DecarbNation – Issue 3
Home on the Range: How policy is shaping the transition towards electrified kitchens
What’s it about?
The electrification of homes centers around it’s modern hearth: the kitchen. Over the past few years, growing awareness and concern about health risks associated with gas stoves has caused the public and policymakers alike to turn their attention to the appliance. Seen at all levels of government, policy is beginning to address this issue with varying approaches. Decarbnation Issue 3 explores this changing consumer narrative, and how, and why, policy is shaping it all.
The Power of Words
Electrification often relies on functionality behind the scenes; as long as it works, the look and feel of a water heater or furnace is rarely considered. However, that calculus changes when it comes to kitchen appliances. The stove in particular is the modern hearth of the home. It’s the focal point of many kitchens and, not surprisingly, the focal point of much controversy as well. Fully electrifying the home means electrifying the kitchen, which is why the transition needs to not only appeal to the rational, but also to the hearts and minds of those with a familiarity for gas stoves. Policy that aims to influence kitchen appliances, whether it be within the realm of energy, physical safety, or health, should be conscious of this emotional consideration.
The gas stove’s position of prominence in our hearts and homes is no accident. As Rebecca Leber reported in a 2021 MotherJones article, “Over the last hundred years, gas companies have engaged in an all-out campaign to convince Americans that cooking with a gas flame is superior to using electric heat.” These efforts have included referring to it as “natural gas” (what some are now calling methane gas); targeting women in the 1950s with ads that connected gas-fired cooking to domestic and marital bliss; developing catchy slogans and songs (“now we’re cooking with gas”); and so on.
Yet despite these marketing campaigns, the downside of combusting fossil fuels in small, enclosed spaces is finally becoming clear to the public. A growing body of research is showing the harms of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides (NOx), formaldehyde, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like benzene, and other byproducts of gas combustion. Even more, studies show exposure to some pollutants happens even when appliances aren’t in active use due to leaks. These realities are compounded by the fact that gas stoves are the only stationary gas appliance that does not require ventilation to the outdoors. This means that even in homes with ventilation, many simply recirculate polluted air back into the living space. By connecting sustained exposure of these pollutants to health outcomes like asthma, heart problems, cancer, and respiratory ailments, people are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with an open gas-powered flame in their kitchen. There is a changing tide of public and consumer sentiment toward “cooking with methane gas” with as many as 46% of gas stove owning adults interested in replacing their stoves.
Electric Cooking Today
While preconceived notions of the red hot coiled stoves from decades past have created a bias against “electric” cooking, today’s electric stoves are faster, more efficient, lead to cooler kitchens, and most importantly, gas free. The best iteration of electric cooking comes in the form of induction cooking. Rather than cooking with gas or a similarly hard to clean hot coil, induction uses electromagnetism to directly heat your pan from within, radically diminishing the amount of waste heat typically produced by cooking with any fuel. Because induction uses the cookware as the heat source, it also delivers almost immediate response times, super high heat for things like wok cooking, and completely eliminates the harmful air pollutants from gas combustion.
While about 68% of Americans use electric stoves, this number varies from state to state. For instance, only 30% of California households cook on electric stoves, which is proportionately the lowest in the country. Traditional electric stoves remain an affordable and sufficient cooking option for many people but, as the decarbonization movement grows, induction is gaining widespread acclaim as the best technology to overcome preconceived notions and challenge gas for the title of “best” cooking solution.
Induction cooking and the family of all-electric kitchen appliances (i.e. steam ovens, air fryers, pressure cookers, and more) are starting to grow in popularity. In the first two months of 2023 alone, there were over 25,000 news stories published on the topic of gas stoves and induction cooktops, highlighting the growing interest and awareness around this issue.
Manufacturers are also taking action. Many have been promoting their induction product lines in response to pressure from new legislation at the state and local levels and consumer demand, as well as attention from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).
Due to this surge of interest in electric and induction cooking, policymakers and others who can address these issues are beginning to take action at all levels of governments. Despite fear mongering from agenda-driven media outlets and public figures, no one is looking to “take away” the gas stove in a family’s home. Rather, creating a variety of pathways to incentivize electrification and educate consumers on the value of gas-free cooking will build up a marketplace for kitchen electrification without leaving anyone behind. Understanding the nuances of different approaches will better prepare advocates, government officials, and the public in general on where to go from here.
Policy and Regulations Addressing Gas Stove Health Risks
In the past year, policymakers, consumer advocates, and consumers have renewed efforts and voiced their concerns regarding the health and safety concerns of gas stoves in homes and workplaces.
