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Energy and Resource Consumption and Conservation in the Kitchen


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At home I refuse to turn on our giant (poorly insulated) electric oven to bake a single potato. If I fire up the barBQ I try to do the whole meal on the grill. One of the greatest features of a microwave in my opinion is the amount of cooking you get for a small amount of electricity.

I have yet to encounter a cookbook or cooking show that addresses this issue. When wilderness cooking, fuel conservation is a big deal - why not at home?

Am I alone here?

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Based on this webpage, cooking, at least as far as electricity goes, amounts to a small percentage of your home electricity costs.

To wit, let's say you've got a stove that you use. Your average consumption per cooking period is, say 10,000 Watts (10 kW). If you are like me, you will cook for roughly 1/2 of active stove time. So, that's 15 hours in a month. Now you're up to 150 kWh per month.

If you use my electric utility's rate plan for summer, that's 150 kWh * $.0851 = $12.77 per month.

Granted, that's a reasonable amount, and worth tracking. But, it's less than a meal for 3 at McDonald's (unless you're being REALLY careful).

You'll also notice that refrigeration alone takes twice what cooking takes. I don't know whether that takes into account having a refigerator and a deep-freeze. But, you can understand how that would go, too.

Your efforts are admirable, for certain, but I think you're looking in the wrong area for higher efficiency for cost-savings.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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This is something that most people do not think about a lot at this point in time, but certainly there have been times and places where the subject was not moot.

In older British (and some US) cookbooks written during the WW2 period you will find notes on this concern, and of course it is said that many of the techniques and cooking methods and cooking vessels of China were developed because fuel (at that time wood or perhaps even coke/coal?) was scarce.

One of the ways to address this "today" without really doing any worrying or adjustments in daily life is simply to add some more things to the oven when you do use it, things that can be made into other things later.

If you are roasting a chicken, you can throw in some baking potatoes for the purpose of making twice-baked potatoes the next day. . .or a small ham or pork roast which can be made into Cuban sandwiches. . .or beets to roast for a salad or soup. . . or a "oven" rice pilaf that can be dressed and served as a salad after cooling. . .some quick buns, breads, or muffins. . . all sorts of veggies that may taste good roasted then served in a tasty marinade. . .the possibilities are really endless if you put your mind to it, and besides being fuel-efficient it is also time-saving during the week, for when you look in the refrigerator - voila! There is something to "start" something with for a good meal.

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Based on this webpage, cooking, at least as far as electricity goes, amounts to a small percentage of your home electricity costs.

To wit, let's say you've got a stove that you use.  Your average consumption per cooking period is, say 10,000 Watts (10 kW).  If you are like me, you will cook for roughly 1/2 of active stove time.  So, that's 15 hours in a month.  Now you're up to 150 kWh per month.

If you use my electric utility's rate plan for summer, that's 150 kWh * $.0851 = $12.77 per month.

Granted, that's a reasonable amount, and worth tracking.  But, it's less than a meal for 3 at McDonald's (unless you're being REALLY careful).

You'll also notice that refrigeration alone takes twice what cooking takes.  I don't know whether that takes into account having a refigerator and a deep-freeze.  But, you can understand how that would go, too.

Your efforts are admirable, for certain, but I think you're looking in the wrong area for higher efficiency for cost-savings.

Good point. Maybe the better idea is to look at the "embodied energy" of meals as they hit the dining room table. A raw tomato that you grew in your backyard would have a much lower "EE" than say roast of beef flown in from Kobe, Japan.

In my line of work (architecture) we have spent much effort evaluating building materials for their "environmental attributes" in an effort to do the right thing from a green point of view. Its a bit elusive and not always scientific, but in general it seems one ought to use local and renewable building materials wherever possible.

I would love to learn more about this as it relates to food.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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I do think about energy consumption when I prepare food, but it has little to do with saving money. For me, it's about saving electricity so that there is enough to go around for everyone. Especially since dinner preparation usually is done during peak electricity consumption times.

Your techniques are about the same as mine. When I am roasting meat, I serve roasted vegetables at the same meal so I can fully utilize the oven. I use the microwave and toaster oven for small portions. I also have a small oven so that I am not using unnecessary energy preparing food for only two people.

