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Kitchen Range Hoods: All the Facts

By Debra Judge Silber Rise Writer
Mar 27, 2021

Kitchen range hoods come in all styles and silhouettes—from massive stainless-steel chimneys to slender glass arches. But how they look is not nearly as important as how well they handle the job of clearing the air in your kitchen. Far from being just a style statement, a well-functioning range hood is an essential component of a home's indoor air quality or IAQ.

Do I Need a Range Hood? 

The short answer is yes. Even though building codes may not require it (the rules are complicated, so check with local officials), over-the-stove ventilation is critical to eliminating airborne contaminants generated during cooking. These include moisture and grease particles and nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, two potentially dangerous gases generated from gas stoves.

Panasonic Whisperhood IAQ
Panasonic Whisperhood IAQ Range Hood. Photo Credit: Panasonic

How Do I Choose a Range Hood?

To choose the right range hood, consider the style of your kitchen – and your cooking. Do you like to grill, broil or stir-fry? If so, you'll need a hood that extends over the entire cooking surface, with a fan powerful enough to draw away all the smoke, steam, and splatter you can dish out. If your taste tends toward takeout and you use your stove infrequently, you could get by with a designer hood that's all about looks. Either way, you'll want a quality product that delivers the performance it promises. An excellent way to find one is to look for certification from the Home Ventilating Institute.

Ducted range hoods, which draw air from the cooking area and release it outside, effectively maintain good kitchen air quality. Recirculating hoods—also known as "ductless" or "duct-free"—collect air from above the stove, filter it, and blow it back out. While they may help remove smoke and steam, recirculating units do not rid the air of toxic gases - and you must maintain their filters for optimal performance. Choose a recirculating hood only when there is no pathway to vent your hood outdoors.

Zephyr Milano
Zephyr Milano Range Hood. Photo Credit: Zephyr

What Types of Range Hoods Are There? 

Stylistically, range hoods cover a broad, well, range. In a French country kitchen, you might opt for a liner insert set in a custom-made, decorative chimney. A sleek glass-and-stainless steel model might be a good choice in a contemporary environment. If you're on a budget, a simple wall-mount may do. But keep in mind that style can affect performance. Here are a few range-hood styles, and below, we will discuss the pros and cons of each:

  • Undercabinet
  • Wall-mount Chimney Hoods
  • Range Hood Inserts
  • Island Hoods
  • Downdraft Vents
  • Microwave Range Hoods

What Are Undercabinet Range Hoods?

Undercabinet hoods mount beneath cabinets above the cooktop and typically vent through the back of the cabinet. Their modest cost and easy installation make them popular, but be sure the unit you choose extends far enough to cover most of the cooktop.

GE Smart Designer Wall Mount Range Hood
GE Smart Designer Wall Mount Range Hood. Photo Credit: GE

What Are Wall-mount Chimney Hoods?

This type of hood makes a dramatic statement in place of cabinets above the cooktop. Their tall vent stacks enable them to use efficient and often quieter in-line blowers. 

What Are Range Hood Inserts

Range hood inserts are sometimes called power packs and are installed inside a cabinet or a custom-designed chimney. They are very customizable and allow lots of design flexibility.

Filo Plus
Photo Credit: Filo Plus

What Are Island Hoods?

Island hoods are mounted and vented through the ceiling. They should be at least as wide as the cooking area below, and they should not be mounted so high as to be ineffective.

What Are Downdraft Vents?

Downdraft vents are often used on islands, where a standard hood would be impractical or obtrusive. They can be integrated into the cooktop or separate, and some telescope up to better capture cooking air. Still, they are generally not as effective as suspended hoods in capturing steam. They can also interfere with the flame of gas stoves.

Frigidaire Gallery Microwave Range Hood
Frigidaire Gallery Microwave Range Hood. Photo Credit: Frigidaire

What Are Microwave Range Hoods?

Microwaves that double as ventilation may seem convenient but rarely deliver the power of dedicated range hoods. Their flat bottoms do not extend over the entire cooking surface, and their blower must do double duty and work not only to remove contaminants but to cool the appliance above. 

What is CFM?

A range hood's ability to move air is measured in CFM or cubic feet per minute. You can determine how many CFM you need by considering your cooktop's size and adjusting that calculation based on the hood's positioning and your cooking style. 

How Many CFM Do I Need for My Range Hood?

