Which is greener, gas or electric cooking?

Green Living Image Gallery In general, gas stoves are more energy-efficient than electric ones. See more green living pictures.
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We burn up to a third of our total household energy in the kitchen and laundry room [source: U.S. Household Electricity Report]. This happens because heavy-duty appliances such as washers, dryers, refrigerators and dishwashers siphon considerable amounts of power to operate on a daily basis. In fact, refrigerators usually suck up the most electricity of all common domestic devices [source: Energy Star].

But one prominent kitchen fixture is noticeably absent from that list. What about the stoves that cook the food that goes into the power-hungry fridges? Even Energy Star, the U.S. government's measuring stick for consumer goods' greenhouse gas emissions, does not mandate energy use standards for these culinary monoliths.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that cooking accounts for 4.5 percent of the energy we use at home [source: U.S. Department of Energy]. Because that's a relatively tiny slice of our household carbon emissions, the question of whether a gas or electric stove saves more energy isn't a burning one for people looking to minimize their carbon footprints [source: American Council for Energy Efficient Economy].

Nevertheless, does one have any advantages over the other, particularly for the casual chefs among us? Because gas burners provide instant heat, and cooks have greater control over the temperatures, they're generally more energy efficient than their electric competitors [source: Directgov]. When you turn on a gas stove, you instantly get a flame, whereas electric stoves often take longer to heat and cool. Also, newer models that use an electric ignition rather than a continually-burning pilot light use up to 40 percent less gas [source: State of Minnesota].

The heat we feel from electric stoves traces back to coal-burning power plants [source: TreeHugger]. According to the Rocky Mountain Institute, this process spends three or four units of fuel in exchange for one unit of electricity [source: Cureton and Reed]. At the same time, gas stovetops are not environmentally perfect either, since they hook up to natural gas pipelines.

What's a cook to do? Read the next page to learn about other options for making your meals more environmentally friendly.