Good point. Maybe the better idea is to look at the "embodied energy" of meals as they hit the dining room table. A raw tomato that you grew in your backyard would have a much lower "EE" than say roast of beef flown in from Kobe, Japan.

This is a really good point. I'm thinking about using my small chest freezer again for this purpose. It will allow me to grow more food and buy more from local farmers' markets in the summer and fall to freeze for use all winter. Although this will up my consumption of electricity, in the long run it will save because, as you pointed out, I'll be eating more food grown locally rather than imported from other countries.

Tammy Olson aka "TPO"

The Practical Pantry

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Your efforts are admirable, for certain, but I think you're looking in the wrong area for higher efficiency for cost-savings.

I disagree. I believe every bit helps. Multiply it out to 12 months...now it's something to think about. Multiply it by everybody in your town, state, country...and it might mean the difference in whether the utility HAS to build that new powerplant. Utilities love appliances that draw a constant amount...because they can forcast these. They hate appliances that draw huge current for short periods...like air conditioners, stoves and water heaters. It is these high demand appliances that decide when new power stations are required. My 2 cents.

Anyways that's what my friend the vice president of a electric coop tells me all the time. According to him the best example of a constant draw appliance are lights, with christmas lights being the epitome.

A island in a lake, on a island in a lake, is where my house would be if I won the lottery.

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One of the ways to address this "today" without really doing any worrying or adjustments in daily life is simply to add some more things to the oven when you do use it, things that can be made into other things later.

I agree with you. Now if I could only get away from my apartment-sized oven! I think it's only 18 inches wide!

And, yes, you are right Wolfchef. Over a long enough time period, the savings become much less nominal. "Making it up in volume" is the term, I believe. But, if you are talking 10% of 4%, you are playing the point of diminished returns game, IMO.

If you lower your water heater temperature, or if you get a more efficient HVAC system, you will be much more efficient than changing how you cook.

Where I think you will notice the difference in changing how you cook is more a time-based efficiency. If you cook all of one (or several) meals in the oven, you will have one place to look/futz with them during cooking. While if you're grilling burgers, steaming carrots, boiling potatoes, blending margaritas, and baking cupcakes, you'll have all of those extra places to look/stir/turn/flip/futz.

It's a lovely academic problem, but it's below the 5% threshold.

I always attempt to have the ratio of my intelligence to weight ratio be greater than one. But, I am from the midwest. I am sure you can now understand my life's conundrum.

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I'm surprised because everyone in this discussion so far seems to have electric stoves & ovens.

Ours is gas. Of course burning gas has its own problems, but it's also more effective, as you know, and heats quicker. It's also not something I worry about as we live in the city (Toronto) and have the advantage of being able to walk everwhere or just take a quick streetcar (don't own a car) for any grocery shopping. As I walk I sometimes fret about the gasoline being burnt by people driving to big supermarkets off in the suburbs; this is dirtier and far worse then burning a bit of natural gas to cook with. To lesson the 'ecological impact' of our purchasing, I also try to buy seasonal and local where possible.

My impression is that running air conditioners really uses up electricity, more than ovens, and so I would try to reduce consumption there. Also people can hang-dry clothes instead of using a drier.

(Can't help feeling guilty as I write this, however, because these gestures are only the tip of the iceberg.)

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I try to be frugal with my use of my old Chambers gas range, my B&D toaster oven, my microwave and my Cadco commercial countertop convection oven - figuring out the appropriate cooker for the meal/meals I'm cooking.

With the cost of natural gas in today's market [especially after Katrina], I'm not sure that cooking with gas is or ever will be cheaper than electricity as it once was here in Texas. And it is likely that both fuels will take more and more of our budgets as we get older. This has concerned me as I looked at the possibility of going dual fuel - trying to figure out if using an electric oven would be incrementally costlier than a gas one. All I can probably hope for is that I will be an informed and frugal consumer.

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I'm surprised because everyone in this discussion so far seems to have electric stoves & ovens. 

