Heated Granite countertops – options and product review

October 31st, 2013

If you love the look of granite counters, but don’t like the feel of granite counters in the winter, then you might want to consider heated granite counters. Yes, you heard right. Heated granite counters. If your first reaction is the same as mine, then you’re thinking – extravagant, expensive to run, difficult to add on after counters are installed, not good for baking, not hygienic, and totally over the top. I was wrong, and I love, love, love the heated counter.
When I first decided to look into heating the granite counter, I looked at products that are used in radiant floor heating. It was heavenly on the feet in the bathroom, so why not retrofit it to use on the counter? I considered using an adhesive to fasten the mat and sensor to the counter, but this is not a recommended approach . Most companies that sell radiant floor heating mats, specify that mats should only be used in a bed of thinset. This is not just for safety reasons, but but also for durability. If I were to go with this approach (as some do), it meant using a plywood base with a mat in thinset under the counter. Thick. Not real attractive, and not practical if you have drawers or cabinet doors with little room to spare under the counter.
Hmmm… Then I found a product from feelswarm.com. The mat heaters came in stock sizes or could be made in custom sizes, and could be applied as a retrofit. Perfect. Since the counter overhang I wanted to install it on was long and deeper than standard, I needed a custom size. The mat is very thin (.025 inches thick), so it didn’t interfere with the cabinet doors, and wasn’t noticeable even when looking at it from chair height in an adjacent room. It’s also very smooth to the touch, so you don’t snag it, doesn’t feel hot, and has a durable top layer in case it gets bumped. It’s a low voltage solution and doesn’t have EMI emissions. I also find that plates of food and cups of coffee don’t get cold as fast – bonus!
Just like radiant floor heating, it uses only about 10 watts per square foot to heat the counter. For a 6 foot counter, this is like running a 60w light bulb all day long. The heat from the mat raises the temperature of the granite by about 20 – 25 degrees higher than the air temperature. In our house, the temperature is about 69 degrees during the winter, so the counter would be around 90 degrees. This is higher than the 84 degrees that my bathroom floor temperature is set for, so I was initially concerned when purchasing it, that it might be too warm. However,I found the temperature very comfortable and not warm at all. Cloth placemats feel incredible on the counter – very luxurious. If you find the temperature still a little warm, you can always add a temperature control option later to adjust the temperature to your liking.  To reduce energy usage, a standard timer purchased at your local hardware store can be used to turn it on 30 – 60 minutes before use, or you can purchase a timer from the supplier.  Consider heating only the area where people sit. This leaves the remaining counter cool, which is ideal for rolling out dough, and keeps the installation and heating cost for the counter down.
New Construction

  • Consider having the integrated version embedded into the stone so it’s flush with the under surface. Check the feelswarm.com website for authorized dealers since they are currently growing a network of authorized dealers and fabricators.
  • If you have hydronic radiant heating  you could consider running a loop with a shuttoff under the counter. However. this may not provide as sleek a solution as the embedded mat.

Disclosure – I received no compensation for reviewing this product.

Easy to clean/low maintenance kitchen – Part 2

June 30th, 2013

While the previous article dealt with materials, this article will deal with designing a kitchen that is less likely to create a mess and is more apt to conceal clutter so it looks clean.

First, start by thinking efficiency. The more efficient something is, the more likely it is that it will be done. Work triangle(s) should be tight. Storage should be designed around point of use.

Point of use storage considerations:

Dishwasher. Glasses, silverware, dishes, utensils, pots, etc… that are used on a regular basis should be stored within easy reach of the dishwasher. If you have a bake center, consider a second dishwasher for that area. Some people swear by having two dishwashers. That way they don’t have to unload as much from the dishwasher and just take the dishes out of one dishwasher while loading the other. Two dishwashers also make sense for those with large families or entertain frequently. The easier it is, the more likely it is to be done.

Garbage/Recycling. The garbage can and recycling center should be close to where you normally unpackage food for preparation and dispose of food waste. Most likely, this will be very close to or part of the work triangle and near the sink. If it’s not close by, the packaging will typically set on the counter and the more likely messes will be dropped on the floor enroot to the garbage.

