Island Clearance

How much space around an island? Code and comfort considerations apply. April 14, 2005

Is there a generally accepted rule for the amount of clearance around the perimeter of an island? I have a customer who wants an island installed, but we disagree on how large it should be. I am thinking 36" should be the minimum distance on all four sides, but the customer thinks 30" would be fine. Has anyone come across local codes on this issue?

Forum Responses
(Cabinet and Millwork Installation Forum)
From contributor R:
From what I understand, minimum clearance should be 36" around it unless it has a stove or sink. Then the clearance should be 42" on that side. The idea is that you need space for 2 people between the service island and the other counter. If you have a sink or stove, more time is spent standing there and you are maybe not standing as close and need more space for someone to pass behind you. 30" is too close together. They will be bumping into each other all the time.

From contributor J:
36" would be the minimum as far as a comfortable distance is concerned. I try and get at least one, preferably two sides with 42" clear path. If your client insists on 30", set up some cabinets at 30" and have him (her) walk through it a few times. If they still insist, then get it in writing, because they will bitch about it later! The big drawback will be in bad feedback from him to potential customers, because you can bet he will badmouth you for his design.

From contributor A:
I agree with the rest that 36" is the absolute minimum. I also usually go for 42, or 48 if I can. Look around - is there a dishwasher facing that island? Then watch what happens when you open that door and try to get past it! 36 suddenly gets real tight.

From the original questioner:
Great, thanks for the replies. I built a mock-up island of some old display base cabinets. She thinks she wants it her way, still. Yes, in addition to getting it in writing, I'll show her this thread.

From contributor K:
I agree with the others that the minimum is 36", but I would hesitate printing this thread and showing her, as it potentially takes you out of the role of the expert, and instead has you pointing to others to bolster your credentials. You are the expert. You were right the first time, and it's been verified by your peers... You've nothing to prove and she will most likely have you do what she wants anyway. But, like others have said, get her decision in writing along with your opinion to the contrary, and collect the check. After all, the customer is always right, right?

Just guessing, but one of the reasons she may think it's okay at 30" is that the average doorway in a home has a 30" - 32" opening, which would not affect her comfort zone, and if there is a stove or dishwasher, she can always step to the side and open it up, which is the way it has been done for years. It's just not an important issue to some.

I actually had a similar conversation with one of my clients, and when I voiced the idea of two people in the kitchen at the same time, the laughter that ensued emanated from both the husband and wife. They laughed so hard, in fact, that it was almost uncomfortable. Go figure.

From the original questioner:
Good point there. I thought about that after I posted my reply. "The customer is always right" is sometimes hard to deal with. In some cases I have a difficult time being diplomatic with a customer who has their mind set on certain aspects of a remodel that will yield a less than desirable result. I think there is an art of persuasion that must be mastered in this business!

From contributor D:
There is a benefit to the art of persuasion, however, a big part of our job is to give the customer what they want, not to convince them they want what you think is right. I always make it point to show the customer their options, point out any conflicts or potential problems, then let them make the decision that suits them best. Yes, it is imperative that you explain to them that 30" is less than standard, and would cause problems for some people, and I would absolutely mock up the space (I usually use cardboard sheets, or scrap MDF), so they can be sure, but if they see all that and still want what they want, let 'em have it.

From contributor T:
All of the new standards are based on the ADA (American with Disabilities Act) and the minimum is 36", same for the doorways. I would get a new copy of the Architectural Graphic Standards and use this to show your customer. It clearly shows the standards for the situation that you have. Once you show the designer and they still want what they want, then you can give it to them with a clear conscience. If you know an architect, then you can probably get his older copy of Arch Graphic Standards a little cheaper. The ADA act goes back quite a few years. Go for the 8th Edition or newer.

From contributor M:
That is correct. 36" is minimum. In front of an oven door the minimum is 42" for code. But I have yet to see any building inspector whip out a tape to check. We like to go 42" all around but some tighter kitchens we go down to 36".

From contributor B:
One other point to mention to her: When she bends down to reach into the base cabinet, she's gonna bump her butt on the cabinet sitting right behind her, knocking her forward, then she'll bump her noggin on the drawer front. Then she'll ask for casters on the island...