Ergonomic Kitchen Design Tips

Save your back and your body by following these ergonomic tips for kitchen design.


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Are your upper cabinets too high for you to reach? Tired of leaning over a low counter? If you or someone in your house is shorter or taller than average, a standard kitchen probably leaves you stretching, bending, or climbing on a regular basis.

With a few design changes and careful product selection, you can easily create a kitchen with dimensions tailored to your needs.

Include different counter heights.

If your whole family is tall, 38-inch-high countertops might be a good fit, but this could affect resale. (It's less awkward for tall people to work at short counters than vice versa.) So if you want to raise counters, make sure they will be relatively easy to modify to a standard 36-inch height later -- use standard base cabinets and add a piece of wood under the countertops that can be taken out without disturbing the cabinetry.

Be creative about storage.

Common sense suggests that we should store all items as close as possible to the place they'll be used. Weight is rarely a consideration, but it should be. Store heavy items between hip and shoulder height to avoid over-stretching. Store medium-weight items just above or below the heaviest ones, but never higher than eye level or below the knees. The lightest items, such as cereal boxes, should go in what many people consider the least-accessible cabinets -- those above the head or below the knee. Out of the way? Maybe. But a falling cereal box won't break your toe.

Make high kitchen cabinets more accessible.

Consider installing Rev-A-Shelf's pull-down shelf mechanism on top shelves. This product, which can be installed in standard wall cabinets, lets you pull shelves out and down toward you, making those high storage spaces more useful for everyone. Visit rev-a-shelf.com for more info.

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Use pullout shelves in base cabinets.

All sorts of storage options are available in pullout varieties: pantry shelves, spice racks, and under-the-sink organizers. When installed in base cabinets, they give everyone better access to items at the back of the cabinets and reduce unnecessary bending.

Trade the range for a cooktop and wall oven.

Freestanding ranges are one-size-fits-all because you can't do much to change their heights. You can, however, install cooktops and wall ovens at nonstandard heights that better suit your needs.

Choose a bottom-freezer refrigerator or refrigerator drawers.

Bottom-freezer refrigerators make it convenient to access what you use most: food in the refrigerated section. This means no more bending down for fresh vegetables in the crisper drawers -- something everyone can appreciate, regardless of height. Refrigerator drawers also increase design possibilities, as they can be installed in various configurations and locations.

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Install the microwave in cabinetry.

Ideally, a microwave should be high enough for a tall person to conveniently use and low enough to let a short person easily remove hot food. Placing it over the range is not recommended. This location not only forces you to reach over a hot range, but it's also often too far for a short person to safely reach.

Raise the range hood.

Stirring food on the cooktop is a challenge if you're taller than the bottom edge of the range hood. Rather than stooping, check into raising the hood to the maximum allowable distance above the cooktop. This distance varies by manufacturer, so shop around if you can't raise your current model.

Raise the dishwasher.

A slightly higher dishwasher makes loading and unloading much more convenient, especially for tall people. In addition, if you need to squeeze in more storage space, this configuration allows for a drawer below the dishwasher.

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