Appliance storage and location. Consider having an appliance garage for those appliances that are used on a regular basis. There is less to put away and easier to conceal clutter, just by closing a door. Consider the appliances and what is used with them. A coffee maker that has storage for the filters and coffee and is near the sink (for filling) and garbage (for filter disposal) is easier to keep clean. A toaster that is near the fridge (butter, jams), the silverware drawer, dishwasher (dirty knife), and the sink or garbage for emptying the crumb tray will make less of a mess. The best location is probably within the work triangle. A mixer and food processor in a bake center that is close to the fridge (butter, eggs, cream, etc…), close to the dishwasher or sink for cleanup, close to cutting boards, ovens, utensils, knives, spices, and close to other foods like sugar, flour, seasoning, etc… is more likely to confine the mess from baking to a smaller area.

Open storage/cabinet height. Doors hide clutter and minimize dust. Cabinets that are ceiling height or have a soffit don’t accumulate dust on top of them.

Countertop storage. The more things that are stored on the countertop, the less likely they will be cleaned, and the more likely other things will be left on the counter.

Pantry. In my opinion, it’s a great way to store things. Because everything is visible and the storage is usually shallow, things can be easily found without taking a lot of things out. Put the entry to the pantry in the corner if possible. This eliminates the corner, which is notorious for being dirty and inefficient for storage.

Drop Zone. Plan a drop zone out of the kitchen preferably where people enter the house, so clutter doesn’t accumulate on the counter.

Drawers. Use drawers wherever possible and sized to what is stored in them. Lots of large deep drawers, that are not sized to what’s stored in them, will end up becoming clutter drawers. Clutter then overflows to the counters. If you are starting from scratch, take an inventory of what you need storage for, to determine what you need.

Easy to clean/low maintenance kitchen – Part I Materials

January 18th, 2013

Following some basic guidelines in kitchen design and material selection can help in giving you a kitchen where you will spend more time cooking and less time cleaning. Besides, who wouldn’t enjoy a kitchen that is not only easy to clean, but looks cleaner longer by disguising things like small food debri, streaks, and fingerprints.

When it comes to material, think smooth (no cracks, crevices, texture, or other places for grunge to accumulate), stain and water repellant, a pattern, earth tone in color (food colors), durable, and not glossy.    The more of these features a material has, the easier it is to keep clean looking.  Simple, huh?  Ok, let’s start looking at different products using this guideline to see how it works. 

Countertops /backsplash– Here my favorite is quartz, even though I personally have granite.  It’s smooth, stain resistant, water repellant, and most have a pattern in them.  A great way to see how well a counter “disguises” those daily messes, is to test out a counter using food crumbs and some common liquids.  When you sprinkle them on the counter, how well does it blend in and does it stain the counter?  A stainless steel counter is smooth, stain and water resistant, but is glossy and has no pattern, so will show every scratch, smudge, crumb, and piece of food and constantly look like it needs cleaning.  Marble is smooth, but stains and scratches easily, and its minimal pattern with a white background will also show all food residues.  Tile is smooth, stain and water resistant, and can be the right color, but the grout has a rougher texture, makes the entire surface uneven, and it is has a tendency to stain.  Granite is smooth and usually has a pattern, but can stain and absorb water, and the glossy finish will show smudges (see my April 23 blog – http://goodkitchendesign.com/2012/04/16/kitchen-granite-countertops-%E2%80%93-selection-and-installation-tips/).  For those on a limited budget laminate in a mat finish with a pattern, is a countertop that is low maintenance.  It is not as durable as a granite or quartz countertop and is limited in use with undermount sinks, but may be preferable to some other high maintenance counters.

Cabinets/door hardware – Here my favorite would be stained wood smooth flat cabinet doors with smooth cabinet pulls and as small a gap as possible between the doors (frameless vs. face frame).  It’s smooth with no crevices, stain and water resistant, has a pattern in the wood, an earth tone in the finish, and can be varnished in a satin finish to help hide smudges and finger prints.  The smaller gap between doors means less dust and debris collects and is visible on the top edge of the door/drawer.  Also consider soft close doors and drawers.  This allows you to close the door and drawer by just bumping it closed when your hands are dirty.  Limit the moldings.  It’s just more to crevices to clean.   Personally, I have a shaker style cabinet door, and I’m cleaning the crack and lip between the door panel and door frame on a regular basis.  I have soft close doors and drawers and they’re great.

Floors – Here my favorites might include a resilient or luxury vinyl, terrazzo, sealed concrete, or a commercial grade flooring product (including commercial grade wood flooring).  For this material I would place a greater emphasis on durability and color selection.  When it comes to color choices, think contrast.  The more the contrast in colors, the more your eye is attracted to it.  So if the debris that falls on the floor is similar to the color of the floor, it will be less noticeable.  I personally have a commercial grade acrylic impregnated wood floor.  It has microbevels, which only seem to be a little more difficult to clean when there is a spill.

