There’s a debate simmering about gas stoves and whether they belong in our kitchens.
The controversy started when Richard L. Trumka Jr., a member of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), commented that the CPSC might consider warnings or restrictions on new gas stoves for safety reasons. Then several members of Congress wrote to the CPSC asking for stronger regulation of gas stoves. In early January, Trumka went on the record to say that “products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”
Government intervention on gas stoves? A backlash predictably ensued. The CPSC quickly made an official statement that walked back a possible ban. But a national conversation on gas stoves had already been kindled.
Viewed by many Americans as a symbol of prestige, gas stoves are often touted as more powerful and easier to control than a radiant electric stove. Behind the glossy image, however, are some uglier features. Bringing open flames indoors means that unless your space is quite well-ventilated, you are going to be breathing in hazardous chemicals created by combustion, like carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides (precursors to smog known as “NOx”).
More bad news: Stanford scientists recently found that gas stoves can emit pollution even while turned off. Other studies showed correlations between childhood asthma and the presence of gas stoves in the home.
You might ask: Doesn’t electric cooking also create indoor air pollution? Yes, PM 2.5 particulates can be created by cooking at a high temperature, so venting is a good idea no matter what cooking equipment you use. But an electric stove doesn’t directly produce NOx and other unhealthy byproducts from fossil fuel combustion within your home.
You might also wonder why people are not concerned about gas furnaces or water heaters? In fact, the California Air Resources Board recently moved to ban new gas appliances for space and water heating and the California Energy Commission has mandated electric heat pumps be the default technology used in new homes. It’s important to note that California’s building codes require existing gas heaters always be vented to the outdoors (not so for gas stoves). Range hoods that move air are required, but don’t need to connect to fresh air outside. And several Bay Area rentals I’ve lived in didn’t even have hoods.
Say you’re feeling ready to make the switch from a gas stove. Are you doomed to the slow electric stoves of the past? No. There’s a much better way with a whole host of advantages — induction stoves.
First, consider energy efficiency. When you put a pan on an induction hob and turn it on, you energize coils of magnets, creating an electromagnetic field that interacts with your pan to heat it directly (as opposed to heating the hob). The magnets are far more efficient than generating lots of heat under a pan and waiting for the pan to warm. Heating a pan via induction is faster than either a gas stove or radiant electric stove. Plus, your kitchen stays cooler, as more energy is directed to the pan instead of wasted as heat. That’s why commercial kitchens that need to operate many burners in a tight space can really benefit from induction cooking, according to chef testimonials.
With their game-changing speed and responsiveness, induction stoves have been dubbed the “Teslas” of kitchen appliances. Induction cooktops have programmable settings and safety shut-offs. Their designs are sleek, with nothing jutting out. Cleanup is easier, since food doesn’t burn onto the element as it does on older electric stoves. Consumer Reports has found that users are impressed by induction stoves and their functionality.
It turns out induction has been the dominant cooking technology in Europe for years. The United States’ lower adoption rates, meanwhile, are partly due to the gas industry guarding its turf, trying to convince us to stick with gas, through shady marketing tactics and even outright disinformation campaigns.
What about costs? Induction stoves do carry a higher price tag. (Similar to electric vehicles, you pay more upfront but generate savings over time.) And if you live in an older home, you may need rewiring since induction stoves can draw a lot of current. But technology is quickly rising to meet these challenges. Now you can buy a small, portable cooktop that plugs into a regular outlet. Dozens of models costing under $100 for a single “burner” are available online. Local municipalities are getting wise and offering free cooktop loaner programs (like one from East Bay Community Energy) and valuable rebates to save you money once you’re ready to invest. As induction cooking scales, costs will likely continue to fall.
So, is an induction cooktop right for you? It’s a choice that close to 70% of households in the state of California will be facing. To protect consumer safety, limits have already been imposed on leaded gas, secondhand smoke and BPA exposure. This type of progress suggests that we’ll soon be ditching our gas stoves in favor of a cleaner, electrified future.