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Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

Posted by teaforwendy (My Page) on
Fri, Jan 21, 11 at 16:51

Please remind me how much room I should have between my countertop and my upper cabinets? I will have a gas top range with OTR microwave - how much distance? I would prefer a vent hood, but we just don't have the room...

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

I'm stumped. If you have room for a OTR why don't you have room for a vent hood? Is it because you don't have anywhere to set the microwave?

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

hi teafor...

My uppers are 18 inches from my counter. My OTR microwave oven sits about 19 inches above my gas range.


LG Microwave/GE Profile Range

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

Oh KA it turned out gorgeous! You granite was Delicatus? Details on your backsplash, please.

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

18" is industry standard. KA has it right.

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

That is such a beautiful countertop, backsplash, and cabinet selection, KA. The colors are similar to what we will get.

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

Hi teafor..

Thanks for the compliment..Yes Delicatus White granite.. the bs is Crema Marfil Tumbled Marble. I found it at Arizona Tile where I also found my granite.

I'm going to provide a link to my kitchen, but I could have sworn that you already saw it..And if you did, then I apologize for repeating myself!


Here is a link that might be useful: my kitchen

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

Mine are 18 inches, but I have a "light rail" on the bottom of mine which makes accessing mine a little harder since it places the bottom cabinet an inch higher. We had designed it for a 17" backsplash, but Cabinet Guy mixed plans up with contractor & final came out as originally spec'd. Since I'm 5'3" I would really like haved the lower cabinets. My KD said she wouldn't take any lower than the 17 inches.

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

I'm wavering on the 18" and may actually lower mine a few inches. I believe part of the standard 18" is to accommodate countertop appliances, which I try to keep to a minimum anyway. Your OTR will also have recommendations on height and clearances too, so peek at that too for consideration.

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

We had 16.5 in our recently demo-ed kitchen and that was too low. I would not go lower than 17.5, although we are avoiding it altogether and only using upper shelves, lol...YMMV

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

Mine are lower than 17" (probably closer to 16") because we wanted the 42" cabinets plus molding at the ceiling, so they're a bit lower. It's true, my KA pro lift mixer doesn't fit under them, but I store it in the cabinet anyway (it's cobalt blue -- the wrong color for the new kitchen -- plus I don't use it that much and it just gets dusty left out). A coffeepot will fit under (though I only have it out for parties).

My sister's best friend had her kitchen redone last year. The whole reason she wanted it done was to lower the upper cabinets -- she's only about 5'. She came home after the cabinet install to find them at the same standard heighth as the old ones had been. Though I hear she pitched a fit, the KD convinced her that they had to be that high (I never heard the reason why: resale maybe, but she's not moving anytime soon). She's obviously not a Kitchen Forum reader, or she'd know better than to let herself be bullied into something she didn't want!

The moral of the story is, if you want lower cabinets, go for it! But don't be surprised if you have to fight for them with the "we've never done it that way" powers that be. FWIW--Amy

If you're considering lowering your upper cabs

This is just a general FYI for anyone considering a backsplash less than 18"...........

The standard is 18"...regardless of the reasons why, it's still the standard..

How this affects your kitchen....

  • Refrigerator and other tall cabinet heights...Because wall cabinets are meant to be mounted at a standard height, cabinet manufacturers take this into account when designing tall cabinets. Tall cabinets are designed to be the same height as the installed wall cabinets so the tops all line up. When you change the height a wall cabinet is installed at, it affects cabinet top alignments. (Note: With custom and some semi-custom cabinets, this is a non-issue b/c the cabinetmaker/manufacturer can adjust for this.)

    • With the refrigerator you can usually mount the upper cabinet a little lower OR order a shorter upper cabinet, but be sure you don't make the alcove any shorter than 72" tall b/c newer refrigerators are 70" to 72" tall (and seem to get taller each year!)

    • With other tall cabinets like oven cabinets and pantry cabinets, they're a standard height and designed so they're the same height as the wall cabinets when those wall cabinets are installed 18" above a 36" high counter. If you have custom cabinets, this may not be an issue b/c your cabinetmaker can adjust the cabinet heights. But, if you are using stock or even some semi-custom cabinets, you cannot change the height. You can often get taller cabinets for use w/36" or 42" tall wall cabinets, but not shorter for 30" mounted lower. But, even those that are taller are also adjusted based on standard wall cabinet heights + an 18" backsplash height.

  • Small appliance height...Small appliance manufacturers often design their products to meet this 18" standard...for example, my KA stand mixer (bowl lift) is around 17" and many coffeemakers and blenders are just short of 18". So, you need to be sure you have room under the cabinets + light rail to fit those appliances.

Small appliances...

Keep in mind that if you're using an appliance on your counter, you must be sure you have room under the base cabinets to move that appliance around easily. Don't, for example, tell yourself you're only going to use it in front of your upper cabinets so you don't need to worry about its fit. In reality, you will be moving things around on your counter while you work and most likely your appliance will be moved under the cabinets at some point. You don't want to tear your light rail off or damage it (or the cabinets).

Also remember that "standard" upper cabinets are 12" deep + 1" for the they stick out 13" over your counter...leaving you only 12" or so of workspace in front of the upper cabinets...not much room to work in by itself! (If you have deeper upper cabinets...say 15", there's even less counter frontage in front of your upper cabinets...3" less, so 9".)

