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The Future of Natural Gas Cooking (Are "They" Coming to Take Your Stove Away?

placeholder+imagePosted on: 01/20/2023

Rate It Green Members and Friends - 

The other day, a family member cheerfully said in passing, "Hey you were right about natural gas cooking. It’s apparently terrible!” The recent reporting in the mainstream press wasn’t a surprise to those who have read about the risks associated with fossil fuel combustion inside buildings. 

What was surprising once again is that something that seemed well known and widely reported within the building science and public health community is a surprise to others, because the dangers of gas cooking as a topic isn’t new or even really news.  There’s this impression that people who care about sustainable building or really our overall transition to a greener, cleaner energy economy and better, healthier environment for all are a bunch of activists or even crazies looking for causes that will end up being annoying.  Some responses to the news were laughable fake arguments that "They" can't "come and take my stove."  We all need to calm down.  No one is taking anything.  At least not yet.  :)  In all seriousness, isn't it just sensible to improve health and safety (and also save money and reduce emissions) through better air quality inside our homes and buildings? And importantly, can't we have a reasonable conversation about this?

My answer is of course that it makes sense to improve our indoor air quality and energy efficiency, but that doesn’t mean I think this is going to be a quick or easy transition.  As a personal example, we moved into our home 16 years ago.  A couple of years ago, I began a campaign to get our family to actually use the exhaust hood every time we cook on our gas cooktop. When I am around, family members might groan but they do turn it on.  But I hear complaints that it’s loud and annoying.  When I come into the room and someone’s been cooking, I have to turn the fan on. 

So it’s not like we’ve yet gone all-electric and I am wagging my finger at everyone else.  It’s a process, and home equipment decisions tend to have a 10-30 or more-year life cycle.  But that’s why we need to talk about this as soon as we can, so we can make better future decisions for our families, and not miss those next renovation and building windows of opportunity.  We also need to have this conversation among building professionals.  Check out Matt Hoot's explanation of "Why everyone is confused about gas and electric cooktops." The people who help us make decisions about the built environment need to be informed on the issues and options, so they can help us make the best decisions for our health, safety, comfort, wallets, and the environment as well.  Matt points out the benefits of indiction cooking and how technology has evolved.  Our next stove will certainly be an induction cooktop.  In fact, I am excited to say that I just helped a family member research and purchase an induction stove (and convert an electric fireplace to gas).  

As a child, I longed for the day we could upgrade to gas from our coiled electric stove, which I thought was slow to heat and maybe a little embarrassing.  I bought into those decades-old advertising campaigns telling me that “natural” gas was clean and classy.  But for 50 years or so, research has been available to tell us natural gas cooking is not great for our health.  It is well known and documented that gas stoves emit pollutants that affect human respiratory health, include carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), sulfur dioxide (SO2), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, VOCs, formaldehyde, and particulate matter (PM).    

In 2013, a now oft-cited study published in the International Journal of Epidemiologythe authors reviewed 41 studies beginning as early as 1977 and confirmed the link between the NO2 emissions from gas stove cooking and childhood asthma.  This analysis found that children in homes with gas cooking have a 42% increased risk of experiencing asthma symptoms, with a 24% increased risk of formally bring diagnosed with asthma.  The study currently making waves even in mainstream news was published in December 2022 in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. These authors reviewed another 27 studies since 2013 and put current numbers on what really has to be called a public health crisis. The study reports that 12.7% of current childhood asthma nationally, affecting approximately 650,000 children, are associated with gas stove use, which is prevalent in approximately 35% of US homes, with significantly higher numbers (like up to to 70%)in select states.  

So, what can we do about this known health problem? The two most obvious solutions as reported by this recent study would be to remove gas out of the home, or at least ensure proper ventilation where there remains combustion inside buildings.  The first solution explains the recent trend in natural gas bans for new construction, as the easiest solution is to prevent the problem in a building in the first place.  This of course doesn’t address the millions of existing structures.  This retrofitting challenge is problematic in that it's impractical and also economically insensitive to just assume everyone can and will ventilate properly.  In other words, not everyone can afford to ventilate sufficiently, and we know that not everyone will use the equipment properly, even if installed.

What we need is education, and a wider conversation.  We need better financing and incentives (The Inflation Reduction Act should make a big difference, once it's clear how the incentives and credits will work), even pure grants to help people make the necessary changes in their indoor spaces.  We also need to include all stakeholders in these conversations, and it would be helpful to focus on solutions.  For example, why exclude utilities from the conversation when they could potentially be counted on to help improve energy efficiency and air quality? And finally, I’d say we also need to realize that change takes time and that people might reasonably need to adjust.  Even in what feels like an emergency, your neighbor who prefers to cook with gas isn’t evil, and you’re not crazy to be worried.  Let’s find a path for all of us to get to a better place and space. 

What are you doing to get rid of gas, or what do you want to or not want to?  Are you facing barriers you’d like to discuss, or do you have ideas on how we can all make a better transition to healthier and more sustainable buildings?  Do you have experiences with induction cooking you'd like to share, personally or as a professional?  How do you think we can inform and inspire more people and organizations to get involved?

Here’s some related Rate it Green content:

We’d love to hear what you have to say - these conversions are why we’re here, so we can all grow and work on solutions as a community.   Thanks to Matt Hoots for sharing your experiecnes and opinions.  We need more people to do that!

Thanks for reading. Feel welcome to click to see our January news, and of course to read our related article on The Future of Gas Cooking and the mainstream press reporting that inspired this thinking. You can also checkout upcoming green building events that we're aware of on our open green building calendar.  Please feel invited to add events you are aware of or are even participating in! 

Thank you, 

Allison Friedman
Founder, Rate It Green

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