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How to Choose a Range Hood

Fine Cooking Issue 71

If you’re about to embark on a kitchen renovation, don’t overlook the question of ventilation for your stove. A good range hood traps smoke, heat, steam, odors, and grease from cooking, and then ferries them to the outside. Think of a hood as one with your cooktop: when you turn on a burner, turn on the ventilation.

To help you navigate the bewildering (and expensive) world of vent hoods, we’ve created a map to guide you through the crucial issues. Answer the questions in order to figure out what kind of hood best suits your needs.

Can you vent to the outside?

True vent hoods, also called ducted hoods, have metal ductwork that sends exhaust to the outside of your home (through the roof or a side wall). Choose a ducted hood if at all possible. Ductless hoods simply recirculate air (as well as smoke, grease, and odors) and are far less effective.

How big is your stove?

The bigger your cooktop and the more powerful your burners, the more heat your cooking will generate—and the more vent power you’ll need. Also, if you tend to cook over several burners at one time, you’ll want more power.

How high will you mount the hood and what will its dimensions be?

For maximum exhaust performance, range hood manufacturers recommend installing the hood about 30 inches above the cooktop surface. If you plan to install the hood any higher than that (many cooks do), you’ll need more airflow and therefore a more powerful hood. Another way to improve the hood’s effectiveness is to buy a hood that extends beyond the sides and front of the cook top (and beyond the back in the case of an island installation).

How much power do you need in your hood?

Ventilation airflow is measured in cfm (cubic feet per minute), which refers to the amount of air the hood sucks in. The maker of your range can tell you how much power you need in a vent hood, or follow this simple formula to get a ballpark cfm figure: add up the maximum Btu capacity of all your gas burners and then divide by 100. (Btu is a measure of heat generated by the cooktop burners.) For example, a gas cooktop with four 15,000 Btu burners would need 600 cfm of vent power. If you add a griddle, grill, and extra burners, or as noted previously, if you install the hood more than 30 inches above the cooktop, you’ll need to compensate with increased air flow (cfm) or greater hood area. (For electric cooktops, use 7,000 Btu per burner to calculate.) Determining the appropriate airflow for your needs is key to proper ventilation. Too little cfm and the hood will be ineffective. But too much cfm can result in excess noise, as well as airflow problems in other parts of the house.

Where will you mount the hood?

Mounting will probably be dictated by your kitchen layout. Hoods can be mounted under wall cabinets, on an exterior wall without cabinets, or dropped down from a ceiling for an island cooktop. If a hood isn’t a practical design choice for you, consider downdraft ventilation, a more compact solution.

What extra features do you want?

Once you nail down the all-important power and mounting questions, you can consider other factors such as noise (measured in sones; the lower the number, the quieter the hood); lighting options; warming lamps; filter cleaning reminder lights; or remote control.

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