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker & 19 members of Congress sent a letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) in December 2022, urging the commission to regulate gas stoves. They cited climate impacts of methane and health impacts of particulate matter, NOx, and carbon monoxide as some of the concerns, as well as the inequality perpetuated by poor indoor air quality: “Statistics show that Black, Latino, and low-income households are more likely to experience disproportionate air pollution, either from being more likely to be located near a waste incinerator or coal ash site, or living in smaller homes with poor ventilation, malfunctioning appliances, mold, dust mites, secondhand smoke, lead dust, pests, and other maintenance deficiencies.” This letter came following a request for information from Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee Chairman Raja Krishnamoorthi on why the CPSC has failed to regulate gas stoves in August 2022.
Public and industry pressure largely focuses on the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) because they are tasked with protecting consumers from products that pose “an unreasonable risk of injury.” According to experts in the area and a recent report from the Institute for Policy Integrity, the CPSC has the statutory obligation and authority through the Consumer Product Safety Act to protect consumers from health risks associated with gas stoves in the following ways:
- Conduct formal investigation through the rulemaking process
- Facilitate the development of voluntary emissions safety standards
- Issue mandatory emissions safety standards
- Conduct public education about the health realities of gas stoves and inadequate ventilation
- Require warning labels on gas stoves
- Conduct recalls on individual products found to be unsafe
In response to continued advocacy for stronger federal appliance regulations, the CPSC included the release of a Request for Information (RFI) to “seek public input on hazards associated with gas stoves and proposed solutions to those hazards” in its 2023 operating plan. This RFI is the first step in the process towards a formal rulemaking process which could lead to consumer protection actions listed above.
The Department of Energy (DOE) also receives national attention, as their energy efficiency requirements affect consumer appliances including stoves. DOE sets minimum efficiency standards for both electric cooking elements and gas stove burners through the Energy Conservation Program with the intent to reduce national energy consumption. These efficiency standards impact the kitchen appliance market by disabling the sale of the least energy efficient models, ultimately putting pressure on manufacturers to prioritize development of their more efficient product lines. DOE’s 2023 proposed standard increases efficiency requirements for electric (including induction) and gas cooktops and ovens. This proposal would see the first update of these requirements since the 1990s.
In States and Local Communities
Some cities and states have also started limiting or phasing out gas for cooking in homes and businesses. The most common approach for this action to date has been the passage of electrification ordinances. As of March 2023, 101 jurisdictions had adopted rules that encourage or require electric appliances or prohibit gas infrastructure in both new and existing buildings. However, individual agencies and governments wield varying levels of power when it comes to improving indoor air quality and reducing emissions relating to kitchen appliances.
The following pathways have been used to address various issues surrounding gas stoves in the past:
|Ordinances & Codes
||Ordinances & Codes
Air Quality Regulations
By utilizing these various policy pathways, state and local governments across the nation have taken or are proposing to take action to address the health and climate risks of gas stoves. Approaches vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and governments may use a mix of pathways to address various building types at different lifecycle stages.
Many local jurisdictions have addressed stoves and other gas burning appliances by amending state building or energy codes. To date, the majority of jurisdictions using this pathway have opted to restrict new gas infrastructure or require electric appliances during new construction with 87 policies adopted as of March 2023. There is a tremendous amount of variability across these policies, however, including some with exemptions for residential or commercial cooking.
New York City, NY
In December 2021, New York City passed Local Law 154 requiring all-electric new construction of buildings including residential cooking. The law sets a maximum building emissions limit of 25 kilograms of carbon dioxide per million British thermal units of energy consumed. With the exception of a handful of use cases, including commercial cooking, buildings less than 7 stories must comply after December 31, 2023 with 7 or more stories beginning July 1, 2027.
Los Angeles, CA
In November 2022, the City of Los Angeles passed Ordinance 187714 which requires all-electric new construction of buildings including residential cooking. All-Electric is enacted by definition in this instance as “a building that contains no combustion equipment, plumbing for combustion equipment, gas piping, or fuel gas serving any use.” While commercial cooking is exempt, they are required to install appropriate infrastructure sufficient for future electrification.
Montgomery County, MD
In March 2023 the County of Montgomery, Maryland adopted bill 13-22 to require all-electric building standards for new constructions, major renovations, and additions. This policy includes major renovations and is inclusive of residential cooking across all building types.
