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We're Not Paying Enough Attention to Kitchen Ventilation

Posted by Chris Stratton on March 24, 2014
We're Not Paying Enough Attention to Kitchen Ventilation
Can you spot what's missing in this image?

Exposure to kitchen pollutants is a significant and overlooked health hazard in homes. The home performance industry pays great attention to protecting against exposures to combustion pollutants from water heaters and furnaces, but very little attention to an unvented combustion device that is used nearly every day: the kitchen range. A recent LBNL study looked at the chronic health impacts of exposure to pollutants from cooking burners and determined that the risks are not trivial, especially considering our findings on the prevalence of kitchen ventilation and its use (1, 2).  And the popular media are beginning to take notice (here, here, and here).  

Kitchen ventilation is needed in homes with either electric resistance or gas cooking appliances as both types of burners produce pollutants and because cooking itself creates pollutants, odors, and excess moisture.

The need for kitchen ventilation isn’t on most people’s radar as a health issue. It should be. As we work to create healthy, low-energy homes, we must recognize that “build tight; ventilate right” includes effective kitchen (and bath) ventilation in addition to baseline, “whole-home” mechanical ventilation. Pollutants generated in a leaky home get diluted with infiltrating outdoor air. Pollutants in tight homes stay put. A tight home with ineffective kitchen ventilation and even a moderate amount of cooking is a recipe for bad IAQ and potential health impacts.

Right now, there are four main problems with US residential kitchen ventilation:

  • Many existing homes lack any kitchen ventilation.
  • Homes are being built without kitchen ventilation because it is not required in building codes.
  • Even in homes that have kitchen ventilation, few people routinely use it.
  • Even when they are used, many kitchen ventilation systems are only moderately effective.

These problems are at different scales, and have different causes and potential solutions. But they all need to be addressed together if we want to improve the efficacy of our kitchen ventilation, and to create comfortable low-energy homes that are also healthy.

Building codes and standards, design, education, and marketing, among other approaches, all must play a role in addressing these challenges. But the first step is to recognize them as problems and begin to generate the will to work together to solve them.  

To view the full report, “Addressing Kitchen Contaminants for Healthy, Low-Energy Homes”, click here. Also, look for a more detailed look at the study results in a future Home Energy Magazine issue.

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