A few weeks ago some folks in the office started talking about an article titled “Your Gas Stove is Bad for You and the Planet.” Shortly after, I shared this article from City Lab about the city of Berkeley banning natural gas in new buildings. And, while it wasn’t news to any of us that gas stoves have an environmental impact, these two articles, one on the heels of the other, made us stop in our tracks and ask, why haven’t we been having more pointed conversations about gas stoves, when our strong focus on building and remodeling healthy, durable and efficient homes clearly indicates that we should? So, consider this post a first step.
Before jumping in I’d like to note that the first article we read about this issue focused largely on the broader environmental concerns of gas stoves. However, the more we researched, the more we realized that for us, the bigger concern is indoor air quality and the health of the people living in the home. Even though we’re pretty much certified tree huggers, the environmental concerns about this issue pale in comparison to the health concerns, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on here.
Health impacts of gas stoves
In the simplest terms, cooking is an act of controlled combustion that produces air pollutants (1). So, regardless of your stove, when you cook, you are creating air pollutants.
That said, one of the air pollutants almost always created by gas burners is nitrogen dioxide, which is a respiratory irritant. Gas burners may also produce carbon monoxide, depending on the burner configuration. In addition, burning gas produces ultrafine particles, which can move around your body in ways that larger particles can’t, making them more dangerous (8).
Dr. Brett Singer, of Indoor Environment Connections, believes that, “Reducing people’s exposure to pollutants from gas stoves should be a public health priority.” He added, “If these were conditions that were outdoors, the Environmental Protection Agency would be cracking down. But since it’s in people’s homes, there’s no regulation requiring anyone to fix it (4).” In one study, researchers estimated that in 60% of California homes where a gas stove is used for cooking, at least once a week the indoor pollutant levels exceed legal outdoor limits. This finding means that millions of people are subjected to levels of nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, and carbon monoxide in excess of current, safe standards (4).
Again, I want to reiterate that cooking food on any type of stove produces fine particles and some organic chemicals, however electric burners don’t ever produce carbon monoxide and generate only small amounts of nitrogen dioxide (8).
This level of air pollution has an impact. Ellen Smit, an associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University states, “In homes where a gas stove was used without venting, the prevalence of asthma and wheezing is higher than in homes where a gas stove was used with ventilation.” Adding, “Parents of all children should use ventilation while using a gas stove (3).” I’d personally expand that to say that anyone using a gas stove should be using adequate ventilation!
Do you have adequate ventilation?
This brings us to an important point: ventilation. It can make a huge difference. Studies show that range hoods vary widely in their effectiveness at removing air pollutants. In a laboratory study of seven models ranging in cost from $40 to $650, the efficiency of range hoods ranged from 15% to 98%. They also found that a higher price did not guarantee better performance. Even with that caveat, this research indicates that if every home had a range hood that both exhausted outside and was used while cooking, the number of homes with air quality exceeding safe standards would drop by more than half (6).
Tips from the Berkeley Lab on purchasing and correctly using a range hood
- Make sure the range hood vents to the outdoors. If it doesn’t, the polluted air will simply recirculate back into the kitchen.
- Turn on the hood every time you cook and set the fan to the highest setting.
- If the range hood does not extend over the front burner, cooking on the back burner would make the hood up to twice as effective at removing pollutants.
- If you’re buying a new range hood, it should cover the whole surface area of the range, including your front burners, and have a setting that moves at least 200 cubic feet of air per minute (6).
The first and most important takeaway is to assess your range hood using the criteria listed above, and address any of the issues (like not venting to the outside) as soon as possible! Also, you may want to consider not only ventilating while you are actively cooking, but starting it a few minutes before you begin and letting it run for a while once you’ve finished.
Lastly, if you’re in the market for a new stove consider something other than gas. According to this article from Consumer Reports, “Home cooks have been warming to induction because it cooks faster and responds much faster when you dial back the temperature (7).“ One professional chef describes using an induction range after years of using regular stoves this way, “It was like I had driven a VW Beetle my whole life and someone suddenly handed me the keys to a Ferrari (9).” Doesn’t sound like much of a sacrifice to me!
- Good overview article on the gas stoves by Medium.
- Large scale study on gas stoves and the health implications of using them.