Welcome to my adventure in cutting fossil fuels at home! Read the other posts in the series here:
Part 1: Reducing Heat Demand
Part 2: Converting Gas Hot Water Tank To Electric
Part 3: Converting Gas Range to Induction
One gas appliance down (hot water tank), two to go! This post is about replacing my gas fired range/oven. The recently released Lancet Countdown 2020 Report hammers home the reasons why cutting fossil fuels is so important. After years of cooking on an electric range at the old apartment, I was actually kind of excited that our “new” house would have a “fancy” gas range. However, it turns out that excitement may have been manufactured surreptitiously by the fossil fuel industry. Either that or I was influenced by one too many reality TV cooking shows. Regardless, the honeymoon didn’t last long. With a toddler in the house, safety was the most pressing concern. Here is my list of pet peeves:
My toddler can reach the gas knobs and potentially explode the house
This one is pretty self explanatory. Also, the dishwasher is across from the stove, so every time I bend over to load/unload it, my butt would contact the gas knobs. These are things I don’t need to be worrying about.
Indoor Air Pollution
This report from the Rocky Mountain Institute shows that running a gas stove in the home tends to lead to elevated levels indoor air pollution, especially nitrogen dioxide. The report also highlights the fact young children are highly susceptible to indoor air pollution and suffer disproportionate effects compared to adults.
This meta-analysis of the health effects of gas cooking on children found that in homes with gas ranges, children faced a 42% increased risk of developing asthma symptoms and a 24% increased risk of ever being diagnosed with asthma. Scary stuff!
Another study on ultrafine particles found that of all range types, gas stoves were the worst polluters and that stove type was the most significant variable affecting pollution levels (other variables considered were cooking style, cooking temp, and status of exhaust fan).
All that said, I don’t need a study to tell me that it’s bad if I’m baking something and can smell the fumes when I enter the house even with the exhaust fan running full blast. Which brings me to my next pet peeve…
Curse that forever running obnoxiously loud exhaust fan! I was constantly yelling over it but couldn’t turn it off lest me and my family be forced to huff ever more fumes. Even after turning it off and sitting down to eat I could still hear it droning on in my head.
I honestly can’t believe people pick up those cast iron plates every time they cook. Are people really wiping and scraping burnt on debris from every nook and cranny multiple times a day, while trying not to dislodge those ceramic things precariously balanced on the burners? I can say I did it sometimes but most of the time the stove top looked… not great. Well, never again!
Literally no one is cleaning this thing up. Don’t do this to yourself if you don’t have to!
Constantly burning hands on pots
It took a few times to learn but I eventually figured out that with a gas range you never handle pots without oven mitts or, more likely, that rag that’s hanging from the dishwasher that you folded over a couple of times so that it doesn’t catch on fire while the screams of a thousand dead dinosaurs burn below. It turns out all the heat that is supposed to be cooking your food is actually going around the pot and cooking the pot handles on it’s way out the exhaust. Which brings be to my last pet peeve…
This is an energy blog after all. With all that heat going up the exhaust, gas ranges clock in at a shockingly low efficiency of about 40%. This means a gas stove is more aptly described as an outdoor space heater than a cooking device since more energy is going out the exhaust than into the food. Gas efficiency looks extra bad when compared to 74% for traditional electric ranges and 90% for induction ranges. So, what is the solution here?
Aside from gas, there are two main alternatives: traditional electric and induction. I had previously used a traditional electric stove my entire life so was comfortable with doing that again, but decided to investigate induction cooking to see if it might be worth taking the leap and trying the newer technology. Here are some videos I found helpful during my research:
The biggest driver of this project for me was safety, and it appeared that the induction technology had a number of safety advantages:
- element does not turn on if no pan is present
- cooktop itself doesn’t heat up. It only retains whatever heat conducts onto it from the pan, which quickly dissipates after cooking
- does not risk leaking explosive gas (also true of traditional electric)
- no knobs on the front (although this is an option if you want)
It sounded like with induction I could get arguably better performance than gas with better safety than traditional electric. When I tested my pots and found they were magnetic on the bottom and thus compatible, my decision was made and I ended up buying an entry level induction range.
