What is the difference between a built-in microwave and a countertop microwave?

Microwaves have become a staple appliance in every kitchen. They have come a long way from their initial conception in the 1940s, and now there are numerous types of microwaves available, including built-in and countertop models. While both serve the same purpose, they have significant differences. In this article, we will explore the primary features, pros and cons, design considerations, energy efficiency, cost, maintenance, cooking performance, and resale value of built-in and countertop microwaves.

Understanding the basic features of a built-in microwave

Built-in microwaves are typically installed in the wall or cabinetry of your kitchen. Built-in models are designed to fit flush with your cabinetry, making them a seamless addition to your kitchen’s aesthetics. They come in various sizes, ranging from 24 to 30 inches wide. Built-in microwaves are often more powerful than countertop microwaves, with up to 1200 watts of cooking power. Typically, they have a higher capacity than countertop microwaves, allowing you to cook larger portions of food.

Another advantage of built-in microwaves is that they free up valuable counter space in your kitchen. Since they are installed in the wall or cabinetry, you don’t have to worry about finding a spot for them on your countertop. This can be especially beneficial if you have a small kitchen with limited counter space.

Additionally, many built-in microwaves come with advanced features such as convection cooking, which allows you to bake and roast food in addition to microwaving it. Some models also have sensor cooking, which automatically adjusts the cooking time and power based on the food’s moisture level and weight. These features can make cooking more convenient and efficient, and can help you achieve better results in the kitchen.

Understanding the basic features of a countertop microwave

A countertop microwave is a portable appliance that can be placed on any flat surface in your kitchen. They come in varying sizes, ranging from 18 to 23 inches wide. Countertop microwaves are also available in different wattages, ranging from 500 to 1200 watts. They usually have a lower capacity than built-in microwaves, and their cooking power can be limited.

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One of the advantages of a countertop microwave is that it is easy to install and does not require any special skills or tools. They are also more affordable than built-in microwaves and can be easily replaced if they break down. However, it is important to note that countertop microwaves can take up valuable counter space and may not be suitable for small kitchens with limited space. Additionally, some models may have limited features and settings compared to built-in microwaves.

Pros and cons of a built-in microwave


  • The seamless design can enhance the aesthetics of your kitchen
  • High-powered and larger capacity
  • More features, such as convection cooking and sensor technology


  • Installation can be complicated and require professional help
  • Can be more expensive than countertop models
  • Might not be as easily accessible for daily use

Another important factor to consider when deciding on a built-in microwave is the space available in your kitchen. Built-in microwaves require a designated space in your cabinetry, which may not be feasible in smaller kitchens or those with limited storage options. Additionally, if you plan on selling your home in the future, a built-in microwave may not appeal to all potential buyers, as some may prefer the flexibility of a countertop model.

Pros and cons of a countertop microwave


  • Portability and easy to move around
  • More affordable than built-in models
  • Simple installation, just plug it in and go


  • Can take up counter space
  • Lower capacity and less powerful
  • Limited features and cooking options

Another important factor to consider when deciding on a countertop microwave is its energy efficiency. While they are generally more affordable than built-in models, they may use more energy and result in higher electricity bills over time. It’s also worth noting that some countertop microwaves may produce more noise than built-in models, which can be a concern for those who value a quiet kitchen environment.

How to determine which type of microwave is right for your kitchen

To determine which type of microwave is suitable for your kitchen, you need to consider factors such as your cooking needs, kitchen size, and budget. If you are looking for a convenient solution that does not take up space, a countertop microwave might be the best option. However, if you have a large family or cook frequently, a built-in model with more features and a higher capacity may be worth the investment.

Another important factor to consider when choosing a microwave is its wattage. Microwaves with higher wattage cook food faster and more evenly, but they also tend to be more expensive. If you plan on using your microwave primarily for reheating leftovers or making popcorn, a lower wattage model may suffice. However, if you frequently cook meals in your microwave, a higher wattage model may be worth the investment for the time and energy savings.

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Design considerations: integrating a built-in microwave into your cabinetry

When considering a built-in microwave, you must ensure that your cabinetry’s dimensions can accommodate it. The microwave should be installed at a comfortable height, preferably at eye level. Before purchasing a built-in microwave, consult with a professional to ensure that it fits seamlessly into your kitchen design.

Another important consideration when integrating a built-in microwave into your cabinetry is the ventilation system. Built-in microwaves require proper ventilation to prevent overheating and ensure optimal performance. Make sure that your kitchen has adequate ventilation, and that the microwave is installed in a location that allows for proper airflow.

