What is the Future of Gas Cooking?

Allison Friedman

Rate It Green Admin
Jan 20, 2023
What is the Future of Gas Cooking?

In mid-January 2023, there was what seemed like a surprise announcement one day acknowledging the dangers of gas stoves and announcing possible regulatory action, and then this whole story seemed to be taken back and almost completely disappeared from the news the next.  If you weren’t paying attention to the news in that 24-hour period, you might even have missed it.  For people who are knowledgeable about indoor air quality issues or who are working on electrification and other ways to change our built environment to protect human health and the wider environment, it seemed like an exciting if not surprising moment, for a moment.  And then it was gone.  

 

So, what happened? And, are “they" coming to take your stove away?  The short answer is no.  The longer answer is that Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) Member Richard Trumka did say and does believe that barring future manufacture of gas stoves and banning of importing stoves, as well as setting emissions standards are all among the options that should be “on the table” to address the health risks associated with gas cooking, which is his opinion and one we agree with.  But let’s look at what actually happened, because there are larger discussions to be had here. We have to listen to each other and be respectful - and hopefully not get too divisive.  It’s important to remember that we all have an interest in better health, and clean air to breathe, including a healthier environment generally.  On the other hand, people are often allowed to prefer and use some things that might not technically be good for them, or others.  Humans also tend to not always like change.  Where are the fair lines between what is permissible and not? Environmental issues aside, when does the right to use a device harmful to even one’s own family become impermissible?  Bringing environmental issues back, how are we going to make the progress we need to make in terms of decarbonization and electrification if we can’t have reasonable conversations and we can’t take meaningful steps in the right direction? 


 

Will “they” be coming to take Your or Anyone’s Gas Stove Away, and Is there a Federal Plan to Ban Gas Cooking? (No, and no.)
 

Unfortunately, the issue in the news wasn’t quite reported on thoroughly and properly for its significance, as it was and remains a hot potato many politicians (and certainly the fossil fuel industry and associated lobbyists) wanted and often want dropped. Even people who can generally agree that health, and in particular the health of children, and climate change are important, there seems to be fear of an issue coming up in the “wrong” way or at the “wrong” time such that the attention or negative attention really could cause backlash and even steps in the wrong direction, including delays to progress.  The challenge is, this fear and the current generally divisiveness of our politics and news cycles leads to avoiding open and honest conversations we really ought to be having. We should be able to get angry and to debate if needed, and then we should be able to take the steps required to make health and environmental progress for all. 

 

As White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre stated on January 11, “The President does not support banning gas stoves” and would not be supporting gas ban policy at the federal level.  So, what’s this all about, and again what actually happened?  And, even though the hot potato was dropped for a moment in terms of its visibility, it’s worth noting it’s still a very relevant potato that is not going away.  For one thing, the CPSC staff had already planned as of an October 22 meeting to submit to the Commission a Request for Information (RFI) to seek public input on hazards associated with gas stoves and proposed solutions by March 1, 2023.  It’s not clear when public will have the opportunity to comment, but this is the only current concrete plan out of this news cycle, a plan that was apparently already in place prior to the Bloomberg article.  For another thing, we simply will not reach our climate commitments without addressing building emissions.  Some good news is that cities, states, and even the federal government ARE taking some actions with regard to fossil fuel emissions, including gas cooking.  While one might wish the pace were faster, it does seem that gas stoves will soon be a thing of the past.  No one will be coming to cart a gas stove away against an erstwhile chef’s will, but health concerns, environmental concerns, and even design trends are all leaning towards electrifying cooking, and getting fossil fuel combustion out of homes and other buildings.  

 

Public perception takes time to change, and it’s pretty clear that the gas industry isn’t going to let go of their hold on the American consumer psyche (and wallets) easily, or quietly.  As gas cooking goes, note that it’s far easier to also give up other fossil-fuel burning equipment people aren’t as attached to in the first place.  Therefore, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize the dedicated efforts of tireless public health researchers, political leaders, environmental organizations, and health organizations to phase out gas cooking.  As countless studies show, some have been sounding the alert about gas cooking for almost 50 years now.  


 

Was the CPCS Planning Gas Stove Regulation?

