Systematic Appliance Selection

The quandary of determining which appliance (or combination of appliances) will best suit the work space and the homeowners’ cooking style can only be resolved by adapting a systematic approach to the selection process. Surprisingly, the old “gas vs. electric” issue should not be your first decision.

Step one is based on the method of heat transference selected: conduction, convection, induction or radiation. Step two involves the heat source. Step three is choosing the appliance style: built-in, drop-in or slide-in.

Built-in Ovens

The family’s cooking patterns will direct the recommendation for a single, double or a combination of single and micro convection equipment.

Ovens built into a tall tower offer the convenience of one oven at waist height, and one below in the case of double ovens. Some ovens are designed to be placed in the base cabinet so counter space is not lost. An oven should be placed at a comfortable, accessible level. Under-counter installations should only be suggested with ovens engineered for such a location.

Single oven(s) can also be placed in “mid-height” base units, which makes the appliance more accessible and maintains a landing space above the appliance.

One of the biggest advantages of built-in oven/cooktop units is the designer and client have complete freedom and flexibility in placement. The two appliances can be placed side-by-side or separated to create distinct work cells.

Built-in appliances have a higher cost than free-standing ranges, which combine both an oven and cooking surface.

Additionally, installation fees and electrical wiring requirements will be greater than needed for a single appliance.

A planning concern is the wall space required for ovens placed apart from the cooktop.

Oven cabinets are 27-in., 30-in. or 33-in. wide for single- or double-stack ovens. Placed side-by-side, ovens can require as much as 66-in. of wall space. The two built-in units also use a minimum of 55-in. to 60-in. of wall space, which might cramp countertops in a compact kitchen. Lastly, the interior dimension of most built-in ovens is smaller than a 30-in. wide free-standing range oven.

Appliance manufacturer specifications guide designers in proper placement off the floor, as well as heat concerns related to cabinetry above the oven.

Cooktops, Range Tops

Built-in cooktops come in two configurations. The first is a self-contained surface unit, which drops into a cut-out in the countertop and is called a “cooktop.” The second popular style is a front-controlled unit, which requires a lowered cabinet height to accommodate the front panel controls and is called a “range top.”

Cooktops come in a wide variety of sizes and configurations. Simple four-burner cooktops are often used in more modest projects. For the serious cook, five- or six-burner range tops are often specified.

The method of ventilating the cooktop must be determined in the early design phase. If a separate downdraft ventilation system is going to be used, the overall depth of the cabinet may need to be increased.

Slide-in, Free-Standing Ranges

Slide-in and free-standing ranges feature an oven below the cooking surface. The least expensive of this type of appliance may suit the client’s cooking needs, space limitations and budget. However, it will not add the sleek look of built-in models, nor the gourmet cooking style of commercial-type free-standing equipment. Regardless of expense, models with the controls along the range’s backsplash should be avoided. They are awkward to use and potentially dangerous to the cook.

If the slide-in or free-standing range being considered has the controls along the top and can accommodate a downdraft ventilation system, designers may need to increase the depth of the adjacent cabinetry to accommodate the downdraft appliance.

Commercial Cooking Units

When it comes to free-standing equipment, many cooks are attracted by the high-tech styling and extra power of commercial ranges. Commercial-type cooking equipment is available in a free-standing configuration designed for residential applications. Several manufacturers offer a range (called a “dual fuel”) which has a gas cooktop above an electric oven. This advantage provides a high-heat self-cleaning feature for the oven. The big difference between residential and commercial equipment is the burner Btu (British thermal unit) rating. The higher Btu rating is an important criterion for successful gourmet cooking. The Btu rating per hour of the burner must be high enough to generate intense heat for some types of cooking. Typical residential equipment provides 9,000 to 12,000 Btus per burner. Commercial-sized burners approved for residential use offer 15,000-plus Btus. Appliances engineered for home use include the more powerful burner, yet are sized to fit a residential environment. They also offer features important to the consumer such as easy-to-clean parts. Free-standing ranges are most frequently 30 inches wide. Professional-type equipment is available in 36-, 49- or 60-in. wide appliances.

Drop-in Range

Your third option is a drop-in range. Although similar in looks and price to the slide-in, this appliance is installed between base cabinets and supported by the range deck or by adjacent cabinetry. There is a rim to provide the transition from range to countertop that helps avoid cleaning problems. Generally, the controls are placed along the front of these 27-in. to 30-in. so they are simple to reach and safe to use.

If the drop-in range will be combined with a downdraft ventilation system, extra cabinets around the range and on each side may need to be planned.