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Safety is a huge part of your kitchen design

An edited version of this article appeared in the May 2011 issue of the national publication of Kitchen & Bath design news.


One of the greatest challenges for a kitchen designer is to create a design that the customer appreciates aesthetically and simultaneously provides them with a functionally well designed kitchen.  It’s equally difficult to just not make any mistakes.  And sadly, that’s something very few kitchen designers can actually accomplish.


When customers show me designs done elsewhere, I can usually rattle off 10 blatant errors before I even closely examine the floor plan.  Even more alarming, many designs actually have the potential to kill.  And, these same fatal designs have even won awards.


In the last few years, I honestly have yet to pick up a kitchen trade magazine without a featured kitchen on either its front or back cover having major mistakes.   Often they possess one of the possibly fatal design flaws listed below.  Here is my list of the 8 deadly kitchen designs that I see over and over again.


  1. Wall cabinet, spice pull out or an appliance garage too close to the cooktop or range
    Kitchens with hearths or grottos are the biggest culprits with the Professional high BTU burners being mere inches from the sides of the wood cabinetry creating a fire hazard.                                                                                                                                                                       .
  2. Range too close to the window
    Most building codes require a range to be a minimum of 12 inches away from a window for a number of reasons.  A fire on the stove can jump to curtains on the windows.  Or a breeze from an open window can blow out the flame on a gas burner and allow gas to accumulate possibly unnoticed prior to a potential explosion.  I have seen many, many, examples of designs with the range actually underneath the window.                                                                                                                                                                                                      .   .
  3. Range or cooktop on the end of the run
    Handles of pots and pans can be left extending out in space to be flipped onto homeowners or their children.  This is usually seen all the more disastrously in high traffic areas and next to doorways where people are entering the room unprepared for the foolish design flaw.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             .  
  4. The deadly cousin or number 2 and 3.  A range next to the exterior kitchen door for all the reasons listed in 2 and in 3.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        .
  5. Wall cabinets extending out over where there is no countertop or by themselves without protective bases below them
    Usually this tends to be customer driven.  Out of the need to create storage space literally everywhere in their kitchen, cabinets get put in places where someone leaning or bending over unsuspectingly can stand up and fracture their skull.  I actually know of a contractor that fractured his skull this way and is now blind.                                                                                                                                     .
  6. This one is a little of a stretch.  But today many children and adults have respiratory issues such as asthma, severe allergies, or emphysema.  Placing cabinets with moldings approaching but not reaching the ceiling can create a space that is impossible to clean and yet accumulates over time inches of dust, dead skin, and dust mites.  This could cause potentially fatal health reactions to those sensitive.  I have seen where this is done intentionally to create a “shadow line” on the ceiling.  Once you get 3 or less inches from the ceiling, you must go all the way.                                       .
  7. Probably one of the biggest issues on the kitchen design horizon.  Today’s powerful hoods coupled with tightly sealed energy efficient homes create negative pressure inside the home when the windows are closed in the winter and the exhaust fan is on.  Without a heat/air exchanger or a heating system designed against negative pressure the exhaust fan will pull carbon monoxide back down the water heater exhaust, the furnace chimney, or more dramatically pull the smoke right out the customers fireplace into their home.  Nearly all designers and appliance salespeople never even consider this and only in the most expensive and usually colder climate neighborhoods like Jackson Hole Wyoming are there any building codes regarding this.**Just a note:  12 months after this was published Pennsylvania became one of the first States to regulate this very issue. Presently all 50 states require replacement air systems for all hoods over 400 CFM.                                                                                                                        .
  8. This one is almost no longer an issue but still exists.  Customers must have GFCI outlets within 4 feet of their sink but if they have an electric range with spiral coil heating elements and the kitchen designer places the range too close to the stainless steel sink, the 110 volt outlet issue will be benign in comparison to the 220 volt range, sink, and water shocker.                                       .

Kitchen design is a profession I love for many reasons including the creativity involved, the people you meet, and the sense of accomplishment when you do a good job.  But, the biggest reason I love designing kitchens is that it is an incredible challenge.