 

The start of the January 9 conflagration in the news was in some sense a January 9 Bloomberg article literally titled, "A federal agency says a ban on gas stoves is on the table amid rising concern about harmful indoor air pollutants emitted by the appliances.” The tagline was even more aggressive:  "The US Consumer Product Safety Commission will move to regulate gas stoves as new research links them to childhood asthma.” And no real doubt as the piece continued: "The US Consumer Product Safety Commission plans to take action to address the pollution, which can cause health and respiratory problems." This titling and these statements fairly led other news outlets to report, for maybe 24 hours or so, that the federal government might in some form be taking on (or even taking away) gas stoves. To be clear, there was never a plan to take away existing stoves, as Richard Trumka immediately and clarified.  

 

While the statements about possible action sure were news, this piece in some sense restates an obvious imperative and options to anyone who has spent time reading about health and natural gas.  In December 2022, Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representative Don Beyer (D-VA) had asked the Consumer Product Safety Commission in a letter also cosigned by 18 Congressional colleagues to review the health risks posed by gas stoves, and to take actions to “protect consumers” from harmful emissions.  The letter’s authors also separately encouraged study of disparate impacts on low-income individuals and also of the appliance gas leaks. At the time and in a CPSC meeting, Richard Trumka had asked his colleagues to support rulemaking related to gas stoves.  When he did not have the votes, he instead asked for and did receive the votes to support public input.    

 


The Health Risks of Gas Cooking 

 

The health impacts of internal combustion, and gas cooking in particular are critically important, as the challenge is widespread.  Over ⅓ of American homes, or about 40 million households, cook with “natural” gas, which is made up of over 70% methane, as well as ethane, butane, and propane.  These numbers are more like 70% in some states, including California, Illinois, and New York.  While consumer education on the issue remains relatively low, it’s well documented by public health professionals and building scientists that gas stoves pose considerable health risks and contribute to a number of conditions and diseases. Cooking with natural gas without sufficient ventilation generates nitrogen dioxide NO(2), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), formaldehyde, fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), and other pollutants at levels considered unsafe by the EPA and World Health Organization (WHO), even outdoors (EPA regulation exists for outdoor levels, but not indoors. WHO and other organizations publish indoor guidelines.).  These pollutants contribute to respiratory and cardiovascular irritations and conditions even with short term exposure, and long term can contribute to or cause asthma, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, and other conditions.  The recent news cycle reported analysis from a recent study that gas cooking is associated with more than 12% of childhood asthma cases, affecting approximately 650,000 children, an impact that is as harmful as secondhand smoke.  Additionally, gas cooking pollutants have a disparate impact on low-income households, which are already more likely to be located near outdoor pollution sources, and also more likely to be smaller dwellings (which inherently have higher pollutant concentrations) with less ventilation equipment and additional concentrations of other pollutants, where maintenance is also more of a challenge for occupants.  Without proper ventilation (in place and turned on), recommended NO2 levels can be reached and passed within minutes after the appliance is turned on.  


 

Environmental Impacts of Gas Cooking
 

The environmental impacts of fossil fuel combustion are more widely reported generally, but it’s not clear how much people understand the extent to which on-site combustion in our homes contributes to pollution and climate-impacting emissions. As the Rocky Mountain Insituture team pointed out, we should also think of our homes in a sense, at the "end of a pipeline" and system that produces toxic chemicals and leaks throughout, even as it provides critical energy.  A 2022 study published by the American Chemical Society found that methane emissions alone from gas stoves in the US alone create emissions equivalent to 500,000 gas-powered vehicles annually.  While more attention is paid to carbon in much climate literature, methane has 25 times the climate impact of carbon measured over 100 years (and 80 times in the first twenty years).  And frighteningly, more than 75% of these emissions occurred when the appliance was not on.  The challenge is even greater when we consider that gas cooking is only a relatively small percentage of fossil fuel combustion inside the home, dwarfed by water heating and space heating. The nitrous oxides produced by this combustion are the same pollutants produced as a part of vehicle and power plant exhaust, and they also contribute to smog.  The EPA reports that residential buildings generate 13% of greenhouse gas emissions on site, but this is an understatement that does not consider construction and transportation. Total emissions including offsite generation are typically reported between 27% to 29%, and 40%, including construction.    

