Do I Smell Gas?

For environmental reasons, it may be time to rethink the gas stove.


Do I smell gas? If you live in a home with a gas stove, the answer could be yes. Many of us have experienced that difficult-to-ignite burner—even in a high-end cooktop. Sometimes a little grease or soap on the igniter is all it takes, and the smell of gas requires the range hood fan to be quickly turned on and a window opened.

But in the 40 million United States households with a gas stove, gas could be leaking even when the stove is turned off. Methane gas to be precise. Methane that since the 18th Century has contributed about one-quarter of the atmosphere’s heat-trapping characteristics (radiative forcing). Methane that while shorter-lived than carbon dioxide (CO2) is roughly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide as a heat-trapping gas over a 100-year period.

According to a recent study which appeared in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, methane emissions from gas stoves—both old and new—in the U. S. are equivalent to the carbon dioxide released by half a million gas-powered cars in a year.

The study took detailed measurements from 53 homes focused on three gasses. Methane and carbon dioxide were chosen because of their contributions to the warming climate, and nitrogen dioxide was chosen because of its known health risks. While carbon dioxide emissions from burning natural gas (methane) are the primary driver of climate change from gas stoves, the study noted that methane leaking from the appliances and the piping that supplies the gas increased the stoves’ climate impact by a third. And over three-fourths of the methane emissions were from leaks in the stove fitting and piping while the stoves were turned off.

Operating a gas stove creates nitrogen dioxide as a byproduct. NO2 is known to aggravate asthma (perhaps even contributing to its development). And then there is the fine particulate matter (PM2.5) not addressed in the study. Is it time to rethink the gas stove?

A few cities already have. San Francisco, Seattle and New York City passed ordinances curtailing the use of natural gas in new buildings. The natural gas industry is pushing back. See the article here for one example. And some states—including Pennsylvania, Florida, and Texas—have passed laws to stop cities from banning gas in new appliances.

Editorial note: This writer loves cooking with gas. The fire it produces delivers a level of control of the stovetop heat that is hard to match. Or am I just used to it? The oven below the gas stovetop many of us use is already electric, delivering a consistent heat and control in this environment that gas ovens struggle with. Or at least that’s been my experience, and alas, I am far from a professional chef… or even a great cook. The electricity that powers the oven means that the 240V line is already in place just below the gas cooktop. Is it time to consider induction? The technology’s performance keeps improving (see our article here. For both the macro and micro benefits, perhaps it is time to reconsider how we use hydrocarbons when designing the future-ready kitchen.

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