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The choices here will depend on the number of cooks in your house, their cooking preferences, and whether or not the home is a candidate for fuel switching. Some people prefer to cook with gas, while others favor noncombustion appliances. Remodeling is the time to make the switch, since running gas pipes, vents, and electrical connections will influence the layout of the kitchen. Depending on the local gas and electric rates, energy savings can be significant over time, even with the cost of switching factored in. If another appliance—a furnace, clothes dryer, or water heater—is also on a switch list, take this into consideration when you look at placement and installation costs.
- Gas ranges
- Almost all modern gas ranges save energy with electronic or thermal ignitors instead of standing pilot lights. The commercial ranges (new and used) that are popular in some homes may not have an electric ignition, so be sure to check before you buy one. Beware of ovens with 400-watt thermal ignitors that operate continuously when the oven is on. Self-cleaning ovens burn off grime with a long, high-temperature cycle. While this uses extra energy, it reduces the need for caustic chemical oven cleaners. Self-cleaning ovens also have more insulation, which cuts down on energy use during normal operation.
- Electric ranges
- For electric ranges, the standard coil element is probably the best bet. Solid disk elements may look better than electric coils, but they heat more slowly and generally use more energy. High-tech ranges use halogen lamps or magnetic induction to heat the cooking surface. These are more efficient, but are also expensive.
- Electric convection oven
- A convection oven costs about 30% less to operate than a conventional electric oven. The initial cost is higher, but these ovens are worth the extra investment. A fan circulates air inside the oven for more even distribution and reduced cooking time.
- A cooktop that is separate from the oven gives the cook more flexibility than ranges provide. Energy use shouldn't be affected, but installing and hooking up the individual units will probably cost more and require more resources.
- Microwave ovens
- Microwaves are convenient and energy-efficient. They use one third as much energy as conventional electric ovens and generate very little waste heat to burden the air conditioning system in the summer.
- Look for a dishwasher with a built-in booster water heater. About 80% of the energy used by dishwashers is for hot water. If you have a booster heater, you can set the temperature on your main water heater at 120°F instead of the 140°F recommended for dishwashing. The less water used, the less energy consumed, so check the manufacturer's data on water use and shop for models with variable wash cycles, including energy-saving cycles. And choose a model with an air-dry option, which uses no heat during the drying cycle. This is a standard feature on the latest models.
Dishwashers are one of the reasons the kitchen has been declared the noisiest room in the house. A number of dishwashers now on the market are both quiet and energy efficient, so be sure not to overlook the noise factor when you shop.
Excerpted with permission from No-Regrets Remodeling by Home Energy (1997)