The Kitchen Designer

Thanks for stopping by! I'm Susan Serra, certified kitchen designer, and my mission is to take kitchen design style, function and analysis to a higher level. Here's why the kitchen has the most honored place in the home - all five senses reside in the kitchen.  Best...Susan  Contact: susan@susanserraassociates.com

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Downdraft Distress!

I've been meaning to talk about the downdraft behind the cooktop, positioned in a peninsula which separates the living area beyond. The higher than normal ledge behind the cooktop and downdraft serves somewhat of a purpose, if only to disguise the carnage in the kitchen.  

But, my real message today, is that, in my VERY experienced opinion, downdrafts suck, but not in the, um, physical way of drawing in moisture, fumes, odors and various other solid particulates produced by cooking, whether cooking in a heavy OR light manner. I forgot about the downdraft in a kitchen I owned many years ago, before I became a kitchen designer. At the time, I worked WITH a kitchen designer, who, as I remember clearly, never had the conversation with me about downdrafts vs. updraft hoods. What can I say? I was young and naive as well. And the range was against a wall, which should be a no brainer for a conventional hood and conventional advice! I remember, then, the trick of tilting pot and pan lids so that the fumes would move toward the downdraft far more effectively than just turning on the downdraft, even on high.

So, fast forward to my new home and my new (old) downdraft. Let me just simply say this. I would never, and do never, recommend a downdraft as being equal in performance to a range hood. There is, in my opinion, an enormous difference in performance. Of course, yes, much depends on the conventional hood's specs and proximity to the cooktop, but, when a hood is designed properly, the performance comparision between a downdraft and a hood against a wall is night and day in favor of the hood.

I can tell you first hand, the visible fumes and light smoke, even when the downdraft is on high, do not reach the downdraft. Well, maybe some fumes do, but my guess is over half of the cooking extracts do NOT get removed. What happens instead is that much of the fumes move into surrounding areas of the kitchen, or in my case, perhaps the great room beyond, settling into one's hard and soft furnishings.

Rather than making this post full of statistics and design specifications, I'm making it anecdotal (with a professional's knowledge of course!) If you have a choice, don't use a downdraft if you can avoid it. Mine is a high end cooktop/downdraft. The brand doesn't matter, because they all perform the same way. And yes, my downdraft rises about 7" above the countertop surface. Doesn't matter.

Very simply....try to choose a hood against the wall rather than a downdraft situated anywhere. A hood above an island or peninsula as opposed to a downdraft? That does not make much of a difference, as surrounding air currents interfere with the cooking extracts on their way up toward the hood. Either way, in this scenario, you're scr.....d. :( If you:

a. want the toxins out of your home as quickly as possible

b. want the odors out, as opposed to lingering odors

c. want the smoke and moisture out

d. do not want residue on your hard and soft surfaces

then, you will feel like this, I guarantee it!     :)

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Reader Comments (19)

Agreed. I always tell clients it is better to have no ventilation than to waste their money on a downdraft (code in Utah says you don't have to have anything). The ventilation plants I have been to even call them "red headed step child" because they are low on the priority list of making changes.

February 7, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterashlynn

That makes me feel better about my choice to put my range on a wall. It would have solved some of our design problems to have a cooktop in an island or a peninsula, but I didn't think a downdraft would be strong enough, and I wanted a range, not a cooktop. I didn't realize a hood in an open setting would also be less effective so I'm glad we ended up with the hood on the wall I will say that my KD suggested a downdraft. I was the one who said I had read it would not be powerful enough, and my contractor said I was right.

February 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJeannie

That's a disappointment! I wanted to install a downdraft in our Florida kitchen because we are so happy with the one (a German brand) in our home in Bavaria. It has a strong external blower and even with the nose over the pots and pans you don't smell anything. It has four speeds of which I use one to three because I'm afraid that the soup flies out of the pot at four. LOL

It is, of course, a bit weak for pots on the front burners, that's why I cook the "unsmelliest" food there. But other than that I'm really very satisfied.

Oh, and it was the only possible hood for our kitchen which has windows from countertops to ceiling and the cooktop is in front of those windows.

February 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

I would also add, based on advice from an appliance guy, that regardless of vent choice (which I sincerely agree with you Susan), you should still turn on the vent as you start cooking. Most people turn on the vent when they smell the fumes from your cooking. Per "the appliance guy" -- this is too late. By the time you can smell it, your fumes and toxins are spreading beyond the cooking area. If you turn on the vent as you start cooking, you should have nearly full capture.

February 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRachele

Ashlyn, yes, codes are funny. In my area, there are no codes about ventilation. I could have a wood hood 6" from the heat source, and an inspector wouldn't look at it.

Jeannie, yes, I'm very glad you have the range on the wall. By far, the best solution. If it's operating now, I'm sure you feel confident that the toxins are being effectively removed from the source!

Connie, just be really aware of where those, sometimes hard to see fumes are going and use the pot lids when needed to direct the exhaust more efficiently when you need to. Would you mind telling me the brand that you're happy with?

