What is a Bulkhead in a Kitchen?

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The term “bulkhead” is used to describe a wall that separates one room from another. In the context of a kitchen, it refers to any full-height partition wall that separates two portions of kitchen space or encloses an appliance.

Typical examples are:

  • base cabinets
  • kitchen cabinets
  • upper cabinet walls
  • soffit
  • appliances such as dishwashers
  • Even if these walls are made of glass (or some other transparent material), they will still be considered bulkheads.

When you are planning your kitchen design, it is important to consider which of the above items will be built into the wall and which will be freestanding cabinets that are fastened onto the edge of a bulkhead.

What is a Kitchen Bulkhead Made of?

Bulkheads are most often made of plywood or MDF (medium-density fiberboard). They can also be drywall, but this is not recommended in areas that get steam from the dishwasher. It is a common misconception that if the bulkhead is covered by kitchen cabinets, it does not have to be as strong as those walls used as support.

This is not true. If a wall will be supporting cabinets, it has to be as strong as any other wall in your kitchen or bathroom and built to code standards.

Enclosing appliances behind walls that are not set back from the countertop can lead to serious mould problems, so only put an appliance inside a bulkhead if it is set back from the counter

Bulkheads are an integral part of any kitchen design and should be talked through carefully with your tradie or carpenter, as well as double-checked by a professional (to see if it complies with building codes). If you run into problems with your bulkhead after construction, like moisture damage or cracking or warping, it is important to make sure that your contractor is held accountable.

What is the Purpose of a Bulkhead?

A bulkhead has three main purposes:

1. To create two separate working areas in the kitchen (for example, a cooking area and a cleaning or food storage area)

2. To conceal appliances such as dishwashers from sight

3. To provide support for cabinets to be attached to them

These features are especially important in smaller kitchens, as opposed to open plan living areas where they may not be essential and could, even be considered as a waste of space.

Bulkheads are not just for kitchens either, they can be used in bathrooms to separate the shower and toilet area from the rest of the room (for example, creating a steam-proof barrier). They are also very popular in laundry areas where the wall is often left uncluttered by including a sizeable window that also provides for light and ventilation.

Is a Bulkhead the Same as a Kitchen Cabinet?

A bulkhead is different from a cabinet in that its use is different (the main purpose is to conceal appliances) where ordinary cabinets have other uses such as food storage. The same amount of support is needed for both cabinets to hold the weight of the products within the interior.

What are the Benefits of a Kitchen Bulkhead?

1. Convenience – When you want to clean up after cooking, it is far easier if your kitchen has separate areas (i.e., one side for prep work, dishes, etc. and a second area for cleaning).

2. Aesthetics – If you use a material that is similar in colour and texture to your cabinets, a bulkhead will blend in seamlessly (for example, when using plywood or MDF).

3. Appearance – Using glass for the upper section of the bulkheads can create an elegant open-spaced kitchen design or a practical way to limit the hazy steam from a dishwasher. It makes the overall kitchen feel less clutters from the floor to the cabinets and the ceiling.

What is a Kitchen Soffit?

A soffit is the underside of an object or structure. In a kitchen, the term refers to an inverted “V” shape that extends from ceiling to floor with two long flaps on either side. Soffits are popular in kitchens because they provide ventilation as well as space for storage and other accessories.

When you are planning your kitchen, it is important that you think about the placement of a soffit. Your carpenter will need room to work and may not be able to fit it into a busy space, or one with lots of appliances already built-in.

The easiest way for them to do this is if they can run the flaps out from each wall at least 600mm (24 inches). Some clients prefer that this clearance is increased by installing metal baffles inside the soffits, which will prevent things from falling through. The size of these must be taken into account when designing your soffits

Soffits should also feature some kind of lip or trim to prevent debris falling behind them and creating a hazard.

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