Consumers want climate friendly options for home appliances, both for air quality and energy efficiency reasons. We broke down the pros and cons of three popular types of cooktops: gas, electric, and induction, to determine once and for all which is the best option for an eco-friendly kitchen.
Table of Contents
- The Pros and Cons of Gas Cooking
- Pros and Cons of Electric Cooking
- Pros and Cons of Induction Stovetops
Which type of stovetop is the most energy-efficient and healthy? Let’s look at the pros and cons of the three main types of cooktops: gas, electric, and induction.
A range can have either a single fuel source for both the cooktop and the oven or a dual fuel source. So, for example, your appliance might have a gas stovetop and electric oven or a gas oven and induction cooktop. Some cooktops have a mixture of electric and gas burners, but these are rare.
- Easier to control temperatures
- Instant heat
- Ability to char
- Fairly energy efficient
- Compromises indoor air quality, especially if unequipped with an exhaust hood
- Reduces the emission of indoor air pollutants
- Glass tops are easy to clean
- Relatively responsive to temperature changes
- Can be powered by a renewable energy source
- Generally the worst for energy efficiency
- Electric coils and elements heat inefficiently
- Self-cleaning modes can use significant amounts of energy
- The most energy efficient option for cooking
- Great for safety
- Don’t warm the air in the kitchen as much as gas or electric
- Faster to heat food or liquids
- Steep learning curve
- Typically far more expensive, and less readily available than electric or gas models
- Only work with cookware containing ferrous metal
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The Pros and Cons of Gas Cooking
Gas is often a favorite with keen cooks because it is easier to control temperatures and offers instant heat. You can easily char foods on a gas stove, which just isn’t an option with electric or induction. Gas is also fairly energy efficient, but check the British Thermal Unit (BTU) output of any gas stove before you buy. The lower the BTU, the more energy efficient the stove.
While natural gas is a fossil fuel, it may be more environmentally friendly than electricity in many places in the U.S. That’s because a large proportion of the electricity in the U.S. still comes from coal-burning power plants (which had much more relaxed emissions restrictions under the Trump administration). Thankfully, while coal-fired electricity generation was the largest source of electricity generation in the U.S. in 2015 (at 1.352 million GWh), by 2020 coal had dropped to third place (0.774 million GWh), behind both natural gas (1.617 million GWh) and nuclear generation (0.790 million GWh). So, electricity still isn’t as clean as I would like, but it is a little better than six years ago.
If you do decide on a gas stove, opt for a newer model that has an electric ignition. These models use up to 40 percent less gas than older models with a continually-burning pilot light (R).
One major downside of gas cooking is that it seriously compromises indoor air quality. This is particularly troublesome if your stove doesn’t have an exhaust hood. Gas stoves emit nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO), and formaldehyde (HCHO). These gases can present a real problem for anyone with asthma, emphysema, or any respiratory illness or other health issue.
Just how bad are gas stoves for indoor air quality?
Researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Stanford University recently developed a simulation model to estimate the likely exposure to noxious gases experienced by different household members when a gas stove is used in a typical fashion. They factored in air flow in the house, outdoor levels of NO2 and CO, and even assumptions about the proximity of small children to adults cooking breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
Their calculations suggest that gas stoves add 25–33% to indoor NO2 concentrations during summer and 35–39% in winter (because of lower ventilation in winter). Gas stoves were estimated to add 30% to the indoor air concentration in summer and 21% in winter (because CO concentrations are lower outdoor in summer). Gas stoves were estimated to add relatively little to indoor air formaldehyde levels because the major contributors were furniture and building materials. This demonstrates the importance of researching these when building and furnishing your home!
Worryingly, the researchers’ model found that household exposure reached and exceeded federal and California state health-based standards when a range hood was not used to vent cooking fumes. During a typical winter week, the researchers noted that 1.7 and 12 million Californians could be exposed to levels of carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide exceeding indoor air quality standards if they didn’t use a venting range hood while cooking. Given the spate of wildfires and outdoor air quality advisories already in effect in the state, this presents a significant public health issue in California. What’s more, small children, aged 0-5 in this model, were most at risk because of likely proximity to a parent or caregiver cooking a meal.
Mitigating problems with gas stoves
Using a range hood is important, therefore, to maintaining indoor air quality. Thankfully, quieter and more effective hoods are now fairly common, making it more likely that they will be used. And, if you’re wary of using a range hood that vents warm air outside, let the Scandinavians inspire you. Heat exchangers are common in Scandinavian countries, with range hoods reducing heat lost to the outdoors while eliminating unwanted fumes. Another good option is to switch a gas stove for an induction stove. This eliminates a significant amount of indoor air pollutants related to cooking.
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Pros and Cons of Electric Cooking
Using an electric coil stovetop instead of gas can significantly reduce the emission of indoor air pollutants. However, it is still important to use a venting range hood when you cook. This is because the simple act of cooking releases particulate matter and gases into the air.
Radiant electric stovetops with ceramic-glass surfaces and halogen elements are a decent choice for energy efficiency as they heat up quickly and are relatively responsive to temperature changes. They’re also fairly easy to clean. These only work well, however, when there is good contact between the hot glass and a flat-bottomed pan.
The good thing about electric stovetops is that you may be able to choose a renewable energy source to power your stove. This might be the result of installing solar panels on the roof of your home or switching to a green energy provider. This would help reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions and improve outdoor air quality as well as indoor air quality by cooking without gas.
Convection ovens also help reduce energy usage as fans circulate hot air to make cooking more energy and time efficient.
Unfortunately, electric coil stovetops are the worst for energy efficiency, especially if you don’t use pans that match the size of the coils and never clean your grease catchers (the shiny surface reflects heat).
