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My concern is fires. I think the sides of ovens sometimes heat a lot, and this makes me wonder how to design a:

  • Cabinet inside which built-in/enclosed ovens rest. The sides, including the bottom and the top, are near to to the oven.
  • Surrounding cabinets where stand-alone/exposed cookers rest on the ground. The sides of the cooker are near to cabinet's materials, but the top and bottom are not (top is exposed freely, and bottom faces porcelain flooring).

I am worried that cabinet's material may catch fire after being exposed to the heat emitted by the oven or the cooker.

Hence I have 2 questions:

  • What material should the kitchen cabinets be made of?
  • Should I leave some gap on the sides? It will look uglier if I add such gaps on the sides, so I prefer to not have to do this if possible.
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    I believe the proper caveman approach is to carve the kitchen cabinets and countertops out of the rock wall of your cave. And then have an open fire in the middle of the floor for roasting hunks of wooly mammoth over, rather than one of those new-fangled oven things the Homo Sapiens are all bragging about getting. ;^) [Gotta admit the Hobbits have really nice caves, though... but nah...]
    – Ecnerwal
    May 13 at 15:04
  • Go to a local Home-A-Rama and take a look at all the "built in" ovens and cook tops. Take a look at the cabinets around them. You won't find any that have any sort of special insulation or "special" material in the cabinets butted up against the ovens or cook tops. As noted in both answers (so far), so long as you follow the clearance guidelines supplied with your oven/cook top, you won't have any problems at all. Do not leave combustible items on top of the cook top or the cat may turn on a burner and start a fire, but the cabinets will not be the source of the fire.
    – FreeMan
    May 13 at 16:07

2 Answers 2

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Every oven / cooker manufacturer will provide you with clearances that clearly state the distances needed on all sides of the appliances between the appliance and adjacent surfaces for safety. Please follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

As to materials - well you name it. Kitchen cabinets can be made out of nearly anything. Plywood, MDF, melamine surfaced particle board, hardwoods top of course. Countertops can be natural stone like granite or marble, or manufactured amalgams like quartz or sintered stone. There’s even some kinds of acrylic countertops. Laminate clad particle board can also be used for tops. Some people love stainless steel!

I think you’re better off looking at your budget and design style before you worry too much about starting a fire. For that particular concern, you’ll want to make sure your appliances are UL listed and properly installed by a competent person. Buy the cabinets from a reputable kitchen design firm.

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  • That solves the clearance/gap question. What about the material?
    – caveman
    May 13 at 6:43
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    The bottom line is that a properly designed oven/stove will be surrounded by insulation so that excessive heat is not transferred to the surrounding cabinets. From experience, I can tell you that a kitchen oven on and heated for hours will not significantly heat up surrounding cabinets or countertops.
    – DoxyLover
    May 13 at 7:26
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    Are you saying that plywood/MDF/melamine surfaced particle board/etc are good at not being fire hazards when near hot surfaces?
    – caveman
    May 13 at 7:34
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    @caveman no he's saying that the outside of the oven isn't a hot surface. Being UL listed for being built-in will include restrictions about how hot the surfaces are. May 13 at 8:40
  • The clearance/gap dimensions are for materials that can burn if placed closer and provide ventilation/cooling for the stove/oven. If zero clearance then the outside of a stove/oven is not expected to get warm enough to burn anything. People do expect others not to place flammable materials on top of the burners, but it does happen.
    – crip659
    May 13 at 11:47
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What is missing from the earlier answer is that properly designed ovens and stoves are insulated so that significant heat is not transferred to surrounding cabinets and countertops. As long as you follow the manufacturer's recommended clearance, which does not typically include visible gaps, almost any standard material is ok for cabinets and countertops.

Plywood cabinets and laminate countertops, neither of which are particularly heat resistant, are just fine. I can speak from experience that having a built-in oven hot for hours does not heat surrounding cabinets or countertops to any significant degree.

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  • Interesting. Is this related to ovens trying to be energy efficient, so the heat is rather trapped inside (not leaked) in order to use most of the energy to cook the food (as opposed to burning the house)?
    – caveman
    May 13 at 7:36
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    @caveman That's a bonus, but I think it's mostly related to ovens trying to not burn people's houses down. Energy efficiency wasn't a big deal in the 70's, but my parents stove was surrounded by plywood or chipboard kitchen units. May 13 at 8:58
  • Two things: When I was going to college and shared an appt with a roomie, i noticed the oven was on, I asked him, did you leave the oven on, he said no he hadn't used it in days. We figured out it had been on for 3 days! but no problem. To the OP, if you are REALLY worried about this, allow enough space to install some sheets of stainless steel on the cabs, set off by about 1/4-1/2 " using spacers. Then unless your oven explodes, there's not a chance it would start a fire. But like stated in another answer, you don't have a problem. May 13 at 14:54

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