Gas stoves are a hot topic. A new study has linked them to one in eight cases of childhood asthma, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission said it would look into banning them, and Republicans have expressed anger at the mere suggestion.
At the same time, federal and state policies are aimed at giving a boost to gas stoves’ main competitors – regular electric and induction stoves.
What does all this mean to you? We will break it down in this explainer.
Are gas stoves a source of indoor air pollution?
Undoubtedly yes. There are two ways gas stoves pollute your home. The first is the most obvious: when they are in use. Burning the gas creates heat, which causes the nitrogen and oxygen to bond between the flames. They combine to create nitric oxide and nitrogen dioxide, known collectively as NOx, which can irritate the lungs. But that’s not the only compound to worry about. Cooking on gas can also emit carbon monoxide, particulate matter and even formaldehyde. They all have various detrimental health impacts and can affect both the respiratory and cardiovascular systems.
There’s probably a more insidious form of pollution emanating from your stove. A growing body of research shows that gas stoves emit toxic compounds even when not in use. Among the most worrying is benzene, a carcinogen. A study by PSE Health Energy found benzene in 99% of samples taken from homes in California. Other chemicals discovered include xylene, toluene, and ethylbenzene, which can also cause breathing problems and cancer.
Talor Gruenwald, lead author of the new asthma study and a researcher at Rewiring America, said the finding “demonstrates that this is a real public health challenge that we have to address.”
How much pollution are we talking about here?
Much. The PSE Health Energy study found that gas stoves can emit as much benzene as a cigarette, making them similar to secondhand smoke.
“You can achieve the same level of benzene just by having a stove off in your home as you would expect to see in a home with a smoker,” said Seth Shonkoff, executive director of PSE Energy Health and research associate at the University of California, Berkeley. .
This is, of course, only when the stove is on. off. Research published last year found that NOx emissions when a stove is in use can exceed federal safety standards for outdoor air quality in a matter of minutes. Therefore, Shonkoff referred to stoves as “stationary air pollution machines inside people’s homes”, even though they are not subject to the same standards of pollution as outside air.
Gruenwald also compared stoves to having a smoker around, saying, “Frankly, the stove will be the main source of pollution if you don’t live in a house with a smoker.”
Gas stoves are also terrible for the climate. Methane emissions from gas stoves in the US are equivalent to adding 500,000 cars to the road each year.
Can you test gas stove pollution at home?
In truth no. While there are a variety of indoor air quality sensors for things like carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter, there aren’t cheap home versions for testing NOx, benzene, and other household pollutants. There are fairly affordable instruments for detecting gas leaks, but Shonkoff said they are more geared towards significant leaks than the everyday emissions from gas stoves. (And if you smell gas, call the dealership or emergency services immediately.)
He added that the tools used by academics cost anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Does using a hood/ventilator make a difference?
Absolutely yes. Turning on the ventilation when cooking is vital to taking air pollution outside. This is not an ideal solution as it only turns indoor air pollution into outdoor air pollution. But it’s better than having it in high concentrations at home, where it can do more damage to your lungs.
What else can be done to reduce indoor air pollution from gas stoves?
For those without a hood over the stove (like me), Shonkoff said that even opening the windows is a good tactic for clearing the air. Even better would be to put a fan in the window to help suck in the air inside.
Of course, the best way to reduce gas stove pollution is to not have a gas stove in the first place.
What are some gas stove alternatives?
Electric stoves come in two main flavors: standard and induction. Standard electric stoves run electricity through a wire to generate thermal heat.
Induction cookers are becoming more and more fashionable. Instead of generating thermal heat, induction cooktops generate heat electromagnetically. When you turn on an induction cooktop, electricity flows through a coil that creates a magnetic field. I won’t explain exactly how this heats your pots and pans (more info here if you’re interested), but it does.
What you need to know is that the magnetic field directly heats the pots and pans – and their contents – rather than transferring heat like traditional stoves. The stove itself does not heat up. In fact, you can turn on an induction burner and put your hand on it. (Just don’t do this after a hot pot is on the surface.) Also, unlike traditional electric stoves, induction stoves don’t take long to heat up. This makes them more analogous to gas stoves. But they are more efficient than gas stoves. Tests have shown that they can bring a pot of water to a boil in half the time of a gas stove.
How much does an induction cooker cost compared to a gas cooker?
Switching from gas to induction can be expensive. A cursory glance at large retailer Lowe’s shows that the least expensive gas cooktop is $529, while the least expensive induction cooktop is $1,199, at the time of publication.
Switching from gas to induction also comes with other costs. Induction cooktops don’t plug into standard wall outlets, so an electrician will likely have to rewire your kitchen. And induction cooktops only work with certain types of pots and pans. If you own a set of copper or aluminum cookware, you will likely have to invest in some new pots and pans.
Are there ways to cut costs?
You’re in luck, because the answer is yes. If you’re induction-curious and want to dip your toe, there are plenty of single-burner induction cooktops to get you started. Wirecutter’s top pick comes in at $117, making it a reasonable entry point, while its budget pick is even cheaper. You could buy four and put them on your gas stove and voilà, you’ve got an induction cooktop for under $500. This is admittedly a clumsy solution, though.
In the US, the Reduction of Inflation Act includes rebates of up to $840 for buyers who purchase an induction or electric cooktop. If you earn less than 80% of the median household income in your area, you qualify for the entire discount. For those earning between 80% and 150% of the average household income, you can get a discount of up to half the cost of a new stove.
For people switching from gas to electric, there is an additional $500 to cover installation costs. Rewiring America has a calculator to reveal which stove tax credits and rebates and other electrification benefits you qualify for under the Inflation Reduction Act.
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