Range hoods for every kitchen and budget
A range hood is a virtual necessity in every kitchen. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, materials and colors, and can cost anywhere from less than $50 to more than $3,000, though the focus of this report is on great looking, excellent performing range hoods priced at under $1,000. What sets the cheapest range hoods apart from high end models is a combination of function and aesthetics.
There are two basic types of range hoods: non-ducted and ducted. Non-ducted hoods recirculate the air back into the kitchen after pulling it through a filter to remove, at least partially, smoke and odors. Ducted range hoods use a filter as well, but vent the exhaust to the outside. Ducted range hoods are more complicated and expensive to install, but are also the most effective type.
Range hoods can take three basic forms. Under-cabinet range hoods are installed by attaching them to the underside of kitchen cabinets. They can be ducted through the cabinets or an exterior wall or non-ducted. A wall-mounted range hood has a visible vent stack along the kitchen wall where there are no cabinets above the cooktop. Also called chimney hoods, these units can be very stylish. Virtually all wall-mounted hoods are designed for ducted installation, but many can be converted to ductless use if needed. Island range hoods are similar to wall range hoods, except they look like they are free-standing above a cooktop. Again, virtually all island range hoods are ducted though many can also be used ductless if needed.
When choosing the size of a range hood, it needs to be at least the same width as the cooktop. Island range hoods should be at least six inches wider than the cooktop to help funnel fumes because there are no wall cabinets to help with the funneling.
When comparing range hoods that seem similar in form and function, there are some important specifications and features to watch for. One is power, measured in CFM (cubic feet per minute), which is a measure of the rate of speed in replacing air. The higher the CFM rating, the faster the range hood will draw away smoke and odor from the cooktop. The flip side of the coin is that the faster the range hood moves air, the louder it is likely to be.
Manufacturers will often provide a loudness rating, but will use different scales and that makes comparing noise levels difficult. Among the options, you may see sound levels specified in sones, db(A) or db. But regardless of the scale, user perception of noise is highly subjective. As we observed in user reviews for nearly all range hoods, models that some consider to be exceptionally quiet, others say are exceptionally loud. The bottom line is that while we do present the manufacturer's loudness level ratings (where available) for the range hoods profiled in this report, they should be taken with a grain (or perhaps a shaker) of salt.
On the features front, some range hoods have timer-delayed settings to turn the fan and lights off automatically. Others have a timer that lets the user know when it is time to clean the grease filters. Selectable fan speeds let the user adjust the power -- and noise level -- as appropriate. In its free to read buying guide, ConsumerReports.org suggests using the highest speed when cooking, and a lower speed afterwards "to continue to ventilate the space while eating." The editors add that three speeds should be sufficient, and anything over that is likely to be overkill on the part of the maker.
Finding the best range hoods
During our research, we found no credible expert reviews of range hoods. ConsumerReports.org offers a buying guide that discusses brands, but not individual models. Instead, we relied on feedback posted at sites such as HomeDepot.com, Lowes.com, Amazon.com and elsewhere. That's complicated a little by the fact that many sites include reviews originally posted at the manufacturer web sites and are hence duplicated across the Internet. Still, between these reviews and unique user reviews posted at the sites we considered, we found sufficient feedback to evaluate and recommend some top range hoods based on their performance, ease of use and appearance.