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Energy Makeover: Home Edition

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Join SCP customer, Mary Davies, on her home renovation journey as she details her experience upgrading her older, gas-powered kitchen into a low-energy, all-electric one.

Remodeling on a Budget – Kitchen Phase

By Mary Davies

I’m a climate activist with a lot of hope, because we know what to do to halt the climate crisis: stop emitting greenhouse gases. So when I bought a house a few months ago, energy efficiency was important to me.

My 70-year-old place is smallish — 945 square feet — and smaller is inherently more sustainable.

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But the house ran on natural gas: the heating system, water heater, cooking range, even the clothes dryer! I didn’t want to jettison things that work, because a lot of energy goes into making appliances. But they were more than a dozen years old, so I needed to be ready for replacement solutions.

In fact, the day I moved in I could smell gas in the kitchen. The range was leaking. Did I even want to repair it?

"I had so many reasons to lose that gas range!"

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First, clean electricity. Second, we now know how badly gas cooking pollutes our homes, producing indoor pollution exceeding permitted outdoor levels and contributing to asthma and other respiratory conditions (why didn’t anybody tell us this decades ago?).

Third, methane — aka natural gas — is 84 times more potent than CO2 in degrading our atmosphere, and those routine household appliance leaks account for 15% of our methane emissions, according to Berkeley Lab.

And fourth, because of the climate emergency, many Sonoma County cities are no longer writing permits for new natural gas hookups and are deliberating about when to require that existing homes be converted to all-electric.

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But isn’t gas the best for cooking? Fortunately, I had already taken advantage of Sonoma Clean Power’s free induction cooktop lending program. The loan also comes with compatible pans, since the technology uses magnetism, but my regular cast iron and stainless steel pans work, too.

First I made a tender omelette, then boiled water for pasta. It boiled quickly, with no heat escaping to overheat my kitchen.

"With the temperature display, I could see that at 210 degrees, my pasta just simmered; at 220 degrees, it was back at full boil. That’s precision. I was sold."

Pipes pattern

So, if I was going to replace my gas range, it would be with induction. The big box stores still stock their appliance sections like gas will go on forever, but I spoke with Denise Osborne at TeeVax in Santa Rosa, who is a big fan of induction. She uses it at home. She said their ranges go for about $1000-4000, cooktops starting at $1500.

However, I’m on a budget. I had been thinking about our modern kitchens, the posh, high-end ones with six-burner cooktops and two ovens, while we’re increasingly inclined to eat take-out and Trader Joe combos. Does that make any sense?

I’m single, but I entertain and I cook. I bake all my bread, always have slices of homemade cake or pie in my freezer, and prepare most meals from scratch. Even so, with an electric kettle for my tea water, I almost never used even two burners at once.

And what about an oven? I had seen some recent articles about toaster ovens that would handle my pies, two layers of cake, and even the big oval Le Creuset casserole I use for my double-size loaves of bread.

I decided to skip the range. I found a toaster oven for less than $200 that, just to give you an idea of the size, came with a 13” pizza stone. No way would I toast my single slice of bread in that behemoth, but my roasted chicken and vegetables and baked fish come out faster and tastier than ever. It preheats fast since it’s small, and when it’s really hot outside, I can bake on the patio and keep the house cool.

The induction burner I chose is a sleek countertop plug-in, for $50. I’ve been using this energy-efficient setup since March, and I’m sold.

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I might buy a second induction burner — you know, for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Or maybe not.

I thought I might just paint the cabinets in the vintage kitchen and get along without a dishwasher, but that idea died fast! It seemed like my counters were always full of dishes waiting to be washed or draining dry. I chose an Energy Star-rated Bosch compact 18” dishwasher. It holds so much that I still wait days for a full load to run it. And, like most modern models, you only need to pre-rinse things like runny egg yolk.

And that gives me more time to hang my laundry out in the sunshine, since the gas dryer died during escrow.

Next time on Energy Makeover: Home Edition - Home heating and cooling, and water heating.

Before and After

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