When designing residential dwelling units in New York City, designers must remember that two sets of accessibility requirements are often applicable. The New York City 2008 Building Code and the Federal Fair Housing Act both provide design and construction requirements for the new construction of dwelling units. While two sets of accessibility requirements ensures all individuals are accommodated, sometimes these two sets of code can make seemingly simple design elements, complicated. One example is the design and construction of microwaves and double wall ovens in residential kitchens. The location and adaptability of these appliances can be confusing for architects since both sets of laws require something different. Since the design and construction requirements for microwaves and double wall ovens in New York City R-2 dwelling units is often questioned by our staff at Accessibility Services, I would like to take this opportunity to describe the details necessary to ensure these appliances are usable by everyone and ensure designers are complying with all sets of accessibility requirements.

Let’s begin with the New York City Building Code since it is the most complicated. Section 1107.2.3.2 tells us that appliances in kitchens and kitchenettes must comply with the Type A Dwelling Unit requirements for appliances found in ICC/ANSI A117.1 Section 1003.12.6. This is often where a designer will first make a design mistake. Even though R-2 dwelling units require Type B Dwelling Units, the New York City Building Code enhances the accessibility of these units and says that appliances must comply with Type A Dwelling Unit sections of ANSI. If we look at the Type A Dwelling Unit section for appliance, we see that all appliances must have operable parts below 48 inches above the finish floor (not including bottom-hinged doors when in the open position) and must have a 30 inch by 48 inch clear floor space positioned for a forward or parallel approach. In addition, ovens (including microwaves and double ovens) must have controls on the front panel, side-hinged door appliances must have a counter space on the latch side of the door, and bottom-hinged door appliances must have a counter space on either side of the door.

Summary of NYC Building Code Requirements
Microwaves and Oven (both ovens if double wall ovens)

  • Operable parts below 48 inches above the finish floor
  • 30 inch by 48 inches clear floor space positioned for a forward or parallel approach
  • Controls on the front panel
  • Side-hinged door appliances must have a counter space on the latch side of the door
  • Bottom-hinged door appliances must have a counter space on either side of the door

In addition to these New York City requirements found in the ANSI standard, the building code does relieve designers of additional obligations by including an important exception at microwaves and double wall ovens. The exceptions reads that where appliance controls are not accessible, the owner can replace these appliances with conforming appliances at the time a person with physical disabilities takes occupancy of the unit, or within 10 days of the date the request is made by a person with physical dis¬abilities. While this exception refers specifically to the operation of controls, the department of buildings generally accepts including the height of controls. This means at first occupancy microwaves can be located above ranges outside of the 48 inches accessible height. It also means at first occupancy the upper oven associated with double wall ovens can also be at any elevation outside of the 48 inches above the finish floor and accessible height. While this solves many practical design issues at dwelling unit kitchens, architects should notify owners of their future obligation to provide accessible appliances if they have been designed with operable parts above 48 inches. Often this means owners will need to provide a counter top appliance to replace inaccessible appliance outside of reach ranges.

When it comes to the Fair Housing Act (FHA) the federal requirement for appliances, specifically microwaves and double wall ovens, are more straight forward. However they do have implications related to the New York City Building Code requirements discussed above. The FHA requires a 30 inch by 48 inches clear floor space centered on the appliance and positioned for a forward or parallel approach. The key requirement is that the clear floor space must be CENTERED. While the New York City Building Code also requires a clear floor space, it did not require it to be centered. So in this case, the FHA is more restrictive than the local NYC Code. This becomes important when locating double wall ovens or microwaves in corners if a parallel approach is used. An appliance in a corner with a parallel approach would require minimum 24 inches from the centerline of the appliances to the corner.

While not required, the FHA recommends that at least one oven at double wall ovens have interior space and controls below 54 inches above the finish floor.

Summary of Federal Fair Housing Act Requirements
Microwaves and Oven (both ovens if double wall ovens)

  • 30 inches by 48 inches clear floor space positioned for a forward or parallel approach
  • Clear floor space centered on the appliance

As a conclusion, I cannot stress enough the importance to review both the New York City and Federal Fair Housing Act Requirements. In additions I should point out that addition design considerations might be necessary for projects subject to the ADA and/or UFAS. Should you want to learn more about kitchen appliances, dwelling units, or any other accessibility requirements, contact Jimmy Zuehl at 718-803-3782, Ext. 7505 or jzuehl@accessibility-services.com.