The Science Behind the Gas Stove Kerfuffle 

There’s been a lot of talk lately on gas stoves. It either goes along the lines of, “Gas stoves are toxic, run for your lives!” or on the flip side you may have heard, “The feds are coming for your stoves, cooking will never be as good again.” So which is it? Is my gas stove killing me or is the controversy a tempest in a teapot? Let’s dig in. 

It is a proven fact that having a gas stove in your house poses a health risk by creating indoor air pollution. The impact gas stoves have on childhood asthma development is similar to a child being exposed to secondhand smoking. So yeah, something to think about when shopping for your next range or cooktop. 

Gas stoves produce two kinds of indoor air pollution. First, your gas stove is burning natural gas and that combustion produces NOx pollution in your kitchen, which can far exceed air quality standards. Second, gas stoves leak natural gas, even when they’re turned off. We can’t forget that natural gas is 95% methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas that is severely hurting our climate.  But it’s actually that other 5% that is a health risk in your home. A recent study found 296 unique Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in residential natural gas. If the world “volatile” didn’t make it clear, this includes 21  known hazardous air pollutants like benzene, hexane, toluene, and more. 

Asthma and Gas Stoves By the Numbers 

Although gas stoves have been recognized among air quality researchers as a health risks similar to secondhand smoking, nobody had calculated how many people are affected by it. Until now. A paper published a few weeks ago found that 12.7% of childhood asthma cases are associated with natural gas stove use. In the intermountain west we have slightly lower than average gas stove usage, so we’re likely closer to 10% of childhood asthma cases. But, unfortunately, the number of homes with gas stoves has been climbing, from ~20% of homes in 2009 to ~30% of home in 2020, so we’re likely increasing the amount of childhood asthma in Utah caused by natural gas stove usage. 

So Should I Haul My Gas Stove to the Curb Right Now? 

Not necessarily, there are several important factors to consider for your home. Indoor pollution from gas stoves is worse if you have a smaller kitchen or if you don’t have a good range hood (that is vented outside and that you actually use). Your health risk profile also matters: do you have children or elderly people in your house? Anyone who struggles with other health risk factors that could be exacerbated by poor indoor air quality? Also, can you afford to upgrade your stove? These factors are especially important from an environmental justice lens since lower-income folks are the most likely to have these risk factors and are least able to upgrade. That’s why Utah Clean Energy is working to supply countertop induction hot plates to over 150 underrepresented families as part of our community engagement work in 2023. In addition, we are continuing ongoing efforts through our Empower SLC program to help traditionally underserved communities on the Westside learn about energy efficient appliances as well as taking advantage of current utility rebates and incentives. 

If you’re ready to ditch gas, you’re in luck because there’s never been a better time! New induction stoves are more powerful and precise than gas stoves and are cost competitive. They’re also easy to clean, don’t pollute indoor air, and don’t dump excess heat in your kitchen. I was surprised to learn that professional cooks prefer cooking with induction for all these reasons. Also, the Inflation Reduction Act has allocated millions of dollars in funding to states to provide rebates for energy efficient electric appliances – including induction cooktops or ranges – to low- and moderate-income households (we are waiting for these rebate programs to be set up, but you can use this calculator to get an initial estimate of how much you may be eligible for). I made the switch a year ago and was astonished that my large spaghetti pot of water boils in 8 minutes on induction as compared to 20 minutes with gas! We did have to swap out a couple of pots, but it really wasn’t a big deal and now we have a few new pots. 

Energy efficient, electric homes are an important part of Utah’s clean air transition. The bottom line is we have excellent, cost-competitive, all-electric cooking options that don’t pollute indoor air and provide an excellent cooking experience. It’s worth your time to check out the options and see what’s best for your home. 

AUTHOR

Logan Mitchell, PhD

Climate Scientist & Energy Analyst

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