Introduction: Upgrade Your Refrigerator Lighting

A couple years ago, the BF and I returned home from an expensive vacation in the desert to learn that our fancy-pants french-door fridge's compressor had bit the dust, naturally just after the warranty expired. Repairs seemed to be a short term and expensive option, so we searched for an affordable replacement.

One of the most defining attributes to the refrigerators I was drawn to, but could not afford was the ample interior illumination of higher end models. It's more common to find a single bulb up top, and when looking at models on display, the empty interior is well lit. However, once you begin to fill the shelves, everything gets pretty dim. We ended up buying an open box side-by-side model that had the most basic components we wanted for a really great price. Prior to delivery I had decided that I would upgrade the lighting using inexpensive LED tape.

The entire process took about an hour and the results make our refrigerator and it's contents look spectacular. Even in our often very packed fridge, everything on each shelf is well illuminated. With no dark corners, It's rare that something is left to be forgotten. This is definitely something you can add to your weekend projects. The cost and effort is minimal compared to the benefit!

Step 1: Determining Your Materials & Electrical Hookup

Every refrigerator is different, so you will likely have to adjust these instructions to suit your own refrigerator, but not much. Most basic and mid-range refrigerators are illuminated with a single standard light bulb at the top. You'll be using the power source for this light bulb to illuminate your LED tape. Using this source will also turn it on and off.

Originally, I thought to remove the bulb and use a lamp socket power adaptor, which would be the fastest and simplest way to power your LED tape. Rather, I opted to keep the existing lamp and tap into it's wiring. The LED tape will require a low voltage transformer, commonly 12V DC. These are often very small for this purpose. They can usually be purchased from the same source as the LED tape. I happened to have an acceptable transformer on hand. Be sure to use a DC transformer to avoid flicker. The smaller the transformer the better as you will want it take up the least amount of space in your refrigerator. You may also get lucky as I did, and be able to secure the transformer inside a plastic panel that housed the wiring for the existing lamp and also had a reasonable amount of room to spare. Otherwise, I'd suggest using some zip ties and your imagination to locate the safest and most out of the way location.

The warm white LED tape I used was not water proof. While most LED lighting I saw in refrigerators was a very cool-white color and gave the empty fridge a modern aesthetic, the blue-white color temperature doesn't make food appear as much appetizing as it does sterilized. Take a look at the super-warm color temperature of lighting used in the produce section of groceries. I would recommend using a water resistant model of LED tape to avoid damage and prevent hurting yourself on the sharper edges of raised LED's, which are sealed and prevents minor injury from scraping your hand. That said, it's been a couple years, and I have experienced no problems whatsoever with the unsealed LED tape I've used.

Here are Amazon links for LED tape options a transformer, and optional socket adaptors:

Silicone sleeve enclosure LED tape: http://amzn.com/B00CMX2KGK

Epoxy enclosure LED tape: http://amzn.com/B006079BCK

12V DC transformer: http://amzn.com/B007ME2HMQ

Plug-free 12V DC transformer: https://amzn.com/B017R17YQC

Lamp socket adaptor: http://amzn.com/B001PCVTFC

Lamp socket that permits continued use of existing bulb: http://amzn.com/B0015SJYRQ

Step 2: Installing the LED Tape

Working with an empty fridge is ideal, but an emptier one will suffice. I was lucky to install the tape right after it was delivered.

You will need two lengths of LED tape, one to run on each side of your fridge. The length of these will vary with your model. This basic installation should be easily adapted to a variety of refrigerator configurations. LED tape can be cut at intervals of usually 3 or 6 LED's depending on it's density. Refer to any instructions that came with your LED tape for cutting and wiring it.

At one end of the LED tape should be a prewired connector for the 12V transformer. At the other end, you'll need to connect the two segments with a measured length of wire. You can connect the LED tape together using snap-on connectors, but I recommend soldering. Using a length of small gauge wire, such as 22 gauge, solder your two cut lengths together.
Learn how to solder LED tape here!
The length of this wire should be the width you are spanning from one side of your refrigerator to the other. In my setup, this wire is run along the floor of the fridge under the bottom basket and covered with white vinyl or duct tape.

Measure and mark your placement for the LED tape, peel the facing off it's preinstalled double-faced adhesive tape and carefully adhere to the insides of your refrigerator. I chose a location about an 1 1/2" back from the front of shelves.

Step 3: Connecting to Your Refrigerator Power

As described previously, connecting power to your LED's could be as simple as using a lamp socket power adaptor.

