A good kitchen design considers both decoration and performance aspects. Homeowners often focus on the appearance of elements like furniture and cabinets. However, a kitchen should also provide suitable lighting for food preparation, while conserving air quality.
Adequate lighting and ventilation make kitchens safer and healthier. Lighting in particular can also be used as a decorative element to complement the kitchen design. This article provides general recommendations to improve both aspects.
Kitchen Lighting Recommendations
Kitchen lighting must provide adequate visibility, especially for dicing and other potentially dangerous tasks. However, the lamps should be designed to prevent glare, avoiding the direct emission of light towards the eyes. Under-cabinet lights are a great option, since their beam is directed towards food preparation areas.
LED lighting is known for its energy efficiency, but it also brings some performance advantages when used in kitchens:
- Kitchen lights are often close to food preparation areas, increasing the risk of burns with accidental contact. However, since LED lamps emit less heat, they are less likely to cause burns.
- LED fixtures can be manufactured without fragile components, making them shatter-free. On the other hand, older lamp types often use glass, and can contaminate food if they break.
The applications of LED lighting in kitchens extend beyond food preparation areas. The technology can also be used for general lighting and decorative purposes. Some LED lamps have an adjustable color output, which allows a dual function as task lighting and decorative lighting. While preparing food, LED lamps can deliver bright light of a neutral white tone to improve visibility. Once the food is ready, they can switch to a warmer tone to achieve a decorative function. The installation can also be complemented with dimmers to modulate brightness.
Electrical engineers recommend lighting products with the ENERGY STAR label, which is only achieved after rigorous tests under laboratory conditions. In the case of kitchens, the NSF International logo (National Sanitation Foundation) validates that the product is safe for food preparation areas.
Using Kitchen Ventilation to Improve Air Quality
The cooking process releases many substances, and some are dangerous when they are allowed to accumulate. When using combustion-based cooking appliances, the main threat is carbon monoxide (CO).
- The gas is odorless and colorless, but very poisonous for humans.
- A CO concentration of only 1% causes loss of consciousness and coma with a few breaths.
- Carbon monoxide should not be confused with carbon dioxide (CO2), a normal product of human metabolism. CO2 requires a much higher concentration to become harmful.
Particulate matter is another harmful substance that is released when cooking. Fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 microns is the most dangerous, since it reaches the inner lungs and bloodstream. Long-term exposure to particulate matter has been associated with many severe health conditions. In addition, PM can cause allergies and asthma flare-ups even with brief exposure.
Carbon monoxide and particulate matter are just two of the substances that can accumulate in kitchens without adequate ventilation. A range hood provides the most effective way to control harmful substances, since they are captured at the source.
- Range hoods that exhaust directly outdoors are the most effective.
- Note that some hoods only filter and recirculate the air, and cannot provide enough ventilation by themselves.
A range hood operates more effectively when there is an air intake to replenish the exhausted air. Kitchen windows should be openable to guarantee air quality. A kitchen without an air supply experiences negative pressure when the hood starts operating, and air pollutants cannot be removed effectively.
Avoiding Common Air Quality Mistakes
Air pollutants can be misleading, since many are invisible and odorless. There is a category of pollutants called volatile organic compounds (VOC), and many of them actually have pleasant odors. For example, artificial air fresheners have a high VOC content, and spraying them in a kitchen does not air quality. In fact, many air fresheners only mask the smell of combustion products with even more harmful substances.
To complement a range hood, an air purifier is a much better option. For the best results, the air purifier should be equipped with a HEPA filter (High Efficiency Particulate Air). These filters can capture 99.97% of particles with a diameter of 0.3 microns or more.