Are Kitchen Exhaust Fans a Legal Requirement?

Indoor air quality is a significant concern and just about every building. Whether you are thinking about your home or a commercial establishment, you need to make sure your indoor air quality remains high. When you are cooking, you need to make sure your kitchen is well-ventilated. Otherwise, you could create health problems for yourself and other people who are in the area.

With this in mind, are kitchen exhaust fans a legal requirement? It is critical to take a closer look at current kitchen ventilation codes so you can figure out what you need to do to keep your kitchen safe. What should you know?

The Simple Answer…

United States building codes do not require the installation of a ventilation system in the kitchen, but state codes might.

First, understand that there is no national ventilation code that requires you to install an exhaust fan in your kitchen. On the other hand, if you do decide to install a ventilation system in your kitchen, then there could be codes that apply to that specific system.

For example, you do not have to install an advanced ventilation system, but if you have one, you are required to make sure it is functioning properly and safely.

Even though there is no national code stating that you must have an exhaust fan in your kitchen, there could be state or local regulations that require you to do so. Therefore, depending on the location of your kitchen, you need to make sure you abide by all local building restrictions.

An example of this is Washington State, which has various ventilation requirements that you will need to adhere to.

Making sure that you double check state codes ensures that you do not end up facing any regulatory issues. If you are curious about whether you are required to install an exhaust fan in your kitchen, you may want to reach out to a professional contractor who can help you. That way, you understand exactly what you have to do to make sure your kitchen is in compliance with all rules.

Why Does a Kitchen Need Proper Ventilation?

A kitchen with a cooker extraction hood and ceiling exhaust fan
A kitchen with a cooker extraction hood and ceiling exhaust fan

After covering a few basics about kitchen ventilation, you might be wondering why some states require kitchen ventilation exhaust fans. Every time you cook food in your kitchen, you release fats, oils, and greases into the air. Even though you may not see them at first, they will eventually settle on the individual surfaces of your kitchen.

If you do not clean your kitchen regularly, you may start to see these particles on your cabinets, walls, counters, and backsplashes. This can create a layer of grunge that can be incredibly unsightly and dangerous.

In addition to these annoying oils, there are other substances that are released into the air. This includes gases and ultra fine particles. As they circulate throughout the house, they could be inhaled by people in the kitchen, including yourself.

These persistent odors can lead to health problems. They are an even bigger issue for individuals who suffer from chronic respiratory conditions. Examples include seasonal allergies, asthma, and even chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Fortunately, adequate kitchen exhaust can make this problem easier to deal with. A strong exhaust fan can remove these toxins from the air, protecting the health and safety of everyone who is present.

Furthermore, cooking also produces a significant amount of excess heat. If you do not have a ventilation hood or an exhaust fan, this heat is going to sit in the kitchen. It makes it easier for the air to hold moisture. When the air cools down, the moisture condenses. You may start to see wet spots on your cabinets, counters, and walls. This can damage the finishes on your cabinets and counters, creating significant functional issues for your kitchen.

Lots of mold condensation on a drywall with wallpaper
Lots of mold condensation on a drywall with wallpaper

Furthermore, this moisture can also lead to the growth of mold and mildew. This is another significant health problem that can impact people in the building. Therefore, if you want to reduce the growth of mold and mildew in your kitchen, you may want to use a ventilation system or an exhaust fan to help you.

Finally, you may think you can ventilate your kitchen relatively easily by opening a window. Sure, this is better than nothing; however, it is not going to be effective in a modern home. Modern homes have been sealed for energy efficiency. Therefore, even if you crack open a window, the rest of your kitchen is going to trap air conditioning and heat inside.

Therefore, you need to find a more efficient way to remove these toxins, gases, and layers of heat from your kitchen. Investing in an exhaust fan or a ventilation system is the best way to do exactly that.

Ducted or Ductless Range Hood

An extractor fan and cooker hood extractor in a kitchen
An range/cooker hood in a kitchen

Now, if you are thinking about installing a range hood in your kitchen, it is important to make sure you pick the right one. You might be deciding between a ducted range hood and a ductless range hood. How do you figure out which one is right for you?

First, a range hood is also called a vent hood or an exhaust hood. This is an enclosure that is directly over your stove that collects the fumes, smoke, and steam. The ventilation this range hood offers can filter what is coming off the stove away from your home.

Both of these range hoods also come with a mechanical fan you can turn on or off. That way, you can prevent particles from collecting on your ceilings, walls, counters, and cabinets. This can significantly reduce the grimy buildup that would otherwise take place in your kitchen. Therefore, this is a great way to keep your kitchen clean and reduce the amount of cleaning you have to do.

With all of this in mind, how do you decide if a ducted range hood or a ductless range hood is right for you?

What Is a Ducted Range Hood?

First, let’s take a look at a ducted range hood. These are relatively common, but they do have some restrictions regarding where they can be placed in your kitchen. A ducted range hood has to connect to ductwork that can carry airborne particles away from the kitchen and deposit them in the outside world.

