The name of this island hood says it all: Thermador Masterpiece Series ($3699), via Thermador.ca
Although they’ve been around for decades, kitchen exhaust fans took flight as an essential component in the 1990s and are now comfortably ensconced on the list of kitchen bling. It’s with good reason: The Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation recommends exhaust fans to reduce odours, smoke and moisture, all of which can contribute to both the deterioration of building materials and poor indoor air quality. In addition, exhaust fans can minimize false triggers from your smoke detector when that grilled cheese turns into a cheese flambé.
As well as looking great, your exhaust fan has an important job to do. This buying guide covers three points to consider when shopping for this crucial kitchen appliance.
As soon as you’ve identified the type of exhaust fan you want — be it under-cabinet, island or wall-mounted — you’ll need to consider the exhaust fan’s power: its ability to suck air; this is measured in Cubic Feet per Minute (CFMs). Every ventilation hood carries a CFM rating, but your CFM needs are dependent on the size and type of cooktop and the amount of cooking you do. A 30” electric cooktop that is used once a week requires far fewer CFMs than a 6-burner gas range that is used for multiple meals on a daily basis. As a rule, gas cooktops require more CFMs to clear away fume residue, excess steam and heat from the open flames. If you have a gas cooktop, add up the BTUs for each burner (check your manual) and divide by 100; this will give you your CFM needs. For example, a 100,000 BTU cooktop requires an exhaust fan with a 1,000 CFM capability. Electric cooktop CFM needs are lower; many mid-range hoods offer 450 – 600 CFMs and, for the most part, these would satisfy the needs of any electric cooktop, like this Venmar chimney style wall-mount (pictured above) which retails for around $500.
We’ve all experienced an exhaust fan that sounds like an F-15 taking off; not only is it uncomfortable, it can kill your kitchen party faster than a rat in whisky, and sooner or later you’ll avoid using that fan, giving up all the benefits of owning one because it’s too unpleasant to have on. Exhaust fan noise is measured in sones. Many manufacturers include a sone rating on the packaging, but some don’t — you may need to check their website (and be sure that you get the rating for all of the settings). It’s a matter of opinion, but seven sones is often the point at which the fan can come across as annoyingly loud. Most exhaust fans hit a sone rating of seven or above on the high setting, but typically this is used for extreme steam and smoke situations for short periods of time. It’s a good idea to have a low setting that clocks in below three sones so you can keep up a constant level of ventilation without needing to tolerate excess noise. Do not rely on testing a fan’s sound level in a store where ambient noise can lead to an inaccurate assessment of volume. If a quiet fan is a priority, consider a model with an external or in-line blower, like the ZTH Contemporary Series unit (pictured above; $3,000) from Vent-A-Hood, a Texas company that claims its “magic lung” blower system yields the industry’s quietest ventilation. In these models, the actual fan and motor are located mid-way through the venting, or at the exterior wall, resulting in significantly lower noise levels. Be warned, though: in-line and external blowers tend to be the stuff of high-end, high-priced models; that said, for your investment, you’ll get an inconspicuous workhorse that does a phenomenal job.
3. Bells and whistles
Like all appliances, fans offer a variety of features to spice up your user experience. Most important: get a fan that provides light over your cooktop. Two 20-watt halogen bulbs is a good starting point for a 30" cooktop, and the number of bulbs should increase with the width of the unit. Dishwasher-safe filters are also high on the priority list, and from there you can choose from heat lamps, timers, clocks and automatic response systems. Ventilation hoods even come in custom colours, like this Viking Professional Series wall-mounted unit in blue (pictured above; $2,800). Depending on your budget and cooking practices, you’ll be able to find a fan that suits your individual needs and aspirations.
When purchasing a ventilation hood, consult your contractor or installer to make sure your kitchen can accommodate the model you want. For instance, some units require larger ducting, which you may not have room for, so it’s well worth going over the specifications before you buy. Also, be sure your hood is installed at the correct height: 24"–30" above the stove top. This will ensure that you get maximum performance from your ventilation unit.