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.
Green Cooking Methods
If you're in the market for a new stove and want to reduce your food-prep footprint, you might consider one that works by induction. 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, a gas burner transfers just 35 to 40 percent of its heat to the pan on top of it, and an electric one delivers 70 percent [source: McGee]. Just beware that the price tag could deter you. Induction stovetops run between $700 and $1,300 for an average model [source: Induction Cooking]. Standard gas and electric models hover just above $300.
When it comes to energy waste, the way you cook could have more to do with it than the stove that supplies it. 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 stoves, 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. Also, size matters on the stove and in the oven. Only pull out the Dutch ovens and stew pots when preparing large amounts of food.
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.
For more ideas about cooking and turning your house into an eco-haven, visit the links on the next page.
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