Easy DIY – Get Rid of Fluorescent Lighting

When we recently wrote about Our Love/Hate Relationship With Our Older Home, one of the things that came up in the comments section (thanks to commenters Karen and DC from Young Adult Money) was dealing with one of the unfortunate side effects of buying an older home. In particular, figuring out what to do with the ugly fluorescent lighting.

Our house was built in the mid-1980’s, and had fluorescent lighting in the kitchen and bathrooms. These lights are not only  unflattering, but in our house they were also falling apart. Needless to say, we wanted them gone, but we weren’t sure exactly how that process was going to go.


The Before

This is a shot of our kitchen before we closed on the house. The empty hole there is for a stove/oven.

There are a few ridiculous things in this picture that we knew we wanted to address.

  1. That’s just a sheet of stainless steel with painted wooden quarter round as border for the backsplash. I could be wrong, but this felt like it was screaming “fire hazard!” as there was no insulation behind it, and the stainless would have abutted any stove/oven that got installed.  
  2. The cabinets looked super dated. They are not real wood (which is less obvious in the pics), but are fake wood laminate. The tentative game plan was to remove all the faces, sand down the veneer finish, paint them all uniformly and remount. Estimated time investment – A LOT.
  3. The lights. Wow, they were… ummm… special. The previous owners had a thing for maroon, so had painted a lot of random walls and doors in the house maroon, including the fan blades here. (A closer up pic is below.) So we had the fan with the lights in the center, then four fluorescent lights surrounding the recessed area that were clearly falling apart. Ugly city.


The Inspiration

We knew we wanted big changes on a small budget, but weren’t 100% sure how it was going to go. Other than that the stainless had to be gone ASAP. Luckily, we brought our friends K&D over and, with their endless optimism and years owning both a cleaning business and a handyman business, they immediately showed us the way.

K said, “Your cabinets are great! What are you talking about? Just clean them up, and get new hinges and handles. They’ll sparkle with a little bleach, I promise.”

D said, “Oh your lights are no big deal. What you’ve got to do is take them out, and mount some crown moulding to the bottom of the recessed area so it makes a little pocket. Then get some LED rope lights and just stuff the rope lights down into the pocket. It’ll make a great accent light, then you put whatever you want in the center.”

Mr. PoP and I weren’t 100% sure that K&D’s vision would really be as easy to execute as they made it sound, but since we didn’t have a better plan at the time, we decided to give it a shot. After all it was cheap enough that we could always undo it if the end result looked awful.

The After

Here’s how their vision panned out.



We love it. What do you think?

K was spot on with the cabinets. Yes, they are still almost 30 year old fake wood laminate. But giving them a good scrub with a healthy portion of bleach and swapping out the hinges and handles (~$35 for all of them in the entire kitchen) gives it a much lighter and more modern feel than the old dark dirty hinges. Seriously, you don’t want to know how gross and sticky some of those hinges were. Eeewww.

I don’t even know how many hours of hard labor K saved me with her suggestion.


As for the lights, once Mr. PoP got the hang of the angle cuts for the corners of the crown moulding, the whole thing came together pretty well. Here are the basic steps: 20121224-142722.jpg

  1. Pull out all the fluourescent light fixtures, and patch all the holes to the electrical except for 1. The rope lights will need only 1 connection.
  2. Cut the crown moulding (we used this kind throughout our house) to fit. Don’t hesitate to practice the corner cuts on smaller pieces of wood first.
  3. Nail the crown moulding in place, and use caulk to cover up the nail holes and any gaps that you have at the base or corners. Any holes at the base will become obvious when the rope light is in and light is shining through the bottom.
  4. Connect your rope light to the remaining electrical access point, and string it along the pocket you’ve created. Ours was wound pretty tight, so we put nails every 18-24″ that prevented the rope light from popping up. But in the 3 years since we did this, the rope light has conformed to its little space and the nails are superfluous.
  5. Paint everything super pretty. We went with a satin finish on the paint, except for the crown moulding which is semigloss throughout the house.
That’s it. At today’s prices, I think it’d be about $40-$50 in crown moulding, and another $15-$20 for the rope lights. The new center fixture was another $25 or so. Easily less than $100 for the whole lighting project.
Maybe we’re biased, but we think the results speak for themselves here. This was (in the grand scheme of projects we tackled) a relatively cheap and simple way to make a major update to the way the kitchen looked.


Bonus – Better Bathroom Lighting

Also, as a side note, our bathrooms also had some crazy ugly fluorescent lighting, which we replaced using a modified version of what we did in the kitchen.
Before – Ugly old school recessed fluorescents


After – Pretty crown moulding border with a halogen fixture mounted in the center.


These lights were single switched (not double switched like the kitchen), and since adding rope light around the edges would have meant running wires and adding an outlet, we decided they were fine just with the crown moulding border.

On a side note, if we were to do it again, we wouldn’t use the halogens. They throw off a good amount of heat, and they actually burn out pretty quickly for some reason. Because of that, we typically leave the fixtures so only one or two of the bulbs is functioning at any given time. A little odd, but it works for us.


Dollar for dollar, these projects were some of the cheapest ways we managed to update the look and feel of our house without spending big bucks.


What do you guys think of the results?  Any questions?  Have you ever done a similar project that provided great “bang for buck” results when it came to updating?

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