Vertical workspace...

Another consideration is vertical work space for you and your family. If anyone in your family is tall, you want to be careful not to make the backsplash area so short that it makes the work area cramped vertically.

Measuring for your minimum backsplash height...

So, how do you determine the minimum backsplash height for your kitchen and how high to install the upper cabinets?

  1. Measure all your small appliances and anything else you'll be using on the counter, If they have a lid, measure with the lid open (i.e., the tallest the appliance would ever be). Not just what's planned for the space, but what could potentially be used....stand mixer, coffeemaker, blender, food processor, breadmaker, etc. For a stand mixer, measure when the head is tilted up as well.

  2. Take the tallest measurement and add 1/4" to 1/2" (I recommend 1/2")

    Why did you add 1/4" to 1/2"? It's to give you some "wiggle" room in case everything isn't may have slight differences in stone thickness or even how the cabinets and/or light rail was installed. It will also keep you from scratching the cabinets/light rail w/the top of the appliance (or vice versa!)

  3. This is the minimum height you will need for your backsplash

  4. But wait, you're not done! To be sure you have that space, you need to determine how high off the counter to mount your upper cabinets...

  5. Determine how tall your light rail will be. [Light rail is the molding that goes on the bottom of the upper cabinets that hides under cabinet lights, unfinished or differently-finished cabinet bottoms, and Plugmold (if you have it).]

  6. Now, add this to the backslash height from #3

  7. This is the distance above the finished counter your upper cabinets must be installed.

  8. Usually, though, your countertop has not yet been installed, so you will need to do one of two things...

    • If you will have standard height cabinets & counter, then add 36" to the distance in #6
      • This is the distance off the floor the upper cabinets should be installed
      • If you have lower (or higher) cabinets + counter, use the finished height you are installing instead of 36"

    • If you cannot measure off the floor b/c your base cabinets are already installed, then add 1-1/2" to the distance in #6
      • This is the distance off the top of the base cabinets (with no counter material) the upper cabinets should be installed

    • Note: If you are using countertop material thinner or thicker than 3cm or so, you will need to adjust the finished counter height measurement by the difference b/w the standard 3cm or so and your height. [If you will have a thicker counter, add the difference to the measurement in this section; if thinner, subtract the difference.]

Please note that this recommendation has nothing to do w/upper cabinets that are installed down to the counter. Cabinets of this type have no backsplash b/w them and the counter, so the above does not apply.

Lowering wall cabinets/shorter backsplash...

If you lower your upper cabinets a couple of inches, how much more can you realistically reach? The depth of one or two plates? What makes more sense is to plan your storage so that frequently used items are on the bottom shelf (or in drawers in your base cabinets) and progressively less-used items move up the wall cabinets.

Another thing that will make it easier to get into upper cabinets is to make them a little deeper...say 15". Not only will it bring things in front 3" closer to you, but those 3" add a surprising amount of extra storage...and allows you to store platters and larger dinner plates in your cabinets when 12" isn't quite deep enough.

In the end of course, it's up to you and your what will work best for you. But, if anyone is considering a shorter backsplash (or going against any other standard or guideline), be sure you're doing it with all the information available so you can make an informed decision.

Good luck!

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

My uppers are a few inches lower than the builder's grade standard, and I love them there -- they are also deeper at 14.5" so I have the best of all worlds.

I find I can in fact reach much more this way, and it's particularly helpful when baking and reaching for all the little bottles and boxes. Although I'm not short (I'm 5'7"), it's still a REAL delight not to have to ask for help when trying to get something down; I can now reach all but the back of the very top shelf by myself. My tilt-head KitchenAid mixer fits just fine under the 15" high uppers, and I'd pull it out to use regardless of upper height.

I'm also pretty clumsy and shudder at the thought of needing to use a stepstool in the kitchen -- cats underfoot are bad enough! ;-)

This does presume that you don't have a kitchen with every single counter space dominated by corresponding uppers. In that case, I'd go for the taller distance, or else you might indeed risk feeling like you're working in a cave.

No regrets here at all!

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

KA, love your kitchen. Our colors are so similar! Love love love it.

Buehl, thanks for the detail. Very helpful.

I am 5 ft, but have my trusty Williams Sonoma ladder! I wish I could find my panic'd post from last spring that had the cabinet distance. Our cabinets are all off the wall now so I can't measure. We ultimately just had the light rail made shorter which worked fine with the led strips, but dang I looked and looked and can't find the thread. Anyway, think I'll go a bit more this time.

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

You need to check any clearance rules for stoves also.

Many of the higher capacity burner stoves require 18 inches from the stove top to any flammable material adjacent to the stove (like the cabinets on each side).

RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

Hi teafor...

Thank you...

Also, have you tried doing a Google search for your panic'd thread? Just google "teaforwendy" may spot it.


RE: Distance between countertop and upper cabinets?

I just want to say, I bought my house last year and my cabinets are about 17.5 inches from the counter top. HOWEVER, my OTR Microwave is ONLY 12 inches above the range. I'm not sure what these people were thinking, BUT I can't even use my back burners because I can't even get a spoon into the pan to stir anything. I HATE IT!!
I think they used either too large of a cabinet above the microwave or the microwave should be there without a cabinet above it.

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