An ad in a glossy magazine depicts a kitchen full of contented dinner party guests gathered around a royal blue, enameled cast-iron range the size of a golf cart. What that appliance advertisement omits is that the retail price of the equipment is only the starting point. First, the floor must be shored up to support the sizeable load. Then there’s the on-site assembly of some 200 parts by the delivery crew. And last, but by no means least, there’s the installation of a high-powered exhaust hood capable of handling the heat from jet engine-like burners.
Plainly, some professional-style cooking appliances are not for every homeowner, kitchen and budget. However, they’re much easier to integrate into your kitchen than true commercial appliances.
The early pioneers of the prosumer trend didn’t have the selection of consumer-friendly pro-style appliances that are on the market today. Instead, they purchased off-the-rack commercial ranges like Garland and Wolf and attempted to retrofit them into their homes.
“We speak fondly of a concept called ‘burning down the house,'” explains Steve Kleber, past president of Center for Kitchen & Bath Education and Research, recalling the earliest examples of prosumerism. “These commercial ranges were not insulated like today’s pro-style ranges and the very high levels of heat would literally catch wooden cabinetry on fire.”
Thanks to greatly improved insulation, the pro-style ranges on the market today have zero clearance for combustibility, meaning they can be butted up against walls and wood cabinets. But that shouldn’t imply that installing these and other commercial-style cooking equipment is a breeze. Issues such as ventilation, plumbing, structural support, size constraints and cost must all still be tackled long before the first scallop ever gets seared.
“One of the very first issues to consider when planning a pro-style kitchen is size,” explains Bob Somrak, Jr., board member of the National Kitchen & Bath Association and co-owner of Somrak Kitchens, Bedford Heights, Ohio. “If a consumer wants to install all these pro-style appliances, they’ll need 3 feet of refrigerator space, 3 feet of freezer space and 4 to 5 feet for the commercial-style range. That is 11 feet of space just for these appliances, and they still need room for the cabinets and countertops.” Contrast that with the kitchens of yesterday when those same appliances required just five linear feet of space.
And then there’s the issue of weight. “Some of these large Aga and La Cornue ranges can weigh the equivalent of a concert grand piano,” Somrak says. “This requires a specially constructed cement base that can support those loads.”
However, not every prosumer range requires a special base. “These manufacturers continue to introduce smaller, more versatile models of their appliances,” explains Alan Abrams, founder of Cabinet En-Counters, a kitchen design studio in Cleveland. “These tend to be not nearly as heavy, requiring no special construction considerations.” Of course, Abrams adds, homeowners are always strongly encouraged to check the individual manufacturer’s specifications before proceeding.
One of the more widely recognized concerns when it comes to pro-style ranges and cooktops, which have burners that can exceed 20,000 BTUs, is ventilating all that heat.
“Standard cooktops require ventilation hoods that move as little as 150 cubic feet per minute (CFM),” Somrak explains. “But these Viking and Dacor and Thermador cooktops require hoods that can handle up to 1,200 CFM, nearly 10 times the amount.”
According to Craig Napravnik of Broan-NuTone (a manufacturer of range hoods, ventilation fans and indoor air quality products) the industry rule-of-thumb to insure proper ventilation is to add up the total BTUs of a range’s burners, divide by 100, and the result is the number of CFMs needed. Therefore, a range with a total output of 80,000 BTUs should be equipped with a hood capable of moving 800 CFMs. Any less, according to Napravnik, and you may have issues with heat, smoke, grease and moisture.
This level of ventilation removes so much air from the home that you create negative pressure within the building, the result of which can be dangerous chimney and furnace backdrafts. “To counter that,” says Somrak, “modern fire codes mandate that houses with these high-power hoods need to install an air makeup unit to replace the air.” If the home is located in a cold climate, that air would also need to be heated before being introduced into the home.
Some power-hungry prosumers are opting to sidestep these costly ventilation issues by choosing cooktops that employ induction technology. Induction burners, which use electromagnetic energy, can actually outperform pro-style gas ranges. And because they do so with energy rather than heat, they don’t require nearly the ventilation of their gas counterparts. In addition to cost (high-power induction cooktops with no stove can cost twice as much as an entire gas range), the most well-known drawback to induction cooking is that it works only with ferrous cookware.
Another popular prosumer feature, plucked directly from the restaurant kitchen, is the wall-mounted pot-filler. Conveniently located above the range or cooktop, the faucet allows the home cook to fill large pots with water without having to lug them to the sink. The flipside of this, of course, is that a water supply line must be run to a new location in the kitchen. And unlike in a restaurant kitchen, there is no drain in the floor to catch the overflow. (Plus, you still need to haul the pot to the sink to dump it.)
In light of the significant amount of infrastructure work required to accommodate some of these pro-style appliances, it’s no surprise that stainless finishes have become so popular.
“Thanks to all these entry-level stainless steel appliances,” explains Abrams, “people are able to get the look, the flavor and the feel of a professional kitchen without having to spend all that money on costly kitchen modifications.”
The Center for Kitchen & Bath Education and Research (CKBER) is a philanthropic organization (established by the National Kitchen and Bath Association) dedicated to funding the growth and vitality of the kitchen and bath industry through education and research. www.nkba.org