The whole thing was immediately worth it the first time I boiled over some rice and literally wiped up the mess while the pot was still boiling! And did I mention that I could hear myself think as I wiped up the mess while the pot was still boiling because I wasn’t listening to the ungodly wail of the exhaust fan that wasn’t necessary because my house wasn’t filling up with pollutants? I was also able to pour the water out without searing my fingerprints onto the pot handle! And the sheer efficiency of the system is amazing: the pot itself is the thing that is heating up and directly cooking the food. Here’s a video of me boiling a pot of water in 3 minutes without even putting a lid on:
In terms of overall experience, there is a slight learning curve to figure out which temperature settings to use for various things. This stove has a wipable button panel interface for element control, so the user experience is slightly different than classic operating knobs. I found it easy to get used to and now there is less guess work to cooking. For example, for browning some ground meat (or meat alternative) I turn to level 6 or 7. If you are heating some oil in a pan, pay attention cause it gets hot fast!
The only benefit I see for gas or traditional electric in terms of cooking is that the heat distribution tends to be a bit more uniform for frying. If you are extremely picky about this, it might be worth further investigation to see if certain models of induction cooktops perform better than others on this metric. Also, if you like to pick up the pan and fling things around like on Iron Chef, the induction element turns off when the pan is lifted, so you don’t get the same effect. But I would also like to reiterate that since buying this range I haven’t huffed any gas fumes in my house and I have never had to scrape anything off the surface of the cooktop.
Other considerations that may affect your choice would be that gas can potentially operate in a blackout and in terms of reliability, gas has a longer track record. Although induction may be maligned for reliability due to electronic controls, part of my thinking is that most new gas ranges also have electronic control boards that would have similar reliability concerns. Interestingly, the control knobs on the so called “premium” gas range I replaced were made of cheap plastic and were constantly cracking (new OEM replacement knob is $103!!).
Note: if you have a pacemaker or insulin pump, you should confirm with the manufacturer whether it can be impacted by magnetic fields generated by induction cooktops.
Savings and Discussion
As I mentioned, the main driver of this project was safety but this blog series is about decarbonizing, so let’s take a look at the numbers for that. I completed this project about a month after the water tank project, so I don’t have a great deal of information on the direct gas consumption of cooking. There was only one gas bill that didn’t overlap, which showed that in ten days the gas range consumed 1m3 of gas (or about 3m3 per month). In such a small sample size this measurement might not reflect actual average use, but seems reasonable to me. The potential cost implications for such a low amount of energy consumption are fairly inconsequential (around $1-2/month). What I do know for sure is that I have now eliminated all fossil fuel consumption at my house aside from heating. After I installed the new range, my gas meter stopped moving temporarily (until winter). Woohoo!
So, where do we stand in terms of CO2 emissions? Based on discussions with Enbridge about my gas bills, I estimated in Part 1 that the previous owner was using about 1,389m3 of gas per year. After insulation/leak reductions and temperature setbacks, converting my hot water tank to electric, and converting my gas range to induction, my annual fossil fuel consumption is down to 735m3, a reduction of 47% compared to the previous owner. This works out to about 3 tons CO2 equivalent per year saved, equivalent to driving a gas powered car about 17,500km.
I would like to acknowledge that it may not be practical for many people to replace functioning appliances, even for safety reasons, especially where operational cost savings are nominal. However, I would like to point out that last time I checked online this induction range had the exact same price as the gas range of the same model line and manufacturer. If you are already in the market for a new range, there is zero incremental cost to upgrade to induction over gas (there may actually be much more cost to run gas lines). If you are replacing an old or broken appliance or remodeling your kitchen, I would consider induction to be a leading candidate. If you currently have a gas range, you should check to confirm you have an existing 240V outlet before upgrading to an induction one. Getting a new outlet installed and capping the gas line (which I had to do) may cost several hundred dollars.
Hopefully this blog has helped to shatter the myth of gas ranges as the premium option. Stay tuned for the next episode of Mike at Home: Cutting Fossil Fuels, which will look at the largest gas consumer of the typical home: the furnace. As always, feel free to get in touch to discuss your plans to kick the fossil fuel habit! We can do this together!