If however, you are wiring into the existing lamps power as I did, reference the image where I've illustrated what is under the plastic cover. With the refrigerator unplugged (SAFETY FIRST!), I cut into the two wires running to the existing lamp and added the wire leads coming from the short power cable I have my transformer plugged into. Polarity is not an issue on this side of the transformer. This is very simple wiring, and will be familiar to anyone who has replaced a wall switch or light fixture. I used wire nuts to connect everything together, and small zip ties to ensure nothing ever works it's way loose. While your wiring is still accessible, plug the refrigerator back in to test. All of the lighting should be functional now.

LED lighting is low power, so you are not at risk of overloading any wiring or circuits with this additional or supplemental lighting, and they won't be on very long at any point. It's also very thermally cool, so there's no risk of heat related issues. LED's also thrive in the colder conditions of your refrigerator and should last as long. If done as described and with common sense, there should be no risk to you or your refrigerator. If you have any concerns, invite a handy friend over to help!

Step 4: BONUS UPGRADES!

Another upgrade I can't recommend enough are small turntables often referred to as lazy-susan's. I bought two in stainless steel and they make accessing small jars and bottles much easier, and organize what would otherwise be a mess.

Our previous refrigerator was a KitchenAid brand, along with the rest of the appliances. When it died, it was replaced with a Frigidaire, a respectable brand, and to one that I've come to like better. In any case, I liked the fancy KitchenAid metal badge from our dead fridge than the cheaper looking printed Frigidaire one. I simply removed the metal logo and covered the simpler Frigidaire logo on the door dispenser. The only other logo was inside the fridge, where I printed a thermal label to stick over it. Instant upgrade! Now even the Appliance repair guy visiting for the range thought it was a KitchenAid, a much costlier brand. Completely silly, yes.

Pick one or two up on Amazon: http://amzn.com/B000IENGB8

For well under $100 and in a short time, you can have that de-luxe refrigerator you've always wanted this weekend! Enjoy!

Comments

author
boneytoney (author)2016-07-03

Great idea!! I have done this with my fridge. Its so easy. Thank you for the idea..

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davidandora (author)boneytoney2016-07-03

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

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Viaticus (author)2014-04-06

Brilliant! No pun intended...I really mean this is an outstanding 'ible. Thanks for this - I'm headed to the kitchen to size up my fridge and see if I can make it work. I guess this application wouldn't work in my oven! :)

author

In some ovens, there is a switch(on mine it was on top)that you can use to toggle between the light only turning on when the door is open and the light always being on.

author
davidandora (author)Viaticus2014-04-06

I love puns! Hope it works out for you and your fridge. I wish I could make this work in my oven. It's always a guessing game looking through the window in the door. Thanks for the compliment!

author
Jason B (author)2017-06-27

I have a new 2017 LG fridge that has one bank of LEDS at the top of the fridge side, and one bank at top of freezer side. Side by side fridge. The new fridge is awseome, but these leds don't give enough light. It replaced my older GE fridge which has bulbs at the top and bottom of both sides. 8 bulbs total for much more light. Any idea how to add more light to a newer fridge that only has leds??? I saw some on amazon that are battery powered wands that people have used with great reviews. Looking for some ideaS?

author
davidandora (author)Jason B2017-06-28

What comes to mind:
Running the wires for new LED strip out a discreet edge of your fridge. LED wires can be very small, or even flat, and the edging on your door is a little squishy and shouldn't cause any issue with the seal.

That doesn't solve the control issue. A photocell wired in-line might work well if it's inside the fridge. Those are pretty easy to find. I'd think you would want it to be automatic on/off to not become tedious, but any variety of simple switch would certainly work.

There are also re-chargeable bright LED shelf lights with photocells which would function well, but would require periodic recharging which also might grow tedious.
One of several options:
http://a.co/5TDarXF

another option:
http://a.co/5acCRdZ

good luck!

author
Jason B (author)davidandora2017-06-28

Thanks, but your LINKS above won't load?

author
znorm made it! (author)2016-10-27

Thanks for sharing! I copied your idea converting the 220 lamp to 12V.

Hooked up to the kitchen arduino nano & now I have a random color each time I open the door..

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jeanniel1 (author)2016-08-09

This is exactly what I need to do for my frig! We have a really deep frig and often find petrified things years later! If we'd only had the lights, this could have been prevented. Great 'ible!

author

A really smart idea! Takes some confidence with electricity, so a nice oportunity to learn. Thanks!

author

Thank you! This could be a good starter project. Plus, this can be a zero "wiring" project If you were to purchase pre-wired LED tape and used the lamp socket adaptor option I mention. Good luck! :)

author
MatthewP77 (author)2016-08-04

I laughed when I saw you covered up the Frigidaire logos...

author
davidandora (author)MatthewP772016-08-04

Oh good. ;) it's the most ridiculous part of this. The fancy Kitchenaid logo was perhaps the only quality item from that that dead fridge. Love this budget Frigidaire!

