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Is Your Kitchen Going to Kill You?

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

Hoping you don’t have any of these issues,

Paul McAlary

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