Cooktops – Here my favorite is an induction cooktop with a pattern on the glass and a surface with no edges to collect food.  The cooktop heats the cookware and not the cooktop, so the spilled food is not burned onto the cooktop.  Its smooth surface is easy to wipe down and has no crevices to collect food.  A pattern will help to disguise streaks and some food spills.  If you are inclined to want a gas cooktop, look for removable controls, sealed burners, and black grates that can go in your dishwasher. The more parts including the burner pan that are removable and can go in the dishwasher, the better. 

Materials that don’t fit into the above guideline, are described below:

Stainless appliances – Stainless steel requires more maintenance to keep clean, but if you have your heart set on having stainless steel appliances, consider the new lower maintenance stainless such as GE Cleansteel Appliances.

Ovens – Self cleaning, obviously;-)

Fridge – Shelves with a lip, so small spills are contained on the shelf, and shelves that are removable so they can be cleaned in the sink.

Sinks – My favorite is an undermount seemless sink with rounded corners for easier cleaning (seamlesssink.com).  There are no edges to catch debris or seems around the drain, and it’s easy to sweep things off the counter and wash down the drain.  When installed make sure that there is sufficient overhang of the countertop into the sink bowl, and have the area between the sink and the counter caulked with a smooth silicone seal to keep debris from collecting there.  Another alternative would be a undermount stainless steel sink or granite sink with rounded corners.

Faucets – My favorite for easy cleaning is a wall mount faucet in a non chrome finish.  I personally have deck mounted faucets, and they accumulate grunge and mineral deposits around them in a narrow space between them and the wall, making it difficult to clean.  A second favorite is a pull out faucet that allows you to spray into corners of the sink.

Dishwasher – If you have the space and can afford it, consider 2 dishwashers.  It makes it easier to clean large amounts of dishes when hosting gatherings or doing all day cooking/baking.

Paint – Since most of the wall surface is covered by cabinets, spend a little more and get a good scrubbable surface. Sherwin Williams Bath Paint, Valspar Signature Colors Paint, and Benjamin Moore Aura Paint are examples of scrubbable paint.

Light/socket cover plates – My favorite is the screwless cover plates.  No screws to collect debris and look worn after a while.

Make cleaning easy – .  If you have a central vac system, I would also consider adding a  VacPan or Vacusweep Automatic dustpan for easily sweeping up debris.  

In part 2  I’ll discuss design strategies that will help minimize cleaning.

Wood Floors in the Kitchen – what you need to know

December 17th, 2012

Soft, warm looking, and extremely popular pretty much describes wood floors in kitchens. 

Unfortunately wood and water don’t do well together, and water disasters are usually a matter of time.  This includes dishwashers (many times when someone isn’t around), plumbing leaks, ice makers that discharge ice or leak, spilled water that isn’t wiped up, sopping wet shoes that sit for hours, pet water bowls that spill, and even a spouse who inadvertently “mops” the floor.  Some events will result in minor damage such as discoloring or cracking.  Others will result in serious damage with boards that are buckled, warped, and uneven. Repairs that require replacing boards can be made to small areas of the floor, providing that type of flooring is still available.  Note – if you are installing “branded” flooring, save a few boards just in case you need them someday.  In my kitchen I chose to install an acrylic impregnated maple floor.  Shortly after it was installed, the fridge drawers died, and all the defrosted ice melted onto the floor.  The puddle of water sat on the floor for an extended period of time causing it to turn a dark brown color.  After about a week, it dried out and there was no discoloring, warping, or problems with the surface finish. Needless to say, I’m a big fan of acrylic impregnated wood floors.

Dogs and cats (especially large dogs) are hard on wood floors.  Consider choosing a distressed, low sheen wood floor that will help disguise scratches.  Woods with more grain such as oak will also help disguise scratches.  Softer woods such as pine, scratch and dent easier, so choose a hardwood such as oak or maple (higher on the janka scale the better).  Dark woods when scratched reveal a lighter unstained surface underneath, so a lighter stained wood is better.  Or, use an engineered flooring such as Armstrong Premier Performance that has the stain infused all the way through the wood to help disguise deeper scratches.  More important though is the type of finish on the floor.  Prefinished engineered flooring such as Johnson Forever Tuff, Shaw ScufResist, Mirage Nanolinx, Armstrong Premier Performance, and Lauzon Polynium+ are commercial grade scuff resistant with residential warranties 25 – 50 years.  Also, make sure you keep your pet’s nails trimmed, a mat near the door (“take off zone”), and don’t play fetch. Nothing warrants against scratching, but with careful selection and care, a wood floor will look good longer.