Additionally, you may want to consider the features and functions of the built-in microwave. Some models come with advanced features such as convection cooking, sensor cooking, and preset cooking programs. Think about your cooking habits and needs, and choose a microwave that offers the features that will be most useful to you.

Design considerations: finding the right spot for a countertop microwave

When choosing a spot for a countertop microwave, you need to consider accessibility and kitchen space. It should be placed in an easily accessible area, so it is convenient to use. You also need to ensure that it does not take up too much counter space, allowing you to have enough space for other kitchen appliances and food preparation.

Another important consideration when placing a countertop microwave is ventilation. Microwaves generate heat, and if they are not properly ventilated, they can overheat and become a fire hazard. Make sure that the area around the microwave is clear of any obstructions, and that there is enough space for air to circulate around it. Additionally, avoid placing the microwave near a stove or oven, as the heat from these appliances can also cause the microwave to overheat.

Energy efficiency comparison between built-in and countertop microwaves

When it comes to energy efficiency, built-in microwaves consume less energy than countertop models. This is because they are directly wired into the electrical system, whereas countertop models rely on an electrical outlet. Built-in microwaves are also more energy-efficient because they have better insulation than countertop models.

However, it is important to note that built-in microwaves can be more expensive to install than countertop models. This is because they require professional installation and may need to be integrated into existing cabinetry. Additionally, if a built-in microwave needs to be replaced, it can be more difficult and costly to remove and replace compared to a countertop model.

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Another factor to consider is the size and capacity of the microwave. Built-in microwaves are typically larger and have a higher capacity than countertop models. This means that they can accommodate larger dishes and cook more food at once, which can be more convenient for families or those who frequently entertain guests. However, if you have limited space in your kitchen, a countertop model may be a better option as they take up less space and can be easily moved if needed.

Cost comparison between built-in and countertop microwaves

As mentioned before, built-in microwaves are usually more expensive than countertop models. On average, a built-in microwave can cost between $500 to $1,500 or more, while a countertop microwave ranges from $50 to $500 or more.

However, it’s important to consider the long-term cost savings of a built-in microwave. Built-in microwaves are often more energy-efficient and can save you money on your electricity bill over time. Additionally, built-in microwaves can add value to your home and may be a worthwhile investment if you plan on selling your home in the future.

Maintenance and cleaning tips for both types of microwaves

Both built-in and countertop microwaves require regular cleaning maintenance. To clean the interior of the microwave, use a damp cloth or sponge and mild dish soap. Make sure to unplug the microwave before cleaning. For the exterior, use a soft cloth or sponge and a mild cleaner. Avoid using harsh chemicals as they can damage the microwave’s finish.

Tips for maximizing the functionality of your built-in or countertop microwave

To maximize the functionality of your microwave, always read the instruction manual and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines. Consider purchasing accessories that enhance the microwave’s functionality, such as a microwave-safe steamer or a bacon tray. Additionally, experiment with different cooking methods and recipes to see what works best for you.

How to troubleshoot common issues with both types of microwaves

If your microwave is not working correctly, there could be several reasons why. Before calling a professional, try these troubleshooting tips:

  • Ensure that the microwave is plugged in correctly
  • Check the circuit breaker to ensure that it has not tripped
  • Make sure that the door is correctly closed
  • Check the microwave’s fuse or replace it if necessary
  • Consult the manufacturer’s troubleshooting guide for specific issues

Comparison of cooking performance between built-in and countertop microwaves

Built-in microwaves are renowned for their high-powered performance and versatility. They usually offer more cooking modes, such as convection and grill, making them suitable for cooking a range of dishes. Countertop models, on the other hand, are usually less powerful and come with fewer features, limiting their cooking options.

The impact on resale value when choosing between a built-in and countertop microwave

While replacing your microwave may not necessarily increase your home’s value, it can affect your home’s appeal when selling it. Built-in microwaves are often seen as a luxury item and can make your kitchen look modern and sleek, which could make it easier to sell. On the other hand, a countertop microwave may be seen as standard and may not necessarily impact potential buyers.


In conclusion, both built-in and countertop microwaves offer different features, advantages, and disadvantages. What is essential is that you consider your needs, budget, and kitchen space before choosing the type of microwave that best suits your home. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for maintenance and cleaning, and enjoy the convenience of your microwave in your daily cooking routine.