The Cooking Center

Today it is typical to have several cooking appliances. The recommendations for this center have been arranged according to the type of cooking and are excerpted from the book “Kitchen Planning,” part of the NKBA Professional Resource Library.

Surface Cooking

Because of the interaction between the surface cooking appliance and food preparation tasks, this area is often considered the primary cooking center. It should be located with consideration to the other centers, particularly the sink center. Cooks will move most frequently between the sink and the cooktop, and there should be a clear uninterrupted path between these two areas. This means that the cooking surface will often be placed beside, or across from, the sink.

Safety is a major concern at the cooking surface because there is danger of scalds, burns and fire. Several recommendations have been developed to keep this a safe area.

Consider the location and design of appliance controls. Controls placed at the back of the appliance may mean that the cook must reach over hot and steaming pots to adjust cooking temperatures, and should be avoided when possible. Controls placed at the front edge of the range provide easy access to seated cooks, but might tempt small children to manipulate them, if they are easily manipulated. Controls on the top of the appliance and/or to the side, improve access to most users.

Designers and clients are responsible for selecting products that consider the safety needs of all users.

If the sink is on an island, there may be a desire to place the cooktop beneath the window, the traditional sink placement area. If this is done, the window should not be operable. Trying to open a window by reaching over hot pots is not safe and drafts from the window can affect cooking performance and safety. Fixed windows or a glass block area might be a solution, but consider how hard this area will be to clean.

Landing Area

There should be a landing area on both sides of a cooking surface. Not only does the landing area allow for a place to put spoons, pot lids and ingredients to be added, it also provides a space to turn pot handles so that they are not hit by passing traffic. Unless the countertop is a heat resistant material, the landing area is not a place to put hot pots, unless it is an emergency.

There should be a minimum of 15 inches of counter frontage on one side of the range and 12 inches on the other. If there are various counter heights at the range, the 12- and 15-inch landing areas should be the same height as the cooking surface.
If the cooking surface is on an island or a peninsula that is the same height as the cooking surface, then there should also be 9 inches of counter space behind the cooking surface to prevent handles being hit and hot spatters getting onto people standing or sitting behind the cooking surface.

Occasionally, in a small kitchen, a cooking surface will be placed next to a wall or tall obstacle. This should only be done if it is in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions for clearances. This closed configuration will not provide an adequate landing area on one side of the cooking center and can restrict the size of pots that will fit on the cooking surface. If no other configuration can be used, then fire retardant and easy-to-clean wall materials will be necessary.

Ventilation and Clearances

A ventilation system is required for surface cooking. There are several different types of systems available. It is important to match the ventilation system with the features of the surface cooking appliance. Besides planning the size and style of ventilation, plan the placement of the ventilation system. Different cooking and ventilation appliance systems may have different requirements and manufacturer’s specifications should always be followed.

A typical arrangement calls for placing the range hood over the cooking surface. Ideally, the hood should extend at least 3 inches beyond the cooking surface on both sides. A range hood is made of non-flammable materials and is fireproof. It should be placed at least 24 inches above the cooking surface. For a typical application, this would place the bottom of the hood at 60 inches.

The eye height for a small woman is about 53 inches and for a tall man it is 69 inches. Consider the client’s eye height and overall height when planning the hood placement, so that it does not interfere with the user’s view and access to the cooking surface. If a microwave with built-in ventilation is placed above the range, follow manufacturer’s instructions for correct clearance.

A proximity ventilation system is located either as part of the cooking appliance or within the counter next to, or behind, the cooking appliance. This type of system allows for a clear open space above the cooking appliance and might be used on an island or peninsula. Check cooktop and ventilation system manufacturer’s specifications for placement and to determine counter depth. A telescoping system placed behind the cooktop may affect the specifications of base cabinets in this area. A cabinet or other flammable object placed above the cooking surface with proximity ventilation should be at least 30 inches above the cooking surface, while a protected or fireproof surface can be at 24 inches.

Microwave Cooking

People use the microwave for a variety of cooking tasks, which can determine where the microwave should be placed in the kitchen. It might be suitable to place the microwave next to the refrigerator if it will primarily be used to defrost food and reheat leftovers. It could also be placed within a preparation area that is between the sink and refrigerator. This would be convenient for defrosting, reheating and some food preparation tasks.

Other locations are more suitable for a microwave, microwave/ convection combination or speed cooking appliance used for major cooking tasks. In this case, the microwave should be part of the primary cooking center. Placing the microwave in a preparation area that is between the sink and surface cooking appliance might be suitable for creating a primary cooking center with food preparation activities.

