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All about vents

In a kitchen, cooks cook. What could be more obvious?

But what the cook may not notice much are the vents that carry away smoke and odors. Not until they no longer do the job, that is. What then?

The old phrase "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is nowhere more true than in the kitchen. One application of that idea is to have enough venting to handle the busiest days. Easter, Christmas, birthdays, and many more occasions often see a lot of cooking going on. No one wants that spoiled by smoke detectors going off unnecessarily or seeing those gathered around the kitchen island get a face full.

The first step to ensuring that is to keep the vents clean. It's a messy job, for sure. Vents accumulate grease that deposits on the cooler surfaces after wafting through the air. Grime builds up. Food drops down some and smoke deposits particulates on others. While stoves have advanced, unfortunately no one has yet come up with a self-cleaning vent.

But, they have produced an astounding array of cleaning products to make the chore as easy as possible.

Stove cleaner is useful. It's designed to combat grease and vents are made of metal so it's safe to use. Today's formulations are not the choking mixture of yesteryear. Still, use sparingly. Any grease cutter will help, too. Ammonia-based products should be used in a way that doesn't necessitate breathing concentrated vapors. That burning sensation to the eyes and lungs isn't merely unpleasant, but a real health hazard.

When even clean vents simply can't handle the volume, the volume is just too low. Adding bigger vents is a chore, but still doable by any dedicated do-it-yourselfer.

The three basic options are overhead, through the wall, and below the floor.

Overhead vents thread a wide pipe above a stove usually in a specially designed space and up to the top of the house. Creating a larger vent isn't as difficult as it may seem. Most cabinetry can easily be widened by several inches with a bit of sawing. Ditto the roof pipe, though it may take a bit longer. The key is to seal the final result carefully to keep out rain.

Examine the underside of the roof by moving into the crawlspace or attic. Most pipes narrow down the closer they get to the roof, terminating in a plastic pipe about 2 inches in diameter. But it's not difficult to replace it with one that is 2 1/2 or even 3 inches wide. The neighbors will never notice and you'll get much more capacity. Increasing the diameter by 1 inch adds about 1 1/4 square inches of area.

Similar considerations apply to through-the-wall venting, only in some cases the vents are rectangular tin, aluminum, or stainless steel, rather than round plastic. Cutting a wider space in the wall can be a chore, but even houses with an outer layer of brick don't make the job impossible. Masonry drill bits and a good drill will readily make a larger opening to accommodate a bigger vent.

For homes with a kitchen island, the stove typically has internal venting that leads to a large, thin metal pipe that goes under the house. If the home has a crawlspace that allows access, it's a simple matter to install a larger vent pipe. It's less often needed in these cases, though, since the pipe is already about 10-12 inches in diameter. If it's intact, it will handle just about any thing.