Do you find yourself squinting at recipes while you’re cooking? Asking your children to read you directions while you stir?

You poor old eyeballs may be aging, but why not look on the bright side? The truth is that anybody, regardless of age, can benefit from under-counter lighting to focus on the cooking, chopping and reading of recipe books that occurs on those busy countertops.

Besides the enormously practical benefits of under-counter lighting, what a huge difference it can make to the style of your kitchen. It can accent and beautify your backsplash, particularly if it’s textured, and countertop, especially if it’s stone or composite with natural sparkles. Plus it adds a classy look to the kitchen, whether you’re cooking or not.

If you’re getting a new kitchen in the near future, there’s no reason on earth not to plan for under-counter lighting. It’s gorgeous and incredibly useful, and can be installed behind the drywall with no worries about making extra holes in the walls and cabinets.

If you need to install it in a finished kitchen, you may decide to use plug-in systems to avoid making too many holes in your walls. Whatever your needs, there are a huge variety of styles and models, so you’ll be sure to find one that suits you.

Above all, don’t cheap out on quality — you’ll be sorry if you do. If your unit is good quality, it is likely better designed, and will give you longer and more reliable service, and will tend not to burn out bulbs as quickly.

And speaking of bulbs, they differ in cost and efficiency. You can buy halogen, fluorescent, xenon, incandescent and increasingly, LED systems for under-counter lighting.

Incandescent is the least efficient energy user. It produces a nice warm light, but the bulbs are notoriously short-lived, and they do not produce the bright focused light that is so handy in task lighting. Halogen, on the other hand, is great for task lighting. It comes in pucks and strings and other configurations. It is twice as efficient as traditional incandescent lighting, and produces a “cool” (blue-toned) intense white light that tends to look great in a modern kitchen with stainless steel, glass tiles and grey concrete finishes. One downside is that halogen lights become hot; add heat to an already hot area, and can pose a fire hazard if they’re not installed properly.

Fluorescent lighting is the most efficient, and has been used for a long time as serviceable and economical under-counter lighting.

They are the least expensive option, both to buy and maintain. The big complaint against fluorescents is that the quality of light may not be pleasing in some environments.

For example, I find that it tends to look good in traditional wood-toned kitchens, but can cast an unflattering yellowish light in a modern kitchen. The bottom line is that before you install, plug in the bulb and test it, if possible, against your kitchen backsplash, counters and cabinets.

Keep the receipt close at hand, in case the quality of light just doesn’t work for you.

The skinny on xenon and LED

• Xenon and LED systems aren’t very common. Xenon is simply a super-efficient incandescent light that is about as efficient as halogen, but does not get hot and has a warm look.

– Sylvia Putz is a journalist with an interest in decor and design. She’s written for the TV show Arresting Design; sputz@arrestingdesign.com.