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Conservation in the Kitchen

For those of us with big gardens, August and September are the heart of canning and preserving season. My wife puts up dozens and dozens of jars of raspberry jam, pickles, pickled beets, and other assorted vegetables. We also freeze lots of veggies to enjoy the bounty of our garden during the frozen days of winter. Which leads to the question (for us energy geeks): how much energy do we use in the kitchen?

For most of us, cooking makes up a pretty small portion of a home’s energy use. On a heavy canning day, when our home might use an electric stovetop for 5 hours (or more), you’re looking at somewhere around $0.75 in cooking expenses (this figure would be lower for gas ranges).

Over the course of  year, a home that uses an electric range and electric oven for an average of 2.5 hours/week each plus a microwave and toaster for an average of 1 hour/week each will use about 600 kilowatt-hours (kWh) in total. In Colorado, this would cost a little over $60. With current low natural gas prices, using a gas oven in place of an electric one could save this home about $20/year.

Refrigerators offer bigger opportunities for savings. New fridges can use less than 400 kWh per year (costing less than $40), whereas older fridges can use 2,000 kWh/year (costing $200)! Older stand-alone freezers can use more energy than new refrigerators.

From the environmental standpoint, each kWh we consume in Colorado emits about 1 pound of CO2 equivalent. Therefore in an all-electric cooking household, cooking emits about 600 pounds of CO2e per year. For perspective, a study of people on various diets in the United Kingdom found that the diet of meat eaters is responsible for 5,700 lbs. of CO2e/year, while vegetarians are responsible for 3,059 lbs. of CO2e/year. It would take not cooking for 4 years to equal the emissions reductions from a single year of vegetarianism. So when it comes to your environmental impact, it’s not so much how you cook it, but what you eat!

Tips to reduce your energy use in the kitchen:

  • Set refrigerator temperatures at 36-40 F
  • Set freezer temperatures at 0 F
  • Minimize opening the oven/toaster during cooking
  • Right size pans to burners
  • Use microwaves and toasters in place of ovens and ranges when appropriate
  • Don’t “overclean” with self-cleaning ovens
  • Preheat only when necessary
  • Use the residual heat after an electric stovetop is turned off to complete your cooking
  • If you’re looking to replace a large appliance such as an oven or dishwasher, look for discounts on “previous year” models in September and October!
  • Borrow a Home Energy Audit Loan (HEAL) kit from a local Extension office to test your appliance electricity use, measure your fridge/freezer temperatures, and more.
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