Overhead or Underfoot? A Guide to Exhaust Fan Placement

Whether you’re building a new kitchen or renovating an existing one, proper ventilation should be a top priority. The right kitchen exhaust fan can efficiently remove smoke, grease, odors, and excess humidity from the air while you cook. But with so many types of fans available, how do you choose what will work best for your kitchen layout and needs?

We’ll also provide tips on ducting, CFM ratings, and special installations for island cooktops or other unique kitchen layouts. Read on to learn how to choose the ideal exhaust fan placement for a kitchen that breathes easy.

Key Considerations When Choosing an Exhaust Fan

Type of Cooking You Do

A major factor in exhaust fan selection is the type of cooking you’ll be doing most often. Fans above ranges or cooktops where a lot of frying, broiling, or stir-frying takes place should have a higher CFM rating to properly ventilate the heat and smoke produced.

The distance of your cooking surface from the mounted fan will also impact ventilation needs. A downdraft fan flush with the cooktop will require less CFM than an overhead fan mounted 2-3 feet above.

Available Ducting Space

Overhead mounted fans will require ducting space above the ceiling for ventilation, while downdraft fans route ductwork underneath through the floor into a crawlspace. Consider what ducting routes are feasible for your kitchen’s layout.

Island cooktop hoods often duct horizontally until they can route vertically through the roof. The more turns in ductwork, the more CFM power is needed for proper airflow.

Noise Level Tolerance

Downdraft fans are typically quieter since they’re installed closer to the cooktop away from overhead duct noise. Overhead fans can be louder depending on proximity to the cooking surface and quality of materials.

Consider noise levels (measured in sones) if the fan will be near a dining area or living room. Quieter fans may cost more but ensure a peaceful kitchen.

types of kitchen exhaust fans

Kitchen Layout and Aesthetics

Low profile under-cabinet hoods are great for compact kitchens without much vertical room. Island cooktops often pair well with dramatic stainless steel or colored range hoods as a style statement.

For an unobstructed open kitchen, a downdraft fan might blend in better than a bulky overhead option. Consider the look you want and available space.

Overhead Exhaust Fans

Under Cabinet Hoods

Under cabinet hoods are installed directly beneath wall cabinets above the cooktop or range. They take up minimal visual space while offering focused ventilation.

Typically rated for 300-400 CFM, they can effectively remove heat, grease, and odors if ducted outside and paired with the right cooking surface size. Easy access to filters simplifies maintenance.

The main downside is that they require adequate cabinet space overhead. Curbed or sloped ceilings may also limit installation. Ducting through the ceiling up into the roof is common.

Wall Chimney Hoods

Wall chimney hoods are mounted on the wall above cooktops or ranges. They offer more power and flexibility than under cabinet options, with CFM ratings from 400 up to 600 for commercial styles.

Since they don’t have to install inside a cabinet, they can house larger fans and multispeed motors. They also include built-in lights for extra visibility while cooking.

The main limitation is finding adequate wall space in the right location. Ducting straight up through the wall and roof is common. These hoods also protrude more than low profile choices.

Ceiling Mount Hoods

As their name suggests, ceiling mount hoods are installed directly into the kitchen ceiling above the cooking surface. This makes them very effective for capturing and spreading out heat, grease, smoke, and odors.

Their elevated mounted height requires very high CFM ratings, often over 600 for commercial use or large home kitchens. Deep or multi-layered filters trap grease well.

The main drawbacks are needing sufficient ceiling height for installation and having to route ductwork through the roof. Professional installation is recommended.

Downdraft Exhaust Fans

Key Benefits of Downdraft

Downdraft exhaust fans don’t require overhead ducting space, making them ideal for tight kitchens. They install inline with the cooktop or range, venting contaminants downward and outward.

Built-in models blend seamlessly into countertops for a sleek, modern look. Their low profile stays out of sight. Downdraft fans can be installed in island cooktops or other unique spots.

Since they pull air directly from the cooking surface, downdraft fans don’t have to work as hard as overhead models rated for similar CFM levels.

Considerations for Downdraft

The major limitation of downdraft fans is that they require adequate floor or crawlspace space underneath to route ductwork. Ceiling height is not a factor.

CFM ratings max out around 1200 for commercial downdraft fans. Often residential models are in the 300-400 range. This makes them suitable for low to medium heat cooking applications.

Some downdraft fans recirculate a portion of air back into the kitchen instead of venting it 100% outdoors. This reduces their contaminant removing effectiveness.

Downdraft fans can only operate when the cooktop below is in use. They don’t provide whole kitchen ventilation like overhead models.

Islands and Other Unique Installs

Island range hoods are designed specifically to mount directly overhead island cooktops or ranges. They typically include directional vents and higher CFMs to handle air flow from multiple sides.

Remote mounted fans are a good solution when structural obstacles prevent venting directly through the roof. The fan motor installs in a separate location while still being connected to the hood.

For extremely challenging kitchen layouts, consultants can design a custom ventilation solution. This may include multiple smaller fans or innovative ducting routes.

Features to Look for in a Fan

When comparing exhaust fans, keep the following features in mind:

  • Higher CFM for larger kitchens or commercial cooking
  • Multiple fan speeds for flexibility
  • LED lighting for visibility
  • Grease filtering options like charcoal or mesh
  • Energy efficient and quiet operation
  • Seamless integration into space

Many exhaust fans include extras like touch controls, self-cleaning tech, and connectivity options. Prioritize the noise, ventilation power, and design integration most important for your kitchen.

Choosing the right exhaust fan placement for your kitchen layout comes down to available space, cooking needs, noise tolerance, and aesthetic tastes. While overhead fans offer whole kitchen ventilation, downdraft models are ideal for tight spaces.

Focus on CFM ratings to match ventilation to typical cooking styles. Though overhead fans have higher CFMs available, a downdraft flush with the cooktop may suffice for many homeowners. Built-in downdrafts also provide a sleek look.

No matter which type you choose, look for ENERGY STAR certification, dimmable LED lights, at least 400 CFM (or 100 CFM per linear foot of cooktop), and easy filter access. Quiet operation is also worthwhile, especially in open kitchens.

Cooking up a storm with the right fan will lead to great meals. Careful placement paired with routine filter cleaning will keep the kitchen breezy for years of cooking joy.

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