Which is greener, gas or electric cooking?

By: Cristen Conger  | 
Electric stove with a pot on the burner in a kitchen.
Green Living Image Gallery In general, gas stoves are more energy-efficient than electric ones. See more green living pictures.
Ivan Hunter/Getty Images

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. As a result, many people who wish to reduce their carbon footprint (not to mention their utility bills) debate which consumes less energy: the electric vs. gas stove.

Interestingly, stoves don't get as much attention as, say, power-hungry fridges, for burning up household energy. 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. In this article, we'll compare gas and electric stoves against induction cooktops, sharing how you can save money while reducing your energy consumption.


Why Gas Stoves May Trump the Electric Stove

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 gas or electric stoves save 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.


Green Cooking Methods

Pots and pans on an electric range stove.
Induction stovetops like this one are up to 50 percent more energy-efficient than gas and electric ones.
Yamini Chao/Getty Images

While the consumption debate of electric vs gas stove may favor the latter option, there's a caveat worth mentioning: the induction cooktop. If you're in the market for a new appliance and want to reduce your food-prep footprint, you might consider this option of the electric range.

Induction creates heat faster by magnetically accelerating metal molecules in steel, cast-iron, and some stainless steel pots. Once you remove the pot from the eye, the stove also cools much faster [source: Schaub]. Because it conforms to those specific metals, an induction stove transfers 90 percent of its heat to a pot [source: McGee].


On the other hand, gas appliances transfer just 35 to 40 percent of its heat to the pan on top of it, and an electric one delivers 70 percent [source: McGee]. Even natural gas stoves can't compete with the induction method. Just beware that the price tag could deter you. Most induction stovetops run between $600 and $4,000 for an average model.

Cooking Techniques Impact Climate Change, Too

When it comes to energy waste, the way you cook could wind up being a bigger factor than how you compare gas and electric ranges. For instance, when two people make the same meal, it's possible for one to use twice the energy doing so [source: Cureton and Reed]. The simple act of covering a pot of water will bring it to a boil in half the time it takes uncovered [source: McGee].

The pots and pans you select also make a difference in cooking time. To maximize the heat transmission on electric ranges, find flat-bottomed pans that make full contact with the eyes [source: Cureton and Reed]. Regularly clean the grease catchers under your burners since the shiny surface reflects heat and reduces cooking time.


Whether you prefer gas cooktops or an electric oven, being mindful of your cooking techniques can make a big difference, from an environmental perspective. There are many other helpful tips about conserving energy in the kitchen.

Surprisingly Green Gas and Electric Models

Size matters on the stove and in the oven. Pull out the Dutch ovens and stew pots when preparing large amounts of food. However, there are many opportunities to cook without requiring a gas line or electric cooktop.

Other cooking appliances can cut down on cost and energy as well. Microwaving is one of the cheapest and most energy-efficient cooking methods, using two-thirds less power than electric ovens [source: Cureton and Reed]. But since microwaves are more suitable to reheating rather than cooking, try out a toaster oven for baking small dishes.


Two people in a kitchen enjoy a meal from a toaster oven.
For smaller meals or reheating, try a toaster oven or microwave.
Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty Images

For more ideas about cooking and turning your house into an eco-haven, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. "Efficient Cooking." Updated August 2007. (May 28, 2008) http://www.aceee.org/consumerguide/cooking.htm
  • Buildings Energy Data Book. "Residential Sector Expenditures." US Department of Energy. September 2007. (May 28, 2008) http://buildingsdatabook.eere.energy.gov/docs/4.2.1.pdf
  • Cureton, Maureen and Reed, David. "Home Energy Brief -- Cooking Appliances and Dishwashers." Rocky Mountain Institute. 1995. (May 28, 2008) http://www.p2pays.org/ref/32/31144.pdf
  • Energy Information Administration. "US Household Electricity Report." US Department of Energy. July 14, 2005. (May 28, 2008) http://www.eia.doe.gov/emeu/reps/enduse/er01_us.html
  • McGee, Harold. "The Invisible Ingredient in Every Kitchen." The New York Times. Jan. 2, 2008. (May 28, 2008) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/02/dining/02curi.html
  • TreeHugger. "How to Green Your Kitchen." Feb. 15, 2008. (May 28, 2008) http://www.treehugger.com/files/2008/02/how-to-green-your-kitchen.php