The natural gas powered appliances in your home can be slowly killing you and everyone you love. This is the bad news. The worst news is: it’s not exactly clear what, if anything, you should do about it.
The dangers are well documented. Gas-fired water heaters—even the more efficient, tankless kind—regularly emit plumes of methane, a greenhouse gas that, in the short term, captures at least 100 times more atmospheric heat than carbon dioxide (per unit). Every minute it’s in your home, even when it’s off, your gas stove can be spewing dangerous pollutants and climate-warming gases into your kitchen.
About 13% of childhood asthma cases in the United States can be attributed to gas cooktops, a recent study found – a population-level effect similar to that of exposure to secondhand smoke.
So what’s a homeowner to do? If you spend time with environmentalists or energy experts, you’ll hear one simple answer: electrify! Most gas appliances can now be replaced with healthier and more efficient alternatives that run on electricity – for example heat pumps instead of gas ovens or induction cookers instead of gas burners. Electrification is also critical to the global plan to mitigate climate change: we will clean up the way we generate electricity (wind, solar) while electrifying everything we can (cars, factories, malls, houses) is the idea. Add government incentives and stir.
In some areas, such as the automobile, electrification is gaining ground. But at home? Electrifying our homes will be much slower, more expensive and more complicated than electrifying other areas of our lives. There’s also a growing political freakout – on Twitter and Fox News, the right wing are swearing allegiance to gas stoves as if they were AR-15s.
But whatever your policy, I’m not sure gas stoves are a hill to die for. Some electrical advances clearly make sense — in many places, getting solar panels on the roof is a no-brainer. But an induction cooker? An electric water heater? It’s difficult to say; Experts I spoke to said that whether humans should adopt these climate-assist systems depends on many factors. Houses are like people; They’re all sick in different ways, and some of them may just be too stuck to rehab.
Take the cooking. Researchers have been documenting the dangers of natural gas stoves for decades. Once upon a time, chefs and foodies justified gas with its superior culinary performance, but then came induction cookers, which use electricity to create a magnetic current that heats certain types of cookware. Induction cooktops can heat up and cool down faster than gas; Many hobby chefs and even professional chefs rave about it.
State and local governments have begun phasing out natural gas hookups in new homes, and the Biden administration’s inflation-mitigating law offers billions in new incentives for people to electrify their household appliances. A commissioner for the US Consumer Product Safety Commission recently told Bloomberg that the agency was considering a ban on gas stoves. (The commission and White House later dismissed any talk of a ban.)
Does that mean you should go electric? I don’t know – I don’t even know if I should get an induction cooktop.
In homes that already have electric cooktops, switching to induction can be relatively easy. But in my home, like millions of other gas stoves, getting an induction range would require extensive electrical work and capping my existing gas line. Induction cooktops also tend to cost a bit more than comparable gas cooktops (but new tax credits could change that). Plus, you don’t have to completely replace your range to mitigate the health hazards of cooking with gas – it’s a very good idea to upgrade your range hood and always turn it on if you have one.
It’s no surprise, then, that induction cooktops have had trouble catching on. According to a Consumer Reports survey, only about 3% of American homes have them.
“It can be quite complicated and expensive, and I’m not sure it’s worth it for a lot of people,” said Liam McCabe, a journalist for energy consultancy leader EnergySage who often writes about his own efforts to modernize his home from gas to gas electricity.
McCabe also pointed out that cooking is not the place to significantly improve your home’s environmental impact. heating and cooling is. On average, about half of the energy used by American homes is used for space heating and air conditioning; another 20% goes into hot water preparation. Everything else – lighting, cooling, TVs, computers, drying clothes and cooking – accounts for less than 30% of the average household’s energy use.
Instead of buying an induction cooker, you might make a lot more sense spending your money on a heat pump, an underrated and magical electrical device that can replace both a gas-powered oven and an air conditioner. But there might be an easier and cheaper thing to do first: seal your house. Ed May, a partner at environmental consulting practice bldgtyp, told me that many ways to improve your home’s environmental impact are “not all that exciting,” including “a lot, a lot of insulation.”
So, sure, your gas-powered stove might be after you. But it’s the Blast Furnace that could pose a greater threat. And don’t forget to isolate.
The New York Times