Which Is Greener, a Gas or an Electric Stove?

Silver pot over a blue gas flame on a stove

 Rosmarie Wirz / Getty Images

Over at BuildingGreen, Alex Wilson describes his new home, and his choice of an electric induction cooktop.

I had read too many articles about health risks of open combustion in houses; I didn’t want to expose our children to those combustion products. And I knew that even the best outside-venting range hoods don’t remove all of the combustion products generated when cooking with gas.

Over at the Alter residence, we cook with gas. The idea of using electricity seemed silly; burning coal or natural gas to make heat to boil water to spin a turbine to generate electricity to push down a wire to... make heat? This has got to be a losing proposition.

And it is; natural gas emits 117 pounds of CO2 to make a million BTUs of heat, while the US national average for generating electricity is 401.5 pounds of CO2 per million BTU. (source) Using an electric range is just exposing everybody's kids to the dangers of combustion products, the mercury, particulates and CO2 that comes from the generation of electricity. Sort of...

But it depends on where you live.

Alex lives in Vermont, which is shifting to renewable sources of power; I live in Ontario, where coal has almost completely been cut from the system and I pay extra for green power from Bullfrog, so the CO2 argument is less relevant.

What about those combustion products?

Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde. According to Wendee Nicole in Environmental Health Perspectives, a recent study by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory modelled the exposure:

Gas burners were estimated to add 25–33% to the week-averaged indoor NO2 concentrations during summer and 35–39% in winter. The variability between seasons likely reflected the fact that air ventilation is lower in winter. For CO, gas stoves were estimated to contribute 30% and 21% to the indoor air concentration in summer and winter, respectively. The model predicted that when homes did not use venting range hoods, household exposures frequently exceeded benchmarks the authors set based on federal and state health-based standards.
Stainless steel stovetop with a range hood
Dana Hoff / Getty Images

TreeHugger types usually are not impressed with federal and state standards, either. But surely, a hood would make a big difference? In fact, "In colder climates, people may not want to use vents because they send warm indoor air outside." I have also found that most hoods are noisy, too far from the range to be effective, uselessly mounted over island ranges or are blocked by greasy filters. There is also a cost and a footprint to heating or cooling the 400 CFM of air that the hood fan is pushing out of the house.

See The most screwed up, badly designed, inappropriately used appliance in your home: the kitchen exhaust

Really, after reading this, it seems silly that I would be concerned about the VOCs and chemicals released in every cleaning product that comes into our house while ignoring the products of combustion that come from burning gas indoors. I think I have no choice but to reverse my previous stance and admit it:

Ronald Reagan was right

So is Alex Wilson. It turns out that if you have access to clean, green sources of power, it really is better to live better electrically.

For a good explanation of how induction cooking works, read Allison Bailes here.