Let Us Vent! Options for Clearing the Air in Your Kitchen

You’ve sautéed some garlic for a favorite pasta recipe. It was delicious, but the lingering aroma, smoky haze, grease and moisture are considerably less pleasant. In addition to messing up your kitchen, scientists have identified compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in the vapor released during cooking. PAHs are known carcinogens.

Good mechanical ventilation is your best defense against these potentially destructive cooking by-products. Here are some of your best ventilation options:

Extractor fan

If you rarely cook or have a tiny kitchen, an extractor fan might be a reasonable cure for your ventilation woes. These ceiling- or wall-mounted fans are designed to draw in air from both sides, thus delivering high performance at minimal power consumption rates. A real downside is their appearance; there simply is not a sleek looking extractor fan on the market.

Downdraft  ventilation

Venting “downward” is primarily used in kitchen islands or peninsulas — places where a traditional hood might be difficult to install or where you don’t want to block the view. This type of unit can also be used for a cooktop near a wall — perhaps under a window, another location where a hood doesn’t make sense.

This vent style draws fumes downward, under the floor and out (like a clothes dryer). Low-powered models, appropriate for an electric or small gas range, generally have the power pack placed in the cabinet beneath. A high-powered unit is usually placed in the basement, avoiding the loss of kitchen storage space.

Downdraft venting can be accomplished in three different ways:

  1. A downdraft range combines the cooktop and oven together, with a vent between the two burners of the cook surface. Homeowners who make this choice will not have a lot of options when shopping for a range.
  2. A downdraft cooktop has the downdraft built-in, but again limits the models to choose from. Downdraft cooktops allow for a separate wall oven and leave cabinet space under the cooktop.
  3. With a pop-up downdraft, the downdraft and cooktop or range are two independent appliances. The pop-up can work with nearly any model and size range on the market. These models remain even with the cooking surface until needed, then rise 8 to 14 inches above the cooking surface. Separate pop-up downdraft units retrofitted to existing cooktops range from $600 to $2,300.

Range hoods

In these systems, the exhaust fan is tucked under a decorative wall mounted or overhead hood and is available with multiple speeds. This is the most popular type of venting system for a number of reasons: it’s effective, it’s logical (hot air does rise, after all) and it saves space. Range hoods can be used with either ductless or duct systems.

Duct range vents direct cooking smoke and steam outside the home. These vents may or may not have a filter connected to them. Ductless range vents rely exclusively on filters to clean the grease and grime from the smoke and circulate clean air back into the kitchen. Those that use charcoal filters can remove odors, but they must be periodically replaced. Some use an aluminum filter that can be cleaned with soap and water. Filters must be washed or replaced every 3 to 6 months to maintain the vent’s peak operating efficiency.

You can get a no-frills wall-mounted range hood for about $100. For $200 to $400, you’ll find hoods equipped with multiple lights, timers and easy-clean surfaces. For a little more money, you can get a slim hood that slides out from beneath the cabinetry above the range and is practically invisible when not in use.

Another option is to make the vent hood a focal point within the kitchen. Trimmed with wood panels or made of hammered copper, glass or stainless steel, it’s possible for a range hood to become a piece of art. Semi-custom and custom hoods run from $800 to $5,000 and up, depending on the power of the exhaust system and the details of the design.

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