Property: Doctor on the house - If you can't stand the heat, get out of the fridge

In the modern kitchen, freezers sit next to ovens while units gather dust and grease. Jeff Howell wonders why
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The Independent Online
YOU KNOW, the way we live today is nonsensical. I'm sitting here in the kitchen in June, with the cooker and gas boiler on, and I'm wondering why the fridge is taking so long to cool my beer.

Granted, the World Cup has increased turn-around on the chilled lager shelf, but the main reason the refrigerator is struggling is because it is in a hot environment. Fridges work by jettisoning heat from the condenser coil at the back - and if the room is warm then the heat exchange is slower.

So why am I handicapping my fridge by having it in the same room as the boiler and oven? Wouldn't it be better in a cool place - like the basement, for example?

Well, yes. People in hot countries knew all about keeping their drinks cool long before refrigeration was invented. Their buildings have thick stone walls and deep cellars, and enclosed courtyards that are sheltered from the sun's rays but act as flues to draw draughts through from below.

Even posh homes in Britain had underground ice houses built of stone that were filled with snow and ice in mid-winter and kept food cool until August.

But now we use electricity for cooling and we worry about carbon dioxide and ozone and global warming as we sip our lagers. Oh dear.

But convenience dictates that a modern kitchen has a fridge near the cooker. The worst designs actually have the fridge/freezer right up tight to the oven. This can cause a melting/ freezing cycle and a sheet of ice down the inside of the freezer which stops the drawers from opening; it's a bit like having your own glacier.

More interesting facts about kitchens: design books talk of the work triangle; apparently you are supposed to have a triangle of sink/cooker/fridge. Quite how you can arrange three objects in a shape that is not a triangle is beyond me - unless, of course, they are in a straight line, referred to in the design guides as a one-wall kitchen.

Kitchens used to be rooms furnished in much the same way as other rooms: a table, some cupboards, a couple of shelves. But now the word "kitchen" implies a colour co-ordinated set of matching units with slot-in appliances. People who have trouble selling their homes often put a new kitchen in; this is usually a complete waste because the first thing that the new owners do is rip it out and put their own in.

Modern kitchens are composed of base units and wall units. The carcasses of both are made of white melamine-veneered chipboard known in the trade as "flat packs", because they arrive folded flat and wrapped in plastic.

You would be amazed at the trade prices for flat packs - I have seen them advertised for as little as a fiver each.

Obviously the door and drawer fronts and the handles bump that up a bit, but still kitchens contain huge profit margins.

The wall units of most kitchens finish lower than the ceiling, and the top surfaces collect dust and grease.

For the same price as a standard DIY-shed kitchen, you can get a carpenter to buy the flat packs and make you a bespoke one with wall units reaching right up to the ceiling.

q You can contact Jeff Howell at the Independent on Sunday or by e-mail: Jeff@doctoronthehouse.demon.co.uk

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