By John-Michael Cross
In my job, I spend a lot of time talking about the advantages of building electrification—the process of switching to efficient electric heating and other electric appliances. But here’s a confession: my own home relies on natural gas. My partner Gillian and I bought our newly-renovated 120-year-old home in Saint Paul, Minnesota, in 2018. It came with all-new appliances, most of which were powered by gas: the furnace, water heater, clothes dryer, and stove. After buying the house, the last thing on our minds was ripping out perfectly good appliances. But three years later, we made our first big change and jumped to induction cooking.
Why? Well, that was Gillian’s incredulous question when I first brought up the possibility. Our gas stove worked just fine. (I had to learn to be more precise about kitchen terminology during this process: ‘stove’ and ‘range’ are terms for an appliance that combines an oven and cooktop into one unit.) Gillian is an avid home cook and baker. In her experience, gas was far preferable to electric: more responsive, easier to fine-tune, and theoretically easier to avoid burns. And sure, induction was a new-and-improved version of electric cooking, but wouldn’t we need special pans for it to work? Doesn’t it limit the ways we can cook? Why would we spend money on this when our gas stove was working just fine?
There’s a lot to unpack here. First off, concerns about compatible pans were overblown. Any iron or steel-plated pan works great. The problem is with aluminum and copper pans, which are not magnetic. Figuring out what cookware is compatible is as simple as seeing if you can stick a fridge magnet to the bottom. Nearly all of our pans passed the test. Next, we bought a $40 induction hotplate to experiment with. We cooked all sorts of meals on it and were pleased with the results. The biggest takeaway was speed: it boiled water and thoroughly heated our heavy cast iron pans much faster than we were used to, and the temperature could be easily fine-tuned. All of this made us feel excited about making the potential switch.
But was that enough to justify the expense? Maybe not, but what really sealed our decision was learning about how gas stoves contribute to indoor air pollution.
In what seems obvious in hindsight, allowing gaseous fossil fuels to flow into your living area is bad for you. With a furnace, at least, the combustion happens in a sealed environment. But gas cooktop and oven combustion needs to occur right in front of you, and the leaked methane that doesn’t burn has high concentrations of nitrous oxides and other harmful pollutants. Cooking with gas is the top way that many of us pollute our homes, leading to various health problems, including exacerbating flu and asthma in kids. A hood vent can be helpful, though there is evidence that cooktops and ovens leak pollutants even when turned off, so the vent would need to always be on. But many kitchen fans (including ours) don’t actually vent dirty air to the outside, but only blow the air upwards, doing nothing for your indoor air quality. So our eat-in kitchen, the hub of our house where our young kids spend a ton of time, was chock full of dangerous pollution thanks to our gas stove. Once Gillian and I understood that, its days were officially numbered.
We were now in the market for an induction stove. Specifically, a standard-width slide-in stove. The process was less consumer-friendly than I’d expected. I thought that any online or physical store with a decent selection of stoves would have a distinct lineup for induction technology. But no, we had to hunt for the right models, both at big box stores and locally-owned home appliance centers. The main issue was distinguishing induction stoves from more-traditional “smooth top” electric stoves. Manufacturers, it turns out, typically use the exact same design for both their induction and non-induction electric stoves, and then do very little to differentiate them. Here is an example from the GE line and how the models are featured on one major retailer’s website:
In-store signage and placement didn’t help. At each store we visited, stove types were all mixed together, and not always by brand. It took some time to track down what induction models were available (if any). In the end, the best way to tell was by price. Most induction stoves cost more than $2,000, while most non-induction electric stoves cost a lot less.
We opted for the GE Profile induction stove (pictured above) at $2,600. We liked the layout of the control panel and its overall look and feel. It came recommended by a friend and was well-reviewed online, with high marks for reliability, power, and temperature control. We strongly considered a well-reviewed Frigidaire model at about half the price, but it lacked a convection fan for the oven and the control panel seemed somewhat annoying to use.
I want to take a moment here to discuss my privileges in having been able to undertake this entire decision-making process and choose a more expensive model. I think about electrification for a living, so I came into this with background knowledge. I had the time to do research on the different models. More importantly, my partner and I had the money to rip out and donate a working appliance and pay over $2,000 to replace it in a house that we own. For renters, lower-income households, or people without the time or ability to do research on this, switching to an induction stove may be far out of reach. More needs to be done to make these stoves and their health benefits more accessible. The Inflation Reduction Act will help by providing funds to states to give income-qualified rebates for switching to electric appliances and installing the needed wiring upgrades—though these rebates are not expected to be available until early 2024. For those who miss out on the rebates or only see a portion of their project costs covered, on-bill financing could be used to make these upgrades more affordable and accessible.
The wiring upgrade rebates will be a boon to help with this often-overlooked cost. The upgrades we needed almost matched the cost of the stove itself. Many appliance retailers offer free or low-cost installation, but that only works if you have the proper hookups ready. Our kitchen was not wired for an electric stove, so we needed an electrician to install a 220-volt hookup. We also needed to install an electric subpanel, since our main panel was already full. And we would need a plumber to cap the gas line coming into the kitchen for the existing stove. Altogether this was, as you might guess, expensive. It was also somewhat tricky to schedule both a plumber and electrician to come to the house on the same day, even when they were both employed by the same home service provider.
My big takeaway while collecting quotes was that electricians and plumbers are much more used to being asked to remove an old electric stove and install a new gas one, not the other way around. There is no standard “gas to induction stove” package—at least not yet—and the plumber was especially fascinated to hear we were going in that direction. So I needed to reiterate what I wanted to be done several times. And when our friendly, competent electrician finally arrived, even he was surprised that we wanted to do this.
All that to say, if you set out to make the switch as we did, be prepared to do some trailblazing. Or at least expect to explain yourself more than once. Ultimately, making the why clear will be really valuable to other people, too! The more that retailers and contractors understand that consumers actually want to switch to electric, the better able they will be to help future customers.
We have had the induction stove for a few months now, and it has been fantastic. No complaints or regrets. There was a slight learning curve to figure out how hot a pan would get at different settings, but otherwise the transition has been seamless. The power and precision were better than we had hoped. Cooking with cast iron pans has never been easier. The ability to fine-tune a low simmer, for example, is much better than with our previous gas stove. Water boils incredibly fast, which actually led to one (joking) complaint from Gillian: she was used to chopping vegetables and getting a lot of other meal prep done while waiting for water to boil, but now that timing does not work anymore. Beyond cooking performance, the stovetop is a lot easier to keep clean and we feel safer letting our eight-year-old learn to cook. But the best part is that we no longer have the gas odor (and all that means for our indoor air quality). Wait, no—the best part will be not opening our windows during this Minnesota winter to vent the fumes.
This post was previously published on eesi.org and under a Creative Commons license CC BY-ND 4.
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