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Universal Design

Cooktops and Wall Ovens

Hot tips for selecting safer, easier-to-use cooking appliances.

Betty Crocker first put on her apron in 1921. Back then, no one had ever heard of universal design. So Betty didn't think twice about stirring her sauces on a stove that was 36 inches off the floor. She thought everyone was strong enough to slide heavy pans into ovens that were no higher than their knees.

Things are different now. You don't have to settle for the kind of stove your mother used. Instead, you can buy a cooktop and a separate oven and put them where they work best for you.

A cooktop consists of two or four electric burners. Install it on a counter that is 32 inches from the floor. Would you like to sit down while you cook? Leave knee space below the counter so you can pull a chair in close. That space should be 30 inches wide and 27 inches high. You can also put your cooktop on a kitchen island. Then, you'll be able to reach it from both sides.

Your oven doesn't have to be right near your cooktop. Mount it in a kitchen wall so you won't have to bend or stretch. Get rid of the type of oven door that you open from the top. Choose a door that swings to the side like a microwave. This door will help you get closer to the oven when you take foods in and out. And, you won't have to lean across a hot door to test a cake or baste a turkey.

Problem Design

Chances are the controls on your stove are all at the back. This means you have to reach across hot burners whenever you want to change the heat level. You'll burn yourself if you're not careful. Don't wear a robe or other bulky clothes when you cook. You could catch a sleeve on fire.

Take a good look at the knobs that you use to turn on your burners. You probably have to grasp and turn these knobs at the same time. That's not an easy task for someone with arthritis - or even someone with greasy hands.

Keeping those knobs clean is no picnic either. The grease gets into places that a sponge just cannot reach. You'll have the same problem cleaning around your electric coils.

New Features Offer Solutions

New cooktops and ovens come with many features that make them safer to use - and easier to clean.

•  Look for cooktop burners that sit below a smooth, glass top. These burners look at lot better than your old electric coils. You clean the glass top - not the coils. That's much easier to do.

•  Choose controls that sit at the front or side of the cooktop. And look for burners that aren't set in a straight line. With these features, you won't have to reach across hot burners to turn up the heat or stir a pot at the back of the stove.

•  Ask about push-button controls. It's much easier to push a button than to turn a knob. These buttons are also easier to clean.

•  Buy a cooktop with a heat indicator. This light reminds you when the burner is still hot. The light goes out when the burner cools down.

•  Make sure your cooktop and stove are easy to read. Find a model that uses different colors to tell you which parts are hot and which parts are cool. Look for displays that use big numbers that you can see from across the room. And, check out the instruction book. Large type and simple sentences can help you find answers quickly.

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