 

Examples of more widely known or at least fairly often attributed studies or reports that examine the health risks of natural gas cooking and natural gas in the home include (there will likely be an undue emphasis on recent studies here, and several of the well known studies are meta actually analyses of groups of studies): 


 

 

  • Additionally, while not a report, it should be noted along with the list above as a major development and recognition, that in June 2022, the American Medical Association passed three resolutions related to natural gas cooking: that gas stove use increases indoor pollution, and that gas cooking also raises the risk of childhood asthma. The organization also committed to raising awareness of gas cooking health risks and also to advocating for programs to assist with mitigation and transition costs. 


 

Regulation Options for Gas Cooking Appliances 
 

Clearly, the case for concern about natural gas cooking has been well documented for decades now, while at the same time the natural gas industry continued (to this day) to advertise pretty successfully it seems that we should all be “cooking with gas.”  So, what are the options for progress?  Well for now, the CPSC is going to be taking public comments sometime around March, 2023. Stay tuned.  Not to make light of this important step, but as has been outlined by NYU’s Policy Integrity Institute, Rocky Mountain Institute, and others, there is absolutely more that can be done:

 

  • Regulate existing gas stoves, including setting emissions standards 

    • While the EPA only regulates outdoor air (but can inform about indoor air), and OSHA regulates indoor air only for commercial and industrial buildings, the CPSC does seem authorized to regulate gas appliances, as part of the Commission’s mission to “protect the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from thousands of types of consumer products under its jurisdiction, including products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard or can injure children.” 

  • Set indoor emissions standards for harmful substances, particularly with respect to children  

  • Require that proper ventilation be sold with gas appliances

  • Regulate ventilation equipment as needed to meet performance requirements, such as hoods, ventilation systems, and fans  

  • Require that gas appliances be ventilated outside 

  • Require warning labels for gas stoves

  • Launch campaigns to build awareness of the health risks of gas stoves 

  • Including health and air quality education and action in weatherization and other programs that put vendors directly in people’s homes

  • Widely promote the alternatives to gas stoves 

  • Incentivize the purchase of gas stove appliances 

 


It seems reasonable that the CPSC does indeed have the authority to regulate gas stoves, especially when so many of the impacts affect children, who do not have a choice as to the cooking equipment in their homes.  On the CPSC’s website, there’s an explanation that “The Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over many types of consumer products, from coffee makers, to toys, to lawn mowers, to fireworks.”  And not gas stoves that research shows emit toxic substances at levels that would not be permissible outside? 

 

A challenge is that many political and industry interests are lined up against this regulation.  Senator Joe Manchin (WV-D) immediately and not surprisingly defended fossil fuel interests, even questioning the purpose of the CPSC, stating, “The federal government has no business telling American families how to cook their dinner….If this is the greatest concern that the Consumer Product Safety Commission has for American consumers, I think we need to reevaluate the commission.” Manchin also proclaimed: “I can tell you the last thing that would ever leave my house is the gas stove that we cook on.”  No recognition of the valid health concerns affecting hundreds of thousands of children, or adults, and to say nothing of the environmental impact.  And this is part of the problem, in that there seems no room for reasonable health and environmental dialog at times to make progress.  Too many people and too many organizations are too busy adamantly defending political and financial interests, and often both. 

 


What Can You Do to Protect Your Health if You Cook with Gas?

 

Why should you care, and what can you do?  Well, gas cooking affects people and families at the individual level.  If you are cooking with gas or are combusting fossil fuels on site, as many of us are, then this problem and these emissions directly affect you.  We spend up to 90% of our time indoors, where the air is underreported from years ago to be 2 to 5 times more toxic than outdoors at times.  This may not be true in areas that are more polluted or that are experiencing wildfires and other environmental emergencies.  But the added risk on those areas makes the indoor air concern even more compelling.  Recent prolonged stays indoors due to the pandemic and then the transition to a more remote workforce for many have brought indoor air quality and in particular indoor air quality at home to the top of more people’s health and comfort concerns.  Some steps you can take to reduce your indoor air pollutants from gas cooking include: 

 

  • Ventilate properly:

    • If you have a hood, turn it on.  This may sound obvious, but plenty of people have ventilation equipment that they aren’t aware they should be using or haven’t made it a routine to turn on.