A microwave combined with a ventilation system is sometimes placed over a cooking surface, placing both appliances at the anchor point of the primary cooking center. This can be efficient in a small kitchen, since the microwave is not taking up counter space or cabinet storage. However, the microwave will not be at a height that is safe and convenient for some users, and the ventilation system may not be adequate. There is one range designed with the microwave in a drawer above the range oven. This locates the microwave in the primary cooking center, but at a safer height.

A microwave may be located with the wall oven in a cabinet, creating a secondary cooking center and in this case, the cook’s height should be carefully considered. This might be appropriate if the microwave is used in ways similar to the oven. If the microwave cooking process will require frequent checking by the cook, the appliance should not be located outside of the cook’s work area.

If the microwave is used for preparing snacks and is not part of the regular food preparation or cooking activities, it might be placed outside of the cook’s work area and convenient to users who prepare snacks.

Placement Height

Research has indicated the best body mechanics for using the microwave is for the bottom of the microwave oven to be placed no lower than 2 inches below a primary user’s elbow and no higher than 3 inches below the primary user’s shoulder height. This will allow the user to see into the microwave to observe food cooking, to see the controls (which often require a visual confirmation of settings) and it will provide for appropriate leverage when taking hot food out of the oven. The NKBA recommends that the bottom of the microwave be placed no higher than 3 inches below the user’s shoulder height.

As a general interpretation of this recommendation, the NKBA guideline states that the bottom of the microwave should be placed no more than 54 inches off the floor. This will allow a microwave to be placed on the bottom shelf of a wall cabinet.

However, this is not a good location if the user’s shoulder height is below 57 inches or if the user has any problem with upper body strength.

If placing the microwave over the cooking surface, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for clearances. Keep in mind that 24 inches between the cooking surface and a protected surface is recommended by the NKBA, putting the bottom of the microwave at 60 inches, which is 6 inches above the maximum shoulder height recommendation.

However, more important than either of these recommended distances are the safety concerns of this application. Reaching over hot and steaming food on the cooktop can be dangerous for anyone, but especially if someone cannot see what they are getting. Also, there is not a convenient counter space below the microwave to place a hot food item.

Sometimes a microwave is placed below a raised or even a standard height counter. This might be appropriate for children or people working from a seated position, again improving access but requiring added attention to safety for toddlers.

However, this application may require others to stoop and bend to read controls and to take food out of the oven. The NKBA allows for this type of installation, but the bottom of the oven should not be below 15 inches off the floor.

Who the users of the microwave are and how they use the microwave will really determine the appropriate placement of the appliance. Make sure you understand the clients’ functional requirements (shoulder height, upper body strength, eye height) and their use of the microwave (preparing snacks, cooking casseroles, prepping ingredients) when you plan the placement of the microwave. An arrangement that works for a family with teenage boys might not work for an older couple with physical limitations or a young family with toddlers.

Landing Area

Wherever the microwave is placed, a 15-inch landing area should be provided above, below or adjacent to the microwave oven. Most microwaves have handles on the right and, ideally, the landing area should be on that side, but it is not always possible to do that. If a landing area is located across from the microwave, it should be within 48 inches of the front of the appliance. Remember all landing areas are between 28 and 45 inches above the finished floor, so evaluate where the landing area will be when a microwave is placed in a 48-inch high cabinet.

Oven Cooking

Oven cooking is a somewhat passive cooking activity, meaning the food is generally prepared in a preparation area and then placed in the oven. Often a timer is set and the cook might come back when the timer goes off. Of course, some foods and cooking techniques, such as broiling, should be more closely watched and the cook will return to check on progress. With a range, the oven will be in the primary cooking center and easy for the cook to observe. It is often the client’s preference and the only choice for a small kitchen. Some separate ovens are also placed beneath the surface cooking appliance, in the same location as the range oven or below a counter. These applications place the bottom of the oven at an inconvenient height for many people, making bending and lifting difficult.

A separate oven can be placed outside of the primary cooking center, because the cook is not constantly going to the appliance. This might be at one end of the work area or on a separate wall. Be sure to evaluate traffic in this secondary area, to avoid creating a hazardous situation. The oven door should not open into a traffic path.

A separate oven can be placed at a height that is more convenient to the user. A single oven placed with the bottom of the oven at 30 to 36 inches above the floor allows food to be transferred between the oven and a counter at a similar height.

Double ovens typically will have the lower oven at a similar height to a range oven. Today, we are seeing two separate ovens designed at comfortable heights, when space allows. The result is that both ovens can be at a height that places controls no higher than 48 inches and yet high enough to reduce bending.

Landing Area

The landing area for an oven is 15 inches and can be placed on either side of the oven. This can coincide with the landing area required for a cooking surface if a range or oven beneath a cooking surface is used. The landing area can be located across from the oven as long as it is within 48 inches of the front.

For more information on all of the books in the NKBA Professional Resource Library, go to nkba.org or call 800-THE-NKBA.

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