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In defense of the over-the-range microwave: or why I need to worry less about what other people think

When I first began dreaming about our (yes, still in progress) kitchen remodel, I stuffed a folder full of inspirational photos. The photos featured many different kinds of kitchens: cottage, Victorian, rustic, ’50s retro. But they all shared a common theme: big, eye-catching, decorative over-the-range hoods.

However, this is what we wound up with.

Source: My actual house

See, when we were shopping for appliances, I agonized over the range hood vs. over-the-range microwave decision. We purchased everything through a local appliance repair/scratch-and-dent warehouse, and they offered us a killer deal on a very gently used Jenn-Air range, refrigerator, and dishwasher set. (If you are familiar with Jenn-Air, you know it’s a high-end brand, and we got the whole set for less than the cost of a much less upscale kitchen set. Yay for Diamond Appliance!)

And the set would be an even better deal, they told us, if we took the matching over-the-range microwave, too.

I’d had my heart set on a cool-looking decorative hood, but we had already gone over budget, and weren’t really up for spending — at minimum — $400 for a lower-end range hood plus the cost of a new microwave. Plus, I was still at a loss for where we would put the microwave, if not above the stove: in a 10 x 10 two-sided galley, we don’t exactly have cabinet space to spare.

I stayed up late into the night, scouring forum after forum of people picking over-the-range microwaves apart. Critics called them dated, impractical, ineffective, passe, ugly, and … did I mention dated? It became clear that truly “now” designer kitchens all feature shiny decorative stainless-steel hoods, or perhaps custom-built wooden hoods. Either way, hoods. Not microwaves.

But at some point — around 3 AM when I’d decided that maybe we could just forgo flooring for a year or so and hide the microwave in the bedroom closet — something occurred to me:

This is my house. It’s not a designer’s house. It’s not a studio. It’s not a magazine layout.

So really, who cares what anonymous Internet critics think? We have to do what works for us. Our needs, our limitations, our preferences, our budget.

So … we bought the over-the-range microwave-slash-vent hood. And for the most part? I love it. Six months later, I’ve had enough time to put some of those common criticisms to the test:

“Over-the-range microwaves are awkward.”
One problem I read about again and again is that lower O-T-R microwaves, when hung too low, can make the kitchen feel closed in; but when hung too high, they can be impractical for shorter people to use or seem too close to the ceiling.

We hung ours just above eye-level, so I don’t have to stare at it while I cook.  Since we have high ceilings, it seems proportionate. Both Jon and I can easily reach into it, and since we’re the ones doing the cooking at our house, it works.

“Over-the-range microwaves are unsafe.”
Critics claimed that young kids aren’t able to use above-the-range microwaves safely, and I suppose that’s true … but I don’t particularly need my three- and six-year-olds to microwave yet, anyway. As for the taller people in the house, we can all easily reach into the microwave, though if we are taking something very full and hot out, we use a step stool and/or use extreme care.

Another safety concern that I’ve seen mentioned is that if you lean over the range while one of the burners is on to reach up into the microwave, you could catch your clothes on fire. While this is technically true, I rarely use the microwave and rangetop at the same time and in general, I am pretty careful about not lying on burners. Again, I’m not saying accidents can’t happen, just that fires are by nature dangerous and due diligence is always needed.

I think part of the reason these potential issues haven’t been a big deal for us is that we just aren’t big microwave users. I prefer the stovetop for cooking almost anything, and use the microwave mostly for reheating plates of food or occasionally making popcorn. Or melting butter for popcorn. (Or melting butter for anything.)

One big benefit of our Jenn-Air micro is that it doubles as a convection oven. That has come in very handy on holidays and before parties when I’m trying to bake a lot of stuff at once.

“Microwave-vent combos are ineffective.
Some critics claim that microwave-vent combinations aren’t as effective as hoods that vent directly outdoors. But since our stove was mounted on an inner wall and there was no easy way to run ducts to the outside, we were going to end up with a “filter” system no matter what. Basically that means that, rather than venting outside, grease and odors are captured by a filter in the vent and then recirculated back into the kitchen. Our particular Jenn-Air model slides out to cover more area when the vent is turned on, too.

Does it work well? I’d say it works just as well as our old range hood, which was a super basic model that vented outside. And I cook on high heat fairly often. The only time I’ve noticed cooking odors lingering for long is when we’ve made bacon. And in my opinion, there are worse things in life than a bacon-scented home.

“Over-the-range microwaves are ugly and dated.”
Well, it’s true that OTR microwaves aren’t making much of a splash on Pinterest these days, but I don’t think practicality ever really goes out of style. And for those of us with small kitchens and small budgets, an over-the-range micro/vent combo is a practical choice.

As for looks? Sure, I still ooh and ahh over the beautiful range hoods in designer kitchens, and if we had all the space and money in the world I’d probably go for one. In the meanwhile, though, this is our reality.

I have to say, I think it’s rather pretty. And when we finally get those shelves and that backsplash up – hopefully before 2013! – it’ll be downright lovely, don’t you think?

Lesson learned: When you’re considering different remodeling options, keep in mind that your opinions, lifestyle, budget and needs are what really matter. Have you learned this lesson the hard way, too?

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