author
GeoffN4 (author)2016-06-16

Not having food in the there sure seems to make the light work better too. Plus then you dont stand around looking to see what you want to eat. ( Do i want a stick of butter, or the ketchup for dinner?)

author
MatthewP77 (author)GeoffN42016-08-04

I seem to have those same options when the entire house is packed with food...

author
davidandora (author)GeoffN42016-06-16

;)

author
DonnH1 (author)2016-06-16

Kind of off topic but being light hearted and all... One way to deal with an upright freezer and spillage of refrigerated air is to fill it with cardboard boxes just the right size. They may be bigger ones carefully cut down to fit. Fill them with food in various categories. When you open the door each box (open at the top) is like a mini chest freezer and so little cold air spills out when the door is opened. The down side is it take a little longer to freeze new items when you put them in because of reduced circulation.

author
kris256 (author)DonnH12016-08-04

I actually ran across a guy that took a chest freezer to make the kind of thing you are talking about. He essentially just setup a thermostat that controlled the power to the freezer, and set it to fridge temps. Since it was a chest freezer the cold air can't drop. It is albeit a bit of an ugly setup, but should be pretty efficient when it comes to preventing cold air loss.

author
Databanks (author)2016-08-04

Great concept and excellent execution Looks great and extremely practical, especially for older homes that don't have the best lighting - that single bulb in the middle of the room so every bench has your shadow in the way while you work.

author
EdwinLopez930 (author)2016-06-16

Hi davidandora,

I am concerned about your 12v DC Transformer.

You put that inside the temperature housing, which is inside the FRIDGE, don't you think that it may build moisture in the transformer and might short-circuited?

author

The condensation forms on cool surfaces. The transformer gets warm when the lights are on. This prevents the moisture to condens on its parts. Of course is good to have an enclosed plastic case transformer.

Anyway I shall apply this to my fridge :)

author
ReneA4 (author)nicolae-teodorc2016-08-04

it gets warm, thats the danger. Because whats happening after the light goes off and the door gets closed....

author
davidandora (author)ReneA42016-08-04

The lights and transformer are only receiving power when the door is open and you are (hopefully) standing in front of it. Your fridge would have to be open for entirely too long before there could be any noticeable warming in the transformer, which under most circumstances is in a refrigerated environment.

author
wogga (author)2016-06-16

A concern is that exposed contacts on LED strip lighting might come in contact with hands or conductive metals. While I understand that the transformer in the AC adapter should have inverted the power to 12vdc, I'm concerned that if that adapter fails and connects the LEDs to line voltage, there could be a serious shock hazard. I would encourage people thinking of this modification to iproperly cover/isolate electrical contacts from the refrigerator space, where they have no reason to be.

author
ReneA4 (author)wogga2016-08-04

yup, bring the transformer outside. Just bring one wire from behind the door switch and bring that back outside, connect that with the other wire to the transformer.

A better way is to replace the lamp for a 12V version and feed everything behind the switch with 12 V. Then you can even add a timer/buzzer behind the same switch to get an alarm when you left the door open.

author
ChristopherW49 (author)2016-08-04

Great idea. Thanks

author

You are welcome!

author
Pilje iliP (author)2016-06-16

Well done,but am not concern about lights in the fridge, it's about quantity of food - our is almost empty.

author
davidandora (author)Pilje iliP2016-06-16

Can't help you there, but I'll bet your fridge is fully illuminated!

author
Pilje iliP (author)davidandora2016-06-23

Hahaha, it is, because it's almost empty!

author
Pilje iliP (author)davidandora2016-06-16

Actually,it is. My son said, it's like a cave. Hahaha.

author
tiorbinist (author)2016-06-16

One thing I would like to mention here:
Recent research from Cornell, reported in the Journal of Dairy Science, indicates that four hours under white LED lighting with significant blue-LED wavelength light can change the taste of milk, and not for the better. You can read the paper at http://www.journalofdairyscience.org/article/S0022...

They surveyed milk-case lighting and decided to use 3500K LED lighting (used most often in store milk case lighting) and identify the primary blue drive wavelength as 460nm. (White-light LEDs often use a blue or ultraviolet LED to drive a phosphor mix which produces the widened, smooth spectrum we associate with the sun and incandescents. White-Light LEDs tend to start from blue LEDs. When you look at a striplight with LEDs, they appear yellow or orangish: this is the phosphor coating. The LED light comes from a very small point on the LED die buried under the phosphor coating. When the blue LED is on, the phosphor coating absorbs the 460nm light and re-emits a smooth spectrum of white light, but with a residual peak at 460nm of blue light that has not been absorbed. 460nm is very close to the 450nm wavelength absorption peak of riboflavin, which is identified as one of the photo-sensitive components of milk. (The list included chlorophyll and porphyrin, and alludes to others). These photo-sensitive components absorb energy from the blue light and pass it on to cause further reactions which create free-radicals, singlet oxygen, and affect neighboring molecules to produce, among others, "unwanted aromatic compounds" which can have profound effects of the taste of the milk. "Ancillary" effects can also include reduction of nutritional components of the milk, but they are not addressed by this study.)