Electric coils or elements transfer heat inefficiently and emit a lot of waste heat. They’re also quite unresponsive, meaning that energy may be wasted as they heat up or cool down before or after cooking. And, again, if you have pans and pots that aren’t entirely flat on the bottom, there’s a significant energy loss when using electric elements for cooking.
In terms of electric ovens, self-cleaning models are generally more energy-efficient because they have better insulation. That said, if you actually use the self-cleaning mode, this requires significant amounts of energy; any energy savings will be lost if you use the self-cleaning mode more than once a month. To minimize excess energy consumption, run the self-cleaning mode after the oven is already warm from cooking. And, as discussed above, self-cleaning models may emit noxious fumes from both their coatings and from burning foodstuffs.
Pros and Cons of Induction Stovetops
Induction stovetops are, by far, the most energy efficient option for cooking. These elements don’t actually heat up themselves. Instead, the flow of an alternating current (AC) through the ‘element’ creates an electromagnetic field that excites the molecules in ferromagnetic pots and pans placed on top of the glass stovetop. You can learn more about the science of induction here.
Because iron and steel aren’t very good electrical conductors, when their molecules get excited, they heat up, meaning that your pans and pots become the heat source instead of the element below. This means that the cooktop itself stays relatively cool and the heat is isolated to the pan. When the current is turned off, the pan cools very quickly. And, when you turn the current back on, the pan heats up very quickly.
As such, induction cooking is great for safety. You can even place a sheet of paper onto an induction cooktop and it won’t catch fire. Because the glass itself stays cool, this also makes it easier to clean your cooktop (no burnt on food!) and reduces energy waste.
If you hate cooking at the stove in the summer, induction cooking is ideal. These cooktops don’t warm the air in the kitchen anywhere near as much as a gas or conventional electric stove. This means that you also save on air-conditioning costs and energy usage. Induction cooktops are also great for smaller spaces including tiny apartments, dorm rooms, office kitchens, boats, or motor homes. They take up very little room and create very little excess heat. If you occasionally host big cookouts, consider getting a single or double portable induction cooktop. These quickly extend your cooking capacity for a party.
Other benefits of induction cooktops include easy programming – you can set some stoves to start, stop, and change temperatures at pre-programmed times and can even program elements to turn down the temperature when they detect water boiling (through vibrations) or when a pan is removed.
Just how energy efficient are induction cooktops?
Research clearly shows that induction cooktops are more energy efficient: gas cooktops are about 40 percent efficient; electric-coil and standard smooth-top electric cooktops are about 74 percent efficient, and induction cooktops are 84 percent efficient.
It’s also faster to heat food or liquids on an induction stove versus a gas stove (5.8 seconds vs 8.3 seconds to boil water in one experiment). And, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that while burning natural gas is marginally better than burning coal (to power an electric stovetop) in terms of carbon dioxide emissions, induction beats both hands-down (propane gas is the worst offender).
In the water boiling experiment just mentioned, natural gas released 1.16 pounds of CO2, compared to just 0.29 pounds with the induction stove (powered by the electricity grid). And, if you generate your own solar power, induction cooking becomes, in essence, emissions-free. Induction may also be better for indoor air quality because cooking requires less heat overall meaning lower effluent.
Many professional kitchens have switched to induction cooking in the last few years. This isn’t surprising, given that induction offers better control, speedier cooking, and reduced exposure to fumes.
Because induction cooking offers such precise control of heat, professional and home chefs have a much easier time making delicate sauces such as a béarnaise and melting and maintaining chocolate without needing a bain marie.
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Induction cooktops can present a steep learning curve. Indeed, you may have to quickly change some of your cooking habits when switching to an induction cooktop. For instance, you won’t have to wait for a pan of oil to warm while you chop your onions. The pan will be hot before you’ve peeled the onion’s skin. You will also need to get used to the element shutting off if you lift a pan, say to toss the contents around. And bear in mind that moving the pan around on the stovetop surface could damage the glass-ceramic.
European chefs and home cooks have long enjoyed using induction stovetops, and savvy U.S. customers frequently buy these appliances overseas and bring them home. Still, induction cooktops are typically far more expensive and far less available than electric or gas stovetops.
Thankfully, prices have dropped dramatically for home kitchen induction stovetops in the U.S. in recent years. This is, in part, because of their growing popularity.
One downside of induction cooktops is that they only work with cookware that contains ferrous metal. This means stainless steel, cast iron, or carbon steel. Some ceramic coated metal cookware can also be used on induction cooktops. And, if necessary, you can bridge the gap with an interface disk that transfers heat. Happily, cast iron is one of the most eco-friendly and healthy types of cookware anyway!
To check if your cookware will work with an induction stovetop, see if a magnet sticks to the bottom of the pot or pan.
One other consideration for induction cooking is that it can be hard to use for very large pots and pans, such as a paella pan. This is why some people opt for a stovetop that combines induction with natural gas burners.
Features to look for in an induction cooktop
When considering an induction stovetop, look for models that have the following features:
- Over-heat sensors
- Unsuitable cookware detectors
- Heat (watts) & Temperature (Degrees) control
- Delay timers
- Programmable memory functions
- Digital countdown timers
- Auto pan size detection
- Automatic shut-off
- Error codes for fault fixing
- Cooling fan noise
Because induction cooktops generate an electromagnetic field, this has raised concerns in some quarters. Rest assured that there’s no evidence of health problems related to the EMF generated by these devices. Indeed, the EMF drops off very quickly in a short distance (a couple of inches). So, if it happens at all, exposure is minimal and poses no risk.