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The Microwave - Where Do I Put

It In My Kitchen?

When I first got into the business in the '70's microwaves were brand new (remember the Amana "Radar Range" pictured to the right?) and considered an option in the home. Today they have become a staple in kitchens (I have only done one kitchen in the last 25 years without one). The question in designing a kitchen is where is the best place to put it.


  • A microwave is not truly an oven in that you do not use it like a conventional oven. Rather, you generally use it as an alternate to a burner on your cooktop heating food that you would normally heat on the stove although it is also used to heat items wrapped in bread (burritos, "Hot Pockets", etc. which have been developed specifically for microwaves).
  • In many homes a microwave is used far more than a stove so make sure it is easily accessible.
  • Place it close to the refrigerator if possible. 80% of the foods heated in a microwave come directly from the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Unlike a conventional oven, a microwave is used by all members of the household.
  • Because it is called an "oven" people often put it with a built-in conventional oven. However, when you use a conventional oven you turn it on, put the food in and then go do something else. With a microwave you often put something in it and stand there waiting for it to cook ("a watched microwave never cooks") so put it in a convenient place for waiting. (Oven placement is something I will discuss in a future article.)
  • Provide some counterspace below or adjacent to it to allow for unwrapping and preparation.
  • Have some potholders and mixing untensils stored near by.
  • Do NOT install it higher than your line of sight. In other words, you want to be able to see the food when you remove it from the oven to avoid spilling on yourself and getting burned.
  • Children are often allowed to use a microwave at a much younger age than stoves and conventional ovens.

Types Available

  • Freestanding ("countertop") units
  • Built-in "space saver" units above the stove
  • Built-in into cabinetry
  • Drawer units

Freestanding "Countertop" Units

On the counter - This is generally the least desirable place to put one because it can be hard to see into, crumbs collect below it and it takes up valuable counter space but sometimes is the only option. If so, put it where it will be easily accessible but not get in the way.

On an open shelf above the counter - Advantages 1) Allows for counterspace below, 2) most adults can see into it easily here, 3) easily replaced when it dies (unlike a built-in unit which we will discuss below). Disadvantages 1) Some people don't like the way they look, 2) too high for young children, 3) may loose cabinet space. Warning: Do NOT put a wood shelf above a stove as this presents a serious fire hazard. The Uniform Building Code requires all flammables be a minimum of 30" above a stove which is too high to be practical.

Above the Stove or Cooktop

  • "Spacesaver" units - Come complete with range hood ventilator (recyclying or exeterior vent) and light. These are common in new homes or retrofitting older homes (replacing the range hood) and are very popular. Advantages: 1) Doesn't waste counterspace or cabinet space, 2) ventilator & light included, 3) easy to see into for average height people, 4) relatively inexpensive ($200-$500). Disadvantages: 1) Too high for some shorter people, 2) often creates a bottleneck when someone is using the stove and another wants to get into the microwave, 3) not safe for young children, 4) fan in hood is underpowered for serious ventilating.
  • If putting into an existing home the wiring is often insufficient for this unit. Most units recommend a 20 amp dedicated circuit whereas most older home's have only a 15 amp shared circuit for the old range hood. 

Brackets - an option if you want to use a freestanding microwave above your stove. This is not terribly good looking and is 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of a spacesaver microwave but it will do the job if you are on a tight budget. Click here to buy the unit shown at the left.

Microwave Drawers

This is a new fairly new option (I think they first came out in 2006) and has a lot of potential. Originally available as part of a freestanding stove they evolved into a separate unit. Sharp, Dacor, and Wolfe make them (there may be others now). Advantages: 1) Use minimal cabinet space, 2) easily accessible for adults and children, 3) no loss of counterspace. Disadvantages: 1) Expensive ($700+), 2) not available with carousels (at this time), 3) loss of cabinet space.

Built-in Microwaves

This is the best option IF it fits into your kitchen and budget. Advantages: 1) No loss of counterspace, 2) no cleaning around the unit, 3) can be placed strategically near the cooktop and refrigerator, 4) good looking, 5) available as a convection dual-purpose oven. Disadvantages: 1) Expense ($800-$2000), 2) replacement may require cabinet modification.

Place these in the most strategic position possible either separate from or in combination with a conventional oven remembering most people use the microwave a lot.

Built In Below the Countertop or Cooktop

  • In some cases this is the only option, however I highly recommend NOT doing this for this reason: Adults have to bend over to see the controls and the food which is a pain-in-the-neck - literally - unless you like getting your stretching exercise this way. The only people I have ever seen who like this are children from the ages of 5 to 10 but after that they complain just like the adults).
  • Microwave drawers are an exception to this since the controls are readily accessible and you can easily see the food.

My thanks to all of the appliance manufacturers whose products

are shown here including:

Wolfe     Sharp    Dacor    Kitchenaid    General Electric    Whirlpool

For my Colorado Springs customers I highly recommend Shouse Appliances - they are competent and competative (I often find companies are one or the other but seldom both). At the very least give them a shot at your business.

Note: All photos in this article were collected from the internet and are, to the author's best knowldege, in the public domain and not subject to copyright. Should a copyrighted photo have been used and the owner would like it to be removed please notify The Cabinet Guy, LLC and we will promptly remove it from the site. Likewise, if your product is shown and I have not given you credit please notify me.