    • If you do not have a hood, consider purchasing one if you can (read on - there are incentives for purchasing)

    • Make sure your hood ventilates to the outside if possible 

  • If you have a hood, use the back burners when you can, as the hoods are better able to capture emissions from this location

  • If you do not have a hood, consider an exhaust fan to the outside if possible 

  • If you do not have a hood, open your windows and doors, as long as your outdoor air is higher quality than your indoor air and as long as it’s safe to do so. Use fans if possible to push air towards the outside. 

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector.

  • Consider an air filtration device if possible (not one that produces ozone)

  • Consider additional air quality monitoring equipment, if possible 

  • Make sure your cooking flame is blue (this is apparently less polluting - an orange flame indicates increased pollutants) 

  • If you are replacing your stove, consider buying an induction or electric stove (read below)

  • If the cost or installing new equipment is prohibitive, or it’s not time to remodel or you just want to try induction technology first, consider a portable induction unit at a fraction of the cost 


 

While these actions can help, we need to recognize that there are challenges.  First, many households don’t have hoods or fans, and even where this equipment exists, it’s not yet a common routine to use them.  Apparently, a study also showed that exhaust hoods are only 15% effective, which is disheartening.  The socio economic challenge is also significant.  We know that homes with smaller square footage have higher concentrations of pollutants and that lower income families tend to live in areas with lower outdoor air quality as it is, and are less likely to have proper ventilation.  So it’s not really a realistic suggestion for many people to go get great, pollution diluting equipment.  But it’s important to suggest every step we can to make the improvements we can, for a few reasons.  One is that kids can’t choose their indoor air, and every improvement we make is a step in the right direction.  Another is that we can impact future impacts by the decisions we make now.  Major home equipment decisions tend to be made every 8 to 35 years, depending on equipment. Missing a window increases impact because change will either be more expensive and disruptive, or change won’t happen until the next window. It’s important to discuss all we can before builders build, or before that community member undertakes a renovation.


 

Induction Cooking is Growing in Popularity 

 

The popularity of induction cooking is rising in the US, for both health and environmental reasons.  First introduced in the 1930’s and then manufactured by a small number of companies through the 1970s, induction stoves were initially prohibitively expensive.  The technology works by generating heat through a magnetic connection between the stove and cookware.  As competition grew and prices decreased, adoption in Europe and Asia grew due to a greater focus on energy efficiency and smaller kitchen sizes.  Induction stoves are three times as efficient as gas stoves, they get to temperature and cook markedly faster, and they do not generate the heat or pollution of gas stoves (though all cooking generates some pollutants, so it’s still important to ventilate).   

 

In the US, adoption has grown more slowly, partly due to what seems like an emotional connection to gas stoves and cooking with flame, a connection that was fanned by decades worth of advertising showing gas as the glamorous and somehow clean way to cook (in parallel with researchers quantifying health risk correlations).  To be fair, much of the electric equipment of past decades was not of the same style and quality that is produced currently.   Some people also seem to have an emotional connection to cooking with fire, or maybe they just don’t want to change and certainly don’t want to be told what to do.  One hesitation for some has been the idea that induction cookware must be magnetic, since this is part of how induction cooking works.  Many existing pans are indeed magnetic, but this is a fair note that change can mean incurring expenses.  As a final note on resistance, there is a learning curve and a need to learn to cook differently than people have with gas stoves.  Fortunately, people who have become proficient induction cookers are reporting positive results.  

