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My fairly small kitchen has a standard (30") four-burner slide-in gas range, and above it a microwave with a built-in vent. All over 10 years old. The vent exhausts to the exterior via a duct that goes up into the cabinet above the microwave.

photo of overall situation photo of vent behind bottles

I've read that, as vents, microwaves ovens are pretty good ovens. Consumer Reports indicates that some are less mediocre than others. Their latest rating is not very up to date.

If I pull out the microwave, will a pure vent drop into the space left behind, or am I likely to be looking at carpentry?

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You should be able to find a hood/vent that will fit horizontally correctly - 30" is a standard width so plenty of hoods are designed to match. However, you will have a problem vertically because most are much shorter than your microwave oven. That gives you two options:

  • BOTTOM Build a cabinet down from the existing cabinet and mount a new hood so that the bottom of it matches the existing bottom of the microwave/other cabinets. I do NOT recommend doing this: You will have trouble matching the other cabinets (color/style) and you won't gain any workspace over the stove.

  • TOP Install a new hood/fan so that the top of it matches the top of the microwave. This is by far the easier solution. No carpentry work needed, and you will also gain some vertical workspace - handy when working with big pots. The only real work is that you will very likely find that the backsplash tile does not go all the way up behind the microwave, so you may need to add some more tiles. If you can find an exact - or very, very close - match, great. If not, I would go with something complementary but different enough that it doesn't look like an "almost but not really good enough" match.

Either way, you will need to deal with the electrical and the ductwork. Electrical should be easy. It looks like the microwave plugs into a receptacle in the upper cabinet. If so, you may need to add a plug to the hood (some come set up for direct wire into a junction box), but that is easy to do. The ductwork may have a different location, so you may need to get an adapter of some sort and/or cut a bigger hole in the base of the upper cabinet. I recommend picking a hood or two online and downloading the installation manuals to check those details before buying one.

As far as a hood, besides the aesthetics (white vs. stainless steel, style, etc.), you should definitely look at the speed (usually CFM) vs. sound (decibels or sones). Many are adjustable speed so you can run loud & fast when you really need it but quieter when you just need basic ventilation.

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We did this. Biggest problem was removing the microwave because we trim at the bottom of our cabinets which made the opening smaller. We also had partially cut tiles below the microwave. We added in a border tile then tiled up the rest of the way with the same tile and you cant really tell that row is shorter.

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Having recently done the exact same thing you are mentioning, here are my tips and observations. For reference, this was the range hood I bought.

  • Make sure to buy a range hood that is the same width as your microwave. This wasn't an issue for me since the microwave was a standard size for most range hoods.
  • The only "carpentry" work I had to do was creating/adjusting the vent hole in the bottom of the cabinet. The new range hood should come with a nice template to show you were the vent cutout needs to be. You may get lucky with being able to use the existing hole but I was not this lucky. This was the ONLY cutting that I had to do.
  • The new range hood was super easy to install under the cabinet (4 screws!) with the included brackets. The exception to this is that you may need to buy the cable that plugs into the outlet and directly wire it to the hood.
  • You may have an unsightly backsplash area from where the microwave was previously installed. I didn't have any paint behind the microwave so there was a bare patch that I had to repaint. I also had to fill a couple holes in the wall that were used to secure the microwave.
  • You may need to get different ducting if the new range hood doesn't include the appropriate adapter/connection for your existing duct.

Hope that helps!

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