The Home Ventilating Institute's rule of thumb is 100 CFM for each linear foot of cooking surface. A typical 30-inch stove, then, would require a hood with at least 250 CFM. The rule is a bit different for professional-style stoves above 60,000 BTU. For those, the benchmark is 1 CFM for every 100 BTUs. If you buy a 60,000-BTU cooktop, you need a hood that can move at least 600 CFM.

From those benchmarks, consider the needs of your kitchen, stove, and lifestyle. If you grill or sear food often or have a powerful pro-style range, you'll need a hood with higher CFM. A gas stove that produces harmful combustion gasses requires more CFM than an electric one. Suppose you want to mount your hood higher than the manufacturer recommends. In that case, you'll want to add 100 CFM for every three inches above the recommended height.

What Are the Drawbacks of Range Hoods?

All those CFMs come with a price, though – and not just in the money you lay out for that supersized 1,200-CFM hood. The more dirty air your hood removes from your kitchen, the more fresh air is needed to replace it. This replacement (also called "makeup") air can come from anywhere — including dusty attics and moldy basements. It can cause dangerous backdraft of gases from combustion appliances such as furnaces and water heaters. This risk is especially high in tight homes where the ventilation system cannot handle the sudden depressurization caused by an oversized range hood running full blast. In these cases, homeowners often choose between a recirculating range hood and installing an air makeup system with preheating connected to the range hood. 

The International Residential Code now requires a dedicated makeup air system for range hoods over 400 CFM. These often consist of motorized vents installed behind the stove or cabinet where the incoming unconditioned air won't cause discomfort. More complex solutions involve units that heat the incoming air or tie into an existing ventilation system. If you're planning on a powerful hood, it's worth researching these options or consulting a home ventilation expert.

Vent-A-Hood Range Hood AJ Madison
Vent-A-Hood Range Hood. Photo Credit: AJ Madison

What Features Should I Look For When Buying a Range Hood? 

The first thing that will attract you to a particular unit is how it looks. But as with all appliances, it's what's under the "hood" that counts. 

  1. Let's start with the fan or blower. A centrifugal (sometimes called a "squirrel cage") blower is more efficient (and costly) than a rotary-style fan with blades. 
  2. With either, you'll want at least two speeds (three is better), so you can move a lot of air when you're frying up a storm, but dial the noise back when it's time to serve. 
  3. Many range hoods—and all vent/microwave combos—have heat sensors that automatically switch on the fan or adjust the speed as heat rises. This feature protects the microwave's electronics and hood itself from heat damage. It comes in handy if you tend to get caught up in your cooking without realizing how much smoke you're generating. On the other hand, they've also been criticized for fanning the flames in the event of a stovetop fire, a drawback cited by Consumer Reports, which does not recommend them for that reason.
  4. Hoods also come with several types of filters: professional-looking baffle filters, which work best at high speeds, as well as stainless steel- or aluminum-mesh filters, or a combination of the two. Most are dishwasher-safe; monthly cleaning will improve your range hood's performance. Recirculating hoods use charcoal filters that must be replaced according to the manufacturer's recommendations to maintain performance. 
  5. Many hoods provide lighting to help you see what's cooking. In recent years, heat-resistant LEDs have replaced incandescents. Multiple light levels, including night-light features, can be handy. Infrared warming lights are an upgrade on more expensive units.
  6. Remote controls are helpful for island hoods mounted out of reach. A timer that turns the fan off automatically is also beneficial.
Zephyr Connect App
Zephyr Connect App. Photo Credit: Zephyr

Do Smart Range Hoods Exist?

If your definition of "smart" means a range hood that you can control with a tap on your smartphone or a voice command directed at your home's smart speaker, the answer is yes. Several hoods from GE Appliances, for example, respond to commands via their SmartHQ app and through integration with Google Assistant and Alexa. The company also recently introduced the GE Profile Kitchen HubMicrowave, a 27-inch combination microwave and vent hood whose smart-touch screen and dual cameras let you cook side-by-side with other chefs miles away. (It also serves up recipes based on what's in your pantry and updates your grocery list for good measure.) Zephyr is another hood maker that offers smart control through mobile and voice-activated devices via its own app. Some Zephyr models are equipped with Bluetooth speakers so you can stream while you steam.

