Are you getting frustrated while cooking in your kitchen?
Kitchen is one of the most favorite rooms of any woman. It is typically the most used room in any house. However, there are lots of housewives that are facing chronic lower as well as upper back pain. Majority complain that this pain have started from kitchen.
The kitchen — unlike most other rooms in the home — is a workplace. The job of preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals gets done there. Making that environment fit you is a most critical factor in your satisfaction with your kitchen. Ergonomics aims at making this work more efficient, faster, more pleasant, and less fatiguing by improving the interface between the human body and the things we need to interact with to get work done.
And an efficient kitchen is typically a key point in having a happy life. Finding a kitchen layout that fits your lifestyle can be difficult. But it is well worth the effort. Because if the kitchen layout does not support the way you work you will be fighting it every day for years to come.
Kitchen remodeling can be a challenging, yet wonderful, experience. It will take longer than almost any other home improvement project, but when you’re finished, it will provide years of pleasure.
Thus, here we will discuss how to apply ergonomic principles to make you more productive and efficient no matter the size or shape of your kitchen.
1. Analyzing Kitchen Work
Because kitchens are places where work is done, the first step in every good kitchen design is determining what work is being done and the process or processes by which it is done. In industry this kind of study is known as work-flow analysis. Since each cook does it a bit differently, the work that occurs in your kitchen is inherently personal.
But while it may sound complicated, work-flow analysis is really nothing more than asking obvious questions. Who will work here, and what work will be done? What motions will be required to accomplish each task? Will you stand or sit while doing these things, and if so, where? What step will follow the initial step in the process, and where will you go for that second step — for the third step?
The process should be orderly so you have everything you need right at hand for each step and you do not have to criss-cross the kitchen repeatedly to get the work done. The ultimate objective is to make sure every bit of kitchen organization and structure – from the physical layout to specific appliance locations to the level of lighting at each task area – helps keep the work safe and efficient.
2. Start with a good work triangle
In the traditional kitchen the three main work sites are:
- Refrigerator – the cold storage work site
- Sink – the cleaning/preparation work site
- Stove – the cooking work site
The goals of a good kitchen work triangle are to place these three most common work sites the most efficient distance apart and to minimize traffic through the work zone.
If you place these too far away from each other you waste a lot of steps while preparing a meal. If they are too close to each other you have a cramped kitchen without any place to work.
3. The Right Counter Height
For determining the height of work surfaces, we don’t care as much about the height of the user as we do about the distance of his or her elbows from the floor. The elbow is the critical hinge of all lower arm movement — and it’s mostly lower arm movement that does the work in a kitchen.
If your elbow is too high above the work surface, you tend to lean forward to put your elbows back in an optimal relation to the countertop. If your elbow is too close to the work surface you tend to either step or lean back to being the elbows back into the correct position. In either case, the back suffers.
- Hand mixing, for example, should be at a lower level for better leverage and proper ergonomic alignment.
- For washing dishes, the working surface is not the countertop, but the bottom of the sink. So sink depth is the issue. For a tall person the best depth might be 10 inches, but a short person needs a shallower sink to be comfortable, as little as 5″ in some cases.
- Baking also requires a lower working surface. When rolling out dough, you want to lean forward a little to put your back into the process so your arms and shoulders do not have to do all the work
4. Be creative about storage
- Things should be stored where they are first used
Every item should be stored at its point of first use. The bowls you use to prepare food should be stored where food is prepared, not across the kitchen with the other bowls. We tend to store items with like items: bowls with bowls, knives with knives, and platters with platters. But that’s not how we use them. Store things where you use them, it saves a lot of walking. If you fill pan and pots for cooking at the food preparation center, pots and pans need to be stored where food is prepared, not where it will ultimately be cooked. The prep area is the point of first use.