The bottom line of the study is that milk near expiration date that has been light-blocked and properly refrigerated is often perceived to taste better than milk which is fresh and has had 4 hours or more of exposure to LED white lighting in the case.

So it may be good to reserve a portion of your refrigerator for milk, and use foamboard or other light-blocking materials to isolate them from interior fridge lighting.

By the way, the study noted that even "lightblock" bottles didn't block the blue light.

author
DukeAdams (author)tiorbinist2016-06-16

I'm having to guess that the milk in a home fridge isn't exposed to an open door for very long in it's entire expiring lifetime in there.

author
mikefiatx19 (author)DukeAdams2016-06-16

Thats bollocks. Most milk is in a box nowadays. If you can find a pint of milk in a glass bottle and you stand with the door open for four hours then the whole contents will most likely need to go in the bin not just the milk

author
DukeAdams (author)mikefiatx192016-06-18

Bollocks is British vulgar slang?

The study had to do more with store cases and display lights remaining on continually, not most home refridgerators with automatic lighting being opened for mere minutes a day which I expressed my belief.

Reply to the author's post next time. Thanks.

I'll gracefully assume 'bollocks' wasn't meant for me as I agree with your comment that the entire contents of the fridge is likely in jeopardy with four hours of exposure to an open door.

author
mikefiatx19 (author)DukeAdams2016-06-21

Wot wot wot, terribly sorry old chap.

Bollocks are are pair of knackers you see. The bits below the tallywacker or the johnson you see.

Me and the old british chaps tend to be a bit wayward with our vulgar tongues.

Your perfectly right old chap that the statement above was of course intended for the auther of the old research paper you see.

Jolly sorry to cause offence old chap.

Wot wot wot.

author
Zephyr93 (author)tiorbinist2016-06-17

Interesting study, thanks for sharing.

Probably doesn't apply to this use case tho - in the US most milk is in opaque cartons today, not bottles. And of course, with lights that go off when the door is closed in a home refrigerator, total exposure time before milk expires is probably short as well (unlike a store display case).

author
tiorbinist (author)Zephyr932016-06-17

You're welcome.

I really hadn't intended that mentioning the study would be an insult to anyone or accusation of oversight.

With regard to opacity of milk cartons, the study does indicate that even light-block plastic cartons allow a significant amount of near-UV light (and 460 is right on the edge) to pass.

It is amazing how many variations on "with lights that go off when the door closes" there are. Thank you for making yours civil!

author
HerbertD1 (author)tiorbinist2016-06-17

This is mostly interesting for those fancy things with Glas fronts, which are always ligthed

author
RamB19 (author)tiorbinist2016-06-16

My milk is on my fridge door so when it's open LED does not affect it. At home, we open the fridge, get stuff out and close except late evenings that the fridge doors stay open a little longer due to thorough inspections by "midnight snackers". Thanks @davidandora for the project, I just ordered the material.

author
davidandora (author)tiorbinist2016-06-16

Interesting study. In all home refrigerators, the lights go off when you close the door. I'm guessing that any milk would only receive several minutes of exposure at most before it was consumed or expired. 

author
RobL23 (author)davidandora2016-06-16

I think anyone who leaves the fridge open for 4 hours can expect all perishable food to be put straight in the bin if not you are serious risk of food poisoning especially from things like processed meats fish etc.

author
SamW108 (author)2016-06-16

"naturally just after the warranty expired" - intrinsic obsolescence

author
ChayM (author)2016-06-16

I bought a fridge, dishwasher, and stove for 1500$ an extra 100 is still quite a bit for lighting my fridge lol

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davidandora (author)ChayM2016-06-16

I'd agree that an extra IS quite a bit much. Good thing this project can be completed for $20 or less! :)

author
sweetpetunia69 (author)2016-06-16

Great idea for our pantry which has very deep shelves and no lighting at all!

author
ram713 (author)2016-06-16

I believe I misinterpreted the image and what they were. I initially 'saw' the SIDE BY SIDE images as a LEFT and a RIGHT half of the same open fridge. The right half being the OPEN DOOR with LEDSs facing and blinding you. The Blue Arrow appeared to me as OPEN THE DOOR. The left image was still dark and not affected by the LEDS.
I apologize for the misinterpretation. Perhaps you now have additional info on how people see things differently.

author
TJS27 (author)2016-06-16

Nice! I'm definitely doing this!

author
davidandora (author)TJS272016-06-16

Thanks! It's well worth the minimal investment!

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