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Lighting a Bookcase

Nothing adds to the ambience of a room like the perfect, glowing outline of a bookcase filled with some of the classics or your family’s keepsakes. When you’re looking for a professionally decorated look without the hassle of hiring someone to come in, all you need to do is a little research and set aside a few hours for a simple installation.

Know What to Look for Before You Shop

In order to choose the perfect LED lighting for a bookcase, you need to know what kind of color temperature and brightness you want.

LED lights are measured differently than incandescent bulbs. Because they’re more reliable and can be used in confined spaces like bookcases, it’s important that you understand how to gauge the differences between the two. LEDs emit very little heat, so those with a good enclosed-space rating will perform wonderfully for years.

It’s all about the lumens

Incandescent bulbs are measured in watts, and if someone tells you to pick up a 60-watt bulb for a desk lamp, you know exactly what to look for. That’s not the case with LEDs. An LED light’s brightness is measured in lumens, and it’s tough to even find a pattern when it comes to side-by-side comparisons.

A 40-watt incandescent equals about 450 lumens; a 60-watt traditional bulb is about the same as an 800-lumen LED. Further:

  • 75 watts = 1,100 lumens
  • 100 watts = 1,600 lumens
  • 150 watts = 2,600 lumens

Unless you’re really trying to spotlight the contents of your bookcase, stay away from LEDs that put out more than 800 lumens. Generally, low-lumen outputs are best for bookcase lighting.

Warm-and-fuzzy light versus stark-and-contrasting light

Unlike incandescent bulbs, LEDs can be pinpointed to a certain color temperature. The warmth or coolness of an LED is measured on the Kelvin scale, and the lower the numbers, the warmer the light. Cool lights have a little bit of a bluish hue, while warm ones have yellow undertones.

Picture a bright, sunny day on an Arctic ice floe; you now know what the coolest LED lamps (those marked 6,500K) will do to your bookcase. On the other end of the spectrum, think about the way a single candle’s flame dances in a dim room; that’s what the warmest LEDs – those marked 2,700K or lower – will provide.

While this is largely a matter of preference, the color temperature you choose for your LED bookcase rope lighting should blend seamlessly with its contents. Dark, leather-bound books may look better if they’re illuminated in warmer tones, while collectables and other treasures can stand cooler light temperatures.

Directing your light properly

You’ll also need to decide how you want the illumination to highlight the contents of your shelves. Some people prefer to outline the sides and top of their bookcases, while others reserve lighting for only the top rim of each shelf. Depending on the size of your bookcase, LED lighting on top of bookcase shelves might not be enough to fully illuminate the books. Your bookcase may look better with a backlight — LEDs affixed to the upper or lower joint of each shelf in the back — or it might look better when the LEDs are used to spotlight the contents of the shelves from a hidden location in the front.

Once you’ve made your final decisions about temperature, brightness and position, you’re ready to select the fixtures for your bookcase lighting DIY project.

Finding the Perfect LED Lights for a Bookcase

Many people choose 12-inch or longer rigid LED bars for standard-sized bookcases. They’re durable, mount easily, and feature diffusers that spread the light in the right direction.

Keep in mind that if you’re using hardware like this, you’ll have to drill holes into your bookcase and affix mounting brackets. You’ll also need to hide wires that lead to the LED lights’ power source.

In some cases, it’s easier to work with LED tape lights. If you’re illuminating all the edges on your bookcase, it has irregular measurements or you just want simple, quick installation, tape lights might be the right choice.

DIY LED Light Installation: A Quick How-To

While you should always follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions that come with your LED lights, there are a few universal basics.
  • Use precise measurements. Whether you’re centering your lights inside your bookcase or you’re lining the entire thing, it’s imperative that you measure things correctly. A few centimeters can make a huge difference when light is cast; everything is amplified when you’re mounting lights in an enclosed space.
  • Decide where your lights will be and stick to your choice. Once you’ve started drilling or sticking adhesive LED lights to your bookcase, there’s no going back - at least not without some patching.
  • Plan for your power source. While many bookcases feature cutouts for cords, some don't. The last thing you need is to get your lights installed perfectly and discover that you’ll have to trail a wire in front of your bookcase to reach the power source. And if you’re using low voltage lighting, you will need to determine a location to hide the driver that powers the lights.

Other Uses for Bookcase Lighting Techniques

It’s easy to extend these bookcase lighting instructions for other applications, such as to light up a kitchen or dining room cabinet for displaying china or curios, or to illuminate a retail shelf display. It’s the same concept, and a little design and installation time can produce a dramatic and elegant presentation.

Generally, it takes just a few hours to install LED lights in a bookcase. If you’ve done your homework and chosen the right temperature, brightness and location, you’ll soon be enjoying the warm, welcoming ambience that only LEDs can provide.