The Hidden Kitchen:
Understanding the Structure of a Modern Kitchen

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Finding Some More Space
Some kitchens are just too small for any real improvement in space management. Learn where to get more space, or at least the illusion of more space for your new kitchen.

The Design Process
If your plans include substantial changes to your kitchen, then a construction plan is required. Learn how your ideas are turned into a concept plan and then a construction blueprint in a three-step process using computer-assisted design.

The 31 Rules of Kitchen Design
In 1944 the University of Illinois conducted a study of kitchen design and developed fundamental design principals that have been modified periodically from time to time, but are still very much in use today. Here are the 31 rules of designing great kitchens.

Cabinet Basics
Oak, maple, hickory, ash, cherry. Faced and unfaced. Framed and frameless. Custom, semi-custom and manufactured. MDF, Melamine®, ThermofoilIreg;, even steel. So many choices. How do you pick the cabinets that are just right for you? Click here to find out.

Flooring Options for Kitchens and Baths
Tile, wood, stone, vinyl, ceramic, laminated flooring. What are the pros and cons of each? Learn the fundamentals of kitchen flooring.

New and Traditional Countertop Choices
Exciting changes are happening in the world of counter top materials. Options that simply did not exist 10 years ago are in every home store today. Is composite, laminate, stone or tile your best choice? Or maybe something more exotic. Take a look at the incredible selection of modern counter top materials.

Designing Efficient and Effective Kitchen Lighting
The kitchen is more than just a place to cook and eat. It usually serves as the administrative and the social hub of the home. The kitchen uses a lot of energy for lighting. That makes this room an important place to use efficient lighting. While remodeling your kitchen, you have the perfect opportunity to create a highly efficient lighting system. Find out how.

For even more good reading, check out our complete articles index.

Putting toge­ther a new kitchen is not a trivial process. Besides the obvious considerations: new cabinets, appliances, a new floor and paint or wallpaper, there are many structural considerations.

The kitchen structure is hidden — behind cabinets, under floors, above ceilings — and not very pretty, but extremely important. Without adequate electricity, lighting, plumbing, heating and venting — all the new cabinets and appliances won't result in a workable or safe kitchen.

So, let's take a look at kitchen structure.


Electrical Requirements
Electrical Requirements for
a Modern Home Kitchen
  Cir­cuit Panel Slots1 Notes
Lighting, Ambient 110v, 15 amp 1 General room lighting, usually with ceiling lamps.
Lighting, Task 110v, 15 amp 1 Work area lighting, generally undercabinet fluorescent or LED lighting.
Over Counter Outlets 110v, 20 amp 2 Even in small kitchens, two separate curcuits to counter outlets is a good idea. In large kitchens, it may be required by your local electrical code.
Electric Range or Cooktop 220v 2 Gas range: 110v, 15 amp.
Wall Oven 220v 2 Gas wall oven: 110v, 15 amp.
Microwave Oven 110v, 20 amp 1 If combined with the range vent, both can use the same curcuit.
Refriger­ator 110v, 20 amp 1  
Freezer 110v, 20 amp 1 Stand-alone freezer separate from the refrigerator
Trash Compacter 110v, 20 amp 1 Some localities allow the compacter to share a circuit with the disposer.
Dishwasher & Disposer 110v, 20 amp 1 Some localities require a separate curcuit for each appliance.
Instant Hot Water Dispenser 220v 2 Some instant hot water dispensers use 110v, 20 amp power.
Total  152  
1. Slots required in your service panel. A 220-230v curcuit requires two service panel breaker slots. A 110-120v circuit requires one.
2. The total number of circuits required for the typical modern kitchen nearly equals the number needed for the whole house just 50 years ago.
Almost all kitchens more than 10 years old are under-powered. Electricians and builders of old simply could not predict the number of large and small appliances found in most kitchens today. Depending on the age of your house, you can expect only one or two receptacle circuits, with illumination pulled from a general lighting circuit powering all ceiling lights. Safety is another important issue, as most older kitchens do not have ground-fault-protected circuits that are absolutely required by safety codes today.

Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) outlets help to avoid accidental electrocution by shutting off the electrical current in you accidently touch a live wire. According to the National Electrical Code, all outlets within 6 feet of a water source and all receptacles serving kitchen countertops and islands must have GFCI protection. Best practice, however, is to GFCI-protect all kitchen outlets.

In a complete kitchen overhaul, upgrading the wiring is fairly easy, if there is enough room for new breakers in the service panel. Often the panel is too small. Lacking enough room for expansion, a panel and service upgrade is a must. The job will run $600 to $1,200 in most markets, and is always money well spent.

As for powering a new kitchen, large appliances that produce either heat or cold need their own dedicated circuits. This includes the refrigerator, microwave and dishwasher, although in most areas it is permissible to combine a dishwasher and food disposer on one circuit. Avoid plugging a computer into a circuit that is serving a spike producing microwave oven — unless you just like the interesting on-screen effects. Electric ranges, cook-tops and ovens each require their own 220-volt circuit.

If your kitchen is large enough, try to power the above-counter receptacles with two 20-amp circuits. These usually serve small appliances like blenders, coffee makers, and microwaves that will appreciate the extra power — and show their appreciation by not overloading and tripping the circuit breaker. Best practice, not always followed, is to power every other outlet above a counter top from a different circuit. This ensures that at least some outlets have power if one circuit fails, something that only seems to happen when you are in the middle of fixing Thanksgiving dinner.

Most electrical codes require an above-counter duplex outlet a minimum of every four feet — closer is better, of course — and it usually costs very little more to install four-plex rather than duplex outlets, doubling your plug-in capacity. As a general rule, when in doubt, and when possible, provide more, not less electricity. There is no such thing as too much.

If you have an appliance garage, include an outlet or two inside the garage. The allows you to leave the appliances plugged in so you need only pull them out to use them. Outlets inside cabinets can power a television and stereo equipment. Consider your lighting needs too. That dark cavern under the sink can be well lit by a 40 watt bulb in a simple pull-chain fixture under the sink.

Lighting Basics
Most kitchens are poorly lighted. The light from a single fixture centered overhead is usually blocked by your own body as you work at the counter. Wall cabinets also block head light, leaving the primary food-prep spaces darker than the rest of the room. And, it's not just the age of the kitchen that matters — it's also the age of the cook. Experts say that people over the age of 50 require at least twice as much light to read than they did when they were 20. The solution? More versatile, task-oriented light in more places.

Fluorescent under cabinet lights can make a big difference and cost very little to install and operate. Expect a typical fixture to cost less than $25. Not every cabinet will need a fluorescent light, but those nearest your primary work spaces should have them.

Recessed CFL fixtures can also brighten a workspace inexpensively and do double duty when controlled by a dimmer switch. At full power, they're task lights, at one-third power they're accent lights. When shopping for recessed fixtures, opt for the slightly more expensive zero-clearance models if you live in a single-story house. These can stand direct contact with attic insulation.

While line voltage (110v) fixtures are still popular, the tiny but mighty low-voltage LED alternatives are gaining ground pretty quickly. Used primarily as task lights, their advantages are compact design, energy efficiency and a certain minimalist understatement.

Some fixtures are so compact that they fit invisibly beneath wall cabinets and even inside dinnerware and curio cabinets. Some fixtures have their own voltage reducing transformers, while in other cases, several fixtures are ganged together. A 100-watt transformer, for example, could serve five 20-watt lamps. Some of the small fixtures come in strip light form, with lamps in fixed positions, while miniature tracks allow a variety of twist-in lamp holders.

The disadvantages? These small lights are expensive, often costing two to ten times that of standard incandescent fixtures. Most retail lighting dealers will be able to lead you through the maze of options.

When planning your lighting, keep in mind that the standard Type-A incandescent light bulb is banned in the U. S. after January 1, 2014, so plan for it.

Read more about efficient kitchen lighting design in Designing Efficient and Effective Kitchen Lighting.

Kitchen Plumbing
Extensive kitchen remodels usually require some changes in plumbing, heating and ventilation piping. Unless your changes will be minor, this work requires the assistance of a professional. All perimeter-wall drain lines must be vented through the roof. If you're lucky, you might be able to tap an existing vent pipe, but many older kitchens were inadequately vented from the start.