 Things will get dropped and dents will happen.  Consider getting some GelPro anti fatigue mats for in front of the counters.  Not only will your back thank you, but it will help minimize dents, scratches and floor stains in high use areas.  Floor mats and runners can help protect against wear, but if there is sunlight in the kitchen with no E glass windows, the sun may darken the flooring differently around the mats.  If this is the case, consider flooring such as Mirage that has UV protection in the finish.  High heals  and spikes are also hard on wood floors, and make sure chairs, tables, stools, and other furniture have felt pads under the feet.

Where the floor is installed can also make a difference in what type of floor is selected.  Hardwood floors installed on concrete may be risky due to moisture issues.  The National Wood Flooring Association recommends either an exterior plywood on slab or a sleeper (2 x 4’s  glued to the floor) under hardwood floors.  Unfortunately, this may raise the floor up too high.   For installation directly on slab, consider a glue down engineered flooring that can be used on slab.

If you have a floor that is finished in place with a water poly finish and average traffic, then expect to refinish it in about 5 – 10 years. Some water poly finishes such as DuraSeal X-Terra are rated for higher traffic and are more scratch resistant, and oil finishes are more durable but have more fumes while curing (some of them toxic).   If you use a prefinished wood with an aluminum oxide finish, then it should hold up longer.  Not all prefinished floors are the same.  Some are commercial rated with a long life, while others are not much better than the water poly finish.  When it comes to prefinished flooring, microbevels are the norm.  Those that have square edges will have overwood (irregular edges).  Personally, I was concerned about the look and collection of dirt in the microbevels when I went shopping for prefinished floors, but after a few years I don’t notice the microbevels and I don’t think there are any significant maintenance issues.

If you decide to go with a laminate (imitation wood), then make to check the AC rating of the flooring.  AC3 is light commercial and heavy residential, and AC4 is for moderate commercial traffic, and AC5 is the high commercial traffic.  Some people don’t like this option, because of the hollow “clicking” noise made while walking on it and the cheap looking transition strips, but you may find this a suitable compromise if you have pets.


Where do you put a TV in the Kitchen?

September 24th, 2012

If  you’re one of those people who like having the TV on while eating or fixing a meal, then planning for the location of the TV is something that should be done before you begin construction, not after you have completed construction.  Things like power outlets, cable boxes (or receivers), coax cables, DVD player, antennas, and proper cooling all need to be accounted for, in determining the location. 

The most important thing to consider is where are you going to be watching it from?  If you want to watch it while prepping/cooking or eating, then it should be visible from all those locations.  Make sure it’s not too steep an angle at close range, or the picture quality may suffer dramatically (such as over a doorway or fridge and within 2 or 3  feet of where you’ll be standing).  Next, try to select a location that doesn’t take up prime real estate.   Some popular areas include over the fridge cabinet, corner of the countertop, swivel under-the-cabinet, over the pantry door, on the wall (even in an adjacent room), and on the kitchen desk.  If none of these options work out, then consider using a small overhead cabinet (prime real estate), possibly over the oven (caution – the heat from the ovens may shorten the life of the unit), on top of upper cabinets if there is space there, or on the backsplash (possible splatters and may be awkward to see when sanding up).

If you also use a computer in your kitchen (great for storing recipes, accessing epicurious.com, etc…), consider the option of using a computer that has a built in tuner in the monitor, an iMac with an eyeTV module that plugs into a USB port in the back and hooks up to cable, or a laptop with slingbox to stream TV (no wires).  With a PC/TV combo consider getting a cordless keyboard and mouse.  Having the TV on the computer will reduce electronic clutter and save valuable real estate, but may be a problem if you want to use the computer while watching TV. 

Still having a difficult time deciding, or want the cool factor?  Then consider a  motorized lift that would raise the TV from under the counter or flip/drop down from the ceiling. (www.auton.com)

As for cable boxes, satellite receivers, and small indoor antennas, here are some possible locations:

1.     TV in the corner – may be put behind the tv or in the upper or lower corner cabinet and use an infrared remote for the cable box/receiver. 

2.     TV over fridge – may be put behind tv and use an infrared remote for the cable box/receiver.

3.     TV over doorway – if the doorway is a pantry doorway, then consider mounting the cable box/receiver/antenna on the other side of the wall, and use an infrared remote.