Instead of simply recirculating air through a filter and putting it back in the kitchen, you will need to have the proper ductwork to carry dirty air away from the kitchen:

The outside vent showing the houses ventilation ductwork
The outside vent showing the houses ventilation ductwork

Even though ducted range hoods are relatively common in commercial kitchens, they are less common and residential settings. If you are interested in this type of range hood, you have to make sure you have enough space to install it.

It is important to take a look at the benefits and drawbacks of a ducted range hood. A few benefits include:

  • Instead of simply recirculating air throughout your kitchen, a ducted range hood is actually going to remove particles and shift them to the outside world.
  • They do a much better job of completely removing toxic particles, gases, and noxious fumes from the air.
  • They tend to be a bit quieter than ductless range hoods.

One of the biggest drawbacks of going with a ducted range hood in your kitchen is that they are a bit more expensive to install because you need to have ductwork. It is not unusual for ducted range hoods to cost close to $1,000 to install.

Furthermore, there are restrictions on where you can put them because they need to leave the outside world to completely remove particles and fumes from the kitchen. Take a look at a few options and see if a ducted range hood is right for you.

What Is a Ductless Range Hood?

The other common type of range hood is called a ductless range hood. A ductless range hood can be installed just about anywhere. They do not have to vent anything to the outside of your home, so you do not have to install them in a location with ductwork.

This type of range hood is designed to suck in air, pass it through a filter to remove particles and gases, and then put the air back in the room. Essentially, this is a recirculation process. There is usually a filter with charcoal or activated carbon that removes smoke particles and odor from the air.

Then, you can recirculate the air back through the kitchen. You do need to make sure you clean the filter regularly to make sure your ductless range hood works efficiently.

A few of the top benefits of going with a ductless range hood include:

  • They are more flexible because they can be installed just about anywhere.
  • They are usually less expensive than a ducted range hood because they do not require any ductwork to be laid, usually costing only a few hundred dollars to install.
  • The installation process is usually significantly easier because you do not have to worry about specific placement or ductwork.

On the other hand, a ductless range hood is not going to work as well if you produce a lot of smoke or exhaust in your kitchen. It never completely remove the air, but simply filters it and puts it back in the kitchen. You will also need to replace the activated carbon or charcoal filter a few times per year depending on how often you cook.

What Should You Consider When Looking for a Range Hood or an Exhaust Fan?

A contractor finalizing an install of a ducted range hood
A contractor finalizing an install of a ducted range hood

So, if you are trying to find the right range hood or exhaust fan for your kitchen, what are a few factors you may want to consider? A few key points to keep in mind include:

  • The type of cooking you do: First, you need to think about the type of cooking you do. Even though you might be looking for the most powerful option available, you need to think about whether this is appropriate for your kitchen. If you have a commercial kitchen, then you need something that can handle large amounts of cooking. If you don’t cook that often, then you may be able to get away with a ceiling exhaust fan.
  • The maintenance required: Even though you will probably be focused on the sticker tag, you also need to think about the maintenance required. How often do you need to change the filter? Do you need to get the device inspected from time to time? You need to be prepared to deal with the maintenance that is required. If you do not take care of the range hood, it is going to burn out quickly, forcing you to replace it sooner.
  • The longevity: Speaking of the replacement cost, you also need to think about the longevity of the range hood. As long as you take care of the range hood or exhaust fan, how long should you expect it to last? You may want to speak to a professional to see how many years of use you should expect to get out of that specific model.
  • The space required: You should also think about the amount of space required to accommodate that range hood or exhaust fan. For example, do you need to place the range hood in a location where you can access the ductwork easily? If so, this could limit the possible locations for your range hood.
  • The humidity in your kitchen: Finally, you should also think about the humidity in your kitchen. Does your kitchen get relatively humid when you cook? If so, recirculating air is not going to work for you because this is not going to remove moisture from your kitchen. In this case, you may need to find something that actually vents the air to the outside world.

If you think about these factors ahead of time, you should be able to find the right range hood or exhaust fan for your kitchen. Keep in mind that this is not something you have to go through alone. If you have questions about finding the right range hood or exhaust fan, you may want to reach out to a professional who can help you.

Frequently Asked Questions About Finding the Right Range Hood or Exhaust Fan

A few common questions people ask about finding the right range hood or exhaust fan include:

Am I required by law to have a range hood or exhaust fan in my kitchen?

Not necessarily. Even though there is no federal requirement, there could be state or local requirements. This could also vary depending on whether you have a commercial kitchen or residential kitchen. You should reach out to a local HVAC contractor to learn more about whether this is required in your area.

Why do I want to have a range hood or exhaust fan in my kitchen?

You need to prevent toxic particles and moisture from building up in the air. Otherwise, this could lead to the growth of mold and mildew, creating a health and safety problem. Prevent this from happening by having proper ventilation.

How long should I expect my range hood or exhaust fan to last?

These devices are designed to last for many years as long as you take care of them appropriately. Before you purchase a range hood or exhaust fan, you should take a look at the type of maintenance required. Make sure you are prepared to take care of the device if you want it to last as long as possible.