The dream home kitchen has a spacious pantry and well-made, handsome cabinets, stone countertops, a deep chef’s sink and pro-style appliances. One of the most popular for decades –inspired by glossy ads, social media and cooking shows – has been the high performance gas cooktop or range.
The market for these appliances, valued at $1.46 billion in 2020, was expected to grow by close to 8% annually through 2028, according to Grandview Research. Except that these growth trends might hurtle offtrack long before the end of the decade. Two factors can contribute to this derailment. The first is governments banning residential gas lines to homes to address climate change concerns. There are 20 states doing so as of now, according to S&P Global, and the number of cities and states keep growing.
The second factor, as highlighted in a study published today by Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in ACS’ Environmental Science & Technology journal, is the health hazard associated with gas cooking. “It is well-established that natural gas is a major source of methane that’s driving climate change,” commented Drew Michanowicz, a visiting scientist involved in the research, “but most people haven’t really considered that when natural gas leaks it can contain health-damaging air pollutants in addition to climate pollutants.”
The Harvard team – just one of the increasing numbers of professional organizations studying these hazards – collected natural gas samples from 69 kitchen stoves and building pipelines across Greater Boston. From these samples, they detected 21 compounds federally designated as hazardous air pollutants, along with compounds and gases known to be linked to cancer and other health issues.
The study further showed that gas appliances like stoves can emit hazardous chemicals even when they’re not in use. It’s while you’re cooking with gas though, bending close to peer into your simmering stock pot and sauté pan, that you’re at greatest risk. That’s when your mouth and nose are often positioned between the burner and an overhead ventilation hood.
Too often, according to survey research, home chefs fail to turn the hood on because they don’t see the need, don’t see them working well enough, or dislike the noise. In a study of California households, 39% reported never, rarely or only sometimes using kitchen exhaust fans when cooking.
Even when these hoods are used (and available and venting outdoors, rather than just recirculating unhealthful air) , many are insufficient to address exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) levels emitted by gas burners. A 2022 National Center for Healthy Housing study showed that even mechanical ventilation meeting industry standards did not improve NO2; its recommendation is to replace gas stoves. The American Medical Association has also expressed concern on this front, linking the use of gas stoves with unhealthy nitrogen dioxide levels and asthma.
What about all of the pro-style gas ranges and cooktops taking up space in the kitchens designers create? Industry response is mixed. Johnathon Fitch Van Kok says his Houston area clientele are still hot for gas; it might be all they’ve ever known, he shares. “I’m not new to this,” he says about the latest science, noting, “health and safety disclaimers are important [to] communication with the client.”
In markets where gas is being banned, remodels cannot include these appliances, so designers and contractors are specifying alternatives like induction cooktops and ranges. Some pros like the switch regardless of whether mandates are in place in their regions. “I had already been pulling away from specifying gas as there are other technologies that are more energy efficient,” shares Toronto-based kitchen designer Jackie Schagen. “Learning that gas cooking is hazardous only strengthens the inclination to explore other options.” Schagen says she wasn’t aware of the latest research on gas hazards, but notes that “this new information definitely changes what I recommend to clients.”
Northern New Jersey-based designer Sharon Sherman agrees. “There are so many good reasons to switch when possible; I’ve been speaking to clients about induction for years.” Her younger clients are already requesting it, she shares.
What might spur the switch for some clients, rather than the science, is smarts and style. “What people respond well to is the latest in technology and not having an outdated kitchen or home!” declares designer Christina McManaway in Corona, California. “No one wants to spend to be behind the trend and two years later your kitchen looks 20 years old!” No one should have their lungs look 20 years older either when there is a smarter, healthier alternative.