4.     TV on wall or backsplash – put in a recessed nook behind the TV, on a mount behind the tv, or on the other side of the wall, and use an infrared remote.  http://www.innovativeamericans.com/?gclid=CPO_j4SGtLICFeuiPAod9VgA8Q#!home/mainPage

5.     TV on Kitchen desk – behind the TV or under the desk counter

6.     TV Swivel under cabinet – May be able to also mount under the cabinet next to the TV or on the other side of the wall and use an infrared remote

TV over oven/in or on upper cabinets  – in or on the cabinet 

Hands Free Faucets – selection and usefulness

August 24th, 2012


For the times when your hands are a mess or both full, hands free faucets are great.  Let’s look at what options are out there, when a hands free faucet is a good idea, and what are some good ways to implement one.


Tapmaster – this is a foot activated valve that can be used with any faucet.  There is no power involved.  It’s a commercial product that will hold up to daily use.  It is pricey (you have to buy the faucet in addition to the unit).  I’ve had the basic model for 6 years and I love it. Sometimes, you turn off the faucet the normal way (force of habit), and then it’s off the next time you try to use it.  It can also be locked in the on position, so you can use it as a regular faucet (when guests are visiting and you want to avoid confusion). http://www.tapmaster.ca

1.     1756/1786 model –  allows you to control either hot or cold or both by pressing the left right or center of the pad that is mounted under the toe kick or in the floor in front of the sink.

2.     1750/1770/1780 model – basic model that turns water on and off.  Does not allow you to select hot or cold.  Pad is mounted under the toe kick or in the floor in front of the sink.

Moen MotionSense – Controlled by a wave sensor on top of the faucet, a motion sensor in the base of the faucet, and the handle.  Like the tapmaster, this is also a touchless faucet.  Looks like a good design, and Moen faucets are usually well made.  Limited to one style, and no control of hot or cold when using the sensors, but costs less than the tapmaster.  Requires batteries.  It’s relatively new at this time, so I’m not aware of any complaints.  http://www.moen.com

Kohler K-13472 gooseneck touchless  – A smaller faucet only controlled by a motion sensor in the base of the faucet.   Limited to one style, and has a temperature mixer.  Because this is a smaller faucet with no controls, it would not be your primary faucet at the sink.  Requires batteries.

Sloan – Sensor Activated, Electronic, Gooseneck Hand Washing Faucet for Tempered or Hot/Cold Water Operation. Battery Powered with 4″ Trim Plate and Below Deck Mechanical Mixing Valve. Like the Kohler faucet, this is a smaller faucet with no controls, it would not be your primary faucet at the sink.   Battery or a/c model.

Delta Pilar – Requires touching part of the faucet to activate, which can be awkward depending on how messy your hands are.  It requires batteries, which should last about a year depending on usage.  As with the Moen, there is no control of hot or cold when using the sensor, and you are limited to two styles.  Some of the complaints I’ve seen have to do with the faucet durability issues, the angle of the spout, and temperamental operations of the faucet (turning itself on or not always turning on when touched).  



Brizo Talo/Venuto – Delta’s higher end faucet.  May have the same issues as above.


Other sensor lavatory style faucets also exist.  Too many to list and review here.  Most are styled for bath or lav use, but could be considered in the right situation.



1.     When both hands are in use and you need to turn on and off the water – rinsing dishes, cutting/cleaning and rinsing food

2.     When both hands are dirty and you need to clean them

3.     To avoid food contamination – working with meat, eggs, etc…

4.     Face it, it has a cool factor



If you find it would be useful in the above situations, but you don’t always want to turn the faucet on that way with the same force and temperature, then consider the following options:

1.     Get the Kohler or Sloan faucet and mount it as an accessory faucet off to the side of the main faucet.

2.     For a double bowl or wide sink, put in 2 faucets – one with a tapmaster and one as a normal faucet.  That way both options are available at the same sink.  This is the option I have chosen, and it works well.

3.     If you have 2 sinks, put the faucet on the secondary sink.


Induction vs. Gas – Making the choice

August 6th, 2012


It used to be that the only choice for serious cooks was gas.  Whether you were a professional chef, or just wanted to look like one, the choice was simple – gas.  Induction has been around for a long time, but just recently it seems to have not only gained credibility, but has also been converting some die hard gas users to induction.  The selection and features seem to improve every year, and even the local culinary school is using them to train chefs (last I heard). 

