If you’re concerned about indoor air quality in residential kitchens, you’ve probably heard that gas stoves are going out of style. A new study linked them to one in eight childhood asthma cases, and for decades, indoor air quality experts have been listing the numerous pollutants that they generate. But is there an alternative to gas cooking that is actually even better? The answer is yes – electric induction!
Induction cooktops are new, but most people don’t understand exactly how they work or why they’re a vast improvement over traditional cooking methods. This article explains how induction works and why it’s a technology you really need to consider for your own home.
While gas and traditional electric cooktops heat food indirectly by applying an open flame or a hot surface to the bottom of cookware, induction cooktops use electromagnetism to heat the cookware itself. This heats the food more evenly by turning the cookware itself into the source of the heat. Coils located just beneath the cooktop’s elements carry an alternating current, creating a changing magnetic field. When induction-ready cookware is placed in that field, it acts as the second conductor and a current is induced on it. That current is converted to heat inside the cookware, which is then used to cook the food. This is much more efficient than traditional cooking methods.
So, what makes induction cooktops better than other cooktops?
- They are the most controllable option. Unlike other electric stoves, induction responds instantly to changes in setting. For example, you can bring rice to a boil on “high” and then turn it down to simmer on the same burner and get an instant response. And unlike gas, you don’t have to eyeball the flame to avoid boiling over.
- You’re less likely to burn yourself on one. They’re great for people with kids, increasing independence for people aging in place, and for anyone who has ever simply forgotten to turn their cooktop off. The cooking surface heats up a little because a hot pot of food is sitting on it – but it’s not enough to burn you. If you don’t have a pot on the burner, the stove shuts itself off automatically. There’s no open flame or ultra-hot surface that you have to be careful to keep hair and loose clothing away from.
- They’re the easiest to clean. Induction cooktops look like regular glass top ranges, with one crucial difference. Regular glass tops can be hard to clean when you boil food over and it bakes onto the top. Induction cooktop surfaces don’t directly get hot enough for things to burn onto them if something spatters or boils over. And unlike gas cooktops, there’s no taking the burners apart and fishing out crumbs that fell down in there.
- You don’t need a gigantic kitchen range hood. A lot of the larger gourmet gas ranges require in their installation manuals that you install oversized kitchen range hoods which can cause all sorts of problems. By code, they will require a fresh air makeup air system. This can add $1000-$2000 to your project and ironically makes your house less energy efficient. It’s still important to have a vented range hood to remove contaminants generated by the cooking food itself, but induction cooktops require less ventilation.
- It’s one less reason to have gas or propane in your house. If the goal is to reduce your home’s operational cost, it doesn’t always make sense to pay service charges for two energy utilities – the service charges can become a significant portion of your energy expense. Take the cost of that gas piping and those monthly service fees and apply that to a really nice induction cooktop. For people with solar, these electric technologies are also easier to directly offset with solar PV or to power from batteries.
- Induction cooktops offer superior indoor air quality performance. The type of cooktop you use won’t change any contaminants generated by the food itself while cooking, but induction cooktops generate far less contaminants themselves. Other non-induction electric cooktops may have burn-off of dust or spilled food that create smoke and generate contaminants. With gas, the flame itself even generates combustion by-products like nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde, which have demonstrable health impacts. Because induction surfaces don’t get very hot, less of this burn-off occurs.
- They’re more energy efficient. By heating just the pot, induction puts the heat exactly where you need it, using less energy and adding less heat to your home, so you’ll use less air conditioning in the summer.
- The Federal government may incentivize you to get one! The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the biggest climate bill in US history, offers appliance rebates to households making up to 150% of their local area median income, Those eligible could get up to $840 off the cost of an induction range!
Let’s explore some of the other reasons clients are hesitant about induction:
- It’s new and I don’t understand how it works, therefore I assume it’s bad for you. The scientific principle of induction has been around for a long time. It’s used in motors, generators, transformers, and a lot of rechargeable home electronics items. Because we’ve been cooking on flames for such a long time, it doesn’t scare us. But that doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest choice.
- I like cooking on gas. I don’t know anyone who has tried induction and not been won over. It does almost everything gas does, only better. A lot of professional chefs have even converted – both at home and in their restaurants.
- I’ll need to get new cookware. It’s very possible some of your cookware is already induction-ready – cast iron and stainless steel are great examples. Hold a magnet to the bottom of your pots and pans. If it sticks, it’ll work on induction. And if do you need some new cookware, they are available at all different price points. We’ve had our favorite nonstick induction pans for four years and they still work great, but even better, they only cost us $10 apiece.
- Induction cooktops are expensive. If you’re considering gas, tally up the cost of the gas range, the larger kitchen hood, makeup air for the hood, and the gas piping before you assume that gas is cheaper. There are great induction cooktop / stove options available for as little as $1200. This compares favorably to the cost of comparable gas ranges including piping, hookup, venting, and makeup air.
- I want to be able to cook when the power is out. Using an outdoor gas (or charcoal) grill is probably the best backup option. Your power is likely coming back on soon, and if your range hood won’t work, you may not want to cook on an indoor gas stove anyway.
Electric induction cooktops are a slam-dunk decision – better in almost every way than the other cooking technologies that are out there. Intrigued? Head to your local appliance store and try it for yourself. You’ll be convinced as well!
Amy Musser and Matthew Vande are the owners of VandeMusser Design, PLLC. They provide Home Energy Rating System (HERS) services, green-design consultation, and home-energy audits to homeowners in Western North Carolina. Amy is a licensed mechanical engineer and Matt is a licensed architect. Connect with Amy and Matt at vandemusser.com.