Archive for May, 2012

Locating the microwave

Monday, 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….




Undercounter microwaves

Monday, May 21st, 2012

I recently saw an under counter microwave while touring the parade of homes.  Here’s my opinion on why you do not want a microwave below the counter, including the microwave drawers.

1.     Ergonomics and ease of use – You can’t see the control panel for operating it, unless you crouch down.  Loading and unloading are not as easy or as safe as an oven where the contents are visible and above waist high.  At the end of the cycle, the product is extremely hot, and unless you are crouching down (again), you may be reaching in to grab something  very hot by feeling for it – OUCH? Cleaning the microwave also requires bending over, especially to clean the ceiling of the microwave.

     Visibility  – Checking on what that noise was or how the cooking is doing is not as easy when it’s not at eye level.

2.     Safety – If you have little children present (or visiting), this is the perfect height to play with.  If you’ve already latched your cabinets with cleaning products, and put away or locked up dangerous utensils, then how are you going to keep them from playing with the microwave?  Better to not have it where little hands can reach than to have the kitty “beamed” up….

3.     Microwave drawer option – This would be my last choice, and only when you have no countertop space or overhead cabinet space you could use.  There are a limited number of microwave drawers out there, so you better be happy with the selection and features.  In researching this option, I found that the microwave drawer runs somewhere in the $700 – $1400 range (depending on brand, options, etc).  That price range will get you into a 120v advantium (I have 2 in my kitchen and absolutely love, love, love – would like the 240v version…. But).  Not worth the added expense in my opinion.  Common complaints for the drawer option include:

a.      no turntable in some models (uneven heating)

b.      open/close takes too long ( for those who want things quick)

c.      too tall items get knocked over when drawer closes (such as tall coffee mugs)

d.      controls are still within reach of little hands

e.     Food splatters on the oven ceiling are difficult to clean (bend over)

f.       Reliability may be questionable (consider an extended warranty)

g.      If you like a 30 sec heat option – check to make sure it has one

h.     Check the size against the size of your cabinet opening (apparently not a standard size for some cabinet makers?)

The drawer option does have a “cool” factor to it, and some people really love them, but when it comes to good design, it doesn’t get my vote.  Next week I discuss microwave features, good locations, and why I love the advantium.

Stainless steel sink – selection and features

Monday, May 7th, 2012

Stainless steel sinks are a good choice for any kitchen.  Their look is timeless and blends in with stainless appliances. 

Listed below are some features that I feel are worth considering, when buying a stainless steel sink:

1.     Don’t buy a sink made in China, especially not a “generic” brand name.  I been burned so many times buying generic Chinese products that matched everything on my checklist, only to end up buying the product I should have bought in the first place.  You could get lucky and find a great product for a great price, but did you really save that much?  My opinion, better safe than sorry.  Besides, having a great name brand on the sink, gives your kitchen a little more upscale feel.

2.     Get a good grade of stainless steel – 302 or 304.  Replacing a “bargain” sink, because it’s rusted, oxidized, or always dirty looking, will make you wish you had spent a little more.  Poor quality stainless that rusts or is difficult to keep clean is no bargain. 

3.     Get a sink with a good coating of insulation on it.  Insulation with a pad on the bottom is even better.  Cheaper sinks will have just a rubber pad on the bottom.  One of the top complaints about stainless steel sinks is that they are noisy.  This will help considerably.  It will reduce the ringing noise when you toss something in the sink.  It also helps with condensation.  I learned this when I filled a poorly insulated sink with ice for keeping beverages cold, only to discover condensation that caused the cabinet underneath  to get seriously wet…

4.     One bowl or 2 bowls?  A 2 bowl sink allows a dirty side and a clean side.  A side to wash your hands while using the other side.  A side to soak your pots, while doing food prep.  A soapy side and a rinse side.   You get the idea.   If you only have one sink in the kitchen, this might be a good choice.  The down side is you can’t put large items, such as pans in them.  Alternatives might include one side that is larger than the other, or a sink with a low partition between the compartments.  If you are going to have 2 sinks in your kitchen, consider having one that is large and deep, and the other one that has 2 bowls.

5.     Under mount if possible.  This is much, much easier to keep the counter clean, and not have a “grunge” that collects around the rim.

6.     Deep but not too deep.  Some people want the deepest sink they can get, only to find that it is not ergonomical, and hard on their backs when working at the sink for any length of time.    If you’re tall, consider going with a 8”-9” deep sink (especially if under mounted) instead of a 10”+ deep sink.

7.     Consider an offset drain.  This means not having the drain located in the center of the sink, but in the back or in the corner of the sink.  This will give you more useable cabinet room underneath for storage by shifting the plumbing to the side or back.  Also, If you keep your dishes in the sink, the drain won’t be covered up.

8.     Gauge – nice but not critical.  Heavier is always better, right?  Well, Consumer Reports says it doesn’t make a difference.  My opinion is that if there is a garbage disposal installed on the sink, there will be less flexing (think vibration) in a heavier gauge sink when the disposal is in use.  The better sinks are usually found in the 15 – 18 gauge range. 

9.     Grids – some people love them…   Some sinks have grids as an option.  Grids can get grungy on the bottom, and can be a pain to clean (may not fit in the dishwasher).  It can also be a pain to chase things around to rinse out the sink.  That said, you might like it if you have a garden and clean vegetables on a regular basis.  It also keeps the dishes off the bottom of the sink (helps when drying dishes that were rinsed), and protects the bottom of the sink.  It also raises the bottom of the sink to a more comfortable height for deep sinks.  I have grids for my sinks and they are sitting in the cabinet, waiting for me to try….   The option is there.

10.  A flat bottom is nice, especially if you set things in the sink that could tip over. 

11.  Custom cutting boards for sinks are nice, but you can make your own.  I bought a nice Boos butcher block and put some rubber feet on the bottom of it that were spaced slightly less than the depth of the sink.  The block can then slide back and forth and allows the chopped things to be slid off into the garbage disposal or the colander.  The rubber feet are also handy for setting the board on the counter, and keeping it from sliding around.