How to Buy a Range Hood July 16 2013

Range hood styles, venting and installation options

Range hoods are no longer merely utilitarian. Today, some luxury range hoods resemble abstract sculptures and are stylish enough to serve as the centerpiece of a kitchen. Designer and custom-built range hoods can cost more than $2,000, but plenty of stylish models are available for as little as $400 to $500. If your biggest concern is performance rather than appearance, you may be able to spend less on comparable models. Experts say that many inexpensive range hoods do just as good a job as high-end models of removing smoke, steam and odors produced by everyday cooking.

There are several types of range hoods available. Under-cabinet, wall-mounted and island chimney hoods all have the same basic design; a canopy that extends over the top of the range to catch fumes, a fan to pull them in and a chimney connected to ductwork to exhaust them. These three types differ mainly by where they are installed, although a hood's location may also affect its performance, styling and price. Here's a rundown of the three basic range-hood types:

Installed location




- Least expensive

- Very good performance

- Easy to install

- Requires cabinet above range

- Less stylish than other types


- Excellent performance overall

- Stylish

- Don't need a cabinet above the range

- Moderately expensive

- May require professional installation

Island chimney

- Most stylish

- Best option for island range

- Requires more power than other types

- Expensive

- Usually requires professional installation

Another type, known as a downdraft range hood, does not have a canopy that covers the range; instead, it is most commonly built into the range itself to provide ventilation from beneath. Rather than capturing smoke and fumes as they rise, a downdraft system is designed to pull them downward into ventilation ducts running under the floor. A downdraft range hood has an unobtrusive appearance and may be the only option when venting through the ceiling or wall is impossible. However, tests find that these systems are less effective than a traditional hood at removing smoke and steam.

Still less useful are ductless or recirculating range hoods. These hoods do not actually remove fumes at all, but merely direct them away from the stove to other parts of the kitchen. Many under-cabinet range hoods can be converted to a recirculating configuration for use in homes without kitchen ventilation ducts, and a few inexpensive range hoods are recirculating-only. Although ductless range hoods include filters to trap grease particles and remove some odors, they do little or nothing to eliminate steam, smoke and heat from the kitchen. Thus, although this is the easiest and cheapest type of range hood to install, the editors of specifically recommend against using it.

A final alternative is a microhood, which combines an under-cabinet range hood with a built-in microwave oven to save counter space. Although not quite as effective as regular range hoods, they're especially convenient in small kitchens. Microhoods are covered in our report on microwave ovens.

Range hoods are designed for specific locations and rely on existing ducts to vent air outside, so if you're just replacing an old range hood, you'll need to use the same basic type unless you plan to replace your venting as well. For under-cabinet installations in particular, make sure to measure before buying. A 30-inch width is standard, but 24-inch, 36-inch and 42-inch range hoods are also fairly common. Wall-mounted and island chimney range hoods are more forgiving, but if your ceiling is a non-standard height, the new hood may require a modification to fit.

If you're building a new home or renovating your kitchen, it's a good idea to take the type of range hood you want into account when planning the final layout. For example, if you decide to install your range in an island, you'll be limited to an island chimney or a downdraft range hood -- neither of which performs as well as under-cabinet or wall-mounted models. Likewise, if you plan to have cabinets above your range, you won't be able to install a stylish wall-mounted range hood.

It's also important to make sure that your range hood is vented properly. All vented range hoods should be attached to ductwork that carries air outside. However, we saw some reports indicating that building contractors sometimes cut corners by venting the range hood directly into the attic. This can result in a buildup of grease (creating a fire hazard) and moisture (contributing to condensation and rot).

Range hood prices, which vary from $40 to more than $4,000, tend to reflect aesthetics and installation type more than performance. That's not to say that all range hoods are similarly effective -- performance varies a great deal between individual models -- but you can find a range hood that works well on almost any budget. Extra features such as quiet operation, multiple fan speeds and temperature sensors add to price, but the main difference between a $300 range hood and a $3,000 range hood is often appearance.

The amount of air a range hood pulls out of the house is measured in cubic feet per minute, or CFM. The Home Ventilating Institute recommends that a range hood move at least 40 CFM, and ideally 100 CFM, for each linear foot of range if the range is positioned against a wall. For an island range, the hood should move 50 to 150 CFM. However, experts caution that higher CFM ratings are no proof of a range hood's effectiveness. A range hood with 400 CFM of airflow won't necessarily remove more smoke than one with 200 CFM, and it is likely to be noisier. Also, a fan that pulls too much air may create a "backdraft" depressurizing the house and pulling in exhaust gases from fireplaces, wood stoves or gas-powered appliances. To avoid backdrafting, it may be necessary to add a source of "makeup air" such as an open window or an extra intake vent.

Reviewers say the following about shopping for a range hood:

  • Measure before you buy. The range hood (or its canopy) should be at least as wide as your range or cooktop to ensure adequate coverage for all burners. Vertical height also matters. Typically, a hood will be mounted 18 to 30 inches above the cooktop to allow working space while still capturing steam and fumes. If the hood will be mounted at a height where you are likely to bump your head on it, you may prefer to choose one without any sharp corners. Finally, for wall-mounted and island chimney range hoods, you may need to check your ceiling height to make sure the chimney is the right length.
  • Range hood noise is measured in sones rather than decibels. One sone is about as loud as a running refrigerator, and sones increase linearly rather than exponentially like decibels. In other words, a 2-sone range hood is twice as loud as a 1-sone hood.
  • If at all possible, choose a ducted range hood. Experts unanimously agree that recirculating and downdraft range hoods are less effective than those that vent outside through a wall or ceiling. Recirculating range hoods can trap grease and cleanse some odors by passing air through a filter (which must be cleaned or replaced regularly), but they will not remove steam and do not remove all odors. However, keep in mind that a ducted hood is more complicated to install. It will also cool your home slightly as it removes heated air from the kitchen.
  • Check the filter. Most range hoods have reusable, mesh-type metal filters to trap grease and other particles. The filter should fit snugly, but should also be easy to remove for cleaning. Filters typically need to be cleaned every one to three months. Many filters can be washed in a dishwasher; others should be soaked in cleaning solution, wiped, rinsed and air-dried. Some range hoods have baffle filters: metal plates with slots that divert air as it passes through them. This type of filter can be quieter and easier to clean than a mesh filter. If your range hood has a carbon-type filter, you will need to replace it yearly.
  • Install your range hood properly. You will get better airflow if you keep the ducting as short as possible and keep the number of bends in it to a minimum. Also, include a wall or roof cap on the outside of the house to keep out drafts.
  • Finally, choose a hood you'll use consistently. Experts say that leaving the range hood off while cooking can result in reduced air quality and damage to kitchen cabinets. Choose a hood with a noise level that's tolerable to you so that you won't avoid switching it on. If you often forget to turn on the range hood, you might consider one with a thermostat control, which automatically switches on the fan when the temperature above the range reaches a certain level. However, the editors of warn that this feature can also be a hazard: If a pan catches fire while you are cooking, the hood will automatically switch on and fan the flames.