Microwave Oven Install Options

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Microwave ovens, like their cousin the range hood, are an often overlooked yet essential kitchen appliance. They are often not given a lot of consideration for placement in kitchen design and that is a real shame as they are such a commonly used appliance.

I’ll leave the articles about size, power, and performance for the likes of Consumer Reports but I wanted to discuss a little about install options.

There are 4 major methods of install and we will look at the pro’s and con’s of each:

  • Counter-Top
  • Cabinet Shelf
  • Over-the-Range
  • Flush Mount
  • Other Options
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Counter Top Microwave Sample

Counter-Top Install

This is as basic an install as you get for a microwave and the vast majority of microwaves are designed to sit on the counter.

  • Pro’s
    • Lot’s of availability and price options
    • Easy to install
    • Easy to reach
  • Con’s
    • Takes up valuable counter space
    • Occupies an electrical outlet permanently
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Microwave Shelf Sample Picture

Cabinet Shelf

As kitchen designers started to plan microwaves into kitchen designs more, microwave shelves became more common. This gave the microwave a permanent home in the kitchen and often it’s own power plug, but as microwaves are generally deeper than upped cabinets it had to stick out from the wall.

  • Pro’s
    • Lot’s of availability and price options (basically just a counter top microwave on a shelf)
    • Easy to install
    • Easy to reach
    • Typically has own electrical plug
  • Con’s
    • Sticks out from upper cabinetry
    • May not be as easy for shorter users (e.g. kids)
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Over-the-Range Microwave Sample Picture

Over-the-Range

Over-the-Range (OTR) microwaves have become very popular particularly with builders and renovators as they combine the need for both a range hood and a microwave to one space in the kitchen. For some kitchen’s, this can be a huge space saver but it comes with compromises in accessibility, clearance to the cooktop, and generally a compromised quality hood fan.

  • Pro’s
    • Large selection of makes and models
    • Commonly 30” wide above standard range which is larger than many counter top models
    • Dedicated power source
  • Con’s
    • Compromised range hood performance (and often noisy as air flow is not smooth)
    • When mounted too low it interferes with range activity; when mounted at correct height it can be out of reach for shorter users
    • You may have to reach over a hot stove to use it
    • Harder to install or replace
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Flush Mount Microwave Sample Picture

Flush Mount

Nearly all manufactures offer a range of microwaves that can be fit with a ‘trim-kit’ to make the front of the microwave flush with cabinetry giving a finished look. As microwaves are deeper than typical upper cabinetry, locations for flush mounted microwaves are limited to deeper base or full wall cabinet areas. Often, these can be combined with a wall oven for a finished look.

  • Pro’s
    • Best ‘finished’ look in the kitchen
    • Good range of brands and models
    • Can be fit in 24” (rare), 27” (common), or 30” (common) standard width cabinets
  • Con’s
    • Trim kits add sometimes hundreds of dollars
    • Trim kits may not be interchangeable or fit with a replacement microwave in the future
    • Install is more complicated
    • Below counter placement may be lower than desired for many users

Other Options

Microwave manufactures offer other less common options like:

  • ’Space Saver’ Microwaves -  These are commonly screwed on the underside of the upper cabinets hanging over the counter. With most cabinets 16-18” above the counter, I’m not sure how much space they really save.
  • Microwave Drawers - Flush cabinet design without a swinging door. Currently quite expensive.
  • Combination oven/microwaves - These are typically limited to a few options for wall mount designs.

Home Inspector Advice

As a home inspector, the most common problem I find with microwaves are the over-the-range models. Too often these are put in as a retro-fit and are mounted too low to the range which creates safety issues like fire and operational clearance. Also, the range hood fans in these units are generally pretty poor (and noisy) which means they are underused and can cause other problems for the home.

My main advice for people planning a kitchen is to consider the options and to try and install a dedicated location for the microwave that works for the whole family.

 By James Bell - Author | Owner/Operator of Solid State Inspections Inc