Who Knows How High to Mount the Kitchen Cabinets?

My permit drawings did not show the dimension between the kitchen counters and wall cabinets. I had drawn it at 15”, while the framer assumed the more common 18”.  I directed that the blocking should be lower to accommodate the 15” dimension, which was the dimension we were used to from our old kitchen.

At our cabinet supplier we were told that 18” was the required minimum.  This was confirmed by a contractor who happened to be there at the same time.  He was very certain that there could be no discussion with the building inspector about this- it had to be a minimum of 18”.  He said it had to do with the possibility of putting a hot plate on the counter and needing the cabinets to have enough clearance to avoid burning.

This requirement was news to me.  I have seen cabinets at anywhere from 15” to 22” above the counter.  I asked around and my architect friends and colleagues noted that they have mounted cabinets at 15”.  I scoured the code books and did not find any minimum dimension, other than the requirement that the cabinets above a gas stove have to be a minimum of 30” above.

I went to the building department (It’s hard to get someone on the phone).  The inspector said he didn’t know of any requirement for the cabinet height.  Still, I was concerned that there must be some truth behind the cabinet vendor’s  and contractor’s certainty. Finally, I did a detailed search of the International Fuel Gas Code (IFGC) and found that it requires gas appliances to be installed according to the manufacturer’s installation instructions.  Seems logical enough.

The place to look is the manufacturer’s instructions, not the code. And it’s not so much about the placement of cabinets above counters as it is about cabinets near gas stoves.  Most gas stove instructions require a minimum of 18” clearance to cabinets adjacent to the stove. If the cabinets were offset 5 or 6” away from the side of the stove, there would be no height requirement.  So, as sometimes happens, the vendor and contractor had good information, but didn’t know why or where it applies.

Even this diagram is not entirely clear. The correct interpretation is that there could be a wall within 4″ on the left side or 6″ on the right side. Therefore the 18″ height requirement shown applies to the portion of cabinets within that 4″ or 6″ zone. Outside of that zone they could be any height. I don’t think these requirements should be so hard to find or to understand. The appliance people should make note of the correct installation requirements and the cabinet people should, as in our case, also provide the information. However, they should know what the real requirement is and where it applies. Of course I also think the building inspector and designer (myself) should be completely familiar with these requirements as well.

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