Upgrade Your Refrigerator Lighting

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Introduction: Upgrade Your Refrigerator Lighting

About: I've been self employed most of my life, with the curse of a seemingly unending stream of ideas. One of my best skills is brainstorming and problem solving, utilizing an extensive knowledge of novel technolo...

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!

3 People Made This Project!

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189 Comments

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

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1 reply

Fantastic! Thanks for sharing!

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! :)

2 replies

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.

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!

I don't know if this a stoopit question or not or I should have read your instructions more carefully. I am going to ask it anyway. Is it possible to have those lights in my microwave? I only need it when opening the door.

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?

2 replies

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!

Thanks, but your LINKS above won't load?

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!

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! :)

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

1 reply

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!

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?)

2 replies

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

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.

1 reply

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.

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.