Gas was attractive for cooking because of its intuitive use, the ability to control the heat quickly, and the high heat burners available in some stoves.  Some people also just like looking at the flame while they cook (cooking over the campfire feeling), and like the security of being able to cook should the power go out.  There is also a better selection of cookware available that will work with gas.  Besides these reasons, the impression that a kitchen with gas is still a serious cooks kitchen.

Like gas, induction has the ability to quickly control the heat, and has higher heat output than most home gas cooktops – being able to boil water in 90 seconds.  (An excellent comparison between gas and induction burners can be found at: http://theinductionsite.com/how-induction-works.shtml). Unlike gas, only the pot is heated directly and the “burner” or hob only gets hot from the residual heat of the pot (yes, you can touch a cook top after cooking and not get burned).  I even saw a cooking demo with a hot pad between the hob and the pot!  Gas will not only heat up the kitchen more, it also has more risk of starting a fire – grease, clothing, pot holders, and other flammables that can come in contact with the flame, and a gas leak could lead to a potential explosion.

If you have respiratory problems or chemical sensitivities, gas may not be a good choice.   Per unm.edu, asthma patients who used a gas stove seven or more times a week, were found to have doubled their risk of emergency room treatment.  Infants who grow up in households with gas are almost twice as likely to develop childhood asthma as those who live with second hand smoke.  Studies have also shown that when a gas stove was removed from the home of a person with chemical sensitivities, not only did their health improve, but so did the health of their family. However, some studies (per Pub Med) do indicate no impact on pulmonary function or respiratory symptoms when using a gas stove.  When natural gas is burned, not only does it create carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, but also contains other additives such as benzene, toluene, xylene, methylmercury, ethylbenzene, and mercaptan.  In my opinion, if it’s not safe to vent a hot water heater in the house, why would I want to have a burner going in close proximity to my face?

What about EMF’s and indcuction?  From what I’ve read, induction hobs are designed to not readiate EMF’s.

The smooth cooktop is so much easier to clean than a gas cooktop.   However some complain that the shiny glass tops show every streak, spot, and spill, and if the cooktop has a stainless rim it can collect “gunk”.  The ceramic glass tops are tough, but like glass can break if you drop something heavy on them.

Gas cooktops may generally be cheaper (less complex), and because of the electronics in the induction cooktop, it probably will not last as long or go without repairs as long as a gas cooktop.

A common complaint with induction is that it buzzes or clicks, especially on high.  This is almost always a cookware issue.  Yes, if a magnet sticks to it, it will work…. but not necessarily the best.  Think of it this way, the more iron or steel content in the cookware, the better the magnet will stick and the better the induction should work.  Cast iron cookware such as Le Creuset, or carbon steel cookware such as Chantal should work better than cookware with more aluminum or copper content. 

If you’re not sure if induction is for you, buy a portable induction unit and give it a test run.  True, it doesn’t have the power of the bigger cooktops (water won’t boil in 90 seconds), but it will give you an idea of what it’s like to use it for a cheap price (around $100).  Then keep the portable unit for melting chocolate, an extra burner, or as part of your bake center.

I’ve had induction for 6 years now, and for those special occasions I have the gas grill outside. The biggest dislike is the touch pad (would prefer knobs), which is not real sensitive with dry skin, but overall I don’t ever intend to switch. 



Gas Pros:

1.     May be cheaper

2.     Heats quickly

3.     Responsive

4.     Serious cook persona

5.     Wider variety of cookware

6.     Cook when power goes out

Gas Cons:

1.     Some models may not simmer well

2.     Heats up kitchen

3.     Health hazard – potential repiratory and chemical sensitivities

4.     Safety – fires, burns

5.     More difficult to clean

Induction Pros:

1.     Heats quickly – faster than many gas burners

2.     Responsive

3.     Very easy to clean

4.     Safer  

5.     Burner turns off when cookware not present

6.     More efficient than gas – less energy wasted

7.     Some models have a timer for the hob

8.     Simmer/melt chocolate without a double boiler

9.     Some models have full surface induction with cookware recognition – any size cookware


Induction Cons:

1.     Probably more expensive

2.     Glass top can break

3.     Can’t cook in power outage – use the grill

4.     Wok and charring not as easy

5.     May not last as long as a gas cooktop

To learn more on induction cooking, an excellent site is: http://theinductionsite.com

Warming Drawer – Why have one and Where to put it

July 8th, 2012

I recently saw pictures of a high end kitchen, where the warming drawer was located in the island as far from the cooktop and oven as possible.  In my opinion, this was a total waste of money and probably will never get used except as storage (and they probably paid a designer to do this!).  In many people’s minds, including those who own one, this is probably the one appliance they could do without.  That said, let’s look at when a warming drawer would be useful.

