Friday, October 14, 2011

Over-the-Range Micro: Out to Pasture - Guest Post


Useful Spaces readers, please meet Sang. He’s a People Component in Google Sketchup. Sang has a problem, and I’m using him and his effervescence to illustrate the problem to you. You see, Sang is an average five-foot ten-inch male and he would like to turn on an element on his range, but he can’t see the head of the range (that’s the technical part of an electric range where the dials and clock are.) So what Sang does is he stoops down to reach the controls, sometimes over hot boiling pasta, or a frying pan of bacon, to turn down from high to medium-high in order not to burn his food, but in the process Sang suffered from second-degree burns from the steam or the splatter. In the process of the skin burn, Sang burnt his food too because he was pre-occupied running cold water over his new blistering skin, and now the smoke detector is going off, despite the ventilation running at 600 cubic-feet-per-minute. Disaster ensues and Sang remains hungry.

I use this analogy to illustrate to you that over-the-range microwaves (OTR) are riddled with safety, planning, universal access, cabinet finishing and installation problems. Now, I’ve recommended my share of OTR’s in my day, and they have always been the absolute last resort, and only three times, I swear. In each and every situation the kitchen was smaller than 150 square feet, and in each and every situation there was no other placement option or realistic resolution.

Now, I could bore you up the wall with Kitchen Planning Guideline #17, #21, #22, #23 and #24, but let me make this simple: Over-the-Range Microwaves are a poor investment and are not safe. Here’s why:
  1. INSTALLATION - As illustrated by Image 1, the specifications for a correct OTR installation puts the appliance at 13 ⅛” above the cooking surface. Most OTR’s are incorrectly installed at 18” above the cooking surface. 
  2. VENTILATION - OTR’s have a small capture area at the very back (toward the wall) of the appliance. OTR’s max out their use-fullness at 600 C.F.M. (cubic feet for minute) which means they are designed for light cooking. Combine that with the very rear location of the ventilation, they can not adequately capture indoor air contaminants such as grease, steam, and smoke for normal use. 
  3. ACCESS - The centre of the OTR is just over 56” above finished floor, which is safe to access for some people over 5’ - 10”, but with the average female height at 5’ - 4” it puts half of our species at an infinite disadvantage. I certainly do not want to see my 85 year old darling Grandmother lifting out anything heavier than 3 lbs., let alone anyone else who has an accessibility concern. The 13 ⅛” installation above the cooking surface is less than a bookshelf height, and because the appliances are 18” deep (or more) it proves a tremendous challenge to access controls on your cooking appliance. 
  4. NOT SUITABLE FOR ALTERNATE FUELS - The OTR does not come wider than 30-inches, which also means that your cooking appliances can not be larger than 30-inches. Because OTR’s have a maximum of 600 C.F.M., they are not safe for fuel sources other than a standard electric range. 
  5. LIGHTING - Because an OTR is a two-in-one appliances, the lighting provided to illuminate your work surface (the hot top of your cooking appliance) is pushed to the back, just in front of the ventilation. This will not light your cook surface. This is in-adequate. 
  6. STYLE - The OTR hangs below the cabinet and this is ugly. Way to ruin the kitchen. Most OTR’s are installed at the incorrect height because the designer or the consumer do not want to see the 10-inch drop below the cabinet line. Not only is this ineffective, but the appliances is almost useless - except for that microwave function. 
Planning guidelines aside, the primary issue with the OTR is that they just do not function well enough, perform on a consistent basis for all models, to properly ventilate indoor air-borne contaminants. Blending a microwave and a hood-vent does nothing but weaken the effectiveness of both by cramming two motors into one thereby creating inefficiency. The OTR sucks. There, I said it.

Corey S. Klassen, AKBD BFA is a Vancouver based interior designer specialising in kitchens and bathrooms. He is design writer, instructor, and wild yogi. You can view his design blog at and his personal site at

Images are courtesy Corey S. Klassen,  AKBD BFA


Nick @ Cupboards said...

My complaints with OTR microwaves are really just in the aesthetic department.

I have never(and will never) install an OTR Microwave at 13 1/8" off the range. No chance. Installation instructions be damned.

In the past when we've used them(usually in tract type homes and apartments) I throw the ventilation aspect and convenience out the window. We install OTRs so the bottom of the micro sits between 54 and 57 inches off the floor. That'll leave 18-21" from the cooking surface. Even that is not desirable.

In most of our area, codes prevent anything closer to a heat source.

Is the microwave too high? Probably. Do I care? Nope... we should have built that thing in somewhere else like I suggested. ;-)

Great post, Corey!

Arne Salvesen said...

Does Sang work for free, or am I going to receive an invoice for his services later?

Thanks for a great post Corey!

ClarityK (Sarah) said...

Agreed, totally - hate the things!

Gloria Graham Sollecito, AKBD said...

My new best appliance friend (not really new) is the microwave drawer. Sharp makes an excellent one. This appliance is unobtrusive below the counter, safe and easy to access. You will find them in all the kitchens I design, if space allows.

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