To answer any questions regarding the significance of today’s date (originally posted March 15th 2011):

“Beware the ides of March”

Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar


Paul’s speech on the topic:


Hoping you don’t have any of these issues,

Paul McAlary


  1. pmcalary, February 17, 2020 at 5:22 pm:

    Hi vWiles,
    You need at least a 3/4″ panel between the dishwasher and the range to hold up the countertop. Ther is no saftey issue but two appliance next to each other looks a little busy.

  2. vwiles, February 17, 2020 at 2:58 pm:

    This is all very enlightening, thank you for this article!

    Question: Is it safe to have the dishwasher directly adjascent to a gas stovetop and electric oven or are we really looking at the same issues as a sink? If it was safe would a heat shield in between be needed? I’ve seen this done and liked it, but I wondered after reading this if it was safe. Any thoughts to share? Also, do you have consulting rates on kitchens for people who self-design, and then you come and say – that’s a terrible idea do this differently or say – hey this isn’t too dumb? Thanks 🙂

  3. pmcalary, January 17, 2020 at 6:51 am:

    Remember that not only can this be a fire hazard if its too close but it also looks funny and the handles of pots and pans can’t turn out to the side on the back burners. It depends on how powerful the burners are as to what’s safe but I would never get closer than 9 inches, and it probably won’t start to look natural until you get to 12 inches away.

  4. Linnea J Farrell, January 16, 2020 at 12:34 pm:

    How far must an appliance garage be from a gas stovetop?

  5. pmcalary, August 1, 2019 at 5:45 pm:

    Hi Brian,
    If there is a window over the sink then the range must be 12″ from the window for fire reasons. Otherwise it it only just a bad design to have a range and sink close to each other.

  6. Bryan, August 1, 2019 at 5:17 pm:

    I’ve got a small kitchen on the second floor of an old house (built in 1891). The gas range is currently sitting next to the sink. Someone told me that to be compliant with code, the sink has to be 30″ from the range, but I can’t find that anywhere. Your blog mentions electric ranges being a dumb idea for the obvious reason of having a 220 volt appliance next to a water source, but I don’t see any reason why a gas range (with electronics plugged into a GFCI outlet) would be against code. Is there a reason why a gas range shouldn’t be closer than 30″ from the sink?

  7. pmcalary, July 4, 2019 at 4:45 pm:

    Hi Delmer,
    Thanks for the kind words. Being blunt or even a little funny makes our blogs more readable. So if I come off a little too intense it is only because filtering my comments doesn’t help our search engine optimization.

  8. Delmer Logemann, July 4, 2019 at 3:48 pm:

    You give readers a lot to think about and I appreciate that kind of writing.

  9. pmcalary, January 14, 2019 at 3:40 pm:

    Creating funky designs never makes sense. As a former General Contractor I’d advise that when potential customers want to jury rig things that they thought of themselves it is usually a good idea to head for the hills.

  10. Terry, January 14, 2019 at 2:57 pm:

    I have a client that wants to install a cook top over a working hot water radiator. The radiator is in a kitchen cabinet right now with mesh doors and the counter does get really warm to the touch. I am thinking this is not a good idea, I am just looking for confirmation. Thank you

  11. pmcalary, December 27, 2018 at 8:58 am:

    Many dangerous situations don’t make it into code or are not even enforced correctly when they are. For example, the lack of replacement air codes poisoned people for a decade before it made it into code in 2011. Thinking that if you adhere to code while throwing common sense and science out the window you will be not create a dangerous situation is the mentality that creates many of the disasters that occur in kitchens. Our company has replaced several kitchens due to home fires that occurred when a fire on the stove jumped to a curtain nearby. Forrest Gump’s Mama said “Stupid is as stupid does”. When you are considering an obviously dangerous situation don’t scour code to find it authenticated. Just don’t do it!!!

  12. Adam, December 27, 2018 at 8:33 am:

    I can’t find the requirement of a 12 inch minimum distance between a stove and a window in IRC 2012 or 2014 codes, which my city says it uses. Where are you finding this clearance requirement? I’m just outside Chicago in Illinois.

