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Cook In Cleaner Air: Making A Case For Range Hoods

Elica 36 Inch Wall Mounted Range Hood from the Atlantis Collection

I never understood range hoods. It’s that one appliance in the kitchen that’s always sort of there, but unlike a lot of other kitchen fixtures, I never really questioned why. Especially since a lot of the ones I’ve had have been pretty old and ratty, to me they’ve always been those things you turn on if your pasta boils over. But if you’re wondering whether or not you need one, if it’s worth upgrading to a better one, or even if you should bother turning on the one you’ve got, the answer is, emphatically, YES! Why my change of heart?

You see, I recently helped a friend clean a kitchen that didn’t have a range hood. She was in the middle of moving and wanted to get her deposit back, so we were trying to do a pretty thorough job. Before long, we realized that those lovely off-gray walls were actually white under countless layers of built up grease and smoke residue. Now, I’ve read all the reasons to have even a basic range hood, but nothing can drive the point home quite like a tackling several years and dozens of tenants worth of grease spatter with a bucket and a sponge.

A good range hood sucks up the air above your stove while you’re cooking – smoke, grease, steam, odors, and all – and vents them outside. It prevents that awful grease buildup on your walls, and keeps your kitchen smelling pleasant and smoke-free even when you’re doing serious cooking – like searing meat over a high heat. It can also help wick away steam from boiling water and hot air from the stove to keep your kitchen from feeling muggy. Maybe more important still, a good range hood saves you from having to breathe in all that gunk. Heaters and stoves are the biggest sources of carbon monoxide in the home – which is why detectors are often installed near them. Having a range hood helps keep air circulating and pumps out carbon monoxide with the rest of the air, preventing it from building up to dangerous levels in the first place.

Most ducted range hoods are built into your cabinets – specifically running the vent up through the cupboards immediately over the stove and out to an exterior wall. This helps prevent you from having to look at, well, a big metal rectangle, but depending on the arrangement of your kitchen, you might not have the luxury. But don’t let that stop you from making an important investment – in addition to ranges that mount from the bottom of cabinets, well-designed exposed hoods have become more common. Some of them can even be outright pretty, and would look excellent in a modern kitchen. If you do have to go with an exposed range hood, look for sleek lines and high-quality materials. The more of it you have to see, the more important it is that you like the way it looks.

Of course, there are some situations that would prevent you from having a range hood that vents to the outside at all. Community building codes, the location of your kitchen or the range itself, or simply financial constraints on your project can all make it difficult or impossible to install a traditional range. But if you do a lot of cooking, you should still really consider getting a ductless range hood.

I’ll say up front: ductless range hoods don’t work as well as the traditional kind. Rather than venting the gunky air to the outside, ductless range hoods come equipped with a carbon filter. The filter scrubs the air clean before pumping it back into the kitchen. They are able to filter grease, smoke, and toxins (like carbon monixide) out of your air, but because they recycle air rather than expelling it, they won’t do much for heat or moisture, and you’ll have to be very aware of the filters, as they can become clogged. Filters can be washed as well as replaced, but if left unattended too long, they become less and less efficient, and can even damage the range hood.

That said, if you have a range as part of a kitchen island where it can’t be vented outside (or some of the other aforementioned constraints) a ductless range might be exactly what you need. Good news – these ones tend to be the best designed as well. Since a freestanding range is already basically the height of fancy kitchen design, the range hoods designed for them are basically the prettiest ones out there

All that said, there are tons of sleek, modern range hoods out there, but what, exactly, should you look for? You want to make sure that the range you choose is at least as wide as your cooktop, and installed about 30 inches above the range surface. Too much closer and it can be a hazard – both to your head and potentially high flames – but install it too high and it won’t work effectively. Measure the width of your range; the range hood should be at least as wide, and have at least 50 CFM (Cubic Feet Per Minute, the oomph of the machine) for every foot across, and ideally double or triple that. Many high-end ones come with a standard 600 CFM, which is probably more than you need, but will save you a little math. Noise levels are rated in sones – the higher the number, the noisier it’ll be, so if you want one that’s quiet, look for the lowest number you can find.

Whichever route you go, for whatever your kitchen layout, a new range hood is definitely a good investment – and not all of them are quite so clunky and obtrusive as they used to be. In fact, they can even be kinda stylish. Now, I can admit that I still mostly use my range hood for pasta mishaps and as a nite light for midnight snacking, but you can bet your bottom dollar, if I’m cooking something greasy? That range hood is ON!