Local and state governments are starting to look beyond new construction and a handful of strategies are emerging that address the climate and health issues of gas usage in existing buildings, including the following adopted and proposed policies:
San Mateo, CA
In October 2022 the City of San Mateo, California adopted its Green Building Code to require all one- and two-family home kitchen alterations to include a 240 Volt, 50 Amp outlet within 6 feet of a cooktop, oven, or range to allow for easy electrification of the appliance in the future, even if the appliance being installed is gas. Additionally, any building alterations or additions that require increasing the capacity of the electrical panel must also include reserved space for future electrification of cooking equipment.
Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD)
State air agencies are tasked with regulating air pollution to protect public health and the environment. Their statutory requirement is to influence state behavior to meet increasingly stringent federal air quality thresholds via the Clean Air Act. Individual states approach this obligation differently but in general their charge includes the regulation of key pollutants from gas combustion including NO2, particulate matter, ozone, and VOCs. In March 2023, BAAQMD, the entity that regulates air quality across the 9 San Francisco Bay Area counties, adopted new rules that will phase out the sale of water heaters and space heaters that emit NOx by 2027 and 2029 respectively. There are currently no gas burning appliances that meet this standard. Because BAAQMD’s regulatory scope relates to air pollution at large, it is possible that a future version of this rule may include end uses like residential and commercial cooking.
State of California
In 2022, the California Energy Commission adopted an updated energy code (pg. 330) inclusive of differential ventilation standards for gas and electric residential stoves. The code requires between 110-160 cubic feet per minute (CFM) or a capture efficiency (CE) of 50-65% for ventilation hoods above electric stoves with the high end of the ranges prescribed for smaller living spaces where air pollution accumulates quicker. Conversely, hoods above gas stoves require between 180-280 CFM or CE of 70-85%. Increased ventilation for gas stoves is intended to capture the additional pollutants present in homes from gas combustion.
State of Illinois
House Bill 3572 was introduced in Illinois earlier this year to address consumer awareness. As proposed, it would require that all gas stoves manufactured after December 2023 to be labeled with “a specified warning message” about potential air pollutants and their health risks.
State of Colorado
In Colorado, House Bill 1134 has been introduced that would require warranty repairs to allow homeowners the option of replacing gas-fueled appliances with similar electric-powered devices. As currently written, this would apply to a number of appliances including allowing gas stoves to be replaced by electric or induction models. Homeowners whose equipment fails while under warranty (often during, though not limited to, the first year of ownership) can electrify at the same time.
Policies and Actions in Opposition
These efforts have not been without opposition. When the City of Berkeley, California instituted their moratorium on any new natural gas infrastructure in new construction projects in 2019, they did so to promote electrification while avoiding operational carbon emissions, community air pollutants, and indoor air pollutants. This ordinance was the first of its kind to address gas usage, including for cooking appliances, via natural gas infrastructure rather than codes affecting buildings themselves. In response to this move by the City, the California Restaurant Association (CRA) filed a lawsuit, arguing that federal law preempts the City’s ordinance. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in favor of the City last year followed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit overturning this decision in April 2023. This case only applies in the Ninth Circuit and the outcome is still pending.
Also in response to Berkeley, and the still growing list of local jurisdictions adopting ordinances, there have been legislative efforts to avoid similar approaches in other states. As of February 2023, 20 states have enacted laws (sometimes referred to as preemption laws) that disallow local jurisdictions from restricting the use of gas appliances at all.
In response to the January 2023 media flurry around CPSC’s prospective investigation into stove safety, nine states saw legislation introduced to prohibit gas stove restrictions. At the time of writing, most of those are still working their way through their respective government bodies. Michigan has a proposed resolution that if successful will declare January 31, 2023 “Gas Stove Appreciation Day” and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis even included a line item in his proposed budget to make gas stoves exempt from sales tax.
In the years to come
Due to the growing body of research showing the impacts of indoor gas combustion and the subsequent political and social discourse, stoves and their fuel source are at the forefront of conversations around home appliances and their future. We’re transitioning away from cooking with gas, both in policy and consumer interest. But any expectation that this will happen immediately, or without consideration of people’s current wants and needs, is incorrect. At the moment, the vast majority of policies target new construction. Those that affect existing buildings either require you to undertake a major remodel, are still several years away, or will only impact new appliances sales. People with a good-faith interest in engaging in the conversation should understand these differing approaches, their pros and cons, and how the outcomes will continue to shape the market for all-electric appliances in our kitchens and beyond.
Questions? Reach out to Noah Cordoba, Building Decarbonization Coalition, email@example.com
Issue 1: Building Decarbonization Legislative Roundup, 2021-22
Issue 2: The Future of Gas: A Summary of Regulatory Proceedings on the Methane Gas System
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