 

In the next decades, induction cooking will surpass gas for several reasons.  First, increasing fossil fuel reduction commitments already guarantee a reduction in gas appliances.  Second, increasing awareness of the risks of gas appliances will have an impact, especially if regulatory action is finally taken in some form at the federal level.  But there’s also a move towards induction cooking and not just away from gas.  Emerging home buyers seem to prefer sleeker and more tech savvy kitchens, which favors electric cooking. There’s also growing interest in healthy home concepts, particularly after indoor air quality awareness increased during the pandemic, when people spent more time at home.  Increasing information is also available about the benefits of induction cooking.  Consumer Reports tested gas and electric stoves extensively and reported that electric stoves were faster to heat, simmer better, and broil better. They also offer impressive levels of precise control.  In terms of health and safety, an added benefit is that induction cooktops are only hot where the pan is connected to the heating surface and only while cooking, greatly reducing the risk of accidental burns.  Without flame, the risk of fire is also almost eliminated, compared to the risk with gas appliances.  For professional kitchens, chefs are reporting that increased energy efficiency, faster cooking times, and decreased waste heat are all important induction benefits.  Both family and commercial cooks report significantly shorter cooking times to get food to the table as a big benefit.  


 

Positive Political Developments for Reducing Gas Cooking
 

Some good news is that states and municipalities are taking regulatory action where the federal government has not.  Starting with Berkeley California in 2019, 94 cities (and counting) have enacted some type of gas bans for new construction.  These bans represent 31 million people (and counting), or almost 10% of the population.  Major cities include Boston, Denver, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.  New York is also considering a statewide ban, with exceptions for where all-electric buildings might not be feasible. Washington apparently beat New York to the first state honor.  24 states have passed specific greenhouse reduction plans to mitigate climate change; these bans are a part of recognizing that climate goals can’t be met without addressing building emissions.  The Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, or C2ES maintains a current map of State Climate Policies

     

There IS also some positive and impactful news at the federal level.  Any piece focusing on a fossil-fuel related topic would be remiss not to mention the historic Inflation Reduction Act,also known as the IRA or H.R. 5376, which represents the largest federal investment in climate change mitigation.  The bill includes approximately $4.5 billion in rebates that will be administered by states in a first ever consumer rebate program to incentivize the purchase of electric appliances, including cooktops and ovens.  Available tax credits will include $14,000 in direct consumer rebates to buy heat pumps and other energy efficient home appliances, 30% solar roof tax credits, and up to $7500 in tax credits for new electric vehicles and $4000 for used electric vehicles. It should also be noted that the bill includes $# billion on environmental block justice grants, and $1 billion for public housing energy efficiency improvements. *Although there’s still quite a bit of confusion about how the incentives and tax credits will work both at the state and federal level, and who qualifies for what, it’s an understatement to say the Act will have a significant impact on decarbonization and electrification - and therefore health.  It is projected that the IRA will reduce American Greenhouse Gas emissions by 40% from a 2005 peak

 

It’s also worth noting that the federal government also committed in December 2022 to reduce the emissions of federal buildings by 30% by 2030, by launching the Federal Performance Buildings Standard. President Biden has set a goal to make federal buildings emissions free by 2045.  The rule includes a reduction of natural gas use in buildings by 90% compared to 2003 levels by 2025, a reduction which is expected to save $8 million annually.  With this action, the President is at least showing commitment and is regulating the buildings and gas emissions the federal government directly oversees, a substantial amount of real estate including 300,000 owned buildings and thousands of additional leased buildings.  

 

And finally, it should be said that one great sign is that Richard Trumka didn’t give up.  The news cycle started, and some people quickly tried to sweep this under the rug, and push back.  In his position, some people would have walked their commentary back and would have “gotten back in line.”  But Richard Trumka really didn’t.  He has said he worries about his own children, as everyone should, and it seems like he’s taking the CPSC mission quite seriously to “address unreasonable risks of illness and injury.”  Check out this December 2022 video hosted by USPIRG where he efficiently summarizes gas cooking concerns and urges people to ventilate properly if they do need to cook with gas. Richard Trumka also points out that health issues surrounding gas affect older people as well, and not just children.  If Richard Trumka can keep trying to make health and environmental progress despite some pressure, then perhaps there’s a reason to think the federal government will eventually will do more than accept public comment. Let’s hope this is sooner rather than later.   

