Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time: 4 Problems With Gas Stoves
Your gas stove could be slowly killing you. We’re not saying it definitely will kill you. It may not. It’s sorta like encountering a bear in the woods: You might get mauled, you might get advice on forest fire prevention, they may try to sell you toilet paper, or you might get porridge of varying temperatures. We don’t know because obviously, we don’t go hiking very often, but we did find out a lot of scary stuff about gas stoves.
It’s not that we take any great joy in triggering anyone’s hypochondria or making someone feel paranoid over something they’ve been just fine living with inside their homes up until right now. It’s just that when we find out how truly messed up something is, we can’t not tell you about it. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but we have had people tell us we’re fun at parties without being sarcastic about it.
So, how has an appliance that dates back over two centuries not been updated to not be a death trap? Short answer: Today, they’re being made to be as safe as burning an open flame inside your hopefully well-ventilated living space can be. Long answer: keep reading ...
They’re Bad for the Environment
There are two things to bear in mind any time someone tries to tell you that natural gas is “clean burning”: 1) That person is more than likely trying to sell you natural gas or an appliance that uses it, and 2) the word “clean” is doing a lot of heavy lifting there. Sure, natural gas is the cleanest burning fossil fuel, but it is still a freaking fossil fuel.
Carbon dioxide is the most prominent greenhouse gas in our atmosphere, and yes, burning natural gas produces far less CO2 than other fossil fuels such as coal or oil. However, that’s not much of a comfort when you consider that natural gas is methane, which is the second most prominent greenhouse gas. Not only that, but as far as planet-dooming, heat-trapping, sky-clogging chemical compounds are concerned, methane is 25 times more potent than CO2.
Regardless of whether you believe in climate change or if you don’t believe human activity is the cause of it, there is another thing to consider about natural gas: We’re running out of it, and fast. Just look at the increase in fracking in recent years. Not only are they sucking every bit of oil and gas out of each well site, they’re also pressure washing the insides to get everything that’s stuck in the nooks and crannies underground. Sure, nearby residents now have flammable well water, are experiencing earthquakes without being anywhere near a faultline, and their kids keep getting sick, but whatever …
So, even if you are ride-or-die for your gas appliances, you may want to consider finding an alternative before scarcity sends fossil fuel prices skyrocketing because unless we find additional reserves soon, the world may run out of natural gas as soon as 2060. And even if we find more, we’ll eventually run out of that, too.
They’re Terrible for the Air Inside, Too
If you are using a natural gas stove in your home, let’s take a moment to really break down exactly what is happening. You have a flammable gas being pumped into your living space by a utility company you had no choice but to work with because they have no other competitors in your area.
This noxious, easily combustible gas will pass through a series of pipes, hoses, meters, and regulators that may not be the highest quality products of their kind on the market … and were designed, engineered, built, and installed by people who might not have been good at their jobs. The only guarantee you have that that none of the gas is leaking out somewhere is that the utility company was required by law to put an additive to the normally odorless gas to make it smell like rotten eggs.
Now, every time you want to cook a meal, you’re going to turn a knob on that stove that will start a small fire at the end of this massive Rube Goldberg contraption and blindly trust that it won’t blow you to kingdom come. Thankfully, there is no massive explosion. Instead, it’s just a small flame of burning hydrocarbons releasing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, plus trace amounts of methane that didn’t burn off… all into the enclosed space of your kitchen.
How much of this pollution is being released into your home? It’s really impossible to say without sending a technician to your house to run an inspection. Levels of pollutants vary greatly depending on the age and model of the appliances, whether or not there’s a working vent hood installed, the overall ventilation of the home, and even what foods you’re cooking.
There’s also greater cause for concern considering that up to one-third of American households use gas stoves, on top of the fact that so many people decided to learn how to be a better cook while having to stay at home so much over the past couple of years. It also doesn’t help that many of the symptoms you’d be experiencing from this type of pollution, like headaches, confusion, disorientation, fatigue, etc., are nearly indistinguishable from merely existing in the year 2022.
Now for the “Won’t someone please think of the children” portion. In 2013, the International Journal of Epidemiology published a meta-analysis of 41 different studies concluded that children that lived in homes with gas stoves had a 42% higher risk of developing asthma symptoms, as well as a 24% higher chance of being diagnosed with asthma in their lifetimes. This link between gas stoves, indoor air quality, and lung issues is definitely being reviewed more and more in relation to the long-term recovery of COVID-19 patients.