  13. pmcalary, December 25, 2018 at 7:22 pm:

    Hi Lauren,
    Having a cooktop underneath a window presents many issues among them:

    Since downdraft hoods don’t work at all with gas burners and barely at all with electric ones, and lower the value of a home you should be getting a over the cooktop hood. And, placing a hood is front of the windows looks odd , from both the inside and outside, and defeats part of the reason you want the windows.
    You can not safely have curtains or blinds on any windows within 1 foot of the cooktop.
    The window should be a picture window and not open due to the danger of the flame issue.
    The window will be covered with the grease and oil normally being cleaned off a backsplash.
    On an insulated glass window the flames can not be too close otherwise the heat will break the seal on a window and it will fog up. The window company would need to ask all kinds of questions to know if there could be a problem. I would guess that the person you spoke to at the window company didn’t know enough to determine if there could be an issue. When people that have very thick stone walls this moves the window back far enough to prevent this problem or when the windows are higher off the countertop. The height you would need to go is the hard part to ascertain. 48″ above the countertop would be fine I am sure but 42″ might be cutting it close and 40 or less certainly would be a problem for people in cold climates. As the problem is exacerbated by a larger difference between the temperature inside and outside.

    This is why you need a good kitchen designer and why I have disdain for architects that don’t exclusively do kitchens giving kitchen advice. A little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing. A good kitchen designer can help you make the best attractive and sensible design decisions.

  14. LK, December 25, 2018 at 1:04 pm:

    We want a row of windows looking out to our yard with a cooktop underneath. Is there any way possible to accomplish this safely? Our architect called the window company (high end) andrhey said it is ok to do. I’m guessing they didn’t think about the wind blowing out a flame. Thanks.

  15. pmcalary, December 17, 2018 at 5:48 pm:

    I assume you mean a 30″ tall cabinet and not a wall cabinet. A 30″ wall oven should be installed in a 31 to 33″ wide tall cabinet so that the sides of the oven are not too close to the sides of the cabinet. Most less expensive US cabinet lines only make a 33″ wide oven cabinet so you aren’t even given the option to make a bad decision.
    Appliance manufacturers have been endangering their customers for decades until the building code changes to prevent their foolish recommendations. The 2011 replacement air code requirement is just one of many examples of appliance companies knowingly placing sales above safety.

  16. Kimberly Kauffman, December 17, 2018 at 5:26 pm:

    Richard, in a July 5th post you stated that it is dangerous to place a 30″ wall oven in a 30″ wall cabinet. The 30″ GE wall oven that I just purchased recommends a 30″ wall cabinet. Should I use a 33″ in cabinet?

  17. pmcalary, November 2, 2018 at 6:41 am:

    No that would be against building code unless there was no wall cabinetry on either side of the hood. And it would look bad. In general it is never “reasonable” to break sensible conventions. Considering this big mistake also makes me suspect that your design has many others. Feel free to email us your floor plan and design on a Friday between 2 pm and 4 pm EST and we can let you know what issues your design has.

  18. Elizabeth, November 2, 2018 at 2:56 am:


    I’m considering installing an induction cooktop, the “burners” of which would be just about 30″ even though with borders the cooktop would go to 36″ but would like to put a 30″ hood or combo microwave and hood above the cooktop. Do these sound like reasonable safe options to you?

    Thank you.

  19. pmcalary, July 15, 2018 at 8:33 am:

    Hi Richard,
    Inventing uses for cabinets and appliances other than their intended use can only be successfully accomplished by experts in kitchen design and construction. Usually some engineering ability is also needed. As an expert I know how hard succeeding in this can be and how many potentially dangerous problems are routinely overlooked by the less experienced.

    The fact you don’t list solutions for the most concerning issues that you would need to overcome yet ask for an opinion, tells me that you are out of your depth. The biggest obstacles to overcome here, and there are many, would be that the depth of the oven is 23 1/2 ” and so the oven would have to be recessed into the wall through the back of the wall cabinet about a foot. What’s in that wall and in back of it? The oven, would need to be properly supported both inside and through the wall and inside the wall cabinet. The wall cabinet compromised by having it’s back cut out and handling excessive weight would also need to be supported in a new manner. The heat generated in this unusual cavity passing through a wall would also need to be considered. The list goes on.

