Height Standards for Upper Kitchen Cabinets

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Although not stipulated by building codes, standard construction practices set ergonomic standards for both the dimensions of kitchen cabinets and their installation heights. These measurements are based on studies suggesting the optimal dimensions that create the most comfortable working spaces for users. They are sometimes altered for special needs--such as a kitchen customized for users with physical limitations--but in the vast majority of kitchens, these dimensions will be followed closely.

 

Standards for Upper Cabinets in Kitchens

The upper wall cabinets in kitchens almost always are installed so the bottom edge of the cabinet is 54 inches above the floor. The reason for this is that 18 inches of clearance between base cabinets and uppers is regarded as the optimal working space, and with base cabinets generally 36 inches high (with countertop included) and 24 inches deep, upper cabinets beginning at 54 inches provides the desired 18-inch clearance. 

These distances are shown to be ergonomically practical for anyone over 4 ft. tall, and optimal for an average user 5 ft. 8 inches in height. With the standard upper cabinet 30 inches tall and 12 inches deep, a 5 ft. 8-inch user will be able to reach all shelves without a step stool. Anyone shorter may need a step stool--or the assistance of a taller family member--to easily access upper shelves. 

There are, of course, some exceptions to these standards.

sThe specialty wall cabinets that fit above a refrigerator or range will be installed higher than other upper cabinets, and may also be deeper than the standard 12 inches. 

Varying the Installation Heights

These installation standards can be varied slightly to match the needs of users, although this is limited by the dimensions of stock cabinets.

A family with members 5 ft. 5 inches or shorter might, for example, install base cabinets at 35 inches above the floor, then leave a 15-inch working space and install the upper cabinets starting at 50 inches above the floor rather than the normal 54 inches. A family with very tall members might install cabinets slightly higher for convenience. These small variations are within the accepted range, and will not dramatically affect sale potential of your home. However, you should be cautious about more glaring variations to normal design standards when customizing a kitchen, as it may make your house hard to sell in the future. 

Handicap Accessible Kitchens

More dramatic variation in height standards can be necessary for homes or apartments used by those with physical disabilities, such as people confined to wheelchairs. Special base cabinets may be purchased or built that are 34 inches or lower in height, and upper cabinets can be installed on the wall much lower than normal in order to allow wheelchair users to reach them easily A newer innovation is electrically operated cabinetry that raises and lowers the upper wall cabinets, making them easy to use for both physically challenged and physically able family members.