Day 12: Get the Most Out of Your Energy
I hope you find today's newsletter electrifying
Whether or not your home runs on clean electricity (see Day 11), the strategies in today’s newsletter will help you get the most out of the energy that powers your home.
Consider electrifying your home
If you’ve switched to green electricity and have a gas-powered furnace, stove, hot water heater and so on, consider upgrading these major appliances to electric and power them with that clean energy. Electrification is not an inexpensive endeavor but prices have continued to fall. And you may be eligible for rebates.
You’ll not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase demand for renewables, you’ll also improve the air quality inside your home. Although renters have fewer options for electrifying their homes than homeowners—renters can’t be tearing gas heaters off apartment walls—they do have some.
Water heaters powered by natural gas can produce nearly half of a home’s fossil fuel emissions. Efficient heat pump water heaters run on electricity.
Gas heating and cooling systems are another major source of fossil fuel emissions in homes. An electric heat pump uses much less energy and both heats and cools.
Clothes dryers also can run on gas. Heat pump dryers are quite expensive, especially compared to a clothesline. These appliances recycle the hot air they produce rather than wasting it by venting it outside.
Gas stoves deserve a big detailed section all of their own…
Now we’re polluting with gas
Cooking with gas creates greenhouse gas emissions and fills your home with pollutants similar to what comes out of a car’s tailpipe: carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and formaldehyde. These pollutants have been associated with a host of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In this study, a gas stove and oven running for an hour raised nitrogen oxide levels so high that they would be deemed illegal outdoors. And the smaller your home, the quicker your home reaches these kinds of unhealthy levels.
So why do we love our gas stoves so when they seem to hate us? Enter marketing.
Back in the 1930s, the gas industry sought to convince home cooks to abandon their electric and wood-fired stoves for gas versions. The marketing line “Now you’re cooking with gas” did the trick. Nearly a century later, that line still works. The gas industry now pays Instagram influencers to share posts of themselves #cookingwithgas.
I am obsessed with food. I write a blog about food. I teach workshops about food. I have written a cookbook. And although I too fell for the gas industry’s line when I was younger, I’m here like your wizened aunt to tell you that it’s just not true. You can cook fabulous food without polluting gas.
If you are on the market for a new stovetop, consider induction. Induction cooktops use magnets to heat pots and pans—and their contents—very quickly. You can heat up water on an induction cooker in half the time of a gas burner (I’ve measured and tested it). The burners themselves do not heat up and they do not give off fumes. When you remove your pot, the heating stops automatically. Some pots and pans, such as copper, do not work well on induction. To figure out if your pots and pans will work, try to stick a magnet on them. If it sticks, they’ll work. I’ve cooked on induction with stainless steel, cast iron and enameled cast iron.
You may not be ready to replace your stove just yet but you are still likely thinking about those tailpipe-like emissions. You could buy a portable induction cooker for now. And you could definitely do this if you rent your home. Depending on how much you cook and the cost of the model you buy, the money you save on gas every month will soon pay for your induction cooker.
I have done several cooking demonstrations using portable induction cookers. The City of Sunnyvale lent me this model for Earth Month last year. It works very well. Right now, my energy provider is offering a $50 rebate on induction cookers bringing the price of this one down to about $70. Look for rebates on appliances where you live at Energy Star.
When I first discussed on Instagram my experiences with an induction cooker, several people pointed out that the magnets in these cooktops can interfere with pacemakers. The British Heart Association suggests that people with pacemakers stand two feet away from an induction cooktop when using them.
Reduce energy consumption
Even if your electricity comes from 100 percent renewable sources, you’ll still want to use it efficiently. Your energy bills will be lower, whatever gadget your electricity powers should last longer (such as lightbulbs) and in some cases, you will also save time.
The following ideas will help conserve energy in the kitchen and laundry room, two energy-hungry areas in homes.
Turn up the pressure. I love my second-hand pressure cooker. In mere minutes, I can cook soaked beans to perfection; beets that used to require a couple of hours in the oven; and whole pie pumpkins for pie and other dishes (but ideally for pumpkin pie).
Consider the size of your refrigerator. When the time comes and you need a new refrigerator, in addition to choosing an energy-efficient one, you may also want to opt for smaller. A smaller refrigerator will use less energy and reduce food waste. Because the larger the refrigerator, the more food you buy and the more likely some of the food stashed in there will turn and end up in the trash. (See Day 3 for more on reducing food waste.)
Cook without a heat source: fermentation. I am obsessed with fermentation. The good microbes on the food, in the air and on your hands “cook” the food for you, transforming plain cabbage, for example, to gut-friendly, probiotic-filled, tasty sauerkraut. You don’t need an outside energy source to ferment many other foods besides sauerkraut, such as salsa, hot peppers, dill pickles, preserved lemons, fruit chutney, mead and so on.
Hang laundry to dry on a clothesline or rack. Once or twice a year, I’ll post a picture on Instagram of my laundry drying outside on my drying rack. I hear two basic reactions.
Americans: “OMG where did you get your drying rack? I want it!”
Everyone else: “Why are you posting this?”
In most of the world, hanging up clothes to dry is normal, non-Instagrammable behavior. Here in the US, hanging up your laundry to dry like God intended racks up the likes and confers rebel status.
According to the US Energy Information Association (EIA), clothes dryers account for 5 percent of total household energy consumed in the US, while washing machines account for only 0.5 percent of household energy, not including the energy to heat the water in warm or hot loads. Dryers also break down fibers. Hanging your laundry up to dry will extend your clothing’s lifespan.
Use cold water. Heating water for a load of laundry consumes 90 percent of the total energy required to wash that load. (Plus hot water breaks down fabric faster than cold, shedding more plastic microfibers.)
Wash only when dirty and wash full loads. Embrace spot cleaning. Play the how-many-times-can-I-wear-these-jeans game. Get your money’s worth and do full loads. Whether you wash two towels or a full load, your machine will use the same amount of energy to wash them.
If you dry laundry in a dryer, use an energy-efficient model. When you replace your dryer, consider a heat pump dryer. And whatever type you choose, look for one with the Energy Star label. To earn this label, machines must pass independent certifications while functioning well.
Have you tried induction cooking? Have you installed a heat pump? Do you have any advice for others electrifying their homes? How about energy-conserving tips?