Induction, How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways. . .
How we cook our food plays a big role in our ability to fully decarbonize our lives and keep our families healthy. While less significant in its emissions compared to other home activities like space and water heating, cooking can be one of the last holdouts in the transition to an all electric, zero carbon home. Gas stoves have long been a gateway drug that fossil fuel companies use to get into homes in the first place–few people care about what fuel heats their water or air, but many have an emotional attachment to cooking and the ability of gas to quickly respond to temperature changes. Electrifying cooking, with induction, eliminates any reason to have gas in the home.
Fortunately this is now another case in which a newish and vastly superior clean technology has arrived just in time to (help) improve our lives and save the planet at the same time: induction ranges (or stoves) provide immense benefits, and really no drawbacks, compared to gas cooking. Induction ranges (oven + stovetop) and cooktops (stovetop only) are relative newcomers to the clean tech scene, and they change the rules of the game in which the gas industry claims to have the best option for cooking.
Induction stove. Image courtesy of Samsung
The ability of induction ranges to eliminate the need for gas piped to your home, and help transition the economy towards all-electric clean renewable energy, makes them a game changer, and what we call a “big move” in our series Decarbonize Your Life.
Before induction, home chefs had two choices: gas burners or electric coils. With its ease of control and cozy blue flames that hearken back to human’s prehistoric love of fire, gas clearly had the upper hand. Old school electric resistance coils take forever to heat up and cool down, making temperature control a challenge, and giving them a clear disadvantage.
Induction technology, on the other hand, creates an electromagnetic field that directly heats iron in pans, so rather than heating the space under a pan, like a traditional range, the heat comes from within the pan itself. It feels a little like magic. (Here’s more info about the science if you’re into eddy currents, induction hobs, and varying magnetic fields.) Like so many efficient, clean energy technologies, (heat pumps, electric vehicles and solar panels) the history of induction stoves actually goes way back, in the case of induction 100 years. Significant research really began in the 70’s with a few select products available in the 80’s and 90’s, and in the last decade induction cooking’s moment has arrived.
One of the first patents for an induction cooktop from 1909. By Andy Dingley (scanner) - Scan from Kennedy, Rankin (1909 edition) Electrical Installations, vol. II, London: Caxton, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10776258
Induction is now entering the mainstream. Currently 3% of homes in the U.S. have induction but the market has grown over 40% in the last two years, and 70% of homeowners say they would consider induction for their next stove according to Consumer Reports.
The Many Reasons to Love Induction
Our family has been cooking with induction for the last five years and see all pros, and only one con (see the next section), when it comes to this technology that is undoubtedly the future of cooking.
Environmental: Our number one reason for transitioning to induction is that you can cook with electricity AND ensure your cooking fuel comes from clean, renewable sources. Induction is slightly (5-10%) more efficient than electric coils and much more efficient (300%) than gas according to ENERGY STAR. Cooking accounts for only 4-5% of energy use in the home so you’ll see only modest carbon reductions by switching to induction, but the critical decarbonization benefit is that it allows you to remove gas from your home without any sacrifice. And burning “natural” gas emits multiple greenhouse gasses, including methane, an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon. A recent study found that 75% of methane emissions occur when the stove is off.
Health: By now we’ve all probably heard that an accumulating body of research shows that gas is a threat to human health as a major source of indoor air pollution. Cooking with gas releases toxins like nitrogen oxides, particulate matter, and carbon monoxide, all of which exacerbate asthma and cardiovascular disease. This indoor pollution affects us all but is especially dangerous for vulnerable populations like children and lower-income households which tend to have more people and less ventilation in the home. A 2022 New York Times article interviewed a Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) researcher whose study found that, “For children who live in a home with a gas stove, the increased risk of asthma is on par with living in a home with a smoker.” While there are no regulations for a home’s indoor air quality, the RMI study found that some gas stoves emit indoor nitrogen dioxide (NO2) at levels above the outdoor standards.
Image courtesy of Electrify Now
Safety: A related safety benefit is that induction only heats the pans and pots and not the space around them, reducing cooktop temperatures and nearly eliminating the possibility that anyone will be burned. There are lots of YouTube videos showing people cooking with a paper towel underneath their induction burner to prove this point. Induction burners also turn off automatically after 10 seconds when they don’t detect a pan, and they cool down much faster after use.
Image courtesy of Electrify Now
Control: Induction stovetops exceed gas in their ability to quickly change and control heat. There is no lag time with induction cooking like there is with electric resistance. Sauce bubbling too much? Lower your heat setting and it will almost instantly simmer more slowly. Induction offers excellent low heat settings that gas burners typically struggle with—no more burned rice on the bottom of the pan!
Speed: You can boil six cups of water in two minutes. Enough said. Amaze your family and friends with this trick and no need to plan an extra 15 minutes to boil a pot of water for your supposedly quick pasta dinner. Induction stoves are twice as fast as gas or old electric coils.