Warming drawers can be useful if you have family members who are unexpectedly late for meals, or who get temporarily called away.  Certain foods that are cooked in small batches and cool off quickly, such as pancakes, waffles, tacos, fried foods, or crepes can easily be kept warm.  If you entertain, game day pizzas and hot snack foods for parties are kept warm throughout the evening.  If you prepare multicourse meals, it will keep things warm till that course is served.   Holiday events with a large assortment of foods, and different completion times, allows things that are done early to be kept warm until everything can be served (i.e. – crescent rolls, mashed potatoes, vegetables, and soup in the serving bowls).  Desserts such as pie or apple crisp can be nicely warmed up (or kept warm) as you’re eating the meal, and crackers and cereal that have gone soggy, can be crisped up.  If you bake bread, you can use the drawer for raising dough.  Some people even use the drawer for storing bread, since the drawer seals better than a regular drawer to keep it fresher.  Some warming drawers such as the Kitchen Aid, can also be used as a slow cooker, but I haven’t heard of a lot of people using them instead of a crock pot.  During the winter months, warming drawers can also be used to warm up plates, especially if the plate storage is in a cabinet on an exterior wall (food doesn’t cool off as fast).  All the above are a nice luxury, and can be accomplished with low settings on the cooktop or in some ovens with a low heat setting (100 degrees), or even in some speed cook ovens (and microwaves) such as the Advantium with its keep warm setting. 

I have a warming drawer in our kitchen and it does get used.  I am a big fan of having things near the point of use.  The warming drawer in our kitchen is located to the right of the cooktop and just below the utensil drawer.  It is also across from where the plates are stored.  Since I have an Advantium in the bake center, I can use the Advantium keep warm mode as a warming drawer if I need something near the ovens.  I didn’t place the warming drawer under the ovens, because it wouldn’t be near most of the food or plates that are going into it.  It is also not ergonomic, since we (or party guests) would be bending over to use it.  I also don’t believe that’s a safe location if there are little children present.  

Island Cooktop – design considerations

June 28th, 2012

Locating the cooktop on an island seems to draw passionate responses both for and against.   Here are the island features that I think are needed to allow for an island cook top:

1. The island should be an adequate size, preferably with a prep area next to the cooktop.   NBKA guidelines for the minimum counter space next to the cooktop are at least 9″ of counter space on one side of the cooking surface and 15″ on the other, at the same counter height as the appliance.  Countertop should extend a minimum of 9″ behind the cooking surface, at the same counter height as the appliance, in any instance where there is not an abutting wall/backsplash.  I would consider 18″ on the sides and back the minimum amount of space, and would recommend 24” if you have seating behind the cook top.  This means the island should be at least 66″ wide and 42″ deep (48″ with seating), and 78” wide with a prep area.

2. The island should have an adequate walkway in front of the cook top.  NBKA guidelines are 42″ walkway for a single cook kitchen and a 48″ walkway for a 2 cook kitchen.  42″ is the minimum space, and I would make sure you have a 48″ walkway (counter edge to counter edge).  If you have less than 42″, you run the risk of bumping into the cook as you pass behind, which is not safe.

3. The island should have adequate ventilation.  Too low a vent hood, can obstruct your vision of the other areas (if it faces the open area).  Too high a vent hood may not adequately ventilate smoke/smell.  High ceilings or vaulted ceilings can be difficult or costly to install a vent hood, and a second floor over the kitchen, may restrict running the duct work (check which direction the floor joists run).  A downdraft is not as good as an overhead hood, but if you decide to go this route, chose a high rising downdraft.

Providing the above conditions are met, here are some other considerations for determining if an island cooktop is right for you:

1.  If the cooktop faces out into an open area, it will allow the cook to feel more like a part of what’s going on, keep an eye on things, or watch TV.  For many people this is highly preferred over staring at a wall while cooking.  Are friends/family frequently or occasionally around when you cook?  Consider your cooking style.  Do you spend more time in prep work, or more time at the cook top?  If there is sufficient space for both on the island, then you will be able to spend most of your time in the kitchen interacting instead of in isolation.

