Induction Cooking Systems

What is induction cooking? What are the benefits and drawbacks? Is it a good, cost-effective or green renovation choice?

Posted by Steve Graham | Sep 12, 2010
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Energy savings don’t always translate into cost savings. Case in point: Induction ranges — the hottest thing (pun intended) in kitchen appliances — are green but not cheap. Induction cooking has many advantages, including unmatched energy efficiency. However, there also are numerous cost-related drawbacks.

Induction ranges have an electro-magnetic coil under a ceramic cooktop surface. The coil transfers energy into magnetic iron and steel pots and pans. The molecules in the cookware move rapidly and quickly heat up, transferring heat into the food in the pots.

The result is a stove that cooks more quickly and efficiently than traditional electric stoves, which heat the cooking surface, or gas stoves, which heat pots with a small flame.

Electrolux promises water will boil three times faster on its induction cooktops compared to its other electric cooktops. You don’t have to take their word for it, though. The U.S. Department of Energy rates induction cooktops as 84-percent efficient, meaning 84 percent of energy is converted to cooking heat. Standard electric burners are 52 percent efficient, and gas burners are rated at 40 percent, meaning 60 percent of energy is wasted.

But there is a catch: natural gas is typically cheaper per unit of energy. As a result, the DOE report suggests that a gas range costs about $7 per year to operate. A standard electric range costs $18, and an induction range costs $16. Moreover, cooking generates a small percentage of home energy use, so no range is likely to lower power bills significantly.

Meanwhile, induction cooktops remain more expensive than other electric stoves or basic gas options. Of course, induction advocates argue their ranges are more comparable to expensive, high-end gas ranges. Induction cooking also may require buying new pots and pans, as the coils only work with magnetic materials (take a fridge magnet to the kitchen store for testing pans), incurring further expenses.

Induction cooking is widely used in Europe and Asia, but is only starting to take off in North America. Despite the costs, the precision and efficiency are driving up sales of induction ranges. In April, the New York Times said “induction cooking may be the iPad of the kitchen.”

Induction cooking is considered safer for indoor air quality, as natural gas contains potentially hazardous compounds. Induction cooking also is safer. The range surface does not get hot, and there is no open flame. Users also don’t have to worry about spills burning the cooktop, as often happens with flat electric rangetops.

On the other hand, many traditionalists will never give up the gas stove. They like seeing and controlling the size of the flame, and feel it offers the best, most even heat.

For those less attached to gas stoves, it may just be a matter of waiting for the economic benefits to catch up with the energy savings.

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