Q: I’m planning a kitchen remodel and thinking of replacing my gas range with electric. I’m worried the change may affect my cooking and I want more info before I commit. Can you help?
A: First off, if you’re worried about cooking, don’t be — electric cooktops have come a long way since old-school heating coils and “cooking with gas” ads. There is no shame in cooking with gas, but if you’re ready for a change, the new age of electric is here.
Converting from gas isn’t cheap, but it’s often worth it. In fact, many electric stovetops outperform gas while offering a more pleasant cooking experience. And they’re better for your health and the environment. In fact, Seattle recently banned most gas from new multifamily housing as part of the city’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
Going electric can slash your carbon footprint and eliminate dangerous indoor pollution, too. Even when gas stoves are turned off, they tend to leak trace amounts of methane and can also emit nitrogen oxide, an irritant that makes breathing difficult and can cause asthma attacks.
According to one study carried out by the state of California, gas stoves are responsible for sending 2.6 million tons of methane into the atmosphere every year when they are not turned on, and 6.8 million tons of carbon dioxide when they are. Additionally, CBS reported in January that the amount of greenhouse gas the ovens emit annually is equal to that of half a million cars.
Gas has its advantages — who doesn’t love cooking with fire? But electric is the way to go if you want to take a bite out of carbon and give your lungs a breather. Seattle City Light’s power is mostly hydroelectric, so when you switch from natural gas to electric, you’re switching to renewables.
Electric cooktops have evolved from the heating coils of old into precise and elegant cooking machines. The development of sleek glass-ceramic cooktops in the 1970s revolutionized electric stoves, and they just keep getting better every year.
Nowadays, most electric ovens are smooth, with the heating element stored out of sight under glass or ceramic. This makes the surface nicer to look at and easier to clean. One downside: If the heating element needs to be repaired, the cooktop must be removed. You should also be careful with heavy pots and pans, which can damage glass and ceramic surfaces.
When you make the switch to electric, you’ll have two options: radiant or induction.
Radiant cooktops use indirect heat. Whether the heating element is a halogen bulb, solid chunk of metal or electric coil, radiant cooktops radiate — hence the name. The element transfers heat to the ceramic-glass cooktop, which in turn heats the contents of your pan or pot.
Radiant cooktops have a number of advantages. Cooktops that use halogen bulbs create a well-defined red light that tells you if the burner is on — a nice, built-in safety feature. The lack of an open flame also makes them safer than gas, and they’re generally cheaper than induction cooktops. Their biggest drawback is a tendency to retain residual heat, which means long cooldown times.
Induction cooktops, arguably the most advanced cooktops on the market, draw on the power of magnetic energy to indirectly transfer heat to pots and pans. A copper coil beneath the cooktop generates a magnetic field when a current is introduced.
That’s when the magic happens. Any cookware composed of magnetic metal will attract to the cooktop, kicking off an intensely fast yet barely perceptible battery of vibrations on the pot or pan. The resulting friction produces the energy that cooks the food. According to Consumer Reports, induction stoves are 5%–10% more efficient than conventional electric and three times more efficient than gas.
Since the cookware is the source of the heat, the stovetop will heat up quickly. It only takes them about half the time to boil water as gas stoves, and because the cookware is uniformly heated, induction is better at maintaining precise and even temperatures. It also means that when you remove the cookware, the heat goes with the pan away from the stove, making accidental burns less likely.
There are three sticking points with induction cooktops: nonmagnetic cookware won’t work, they are known to buzz at higher temperatures (which may annoy you) and they are more expensive. But keep in mind: Their efficiency will save you energy in the long run.
There is a wide range of sizes and burners suitable for casual at-home cooking or serious feasting. You can expect standard models to have 24- to 42-inch-wide cooktops and up to five burners, giving you plenty of space to work. You can also add portable stovetops for greater capacity.
James Slone is a writer at the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties (MBAKS). If you have a home improvement, remodeling or residential homebuilding question you’d like answered by one of MBAKS’s more than 2,600 members, write to email@example.com.