Sometimes, terms and phrases are used interchangeably, even when they aren't the same at all. For example, the terms modern and contemporary design are often used interchangeably when they are two different design modifiers. Another example is rangetop and cooktop.
Not only do notice this oversight in print, we've been guilty of using them in the wrong instance ourselves because the two are so similar. However, there are differences and we plan to highlight them so we can all move forward as more accurate and informed kitchen designers.
Rangetop vs. Cooktop (& Stovetops, Too!)
First, we'll mention the similarities. Rangetops and cooktops are both available in either gas or electric models, and either one offers the ability to have a more flexible kitchen layout, one in which the oven and rangetop or cooktop are not required to live in the same location.
The largest difference between rangetops and cooktops is how they are installed, which will have a direct affect on how your countertop and cabinets are designed.
The Way They Are Installed
Rangetops are installed as a "slide-in" appliance, which requires a section of the countertop to be interrupted entirely, resuming on the other side of the rangetop. So, with a rangetop, the countertop will end, the rangetop will be slid into place, and the countertop will pick up on the other side. The knobs and controls are completely or predominantly located on the front of the appliance, which can be a pro or a con (more on that later).
Cooktops, on the other hand, are "set-in" to the countertop, using a very precise cut-out, measured and cut in accordance with the cooktop's specifications. Once the cooktop is in place, it's flanked on three or four sides by countertop materials, since the knobs and controls are located on the cooktop's surface.
The Location of the Controls
As mentioned above, the controls for each of these are in different locations. Rangetops have the bulk of the controls located on the front of the appliance, similar to how they are on traditional, combination oven/stovetop units. The advantage of this is that controls are more accessible to the cook, and do not require reaching near or over hot burners/flames to make adjustments.
Rangetops are often the preferred appliance for those who want to design an accessible kitchen. That being said, parents of little ones may not like this option as well because it allows children easier access to a potentially dangerous appliance.
With cooktops, the controls are located on the top of the unit, which means you have to be able to reach them. Modern kitchen designers are often fans of cooktops because they continue the sleek, minimalist look they're after, especially if the cooktop is a glass top version. Also, we should note that many contemporary cooktops are touch activated, which can be equally or more accessible for homeowners who have a hard time gripping small knobs, assuming they can reach the stovetop's surface.
Because of the difference in their installation, kitchen design requirements vary. The simplest designs incorporate a cooktop, which only requires a small cutout on the countertop surface. Rangetops require a bit more work since the countertops are finished on either side. In either case, cabinets are typically continued beneath the unit unless an oven is installed. Or, accessible homes may prefer to leave this area free of cabinetry so there's room for a wheelchair.
As for the "Stovetops, Too!" portion of the heading; stovetops refer to the top of a single, slide-in oven/stovetop combo. They are neither a rangetop nor a cooktop.