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Technology

I Set Out to Get an Induction Stove. I Ended Up with Gas.

Making the switch as a renter proved a lot harder than I realized.

An apartment building as a gas stove.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

I have a confession: Electrifying my own home baffles me. Ride the bus more often? No problem. Eat more vegetables? A cinch. But limiting the emissions of my one-bedroom apartment is hard.

As a New York renter, I have no real choices. My heat comes from natural gas — via a radiator I have little control over — and so does the fuel for cooking. The (increasingly fervent) conversations about replacing gas appliances with electric were always of more theoretical than practical interest to me.

However, faced with replacing my own range, I got a front row seat to how complicated the process can be for renters. Not only did I come up against practical realities that made an induction stove a hard sell for my landlord, but I also realized how much we’ll resist decarbonizing our homes simply because it’s a huge hassle. It’s just easier to use the infrastructure we are accustomed to, even for those of us who know better. Fighting that inertia, then, is our challenge.

The leak

My first thought that Sunday was “gas!”

A faint but distinct rotten egg odor had snuck under my bedroom door. I dashed to the kitchen, checked that the burners were turned off. But all seemed well. In fact, the odor seemed to have dissipated and was probably just the remnants of a neighbor’s burned-something anyway. False alarm. I returned to my regularly scheduled Sunday morning programming of coffee and my book until an afternoon potluck across Brooklyn.

(I did open the windows, just in case. But I also used the range as usual, making croutons from stale bread. Hubristic, I know.)

When I returned post-potluck, though, the sulfuric smell had returned, concentrated and unmistakable. Google told me to call my utility or even 911 and not to touch any of my appliances. As I waited in the lobby for National Grid, I thought guiltily of the croutons.

An officious duo confirmed my fears: I had a gas leak. Two, actually, both from the stove itself and from the nozzle where it connects to the wall. Once they disconnected it, tagged it, and bustled out of the apartment, I felt momentarily grateful that I had already planned to eat salad for dinner, stranded as I now was without the means to cook.

And then I opened my laptop to begin Mission Induction Stove.

The case for induction

Before the leak, I thought of gas as a nonnegotiable reality of renting in New York City. Aside from one friend who abhorred her unreliable electric stove, everyone I know used the gas range that came with their apartments, many without even an exhaust fan or vent hood.

I was astonished to learn that most people in the U.S. do not rely on natural gas for cooking, because I have lived solely in places that do: first in California, which at 70% has the country’s highest rate of natural gas use for cooking, and now in New York. Otherwise, though, I was well-versed in the facts: that gas-burning stoves are a major source of methane and nitrogen dioxide, which can prompt asthma and other health problems, and that they can also emit the carcinogen benzene and other chemicals.

But I spent most of my career compartmentalizing these facts when it came time to cook. In a bid to protect my lungs, I used the exhaust fan and left the windows open. While I considered buying a plug-in induction burner — as Sam Calisch, head of special projects for Rewiring America, recommended when I consulted him for this story — my lack of spare counter space and tendency to cook on multiple burners at once caused me to kick that can down the road.

Presented with the leak, though, I decided to lobby for a better replacement. Electric-powered induction ranges are precise and powerful, using an electromagnetic field to heat cookware directly. While they once were a niche and expensive offering, they have begun to catch on. New York State’s own energy research office recommends induction as “the better way to upgrade your kitchen.”

My goal was to convince my generally quite reasonable landlord that an induction stove would cost the same as a gas replacement, if not less.

Via email, I channeled Consumer Reports: “I found several well-reviewed induction options,” I wrote, including one from Samsung and one from Frigidaire that I described as “particularly promising” and likely to “work for far longer than the two years that the Summit one did.”

I am thrilled to report that this tack seemed initially to work. “I will look into it,” my landlord said on the phone. “We certainly don’t want more gas leaks.” I soared, imagining boiling water for pasta in half the time.

This optimism was premature.

The renter’s electrification conundrum

There were two crucial details that I failed to consider as I made my plea.

The first is that New York apartments are not large, and neither are their appliances. My stove is 24 inches, smaller than the standard 30. But, accustomed to zero elbow room, I forgot this and sent my landlord only 30-inch options. When I realized my error, I was dismayed to find only one induction option that would fit: a ZLINE range that cost more than twice as much as my old stove.

While the induction chorus is swiftly growing (especially in light of the news that the Consumer Product Safety Commission is weighing how best to regulate gas stoves) the market remains small. Only about 4 million U.S. households used induction as of 2020. Accordingly, there are just a few options on offer, and as a renter with a small kitchen I fell into a hole in the market.

However, the market is projected to grow considerably in the coming years, and Rewiring America’s Calisch told me that “as more households adopt this technology, product selection will continue to grow.” Banning gas stoves in new buildings, as New York City did starting in 2025 for smaller buildings and 2027 for larger, might also bring more options to market.

Despite its high price-tag, I sent my landlord the ZLINE option as a Hail Mary. This is when I came up against crucial detail number two.

I mentioned to an electrician I was trying to replace my gas stove with induction, and he was incredulous: “Management green-lit those electrical upgrades?”

As I should have realized, switching to induction can mean upgrading the wiring to a 220-volt outlet protected by 40-50 amp breakers. In an old building like mine, that can be complicated. A Carbon Switch survey of 90 induction purchasers found that 59 of them had to pay for some sort of electrical work, with an average price tag of $987.

While these upgrades are worthwhile to homeowners looking for the climate and health benefits of an induction stove, I imagine that the landlord/renter divide makes them less likely in homes like mine. Installing a new outlet or upgrading an electrical panel involves far more moving parts than simply ordering a new stove would. And the hassle and expense would be borne by my building’s management, while the benefits would be enjoyed by me.

But there are policies that could help renters make the case to their landlords, such as energy use benchmarking. Benchmarking requires buildings to disclose their energy intensity, which “can be a proxy for how expensive the utilities in a building are,” Calisch said. This can incentivize property owners to invest in efficient appliances because renters, who foot their own electricity and gas bills, will appreciate apartments with low projected energy costs. New York City already applies benchmarking requirements for buildings of more than 25,000 square feet (though not mine, sadly).

Performance standards can be used as a complement for benchmarking, Calisch said, which represent efficiency goals that property owners must meet through building or appliance improvements.

“The key part of this policy is setting the standard such that electric appliances are the only path to meeting them,” he added.

My journey ends where it began: with gas

Ultimately, the pricey ZLINE model was rejected. I ended up instead with a new gas stove, which was installed last week.

It is fine: a stainless steel model by GE that is a perfectly serviceable version of the gas stoves I have been using all my life. The warming drawer is even big enough to fit my cookie sheets, which is the kind of small win for my kitchen I would have cheered in any other context.

But after picturing a sleek and emissions-free induction alternative, the new stove felt banal. I was relieved, thrilled even, to finally cook hot food in my own apartment after weeks of salads and sandwiches, but I found myself waiting for water to boil with a twinge of impatience. And my least favorite kitchen chore — wiping down the stove — was even more annoying after I got my hopes up about the glass-topped, easily-cleaned ZLINE. My nose also twitches more than usual at the smell of gas, and I’m more likely to remember to open the windows while I cook.

So perhaps it will come as no surprise that while writing this article, I took a quick break to buy a portable induction burner: my kitchen’s tiny victory in the face of inertia.

Yellow

Lisa Martine Jenkins

Lisa Martine Jenkins is a climate journalist based in Brooklyn. She previously wrote for Protocol, and her work has appeared in The Guardian, The Associated Press, and Civil Eats, among others. Read More

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