Next year, New York City will start blocking new buildings from bringing in natural gas, part of a push to get off fossil fuels, and the governor wants to take that ban statewide. Meanwhile, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is weighing whether to ban sales of new gas stoves, citing studies that show they release nitrogen dioxide, methane, and other chemicals, which have been linked to childhood asthma and cancer.
That got us thinking about the gas stoves that we already have. The ones accumulating grime in rental kitchens, where our windows — long ago painted shut — hardly give adequate ventilation.
How easy are these existing stoves to replace? Could our landlords be convinced to make the investment? And if we could pull it off, would our energy bills be higher?
We talked with electrical engineers, contractors, ventilation experts, and architects who are already helping New Yorkers make the switch.
How much would it cost to replace my gas stove, and how long would it take?
Michael M. Russell, a contractor who has switched out stoves and is currently working to get an entire seven-unit co-op off gas, says the work involves tearing up walls to route new electrical lines, then patching them over. He says the whole thing takes about a week for his crew and two electricians, though it depends on the building, since older walls tend to be more delicate to tear up and repair. Russell’s company, Maxim Design Build, charges about $7,500 for an apartment. Architect David Mabbott, who partners with a general contractor, charged about $15,000 to $20,000 to upgrade to induction as part of townhouse renovations. Those prices are just for the construction, not for the appliance itself, which ranges from $1,100 to $4,400, according to a price review by Carbon Switch. And that appliance will likely be an induction stove, not an electric stove, which you might associate with glowing coils. Those have fallen out of fashion, and make little sense for busy New Yorkers. “Electric cooktops are terrible. It takes such a long time to do anything with them,” says Metin Ozkuzey, the president of Designer Appliances, a Montclair-based showroom. Induction stoves use electromagnetism to heat up pots and pans (and have glass tops).
Well, the federal government is providing some aid. Thanks to last year’s Inflation Reduction Act, America is planning to spend $4.5 billion upgrading our electrical appliances. That money is coming in the form of rebates, which are set aside for the people who make less than 150 percent of their area’s local area median income — that would be $168,900 in my nook of Crown Heights, for instance. If you do qualify, you get a one-time rebate of $840 per stove, which covers about 75 percent of the cheapest models.
Only, you can’t get that money yet, says Kevin Kane, the chief economist at Green Homeowners United, which guides customers through the rebate and tax-grant process. This spring, the states are presenting their plans for administering those rebates, so a New Yorker who wants to get one might expect to wait about a year for the process to sort itself out.
In the meantime, there are tax credits up to $8,600 for the cost of tearing up your apartment and upgrading your electrical service. These are available to everyone, no matter their income.
Is my building even capable of this kind of upgrade?
The average 30-inch induction stove draws about 11 kilowatts, which is about ten times what the average dishwasher needs, or, depending on how lavishly you live, “about what you’d use in your place for everything else,” according to the architect Russell.
So the first step to replacing your gas stove is figuring out if you have enough electricity coming into your unit, says Mabbott, the architect. If your building already has electricity to spare, contractors will run a new line into your kitchen from the electrical room (usually in your building’s basement). In older buildings, this means the first few apartments to make the switch are able to take that spare electricity, and everyone after them may be out of luck, said Ozkuzey, the appliance expert, whose company regularly sells and delivers induction stoves to New Yorkers. “Some of the older buildings don’t even have the capability of upgrading people. If 20 people live in the building, I upgrade two, and boom! You’re done. There’s not enough power.”
If your building doesn’t have the electricity to spare, your contractor can contact Con Edison to bring more electricity into the building, a step that architect Mabbott says isn’t as hairy as it sounds. “For the most part they’re responsive, and work can go relatively quickly. It’s not like it’s an endless process.” Still, “There are definitely times when the project involves tearing up the street.”
Even if Con Edison is on board, there may be a limit to how much electricity your building can handle safely. Sam DeLano, an electrical engineer at ABS Engineering, who has spent eight years working on new multi-family buildings and townhouses in New York City, says that once a building is pulling in 1,000 kVA, code mandates an upgrade to the electrical room to prevent fires. The room has to be fitted to withstand two hours of fire, to give more elbow room to electricians working in it, and to be built with two exit doors, which isn’t always possible. “A lot of the electrical rooms we see in the existing buildings are filled to the brim, so adding a second door means removing wall space. In most cases they don’t have that wall space to spare.”
Okay, let’s say I checked, and my apartment does have electricity and wall space to spare.
Okay. In that case, you’re then going to have to worry about where your apartment is situated. DeLano says that bringing a new line up gets tougher the higher you are. “You need to run power from the cellar all the way up to where your apartment is. That gets very complicated with older buildings: The space to run a pathway for that new conduit is very tricky. We can do it, but it would be very hard.”
So let’s say this all works out, and the stove is in. Will my electric bill go up?
DeLano, the electrical engineer, was curious about this question, and in 2019 studied what residents of a new building with about 30 units would pay in utilities for electrical appliances versus gas appliances. He found their utility bill for cooking with electricity would be about five times more expensive than cooking with gas.
And can an induction do everything a gas stove can do?
Generally, yes. In Detroit, chef Jon Kung upgraded a 100-year-old home to go all electric. “I’ve ignited oil using nothing but the heat from an induction burner that I accidentally underestimated,” he said. “The myth that they don’t get hot enough for stir fry is patently false.”
Then there’s the problem of trying to cook when Con-Ed reduces service — throttling back supply during a heat wave, for instance. That affects upper floors more than lower floors. “You lose a few percent every floor,” says the architect Daniel Frisch, who specializes in upgrading older apartments, and remembers the owner of a penthouse who had their power throttled and found it almost impossible to use their electric oven. “It took them 45 mins to preheat.”
Well, what can I do in the meantime to make the air in my kitchen healthier?
As the president of PHASE Associates, Gary Schwartz helps big corporations and the government to assess indoor air quality, control hazards, and correct ventilation. In his own kitchen, he and his wife prefer to use the back-burners on the stove for the same reason many home cooks avoid them: because those burners are farther away. “They’re very close, within inches, but from a breathing perspective there’s more of an air path to the back than to the front burners — we’re talking six inches, ten inches. That could make a difference.”
Schwartz advises New Yorkers to notice what they’re doing when they light a stove: Do you bend down when you light it, out of an impulse to watch the flame? Then you’re putting your airway closer. Do you leave the gas on, when you pour your cooked pasta into a strainer? An unnecessary exposure. Schwartz says if he knows his eggs only need a minute longer, he’ll turn the gas off and let them sizzle on the hot pan. “Always think in your mind, Let’s shut off this pollution source right away.”