The Environmental Protection Agency is only mandated to monitor outdoor air quality, so about the most they can tell you is to make sure your vent hood is working properly, change your HVAC filters, install smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and crack open a window once in a while. If you happen to find any of this information alarming, you may want to call in a professional to take some air quality readings.
They’re Horribly Inefficient
The number one reason so many people continue to use gas stoves is simply out of habit. Gas stoves were the first method of cooking that allowed households to more precisely adjust the temperature on the fly and, more importantly, turn it off as soon as we were done. This was a luxury not really present on the wood-burning stoves that preceded them. You either had to keep a really close eye on what you were cooking or keep a bucket of water handy.
Gas appliances are still a major selling point for real estate agents, and having gas hookups in your home could even raise your property value by as much as 6%. Not because gas is better, but rather that the new buyers won’t have to pay to have a new gas line installed if they really wanted it.
One of the major drawbacks of cooking with a gas stove, aside from the aforementioned poisoned air issue, is that whatever pot you’re using has to be suspended over the gas flame, which causes 45-60% of the heat to escape off to the sides, and that poses a number of risks. Best case scenario: the kitchen could become uncomfortably hot, and sometimes whatever you’re cooking is not worth sweating your ass off. Worst case scenario: anything that comes too close to that heat can become a fire hazard. A carelessly placed dish towel … a wooden spoon … Mrs. Doubtfire …
Compare that with an electric range stove. For one, a new electric stove would cost more than a gas counterpart but, in the long run, is way more energy efficient. Utility rates vary by location, but a gas stove generally could cost 10-30% less to operate. They perform better at cooking in high heat, low heat, baking, and broiling. They’re also easier to clean, and that’s a huge plus.
The big problem with electric stoves is you have less immediate control over the temperature. On a gas stove, you can adjust the size of the flame, and the temperature of the pan quickly follows suit. On an electric stove, the heating coils take longer to heat up and cool down, which can pose problems with recipes that require you to change the temperature at some point.
There is a new kind of stove available that is gaining popularity: Induction. No flames, no heating coils, just an electromagnet reacting to the metal of the pan, causing the pan itself to be the heat source. This means less chance of fire and less heat escaping into the kitchen, so your food gets hot instead of you.
The two main drawbacks to induction stoves are 1) they are crazy expensive right now compared to gas or electric ranges, but as they continue to rise in popularity ought to bring prices down, and 2) you can only use pots and pans that contain ferrous metals like cast iron or stainless steel. If you can’t stick a refrigerator magnet to it, you’ll either have to replace all of your cookware or get a special metal plate to use as a go-between.
It’s Kind of a Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t Situation
As much as we’d like to say that all gas stoves need to be done away with as soon as possible, for most people, that just isn’t an option. Not many folks have the money to plop down on a new electric or induction range right now, or have a landlord willing to buy a new stove without raising their rent. But eventually, all gas stoves will need to be put out to pasture because, as we said, natural gas supplies will eventually run out, and it sure as hell ain’t gonna get any cheaper as that happens.
Besides, you may live in an area that has a particularly glitchy power grid, and when the power goes out, having a gas stove may be your only way of cooking food or if you’re being instructed to boil water before drinking it. Well, you can’t always rely on that being the case. Having a gas line isn’t that much of a help if your local gas grid can’t power its pumping stations or compressors.
You don’t have to get rid of your gas stove, though … At least until you absolutely can’t afford not to. In the meantime, you just have to be mindful of exactly how it is affecting your home. At the bare minimum, have all of your gas appliances regularly inspected and maintained. Check your carbon monoxide and smoke detectors often to make sure they’re working properly. Make sure your vent hoods are working properly, and if for some reason you don’t have a vent hood, either try to get one installed ASAP or plan on cooking with the windows open.
Also, cleaning your stovetop after each use and regularly cleaning the inside of your oven will prevent stray food particles from charring and releasing more harmful particles into the air. We know this article is putting a lot of extra chores on you on top of a bunch of doom and gloom, but just know we’re only telling you this because we love you and we want you to be safe. Also, would it kill you to pick up a phone and call home once and a while? Just sayin’ ...
Dan Fritschie is a writer, comedian, and frequent over-thinker. He can be found on Twitter, and he thanks you for your time.
Top image: Marcio Jose Bastos Silva/Shutterstock