 

What is the Future of Gas Stoves?  It would be nice if we could make progress faster, but first steps are finally being made and gas stoves will end up phasing out in new construction, maybe sooner rather than later.  Existing buildings will take a while, but rebates, tax credits, and changing design preferences and environmental awareness will help reduce the amount of gas cooking.  In the end, some people may hold on to their gas stoves.  That may remain their right, but hopefully they will ventilate properly, especially if they have children.  Then again, proper ventilation will also hopefully be required at some point, even for existing buildings.  In the meantime, we won’t give up working toward better access to healthy and more sustainable buildings either.  We welcome your feedback and collaboration towards these critical objectives, on this topic or any topic related to green buildings.  



Related Rate It Green Content:


 

Additional Reading:
 

US Safety Agency to Consider Ban on Gas Stoves Amid Health Fears - Bloomberg

What the Right’s Freak out Was Really All About - Politico

Ban Gas Stoves? Just the Idea Gets Some in Washington Boiling - New York Times

The gas stove regulation uproar, explained - Vox

(Best line here: “Research shows gas stoves are a public health problem. But if you like your stove, you can keep it.”)

Better Off Podcast: Is cooking with natural gas unhealthy?
(see below for some really thought-provoking quotes from this piece)

Gas stoves: A hidden health risk in plain sight - US PIRG

Is Your Gas Range a Health Risk? - Consumer Reports

Gas vs. Electric Range: Which Is Better? - Consumer Reports

We need to talk about your gas stove, your health and climate change- npr
(Among other things, Josiah Kephart’s example of the pollutants he’s measuring while cooking with gas, and his sincere concerns for his family, are worth reading about here.)

Gas stoves harm health. Will a federal watchdog ban them? - Greenwire, E&E News

How the Fossil Fuel Industry Convinced Americans to Love Gas Stoves - Grist

Buying a Gas Stove or Dryer? Read This First - New York Times

Here’s Why Trend-Setting Induction Technology Is Worth Considering For Your Home - Forbes

The Case for Induction Cooking, Versus Gas Stoves - New York Times

Professional Chef On Her Love Of Cooking With Induction - CleanTechnica


 

Excerpts From: Better Off Podcast: Is cooking with natural gas unhealthy?

 

“I believe in science. I believe in climate change, but gas stoves are already in more than 40 million American homes. How bad can they really be for our health?” - Anna Fisher-Pinkert

 

“We have a couple of appliances in our homes, our gas stoves, our water heaters, our furnaces. And the gas stove, shockingly, is not universally required to be vented outdoors. Many of us, myself included, may have a stove with no range hood that vents outside. And so what happens is every time we turn on the gas burner to cook a meal, we’re also having a lot of combustion, which essentially is just burning. And some of those problematic pollutants that are coming into our home that really have nowhere to go because of poor ventilation are things like carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde. You know, a lot of the same pollutants that come out of our car tailpipes. And we spend a lot of time inside at home. And so we are breathing in these pollutants that come from the gas stove.” - Brady Seals


 

We named our study, “Home is where the pipeline ends,” intentionally. You know, we took our samples directly from gas stoves that participants offered to us. Having spoken with so many participants, very often people have not thought about their kitchen stove or their home as being at the end of a pipeline. - Drew Michanowicz
 

 

“First of all, you have to make sure you’re using the right cookware. You have to make sure that you’re using ferrous metal, which is anything that reacts to a magnet. So if you can stick a magnet to the bottom of your pot or pan or whatever you’re using on the induction, then it should be compatible….

 

We are literally like the last people to get on this. Every other country has been doing this already. It’s funny, I’ll be talking about induction stoves and how great these things are, and then, I’ll get like some Norwegian or UK commenter like, why is he talking about stoves? They all already had this.” - Jon Kung





*Note: We keep wondering if we’re behind and that others must know how the Inflation Reduction Act rebates and tax credits will all really work in practice, but it is interesting that the IRS has sort of a coming soon message on their website…  “We’ll post guidance for taxpayers on all credits and deductions from the Inflation Reduction Act as it becomes available. Please check back regularly for updates.”  Hopefully, this will fill in soon.  As soon as information is available, it’s likely that the Database for State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE) will reflect all the available incentives and credits available by state.

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Allison Friedman // Rate It Green Admin

I am excited to work with the Members of the Rate It Green Community to host conversations, create connections, and generally share information and help green builders everywhere. Please feel welcome to reach out to me directly with suggestions for improving Rate It Green.

 
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