Ours is gas.  Of course burning gas has its own problems, but it's also more effective, as you know, and heats quicker.  It's also not something I worry about as we live in the city (Toronto) and have the advantage of being able to walk everwhere or just take a quick streetcar (don't own a car) for any grocery shopping.  As I walk I sometimes fret about the gasoline being burnt by people driving to big supermarkets off in the suburbs; this is dirtier and far worse then burning a bit of natural gas to cook with.  To lesson the 'ecological impact' of our purchasing, I also try to buy seasonal and local where possible.

My impression is that running air conditioners really uses up electricity, more than ovens, and so I would try to reduce consumption there.  Also people can hang-dry clothes instead of using a drier.

(Can't help feeling guilty as I write this, however, because these gestures are only the tip of the iceberg.)

We don't have access yet to underground gas around here (Nova Scotia) although you can get a propane tank system. I am born and raised and Toronto, I miss the gas stoves and the street cars (among other things, like going to Leaf games). I did not get a car until I moved away.

I guess I am less concerned with the financial cost than I am the environmental cost. And I am not switching to an all-raw food diet anytime soon. In our free-enterprise democracy, every time we spend a dollar we are voting for something. So I'll take local organic GMO-free produce when I can.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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With the cost of natural gas in today's market [especially after Katrina], I'm not sure that cooking with gas is or ever will be cheaper than electricity as it once was here in Texas.
Don't know what you pay down there, but from what I know nat.gas has always been pretty cheap in Cdn. Of course we've got plenty.

I don't pay for mine, though - the landlord does.

We don't have access yet to underground gas around here (Nova Scotia) although you can get a propane tank system.
A bit more dangerous, but actually better than nat.gas.
miss the gas stoves and the street cars (among other things, like going to Leaf games)
Well, regarding the final item - you're certainly not missing much.
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As someone living in a subtropical climate, my major concern is not so much the cost of using the oven, as it is recooling the house during/afterwards. Thus, I do most of my hot-weather baking late in the evening, and I've installed a small, efficient window air conditioner across from the stove and oven. When I moved in here, I couldn't really afford to replace the 10-year-old heat pump unit for a more efficient model, so I've found this to be my best solution -- turn on the window a/c when the oven is preheating, and off when the oven has cooled.

(Come to think of it, even in cooler weather, I tend to manage my appliance use for double-duty: Use the clothes dryer at night, so that it can assist the heater, ditto for the oven. And I almost always multi-task in the oven: baking potatoes or sweet potatoes while the bread or roast are cooking, etc.)

And my next planned purchases include an on-demand water heater and a newer/more efficient refrigerator.

"Enchant, stay beautiful and graceful, but do this, eat well. Bring the same consideration to the preparation of your food as you devote to your appearance. Let your dinner be a poem, like your dress."

Charles Pierre Monselet, Letters to Emily

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  • 2 years later...

Two and a half years later energy conservation in the home kitchen is more of a hot topic.

A series of Powerwise TV adds featuring David Suzuki illustrate ways to cut back at home. The most recent one (sorry, can't find a link) has Dr. Suzuki explaining to a guy that his old beer fridge in the basement consumes $150 per year of electricity - I think he said 1225 kW over 12 months.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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Also in the field - and I hope to be able to add much more to the conversation soon as I will be working with a firm that has been very involved with sustainable architecture for longer than LEED has existed.

There was a very interesting article in the NY Times a few weeks back about the greening of existing residences in England, with electric meters in the house so residents can see how much they are drawing at any time - a good reminder to turn off lights, computers, etc. when not in use, how much insulation and energy efficient appliances can help reduce energy use.

It doesn't make a lot sense to replace a year or two old appliance with a more energy efficient one - there is a lot of energy used to make these things too.

A friend got around to replacing her kitchen - it was old and bad. She really splurged to get what she wanted, but she also ended up with a very efficient kitchen.

Her kitchen is small, very small. A great start.

Lots of windows for natural light - recently replaced so that they are now double pane insulated and can open for a breeze.

Her cabinets are forest friendly certified plywood with VG fir and HPL fronts.

She was able to refinish the existing fir floor with a non toxic finish.