- Storage Zones
Common sense suggests that we should store all items as close as possible to the place they’ll be used. Weight is rarely a consideration, but it should be. Store heavy items between hip and shoulder height to avoid over-stretching. Store medium weight items just above or below the heaviest ones, but never higher than eye level or below the knees. The lightest items, such as cereal boxes, should go in what many people consider the least-accessible cabinets — those above the head or below the knee.
Thus, store frequently used accessories in the top drawers just beneath the
counter or on the bottom shelf of the cupboards just above the counter. The
remaining accessories can then be stored based on how often they’re used, with those used least often on the highest or lowest levels.
The problem with upper cabinets is that they have doors. Doors, though, hide all of the clutter and keep dust and grease from getting into the cabinet; they are a nuisance to efficient kitchen work. They keep you from just reaching into the cabinet. You first have to step back to get out of the way, then open the door, then get the item, then close the door again.
The best doors from an ergonomic point of view are those that open upward. Upswing doors are rare in this country; much more common in Europe and Asia. By swinging up, they are out of the way, and they can be left open for easy access until the task at hand is done. Side-hinged doors, by far the most common door type.
6. Adaptibility factor in a washbasin
Kitchens should work for every user, not just the primary user. A knee space under a sink helps make these areas available to someone in a wheelchair. When used with a stool, the same knee space allows an able-bodied person to sit while cooking or washing up. This helps avoid fatigue and back strain.
7. Flexible Workspaces:
What kitchen designers aim for in applying ergonomics to a kitchen is a flexible, adaptable space in which work can be done with minimum wasted motion and maximum efficiency. Minimum wasted motion not only speeds the work, but makes it less fatiguing. Design a kitchen where you’ll spend less energy and time bending, walking, twisting, lifting and cleaning, and you’ll have more of more energy and time left for cooking and enjoying. Install your range in such a way that you have ample space on both sides.
Appliance designers have come a long way with ergonomic appliance design, but still have a way to go. Dishwashers and microwaves are still the most persistently problematic appliances, with ovens and refrigerators following in close formation.
Single wall ovens are ergonomically ideal. Double wall ovens are less desirable since the top oven is always too high, and the bottom oven too low.
The dishwasher is an ergonomic disaster. It’s much too hard to use. You have to bend and stoop and bend and stoop to load and unload it. You have to spend a lot of time opening and closing the top tray to reach the bottom tray. The bottom-hinged door gets in the way of people moving around the kitchen. It is not a very user-friendly appliance. Very recently dishwasher manufacturers have started putting dishwashers in drawers, a much more back-friendly design. Still expensive and, rumor has it, prone to breakdown, these are at least heading in the right direction.
The top freezer refrigerator was never an ergonomic success. It puts the most used part of the refrigerator down by the floor where a lot of stooping and bending is required to use it. Bottom freezer units are better. The main part of the refrigerator is placed between waist and shoulder, which is where it should be. But again, bottom-freezer refrigerators are usually more costly that the traditional top freezer or side-by-side models. So there is a price for this ergonomic efficiency. It’s a trade off. But the slight extra cost is almost always justified in a refrigerator which is the appliance used most often in a typical kitchen.
9. Safety at the Forefront
Kitchens are inherently dangerous places containing electricity and water in close proximity, sharp objects, flame and hot surfaces. There is almost unlimited potential for accidents. Kitchens are one of the most frequent sources of fire in the home and are second only to bathrooms as places in which home accidents occur. Yet, as complex as kitchens have become, accidents and injuries are decreasing, in no small part due to better design. And while ergonomic design is not going to get rid of all of the many causes of accidents, it can help eliminate those caused by unnecessary hazards in the environment.
Thus, if your kitchen does not fit your physical characteristics and your work habits, it may be handsome and fresh, but it will not be comfortable, and you won’t be happy with it. Adapting your kitchen to fit you is a large part of the individual design process and the sooner we do, the better we are to cook food.
Dr. Kiran Shete
MS (Ortho), DNB, F.ASIF (Swiss), MNAMS, PGP (ISB)
Founder and Chief Medical Director