The following transcript has been edited for clarity.
For decades, cooking with a gas stove has been seen as the fanciest and most enjoyable way to cook. But are we really better off with natural gas? Climate experts and professional chefs alike say that there is an alternative that could give gas a run for its money: induction stoves.
The secret to an induction stove is that it’s basically just a big magnet. And when a pan is sitting on the stovetop, that magnetic field creates little electric currents that swirl through the pan. This heats up the pan, but leaves everything around it cool. It also means that induction stoves can heat up food in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the energy.
But does the technology live up to its hype? Grist’s video team set out to answer two questions: How good are induction stoves for the environment? And how affordable are they for the average person?
Each day, an average home cook using a gas stove produces about 0.95 pounds of carbon dioxide. Induction stoves, on the other hand, use electricity. And to figure out the carbon emissions of using an electric induction stove, we have to look at the grid.
Right now, the United States’ electric grid is powered by a mix of renewables, nuclear, and fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and some petroleum. When you add it all up, an average home cook would produce about 0.96 pounds of carbon dioxide every day by using an electric induction stove. That means right now, an electric induction stove and a gas stove produce about the same amount of CO2.
But those emissions could vary a lot depending on where your state or region gets its power. For example, an induction stove in renewable-heavy Vermont would be a lot cleaner than one in coal-filled West Virginia. As our grid transitions away from coal and toward renewables, induction and electric cooking is only going to get cleaner.
There are other concerns with natural gas, too. With natural gas stoves, that gas has to be piped into homes, and all of that natural gas infrastructure is notoriously leaky.
Electrifying your stove now is kind of like making a bet: You’re hoping that the grid is going to get a lot cleaner over the next few decades. And you’re also helping to move away from gas infrastructure entirely by disconnecting your home from natural gas. All this means there are climate benefits to switching to induction, but right now those benefits are fairly small.
What about the financial cost? Based on an informal survey of the Lowe’s website, it’s clear that induction stoves are generally more expensive. For example, entry-level induction stoves are priced just over $1,000. Gas stoves, on the other hand, begin at just over $400.
Experts that we spoke to said this is mostly because of the industry’s scale. Induction stoves have only been commercially available in the U.S. for a few decades. The industry is pretty new and small, and prices should come down once the technology is more popular.
The passage of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act could speed this up. Under the act, low-income households can get an electric or electric induction stove fully reimbursed, up to $840. Middle-income households can get half the price of the stove reimbursed. Still, individual states have to set up and apply for funding, so this process will take some time.
At the moment, it costs about the same amount to run an electric stove or a gas stove. Depending on energy prices in your area in a few states, an induction stove could save you around $20 a year or cost you around $20 a year. But mostly you’re only looking at the difference of a few bucks.
Finally, if you go for an induction stove, you also might need new cookware. In order for your pots and pans to heat up, they have to contain some kind of iron compound — essentially, they have to be magnetic. So while cast iron and stainless steel pots are generally fine, aluminum or copper pots might not work as well. Basically, if a magnet sticks to the bottom of your pan, you’re in good shape.
But there’s one final comparison to make that actually seems pretty important: gas stoves are actually terrible for people’s health. When your gas stove is on, it lets off toxic chemicals like nitrogen dioxide. Outside air pollution laws require that this chemical stay below around 100 parts per billion, but inside a gas stove or oven can easily cause nitrogen dioxide levels of up to 300 parts per billion. That’s three times as high as what would be legal outside.
And even brief exposure can cause breathing problems and asthma attacks in some people. One team of researchers looked at dozens of studies on the health impacts of gas stoves. They found that a child living in a home with a gas stove was 42 percent more likely to have asthma. That’s about the same risk as living in a house with a smoker. If you do decide to keep your gas stove, it’s probably worth upgrading your ventilation system. That can be expensive, but it could be really important for your family’s health.
Emissions from cooking overall are relatively small compared to things like transportation, travel, or home heating. If you want to limit your carbon footprint, buying an induction stove is probably not the best bang for your buck. Something like getting an electric bike, an electric vehicle, or switching your home heating system over from fossil fuels to heat pumps might go a little bit further.
But if you love to cook and want to limit your future carbon emissions, then an induction stove could be a pretty good fit for you, especially if it means you can get rid of a gas line going to your house altogether.