Savings in your kitchen

Published Monday, July 23 , 2012 in the New Brunswick Telegraph Journal.

There are few less comfortable places in our homes than a hot kitchen on a sweltering day.  Here are a few ways you can save money and energy in the kitchen, and be a bit more comfortable too.

The biggest energy user
In most homes, appliances are responsible for about 20% of the energy consumed.  Kitchen stoves are among the biggest users: stovetop elements consume between 1200 and 2500 watts each, and oven elements consume about 2500-3500 watts each.   For comparison, a typical compact fluorescent light bulb uses 13 watts.

If stoves consume a lot of power, they also generate a lot of heat.  That’s not so bad in winter, when that heat contributes to home comfort.  It’s not as welcome in summer, though, when heat from cooking and baking makes a hot kitchen even hotter. 

In air conditioned spaces, heat from stoves has a double cost: not only do you pay for the power used to create the heat, but you also pay for the extra power consumed by your air conditioner as it works to get rid of that heat.

Clearly, there are many reasons to use a stove as little and as efficiently as possible.

So here are ten ways you can save money and energy, and perhaps enjoy a more comfortable kitchen:

  1. Ensure the seals on your oven are tight to minimize heat loss during baking.  A simple test can be done by closing the door on a sheet of paper.  If the paper isn’t firmly held in place, the seal likely needs replacing (a simple repair you can do yourself).
  2. Don’t preheat your oven except when truly necessary for recipe success (cakes, pies and breads, according to my cookbook)
  3. If preheating is unavoidable, turn the oven on just a few minutes before you need it.  If you turn it on when you start to prepare ingredients, as many recipes instruct, it will likely be hot long before you need it and that’s a waste. 
  4. Turn off your oven a few minutes early.  As long as you don’t open the door, the heat already in the oven should complete the cooking just fine.  Ovens vary, so experiment a little: keep turning it off a bit earlier until you find the optimum point of savings.
  5. Resist the urge to open the door to check on progress – that allows a blast of heat to escape.  Instead, use the light and peek through the window.
  6. Use a meat thermometer to prevent overcooking and potentially shorten cooking times.
  7. Use a stovetop element, a toaster oven or a microwave oven when possible, because all use far less energy than a conventional oven.  Some people avoid using microwave ovens because they don’t produce the same results as conventional ovens.  But toaster ovens do.  Notably, they can be good investments for households with one or two people.
  8. Consider using a pressure cooker when appropriate.  Pressure cookers won’t work for every dish, but they’re excellent for staples like rice, beans, potatoes, pasta, soup, meat, veggies and more.  They’re fast and efficient, typically reducing cooking times and energy costs by 2/3.
  9. Match your pot size to the element.  Small pots on large elements waste much heat and energy.
  10. Food cooks just as quickly at a slow boil as a fast boil, so use the lowest setting that maintains a boil.  Gentlemen, take note.

Added points
If your oven has a convection feature, use it: it circulates hot air, allowing you to lower baking temperature and reduce cooking time by up to 30%. 

If you are buying a new stove, consider a self-cleaning model because they are typically better insulated.  Resist the temptation to run the self-cleaning cycle too often, though: it takes a huge amount of energy.  And when you do want to run the self-clean cycle, do it immediately after baking so you take advantage of the heat already in the oven.

Practice efficiency in your kitchen every day, for energy savings and a more comfortable workplace!