in local building codes. Lighting options range from incandescent to fluorescent bulbs, usually referred to as lamps, and cutting-edge alternatives such as LED lamps; there are several pertinent criteria to compare the light output, efficiency and safety of each fixture. By learning what each specification means, you can ensure that your kitchen is safely and pleasingly illuminated. Does this Spark an idea?

GFCI Protection

In the United States, the National Electrical Code, provided by the National Fire Protection Association, requires GFCI protection in certain areas of residential and commercial kitchens. GFCI stands for ground fault circuit interrupter. If an electrical circuit finds a route to “ground,” for example, if you accidentally touch an exposed wire with wet hands, then the GFCI will immediately detect the ground and shut off the electrical current. GFCI protection serves as a safeguard against injury, prompting the NEC to require it throughout all commercial kitchens, including circuits with light fixtures. In residential kitchens, the NEC is sometimes interpreted to extend the blanket GFCI requirement. However, under some jurisdictions, the GFCI circuits are only required for over-counter receptacles. If you have light fixtures installed above the counter, such as under-cabinet fixtures, then you’ll need to ensure they have GFCI protection.


Lumens refer to the amount of light produced by a lamp. As a basis for comparison, a 100-watt incandescent bulb emits around 1750 lumens of light. This is different from a foot-candle, the measure of illumination; by comparison, one foot-candle refers to a single lumen of light, spread over one square foot. To determine the appropriate lighting for an area, you will need to factor in the primary use of the space and the spacing of individual lights. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers website, in most areas of a home or office, you require between 30 and 50 foot-candles. In lumens, that translates to one 30- to 50-lumen fixture per square foot. In a kitchen measuring 150 square feet, that roughly corresponds to three 100-watt incandescent bulbs. If you opt, instead, for compact fluorescent bulbs, you might use three or four 20-watt bulbs to produce equal light for an area of equal size. For detailed work, such as at your kitchen workstations, quadruple the lumens, using brighter lights or spacing them more closely.

READ  Bathroom Lighting Laws


When deciding among incandescent, fluorescent and LED lamps, it’s easy to become confused by the vastly differing specifications. While lumens refer to the amount of light that a lamp emits, wattage refers to the lamp’s electrical consumption over time, or joules of power per second. To evaluate energy efficiency, it’s useful to compare different lamps’ ratio of lumens to watts. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Savers program uses this ratio as its measure of a lamp’s energy efficiency. Whereas an incandescent bulb uses 100 watts to produce 1750 lumens of light, a compact fluorescent light uses around 20 watts to produce up to 1250 lumens.