2.  The island should not be a barrier island that breaks up the traffic pattern in the work triangle, but rather should be arranged to shorten the legs of a work triangle.  The fridge and prep sink should be on the same side of the island as the cooktop. 

3.  Some people feel that there is a safety issue, if there is seating behind the cooktop (splatters while cooking).  If you allow 24” behind the cooktop, or raise the countertop for the seating area, this should be adequate.

4.  If having a pot filler is part of the decision process, then consider putting a prep sink in the island, with a pull out faucet (that can reach the cooktop).  This is what I ended up doing in my kitchen, and I love the combination.  The down side is a larger island, which means a little more walking to get around it.

5.  An island will have utensils, spices, cookware, and oils probably stored under the counter in drawers(best) or cabinets.  If you have a strong preference for overhead cabinets or a back wall railing system for these things, then you may not like an island cooktop.  

6. If your island contains the prep area, cooktop, and seating, it will allow you to serve up the food quicker by handing the prepared food to those seated at the island.  

Locating the microwave

May 28th, 2012


Long gone are the days when the microwave primarily occupied the most valuable real estate in the kitchen – the countertop.  Now, the most common location for the microwave,  is over the cooktop, which raises issues of safety and ergonomics. 

To determine where the microwave should be located in your kitchen, first consider how you use or might use a microwave and then try to locate it close to the point of use.  Here are some examples:

Part of cooking zone/bake center – over an existing oven, bake center counter, or near  cooktop

        Used as a spare oven (convection or speed cook oven) to bake/cook small batches of items or when an extra oven at a different temperature may be needed to cook extra items.

        Soften or melt butter, chocolate chips, etc…

Part of cooking zone, but near the fridge/freezer

        Cook veggie steamer pouches

        Reheat leftovers

        Soften ice cream

        Defrost frozen food

        Cook frozen food

        Heat up syrup

Near sink or beverage storage

        Used  for making hot beverages such as tea, hot chocolate, or  instant package drinks

        Used to make instant foods that need water added  such as  instant oatmeal

Periphery of kitchen/near table

        Make popcorn

        Rewarm food that has gone cold or needs extra cooking

        Warming up pastry

Find the categories where you use the microwave the most and try to locate it close to the most frequent point of use.  You could also consider multiple locations.  In my kitchen I have an OTR  Advantium located over the bake center counter next to the double ovens (not over the cooktop), and also in the snack area next to the fridge/freezer and near the eating area.  In the snack area which is near the fridge/freezer and eating area it keeps traffic out of the kitchen, and makes it convenient to fix leftovers or rewarming  things.  The microwave for this area could be a small microwave.  If you primarily use the microwave for hot water (beverages and instant foods), consider an instant hot water dispenser instead  and locate the beverage storage near the sink so they are near the point of use.

Ok, now that you have a general location based on the point of use, make sure that you have a landing zone of at least 15” above, below or next to the microwave  (NBKA guidelines).  When you pick up something really hot, you’ll understand why.

 I also use the guideline of making sure that the microwave is not higher than your shoulder and not under the counter, unless you will be using a microwave drawer.  This is both a safety and an ergonomic issue.  The higher the microwave the better  your chances of spilling hot food on yourself or others.   This includes the popular over the range location (which also can have hot items under you as you load and unload).   I am also not a fan of putting a microwave under the counter, unless it’s a microwave drawer.  This is because of the bending over to use the keypad, inspect the progress, remove hot contents, or clean the oven cavity.  Can you honestly read the keypad or display while standing at the counter?  Also, if you have small children that live or visit your home, you will find this an ideal height for them to play with. 

Never put the microwave in a location with a wall on the right side of the microwave.  Microwaves only have a hinge on the left side.  Even if you  open the microwave door all the way, you still  have a small opening in which to load/unload things.  Very irritating – at best.

In my opinion, the most ideal height  is above the counter height, either in the bottom of upper cabinet or installed in an enclosed cabinet at or below shoulder height.  Some microwaves also have optional hanging kits for mounting under an upper cabinet.  Always check the manufacturers requirements for adequate ventilation if mounted in an enclosed cabinet.   If the microwave must be installed in an island, then consider a microwave drawer instead of a microwave on a shelf.    If you have no upper cabinet space to spare, then consider putting the microwave in the pantry, on the counter in the corner, or on a roll around cart. 

Microwaves are generally 19”, 24”, or 30” in width.  Therefore, the cabinets they are in should be that width or larger(if on a shelf).  Found something a different size?  Just remember, you will have to replace it someday, and probably sooner than you replace the cabinets….