    This is paraphrased from our web site:

    “If you are like Leonardo da Vinci and know all the engineering rules that apply to a problem then you can break the rules. Unfortunately the people that usually want to break the rules are not da Vinci’s.”

  20. Richard, July 15, 2018 at 6:25 am:

    I was thinking of installing a GE Café French Door oven in a regular wall cabinet (not a tall cabinet) OVER a countertop. The base cabinet/countertop below would project the typical 12″ or so in front of the wall cabinets above. There would be the typical 18″ space above the countertop to the wall cabinet housing the oven. Any reason this can’t be done?

  21. pmcalary, July 5, 2018 at 7:30 am:

    For Ranges – Cabinets can be touching a range the closer the better with one exception. If you have thremafoil plastic doors and drawer fronts you will need a heat sheild between the cabinet and the range to keep the plastic from being damaged.

    For ovens – One of the most dangerous things with wall ovens is when 30″ wall ovens are put into 30″ oven cabinets. The oven cabinet needs to be at least 1″ wider than the oven installed in it.

  22. nancy buechley, July 4, 2018 at 3:45 pm:

    This was a great article. What I want to know is how close can the cabinets be to the installed stove? Is there a safety issue if they are contacting each other?

  23. pmcalary, June 22, 2018 at 4:12 pm:

    Do you mean what do we think of french door style wall ovens with two doors that swing out from the center? Pocket doors slide into a wall and no ovens do this.

  24. Todd, June 22, 2018 at 12:45 pm:

    What are your thoughts about having wall ovens behind pocket doors? Seems to be a new trend.

  25. pmcalary, June 18, 2018 at 8:49 am:

    Sorry these are not issues we address on our site.

  26. ROBERTO CHAIDEZ, June 11, 2018 at 8:00 pm:

    I have a pretty big issue. One that i think i should get some signatures from residents in these Section 8 Apts. They’ve done inspections but i never said anything about how dangerous the kitchenettes are until now. You see the owner of this building got a $38 million loan from the California Redevelopment Committee to make the Alexandria Hotel Apts into 468 “assisted” living apartments. They made 509 and put these hideous 2 burner kitchenettes in each unit. Basically going the cheapest route possible. Of the top of my head they couldn’t have been more than $1k a unit. (2 burners right next to the one base sink, sitting OVER the little college fridge. Its already shorted out 3 TIMES! The last time it fried the inner part of the coil because, of course WATER ISNT SUPPOSED TO BE NEXT TO ELECTRICAL OUTLETS OR TOUCH THE STAINLESS STEEL COILS. Do you think i should run a Class Action or do an individual first to make way for the rest to get a chunck of the $38 million that was NOT spent in “Improving the Units”. Oh and BTW, the loan CLEARLY STATES THE $ is for IMPROVEMENTS NOT maintenance or the Downstairs Banquet Room which he put A LOT of $ into because he runs Weddings, Graduations etc.. Every week! He also has a lot of filming on site that i know he wouldn’t habe gotten if he didnt do all the editions.
    Anyone care to give a level headed ex-Marine some advice?

  27. pmcalary, June 7, 2018 at 2:53 pm:

    This sounds odd, something is not right here. Does your mother have a professional range under her microwave? That is dangerous if she does.

  28. Dawn, May 22, 2018 at 11:01 am:

    My mother installed cabinets on either side of her microwave, above the stove. The cabinets become so hot she cannot even touch them if the stove is being used. The cabinets are made of maple, by J&K Cabinetry, and installed to code of 18″ above the countertop area. What can she do about this? Is this a fire hazard? I have seen several kitchens with cabinets in the same position but have not known of anyone having any issues in using the cabinets.

