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Home Improvement : Cooking Up Comparisons on Stoves

August 23, 1992

QUESTION: We're planning to remodel our kitchen and replace the stove. We'd like to install a gas range. Are they more energy efficient than electric ones? What features should we look for?

ANSWER: If the truth be known, gas ranges are no more efficient than electric ones. But they do offer a clear advantage of temperature control--they heat up and cool off virtually instantly. This is a real selling point for the chef in the house.

About the closest thing to this kind of control in an electric model are the newer halogen units. They use a halogen light fixture below a flat ceramic surface to do the cooking. The halogen coil heats up and cools off much faster than the conventional coil unit.

Energy costs for gas and electric ranges are close--about $30 to $40 per year for the typical family depending on local rates. When shopping for a new range, you won't find the bright yellow Energy Guide labels to help you compare energy costs. They're found on other appliances, but not ranges. In lieu of these, look for the following energy efficiency features.

Gas ranges should have electronic ignitions rather than pilot lights. The self-cleaning oven feature on both gas and electric ovens improves energy efficiency because the oven is better insulated and the door has a tighter seal. Even if you don't use the cleaning feature, the oven is more efficient during baking.

If you're really after efficiency, consider getting a convection oven--it costs a bit more but saves energy and money by reducing cooking time by a third. Convection ovens use a built-in fan that circulates hot air uniformly and continuously around the food. This provides even heat on all levels of the oven and reduces cooking time.

Be sure to install a range hood with your new range. And use the hood when cooking. It exhausts moisture and cooking odors, and in the case of the gas range, combustion gases that cause indoor air pollution. Gas ranges produce combustion by-products which should be vented to the outdoors.

As long as you're remodeling the kitchen, take advantage of efficiency in other major kitchen appliances too. The refrigerator is the third biggest user of energy in the home--and the dishwasher isn't far behind. Tremendous improvements in refrigerator technology--higher insulation levels, temperature control and door seals--make today's models twice as efficient as those made in the '70s. Today dishwashers are also more efficient, saving energy and water.

Tips on How to Save Energy in Cooking

* Cook with lids on pots. This keeps the heat in, speeds up the cooking time and reduces moisture problems in the home. To prevent pots from boiling over, you may need to set burners at lower temperatures.

* Use pots and pans with flat bottoms on electric ranges. The more contact with the element, the better.

* Turn electric elements off a few minutes ahead of time. The element will have enough residual heat to finish the cooking--about 15 minutes after it's off.

* Match pots and pans to size of the burner or element.

* Keep reflector pans clean.

* Minimize oven preheating. It isn't necessary for casseroles or roasts, only for baked goods.

* Don't be an oven peeker, use a timer instead. Opening a hot oven for a few seconds reduces temperatures by 25 to 50 degrees.

* When cooking small meals, use toaster ovens or microwave ovens. Plug-in fryers, tea kettles and crock pots are also more efficient than the range top.

* Allow leftovers to cool off thoroughly before putting them in the refrigerator.

Produced by the Energy Extension Service, a division of the Washington State Energy Office.

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