Her countertops are Paperstone - a lovely recycled paper product that is much warmer than stone and will have a patina over time (ie, it will show wear and tear.) She also has a small backsplash with a mix of stone and glass tile - recycled products, I believe.

She has an 18" low water, low energy dishwasher, a two burner induction cooktop (she does not cook as much as she assembles meals like salads,) a convection oven/microwave/hood that came with a steamer insert that she uses to cook vegetables and fish with great success, a 24" electric convection oven for those cookie baking days (or a small turkey,) and a 24" wide Liebherr refrigerator - very energy efficient.

I wish I could post a photo for you - it's very sweet.

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I always worry about how much gas I'm using in the kitchen - and I don't even have an oven. It's why I never braise anything - I'm afraid of what my gas bill would look like if I left the burner running for more than an hour. When I lived in my old apartment, my burner shut it self off after 20 minutes of continuous use as a safety feature. So I try to keep my cooking as "local" as possible, and not try a lot of recipes that I grew up with, which call for longer cooking times. Right now my gas bill is around 5,000 yen a month - which is around $45 US. Gas is only used for cooking in my apartment (I get a separate electricity bill), so I take into consideration how long things need to be cooked when I choose a recipe.

I've also been using my microwave more, since I purchased Harumi Kurihara's "Japanese Cooking" - a lot of her recipes call for using the microwave for steaming, and I have enjoyed the results. She calls for steaming chicken thighs in a bowl with some ginger, shaosing, and green onion, and they come out great.

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I do think about the issues, which is why I've shied away as much as possible from recipes that ask me to dry something in the oven for hours. I was preparing a dish with dulce de leche once and I winced at the 3-hour cooking time, but thankfully I found instructions to use the pressure cooker. I really should learn to use that thing more.

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

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For me, the pressure cooker, crock pot and toaster oven are essential. This is even more evident on a really hot day -- run the A/C or a mess of fans to cool the kitchen which I'm heating? And, when it's hot outside, I often will set up the crock pot in the garage.

My second stab at energy de-consumption is that as often as I can (depending on the load I need), I ride my bike to the supermarket, and always take my own plastic bags, tote bags, etc. They fit very nicely into the plastic milk crate on the back of the bike. (Oh, and I'm getting buff in the process!)

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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2 things on this area since I kind of work in this area. . .the refrigerator is the primary consumer of electricity in the kitchen and is roughly 15-20% of a home's overall electricity consumption (depending on the amount of AC primarily).

1) there was an ad at the bottom of page 1 of today's San Francisco Chronicle food section that is about Miele refrigerators. I'm transcribing the text of the advertisement:

"Does your refrigerator keep in touch with you? Miele's new RemoteVision WIFI technology will notify you if there's a problem or even if the door is left open."

So, what's the next logical progression in this. . .if a refrigertor is able to contact you and tell you the door was left open or whatnot, why not just be able to have more control over the settings.

2) This post projects the future kitchen and being able to monitor and control the usage of all your appliances, but especially the refrigerator. It's a bit more heavy on electric rate design (which is what I'm interested in and work on), so it may be a bit too into the weeds for some people. It deals with home area networks and home energy management services where people can monitor their electricity usage by the hour or minute and see where their usage comes from and being able to control that usage in response to electricity prices or emergencies. Like I said, pretty in the weeds.

In a related post, the Green Lantern on Slate answers a question on when is it cost-effective for one to buy a new energy efficient appliance, such as a refrigerator.

Of course, what we've found in California is that people might buy a brand new, energy efficient refrigerator, but then put the old one in the garage and use it for beer, Coke and other larger items that need to be frozen or refrigerated. Which, I guess, sort of defeats the whole purpose of that effort.

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Last month my 35 year old avocado green freezer died. Rather than replace it with another freezer, we bought a larger French door refrigerator with the freezer drawer because we really didn't need all the freezer space.

We gave the ten year old fridge away as I will not run two and the person who got it needed it beacuse hers was in really bad shape.

Still waiting to see how this affects my power bill.

A word of caution to those who use propane for cooking etc. A few months ago I had to call the repairman because we smelled propane. It was a loose connection that he fixed but he then checked out my lines which were all improperly installed.