Rachele, I'm not sure I'm in full agreement with you about having full capture from a downdraft, but I definitely agree with you that it's a good idea to turn on the vent before you start cooking. Good tip, thanks for that!

February 9, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Susan, the brand of the downdraft is VTS. I never heard of it before. It is 88 cm wide (wider than the cooktop) and the external blower is very strong. I'm REALLY happy with it.


Downdrafts are rare here. The two experts who installed our kitchen had never seen one before.

February 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterConnie

I suppose this is not the right place but what do I do in an apartment? There is no way to vent and I don't even have a window.It really limits things.


February 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commentercarol

yeah, I dont stay in an apartment but the way my house is, my kitchen is in a corner of the house. Although I do have a window, it is all the way over the other side of the room. And as you say, once you can smell it it is too late. I am truly stumped?

February 14, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGlasgow Kitchen

Downdraft? This is unheard of in Sweden. Looks like brilliant idea on the paper but I guess your experience proves otherwise. Must say though that an open kitchen plan looks a lot better without a hood.

February 15, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDaniel

I don’t recommend them either. I have been in the industry for 15 years and have only used a handful of them over that time.

February 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDixon

Connie, VTS is one brand I have never heard of, but it looks like most other downdrafts I've seen. Of course, it's great that you're happy with it, that's what counts.

Carol/G Kitchen, well, what is better than doing nothing is to get a recirculating microwave or recirculating downdraft. That will help.

Daniel, I'm sure there must be downdrafts in Sweden! In fact, I would imagine that they would be popular because of a desire for an open look in the kitchen, but, perhaps most cooktops are against the wall as opposed to being in an island situation. Many people, like you, prefer a more simple, open look. I'm one of them!

Dixon...in the industry, among us pros, like yourself, they are not looked at as being 1/2 the answer that a hood is, to extracting cooking toxins, so obviously, I agree.

February 20, 2009 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD


I had a Client with a Downdraft cooktop few days ago asking me about possible solutions ( her cooktop is on an Island) i honestly didn't know what to offer her.

Thanks for the Info

March 5, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDAlia H.

I am about to purchase a dacor professional cooktop with a downdraft. It is going into a large island. My room is very open and I really don't want a hood intruding into this area. The downdraft has a remote blower that is 1500 cfm. Do you know if the large amount of cfm's will make a difference? Do you know if this brand is better than others. It is the only professional cooktop that is rated for downdraft, but only with the remote blower.

March 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJudy

Nice discussion on downdrafts. My parents had one in their last home (25 years ago) and I found their efficiency suspect even then. The fact is, heat rises, and attempting to "suck" it back and down just cannot work as well as "encapsulate and remove", which is how a hood fan should work.

Here's a link to a really good article I still use today:


However, when all is said and done, sometimes (like those damn Hood Fan/Microwaves!!!) they are the only solution.


March 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterArne Salvesen CKD

I need to replace my cooktop on my island (I have a downdraft now). Do I have to use a hood or downdraft?

May 27, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMargaret

Yes, a downdraft sucks, very poorly. I've had one for 13 years with no money for renovation, I have to fry chicken outside on the deck even in the wintertime. I would not recommend a downdraft to anyone.

December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterNil

I am planning a kitchen renovation right now and we were considering a downdraft fan so that we could put the range in our island. Given all that I've read I am now having some second thoughts and am wondering about your thoughts about putting a hood fan in a bulk-head above the island. Is this possible? What is the max clearance recommended for a hood fan?

February 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterScott

Scott, it depends on the cooktop, if it's a "pro" cooktop or normal cooktop. It depends on how you cook, what you cook, how often you cook at high heat, it depends on your cross ventilation, and it depends on the power of the hood as well as how the hood is constructed, also the duct path. A very general rule of thumb, for me, would be max 34-36" above the cooktop and the higher numbers would come with multiple warnings. Ideally, I shoot for 32" above the cooktop, maybe 33". But, people also come in different heights which is also a factor. If you're talking about the bulkhead being 42-48" off the cooktop, then you must understand that you'll be lucky if all the stars line up and you get 50% of the fumes/toxins, etc. into the hood.

In my other house, I had an indoor grill...the smoke, I can't even tell you. I had a powerful vent, against the wall, low enough, ideal. Someone would walk by and I'd watch some of the fumes willow out beyond the hood. And, those conditions were optimal. That's one small illustration of what to expect, and granted, you're not talking about a grill. But, there will be times that your hood will come into necessary use for high heat cooking or cooking with lots of odors.

February 28, 2010 | Registered CommenterSusan Serra, CKD

Our kitchen was remodeled before we bought the house 12 years ago. It has a downdraft vent that goes under the floor, because the stove (cook top & oven) face the family room. We have replaced the stove once already, with a Jen Air (which I am not happy with), and now this one needs to be replaced.. I am considering putting in a gas stove this time as I really don't like electric. I live in the Pacific Northwest and don't know if I am required to have a stove that vents or not. Any suggestions as to the brands of stoves that I should be looking at?

December 11, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBarbara

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