Image courtesy of Electrify Now
Ease of Cleaning: The solid surface of an induction range means you can clean it with the swoop of a sponge. This is vastly superior to the time and effort to remove the many parts of a gas or electric coil range to get it pristine. Plus, the smooth surface provides yet another kitchen prep space when not in use. This can be a major perk in small kitchens like ours.
Future Proofing: As of writing, over 100 cities around the country (including New York City) have banned gas in new buildings with some of those laws also including a phase our strategy for existing buildings. Why not embrace the future and get induction before you have to?
Our Induction into Induction
Like many of our technological decarbonization transitions, we replaced our stove out of necessity. We bought our house with an old electric coil stove and used it for several years before it stopped working. We weren’t quite ready to make an investment in induction (and were really prioritizing used products at the time) so we bought a $150 replacement off Craigslist and used it for about a year. We slowly researched induction options, which were limited in late 2017, and when the Craigslist stove also broke, we were ready to order our shiny, new, Kitchenaid Induction model which was delivered on New Year’s Day. It was an exciting way to usher in 2018! At $2900, it was (and still is) our most expensive appliance purchase ever. Fortunately, Consumer Reports has reported on a recent price decline in induction stoves and notes many of their recommended models now sell for under $1000.
Our Kitchenaid Induction Stove
The install was fairly easy. We already had a 220 volt outlet, but it was the older 3-prong version, without grounding, rather than the modern 4-prong one.
4-prong, 240-volt modern outlet with grounding (left), 3-prong, older 240-volt outlet (right). Image courtesy of Fred’s appliances.
We had a handy person replace the wire and outlet and run a new 4-prong wire from our electrical panel for a couple hundred dollars. The only hiccup was that the stove plug stuck out of the outlet about an inch so we couldn’t push the stove all the way back to the wall. Our old stove had a gap at the bottom that the plug could tuck into but our new induction one didn’t. We had to cut back the drywall and shimmy the outlet and plug a little deeper into the wall so that the stove could be flush.
The one (and only) con for us is that our stove model has a bit of a learning curve. The button plus slider interface was not as intuitive as knobs which is why many newer induction models are moving to knobs. But we quickly learned the push button and slider technology. When we rent our house on Airbnb, or have a new babysitter, we do need to provide basic instructions.
Controls like this have a learning curve and many newer models are moving to knobs which are more intuitive. Image courtesy of Maytag.
Once you get used to it, you realize how archaic it feels to try to guess the amount of heat you’re providing to your pots and pans by eyeballing a flame, compared to selecting a precise number or dial setting on your stove.
A major perk is that our three year old can help stir pots or pans (as long as the contents aren’t boiling) and there is no risk of her burning herself on live flames. We now take this for granted as our kids like to pull up stools and help with cooking in a way that feels much less risky than before. If they drop a towel on the stove while cooking, or even touch a burner, no big deal.
Last year, for Thanksgiving, we rented an Airbnb with a gas stove and did a lot of holiday cooking. After not using gas for several years, the difference in experience was striking! We could feel the particulate matter infiltrating our eyes and lungs. The flames blew every which way, making us hot, and we had to remind the kids to stay back. It was terrifying when one burner didn’t ignite and we had to wait for the smell of gas to then light a match to make it catch. How is this form of cooking still legal in our homes? It felt crazy to be using these flames inside an enclosed, all wood house in the woods.
Three years after buying our initial induction stove, we also bought two induction ranges for a family duplex in Cleveland that we helped renovate. These were significantly less expensive Frigidaire models ($1100 each) and function more intuitively, with dials, so no special instructions are necessary. The house is generally rented on Airbnb and we’ve never had a guest complaint or question about the stove.
Great Induction Resources
Last year, Joe got to interview and record a live cooking demonstration from professional chef and “appliance whisperer,” Rachelle Boucher, who touts the joys, advantages, and importance of cooking with induction. Rachel has decades of induction cooking experience, works at the Building Decarbonization Coalition who runs the “Now We’re Cooking” program and co-founded Kitchens to Life to “Elevate the electric kitchens conversation, educate stakeholders about today’s remarkable cooking options and facilitate the adoption and enjoyment of electric kitchens for performance, people and planet.” She originally became an induction advocate because of the cooking benefits and only later learned about the environmental impacts. Quick plug also for a free webinar we’ll be hosting with Electrify Now (which also has great resources on Induction) on June 14, with experts to answer all your questions on induction cooking.
It’s time to add induction stoves to your list of home improvement priorities so you can look forward to the improved cooking experience, safety and human health benefits in your future. It’s one more (very important) piece in the decarbonization puzzle that enables us to get fossils out of our home. In our next article we’ll help get you ready to buy an induction stove, by profiling all the things to consider when making the investment.
This article is part of a series called Decarbonize Your Life. With modest steps and a middle-class income, our family has dramatically reduced emissions and is sequestering what remains through a small reforestation project. Our life is better for it. If we can do it, you can too.