FOTILE WhisPower Pixie Air
WhisPower Pixie Air Smart Range Hood. Photo Credit: FOTILE

What US manufacturers have yet to offer is a truly "smart" range hood that monitors indoor air quality and responds automatically to refresh unhealthy air without human intervention. An effort by hood manufacturer Broan and the US Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy to develop this capability in a quiet, energy-efficient hood ended with developing a prototype in 2019. Based on that research, Broan expects to introduce a mass-market range hood in early 2022 activated by a heat sensor programmed to detect conditions indicative of poor IAQ. Such a hood can eliminate 70% of the contaminants contributing to unhealthy air, says Brian Wellnitz, the senior group product manager for kitchen ventilation. He said a more sophisticated and higher-priced "smart" hood that specifically monitors humidity and VOCs would follow before the end of the year.

Meanwhile, Panasonic has developed the WhisperHood IAQ range hood. It does not have a built-in sensor but can be activated by a whole-house IAQ monitoring system available through contractors. As of this writing, the only self-contained IAQ-smart range hood available in the North American market appears to be the Pixie Air range hood. In November 2020, Chinese manufacturer Fotile introduced air-quality sensors that automatically identify contaminants and activate the fan to extract harmful gases.

Whirlpool Gold ENERGY STAR Range Hood The Brick
Whirlpool Gold ENERGY STAR Range Hood. Photo Credit: The Brick

What Are the Top Brands of Range Hoods?

Many appliance makers also make range hoods. Manufacturers such as Nortek (including brands Broan, NuTone, and Best) and GE (including Profile and Monogram) offer hoods across the price spectrum. Whirlpool and Kenmore make low- to mid-priced designs. Vent-A-Hood, Zephyr, Viking, and Wolf are among high-end brands. Others include Rangecraft, Proline, and KitchenAid.

Are All Range Hoods Noisy?

Using improved filter design, more efficient motors, and better insulation, manufacturers have developed range hoods that are considerably quieter while still drawing significant CFM. In-line blowers, installed remotely in chimney-style hoods, can also cut down the noise. Range hood noise is rated in sones, with most producing 3-7 sones, a level equal to 40 to 60 decibels, about the same as a normal conversation. ENERGY STAR limits noise to 2 sones or less.

Installing Range Hood

Can I Install a Range Hood Myself?

If you're simply replacing one hood with a new, similar one, and you're handy and comfortable making the electrical connections required, you can replace a hood yourself. Be sure to turn off the power to the circuit you're working on, and follow the manufacturer's directions. If the job involves adding ductwork or suspending the unit from the ceiling, it's worth calling in a pro.

How Much Does a Range Hood Cost?

The cost of a range hood varies widely, anywhere from $100 to $2,000. Design, power, style, features, and materials—as well as brand identity—all figure into that cost. You are also likely to need to have a new range hood installed. Installation costs also vary widely – from about $200 to $1,000 or more – based on the size and type of hood, how it's mounted, and whether new ductwork is required.

Broan ENERGY STAR Glacier Range Hood Amazon
Broan ENERGY STAR Glacier Range Hood. Photo Credit: Amazon

How Much Energy Does a Range Hood Use?

How much energy your range hood will use depends on its power and how much your run it. You'll gain an edge on energy savings and performance with an ENERGY STAR rated model, which averages 70 percent less energy use than standard hoods. ENERGY STAR-rated hoods also meet specific efficacy standards (how much air they move per watt), sound (in sones), and airflow. Currently, 115 models sold in the US and Canada carry the ENERGY STAR seal. 

For high-CFM hoods, the real energy cost lies in the conditioned air they remove from the house. For that reason, Ottawa remodeler Paul Denys presses his clients to choose induction cooktops over gas, which require higher CFM. "It's the consumption of air that's a bigger energy penalty than the efficiency of the fan," he says.

How Long Do Range Hoods Last?

The average life expectancy of a range hood is 14 years, with a wide variation based on the unit's use and quality. Warranties on new units range from one to five years. Proper ducting and routine maintenance, such as cleaning filters, can prolong the life of your hood.

Plank and Pillow Range Hood
Wood Covered Range Hood. Photo Credit: Plank and Pillow

Beauty or Health? Why Not Both?

The range hood you choose is likely to make a strong design statement in your kitchen. But remember that the real reason you have a range hood is to ensure good indoor air quality and a healthy kitchen environment. And that may be the most crucial lifestyle statement you can make.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-02T12:27:40+0000
Debra Judge Silber

Article by:

Debra Judge Silber

Debra Judge Silber is a Connecticut-based journalist who writes on home design with an eye toward practices that support our health and our planet. She is a former editor at This Old House, Fine Homebuilding and Inspired House, and has written for a number of other publications.