  29. pmcalary, May 7, 2018 at 10:47 am:

    Don’t know JSI. If you call Fridays between 2pm and 4pm designers research and help people outside our service area for those two hours

  30. Teresa Michael, May 6, 2018 at 4:13 pm:

    Great information! Looking for any feedback you can provide on JSI Cabinets, particularly Trenton and Dover collections.

  31. pmcalary, April 18, 2018 at 3:58 pm:

    If you mean having the side of a tall pantry cabinet against a stove that would be a fire hazard. Having a base cabinet next to a range is OK of course.

  32. Bill, April 18, 2018 at 3:46 pm:

    Is it possible to mount a cabinet with plywood sides right next to an electric stove with a self cleaning feature?

  33. pmcalary, April 13, 2018 at 2:12 pm:

    You can keep the window sill at about 38″ above the floor and not have a trim skirt underneath, just a couple of inches of tile between the countertop and sill.

  34. Chad, April 13, 2018 at 1:24 pm:

    Hello. Thank you for your tips, very helpful! We are just out of your service are but we have a debate going on. Is it a bad idea to have your kitchen widow trim directly above the sink, without a tile barrier to prevent water damage? We want maximum viewing space.

  35. pmcalary, October 28, 2017 at 10:15 am:

    Hi Donna,
    That was a design that had errors on it. We don’t have it any more and the new one we use for hiring purposes and don’t give out.

  36. Donna, October 28, 2017 at 7:07 am:

    Will you please send me a list of the 32 errors to avoid? I am building a house. Thank you.

  37. pmcalary, July 12, 2016 at 6:12 pm:

    Hi Jim,
    Considering the fact that you are in our serving area, I would encourage you to have us come out work on a design with you. Sight unseen any advice I would give you would be ill-advised since the best advice is always to have a good kitchen designer look at the job, and that is easy for you to do in this case. You will need a replacement air system installed for a 1000 CMF Hood, but the whole thing hanging over the window has the sound of someone inexperienced like an architect dabbling in kitchen design. We are here if you need us.

  38. Jim Osborne, July 12, 2016 at 5:29 pm:

    Considering gas range -cooktop under window in old stone house in Chestnut Hill window 18″ away due to wall thickness. 1000 CFM hood recessed in wood shroud. Is this a bad idea? Thanks.

  39. Victor rossi, November 20, 2012 at 11:29 pm:

    I’d like a list of those 32 errors to avoid. Your kitchen company is in Narberth just out side of Philly ?

  40. pmcalary, November 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm:

    Thanks Mary,
    That’s one of the very frustrating things, that pictures of bad and dangerous designs can be found all over the place. The fact that someone else made the mistake and it was photographed doesn’t make it less wrong.

  41. Mary Liebhold, November 19, 2012 at 4:37 pm:

    Safety iss stressed with all of our designs. We require clients to sign a waiver if they insist on the micro/vent combination and that act will often convince them how serious a mistake it will be. I withdrew from a project recently because the client insisted ttht the cooktop be moved to below the wood window. We will not be involved with that large a mistake. He was convinced it was okay and sent me dozens of photos showing that placement. Apparently thinking that if its is published, it’s okay. Not for us!

  42. pmcalary, May 23, 2012 at 5:59 pm:

    Mike – Would you like me to Email you the list of the 32 design design errors we have on file?

  43. pmcalary, May 23, 2012 at 5:56 pm:

    Very true Jan. I would love someone with kitchen design experience analyzing the accident data the insurance companies keep. it would be very revealing I think.

  44. Jan Neiges, May 23, 2012 at 5:35 pm:

    Another mistake and the industry accepts it, is having a micro hood over the range and/or cook top
    This is the first appliance a young child learns to use –
    If this scenario cannot be avoided, encourage the client to add another microwave convenient for the children and out of harms way of any heating source

  45. mieke solari, May 22, 2012 at 12:27 pm:

    I have a long list of “mistakes” I have encountered. .

  46. Pete Walker, September 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm:

    OMG this is great – The funny thing is how easy it is to organize a kitchen plan without making any of these…

  47. pmcalary, June 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm:

    This blog was published in an edited version on page 24 of the May 2011 issue of Kitchen and Bath design news.

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