When he checked the pressure on the lines he found that we were losing gas at an astonishing rate, There was a leak somewhere underground because we never did smell it.

To make a long story short we have been paying for propane as if we were burning a furnace 24/7.

He said that the repairs should pay for themselves in a few months. Hope he's right.

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There is a Canadian cooking show called Foodies that makes the argument for smaller more energy efficient kitchen devices. It's essentially an infomercial for Oster Brand appliances, but that said it's not a bad show. They actually offer numbers such as "a small convection oven uses one quarter the electricity to do the same thing as a standard oven".

My biggest problem is the goal to sell large numbers of specialized devices that nobody really needs.

Peter Gamble aka "Peter the eater"

I just made a cornish game hen with chestnut stuffing. . .

Would you believe a pigeon stuffed with spam? . . .

Would you believe a rat filled with cough drops?

Moe Sizlack

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"Does your refrigerator keep in touch with you?  Miele's new RemoteVision WIFI technology will notify you if there's a problem or even if the door is left open."

So, what's the next logical progression in this. . .if a refrigertor is able to contact you and tell you the door was left open or whatnot, why not just be able to have more control over the settings.

Instead of the fridge contacting you via WiFi if the fridge is left open, why don't they just install a servo to close the freakin' door?? :huh:

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  • 3 years later...

I first started thinking about this after I read Ruth Reichl's recipe for "The Perfect Hard-Boiled Egg" in her book, The Gourmet Cookbook. After the eggs are done they're to be run under cold water for five minutes. That's a lot of water going down the drain plus, if it's city water, it's not very cold and it all goes through an energy consuming waste treatment plant. Doesn't make a lot of sense.

More recently, here at eG, we've had a thread on bacon cooking and it seems like a fair number of people prefer their bacon cooked in an oven. It seems pretty extravagant to fire up an oven to cook a few slices of bacon.

Most recently, we have a thread going on self-cleaning ovens. The energy used in cooking bacon in the oven pales in comparison to using the Darth Vader approach to oven cleaning.

Have you given any thought to reducing your energy and resource consumption in the kitchen and, if so, what helpful tips do you have?

PS. I've been involved in energy and resource issues, policy, and analysis for going on forty years and I can safely assure everyone that we're getting into critical territory; which includes the resources themselves, geopolitics, and climate change.

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In the US, cooking consumes less than five percent of the average household energy budget. If you want to reduce consumption, you'll get better results by looking at refrigeration, heating water, and -- especially -- heating and cooling your house. That's where the money is. Or goes.

Those are the direct costs. A broader view would include the implications of the carbon footprint, especially whether locavore initiatives are truly environmentally friendly.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Hi Country,

I do think about this. I find I use the oven a lot in this house because the kitchen is so difficult to keep clean (stainless steel appliances and a polished black granite floor). As I noted in the oven cleaning thread, I highly favor an occasional self-clean cycle over exposure to Easy-Off. I have had more than my share of chemical exposure in my life and would rather be less green than more anemic.

One option I have been thinking about is cooking outdoors, something I can do year round where I live. Any suggestions on the most green way to do that? I have a natural gas outlet on my patio, but could burn solids as long as it didn't annoy my very close condo-neighbors.

nibor

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In the US, cooking consumes less than five percent of the average household energy budget. If you want to reduce consumption, you'll get better results by looking at refrigeration, heating water, and -- especially -- heating and cooling your house. That's where the money is. Or goes.

Those are the direct costs. A broader view would include the implications of the carbon footprint, especially whether locavore initiatives are truly environmentally friendly.

I agree. I have solar panels on the roof and since I live in the desert, I mostly use an evaporative cooler (commonly known as a "swamp" cooler) instead of the AC. This year I've only used the AC four times when both the heat and the humidity were higher than normal.

It amazes me that since the cost of swamp coolers is so low, contractors don't offer them in addition to AC in places where the normal humidity is low and summer temps are high. They wouldn't work in east Texas but they should work great in west Texas, not to mention New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.

The cost of operating them is a tiny fraction of operating an AC. There is a water pump and a fan motor.

I have two on my house and during the energy crisis in 2000 both ran off a 500 W generator with power to spare.

Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

 

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