Suddenly, we seem to be inundated with the news that our beloved gas appliances are actually horrible ogres, spewing harmful chemicals, endangering our lives and our very existence on Earth.
But, just how bad are these appliances and what are the options for lowering your exposure to them?
Gas stoves emit a nasty mix of gases that primarily includes nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde. NO2 is of particular concern as even in low concentrations it can trigger breathing problems for people with asthma or pulmonary diseases. That burning blue flame is actually combustion—climate change emission release—happening right there in your kitchen. Emissions from gas stoves can be more than double World Health Organization recommended limits. It’s now recommended that you run your ventilation fan/hood on high whenever you use your gas range, but this only lowers the level of toxic gases if your hood ventilates to the outdoors.
Lara Levison, a long-time Ward 6 resident, started hearing about issues with gas stove emissions a couple of years ago. Her stove didn’t have a ventilation hood and installing one that would ventilate to the outside of her Capitol Hill rowhouse would require a reconfiguration of her kitchen. Lara started to look for other stove options, and after some research, she purchased an induction stove with an electric oven.
For Lara, the switch to an induction stove has been relatively easy, and cooking on it is a joy. She notes, “There was already a 240-volt electric outlet in place, and our electric panel had the capacity for an electric stove. The ceramic cooktop is flat and very easy to clean. We no longer have to deal with the messy and greasy grates that our gas stove had. And, as the induction stove top only heats at the contact point with the metal pot, the remaining area of the stove is at room temperature, so we’ve actually gained some counter space in our kitchen.” She also appreciates the efficiency of her induction range. “I can heat six cups of water in 3 minutes or less, and when I turn the heat level down, the reaction is immediate.” The downsides of her transition to induction have been minimal. Induction stoves cook food by sending a magnetic field through metal. This only works with pans that contain ferromagnetic metal. Lara had to part with her aluminum cookware and her wok, but she can still use her cast iron and stainless steel pots and skillets. There’s a hum when the induction range is on, but she’s gotten used to that.
Costs of Switching
There are costs for changing from gas to electricity. Gas is cheaper than electricity, so if you make the switch, you may see an increase in your electric bill. And, as noted, not all cookware will work on an induction range. To know if your cookware will, put a magnet to it. If it adheres to the pan, it will work. And, unfortunately, induction ranges are pricey with low-end residential models starting at over $1000 and going up to over $6000. For those who can’t afford this price but want to get rid of their gas stoves, there are options. Traditional (coil-type) electric stoves lack the energy efficiency and precise temperature regulation features of induction ranges, but neither produces the emissions that gas ranges create. The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) passed by Congress last year provides rebates for both electric and induction ranges along with a wide array of other electric appliances. The amount of the rebate depends on your income as compared to the median household income in your city.
The DC Council is also considering legislation that would work in tandem with the IRA and make the purchase, installation, and permitting of new electric appliances free for most DC households earning less than $80,000 per year. Healthy Homes and Residential Electrification Amendment Act of 2023 has a goal of converting at least 30,000 homes to fully electric appliances by 2040. The bill would also prohibit the installation of fossil fuel-burning appliances and heating systems in new public housing and in some public housing renovation projects. Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen is one of the council members who introduced the bill. He notes, “We have a rare opportunity to use big coming federal investments to help District residents make improvements on so many fronts: to have cleaner air in their homes, lower energy bills, and reduce emissions that contribute to climate change. Numerous studies have shown that burning natural gas–which is 80% methane–in homes, stoves, heaters, and other appliances, has negative health impacts, including contributing to childhood asthma. This bill is targeted to help households who couldn’t otherwise afford to make this switch.”
So how about it? Are you going to make the switch to an electric or induction range? You and your family could literally breathe easier.
Catherine Plume is a lifelong environmentalist, an urban homesteader, writer, and active member of the DC Chapter of the Sierra Club. Perspectives expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the positions of that organization.