Home on the range

The energy-efficient way of using cooking appliances
By Hannah McKenzie
Home on the range

Whether you choose a freestanding stove, or a cooktop and separate oven, the energy use will be the same.

Q: I am remodeling my kitchen and wanted to replace my old appliances with Energy Star appliances. Stoves don't seem to come with an Energy Star option. Without the Energy Star label, how do I know that I'm selecting an energy-efficient stove? Is there such a thing?

A: There is currently no Energy Star label available for residential ovens, ranges or microwaves. The amount of energy that these appliances consume depends on how often you use them. There are a few features and habits that can ensure you are using the least energy possible when cooking.

Let's start with shopping for your new stove:

Whether you choose a freestanding stove, or a cooktop and separate oven, the energy use will be the same.

Electric or gas? Cooking is a small portion of your total energy use, so choose fuel based on your personal preference. If you choose gas, make sure that you also install an energy-efficient range hood above the cooktop that exhausts outdoors. Use the range hood anytime that you use the cooktop or oven.

Cooktop element? For gas cooktops, there is no measurable difference in efficiency between conventional burners with electric ignition (the most common) and sealed burners. Electric elements—in order of least to most efficient —include solid disk, exposed coil (the most common), radiant, halogen, and induction. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE): "Unless you do a lot of cooking, it is probably hard to justify the fancier cooktop technologies on energy savings alone. It would probably be most cost-effective to stick with an electric coil or radiant element and put your money into better cookware."

Type of oven? Most folks have convection ovens. A convection oven uses a fan to circulate hot air around the food that is being cooked. Convection ovens on average use 20 percent less energy than conventional ovens because typical temperatures and cook times can be reduced.

Self-cleaning oven? These ovens are more energy-efficient because they have more insulation. If you use the self-cleaning option more than once a month, you'll end up using more energy than what you save from the extra insulation.

Let's talk about habits

For your cooktop, choose appropriate cookware. Match the pan to the burner size. Also, make sure that your pans have sturdy flat bottoms. A warped pan will not cook food as quickly or efficiently. Keep the burners clean and shiny!

For your oven, minimize your preheat time by making sure that you're ready to pop the food in immediately. Don't peek in the oven more than you have to. (Having a window in the oven can help alleviate this problem.) Avoid using the self-clean cycle; use baking soda, vinegar and elbow grease instead. Choose baking dishes that hold heat like glass, ceramic or good ol' cast iron so you can drop the oven temperature by 25 degrees.

Consider other cooking appliances. Imagine it is 100 degrees outside, the air conditioning is running almost constantly and is barely keeping your house cool. You need to make supper but don't want to heat up the house. Eureka! You can bake the pork chops in the toaster oven, green beans and sweet potatoes in the microwave. If you cook like it is 100 degrees outside all the time, you will consistently save.

After you remodel your kitchen and change your habits, the change you notice on your power bill will vary. Households spend about $30 to $250 per year using their cooktop and oven. $250 is 68 cents per day or $21 per month. The folks that frequently cook are the ones who have the greatest potential for savings.

About the Author

Hannah McKenzie is a residential building science consultant at Advanced Energy in Raleigh who specializes in working with nonprofit developers like Habitat for Humanity to make new affordable housing energy efficient.

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