Microwaves are a great addition to any kitchen, but they must be appropriately positioned. Microwaves work by using electromagnetic waves to heat food, and the waves travel through the air and bounce off the inside walls of the microwave, which heats the food.
The microwaves are most robust at the center of the oven and decrease in strength as they move toward the edges. If you place your microwave too low above your stovetop, the microwaves won’t penetrate deep enough into your food and will cook it unevenly.
If you place your microwave too high above your stovetop, it will have trouble heating up quickly because it’s too far away from the surface area where heat is being produced—the stovetop itself.
Depending on the type of microwave you intend to use, the distance between the microwave and the range top varies. Because over-the-range microwaves are designed to withstand higher temperatures, they require far less space between the stove and the microwave than countertop microwaves.
How high should a microwave be above the stove?
The microwave should be above the stove (cooktop) by 18 inches. Based on National Kitchen and Bath Association, if the average height of the cooktop (stovetop) is 36 inches and the microwave is at least 54 inches above the floor, you will have around 18 inches of clearance between the microwave and the stove (cooktop).
Built-in ventilation systems filter and vent exhaust from the cooktop in over-the-range microwaves. These types provide the option of venting to the outside of the house through a duct or directly into the kitchen. The required clearance between these devices and the stove varies depending on who you ask.
Most local building regulations require a 30-inch distance between the top of a range and any flammable surface. Still, the International Residential Code requires that over-the-range microwaves, intended to withstand less clearance, be installed according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Some manufacturers permit smaller clearances. Microwaves from General Electric, for example, must be positioned with a minimum of 66 inches from the floor and the top of the microwave, resulting in a clearance of between 13 and 16 inches between the microwave and the cooktop. Due to tight clearances, large pots may be challenging to use on the stove.
Limits on Range Output
Manufacturers also establish restrictions on the output capacity of cooktops designed to work with over-the-range microwaves. For example, GE specifies that their over-the-range microwave versions should not be installed over any range whose burners produce more than 60,000 British thermal units combined, which is far more than a standard residential range’s 7,000 BTUs. So, unless you have a lot of powerful burners, this is generally not a limit you need to be concerned about.
Landing Zones for Microwaves
A clean landing space near a microwave is recommended by the National Kitchen and Bath Association to set down food retrieved from the microwave quickly. The landing area should be at least 15 inches wide and situated above, below, or adjacent to the microwave’s handle side. Because there is no room for a landing area beneath an over-the-range microwave, keeping a clear counter space next to the cooktop is critical.
When you’re cooking, you need to make sure that your microwave is suitable. You don’t want to bend over whenever you want to eat some food, and you don’t want to reach up too high and risk burning yourself on the stovetop or the microwave itself.
It’s important to remember that microwaves heat food by creating an electromagnetic field. If you want to heat something evenly, it needs to be spread out in a single layer so that the entire item is exposed to the microwaves at once. If you have a tall pan of food, like a pot roast or a casserole dish full of lasagna, you’ll need to put it on a plate and then place it inside the microwave. All of your food will be in one flat layer and can cook evenly.
When heating things in the microwave, don’t let them sit there too long—it can make them cold! It’s best to check on your food every minute or two after putting it in for an initial heating period (around 5 minutes) and then every few minutes after that as needed until it’s ready to eat/cook/whatever else you’re doing with it.