If you install an island cabinet with a sink, the drain line serving that sink often cannot be vented conventionally. In this case, an automatic-vent device or a barometric (loop) vent is required. A licensed plumber will know which is best for your situation. In Nebraska, and many other localities, automatic vent devices are now allowed.

Any time you touch kitchen plumbing, you are going to have to bring it up to current code requirements. In most localities this is true even if you otherwise would not need to disturb a pipe.

One of the common plumbing problems we find is a badly sloped drain line. The ideal slope for any horizontal drain line is 1/4" per linear foot. This much drop allows the waste-bearing water to move slowly enough to carry solids along with the flow but swiftly enough to scour the side walls of the drain pipes. We find slopes as little as 1/16" per foot, which almost guarantees clogging and periodic emergency calls to the plumber. Oversloping is also a problem. Slopes much greater than the ideal 1/4" are as likely to clog as undersloped ones because the liquids move too fast and leave the solids behind. Proper sloping was not as critical pre-disposer, but with disposers dumping solid waste into your drain system, adequate sloping is a must.

Inadequate venting is another frequent problem. Drain pipes must be vented to the atmosphere outside of the house to work properly. It's easy to illustrate the problem caused by inadequate venting. Pop the top on a can of Schlitz and turn it upside down to drain. It will drain with a glug-glug-glug sound. As the beer drains a vacuum is formed at the top of the can (or bottom of the can since it is now upside-down). Nature abhors a vacuum and tries to fill it with something. The only thing available is air, so air is sucked up into the can through the only opening available, the same hole through which the beer is draining. The brief pause between one glug and the next is the air entering the can. Now take your handy awl from your tool box and punch a small hole in the top (actually the bottom) of the can. The beer immediately pours out in a rush. Air now has an easier way of getting into the can through the small hole you just made, so it no longer has to fight with the beer to use the drain hole.

Venting in your plumbing system works exactly the same way. It allows air to enter the system to fill any vacuums created by draining liquids. And, perhaps most importantly, it allows any methane that builds up in your drains to escape safely to the outside. Methane is just natural gas without the bad smell. In fact, it is odorless, and since it is very flammable and can easily explode, it is also very dangerous. This is why modern plumbing codes no longer permit venting through a wall (the gas may be sucked into an upstairs window) or into the attic. Vents must terminate outside and above the roof line.

In many older kitchens sinks were vented through a drain from an upstairs bathroom. This is not a good method since, as in our beer can example, if water is draining from upstairs, the air and water are fighting for space in the drain pipe, so venting is inadequate. Most plumbing codes no longer allow these "wet vents" except in exceptional circumstances, so we have to add a dry vent for the kitchen sink.

Heating and Ventilation
Changes in the house heating and air conditioning systems are usually not required to remodel a kitchen in an existing space. But if a bumpout or addition is built, then additional heating and cooling may be required. Sometimes, the only solution is to upgrade the whole house system, which can get a little pricey. But this is rare. What we usually do is add a supplemental system on its own thermostat to heat and cool the additional space. The new kitchen "zone" can be controlled separately from the rest of the house, which is nice when the oven is pouring out heat on a summer day.

What will almost always be required, however, is a new exhaust vent over the cooking surfaces. Few older exhaust systems meet current building code requirements.

Ventilation hoods, once the stepchildren of kitchen design, have increasingly become kitchen design focal points. The range of designer hoods, both manufactured and custom made is expanding daily. But before you pick a design, make sure the fundamental requirements are met: Kitchen Design Guidelines
Structural considerations are a major part of any designer's kitchen planning. Many are contained in the Kitchen Design Guidelines published by the National Kitchen & Bath Association. Starting in 1944 the University of Illinois conducted a number of studies of kitchen design and developed fundamental design principles that are still very much in use today. A kitchen that follows all of these rules is almost guaranteed to be both functional and safe. See how many rules your existing kitchen violates for a better understanding of why it may seem awkward and dysfunctional… more



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