The kitchen is a place of special regard in many homes. You start the day there with a hot cup of a coffee and breakfast. Likewise, it is where your final meal of the day begins its journey to the dining room table. It takes a lot of appliances to keep an operation like a kitchen running right. And more often than not, getting to save energy is not top of mind when cooking a meal. Here are five easy energy efficiency tips for the kitchen that you – probably – haven't thought of.
1. Switch to an Induction Cooktop
If you aren't familiar with induction technology, it's the process of using magnets to conduct heat directly through your cooking vessel versus thermal conduction (where heat is focused on the cooktop burner).
Magnetic induction works like so: The burner has a coil mounted underneath the cooking surface that generates a magnetic field. Once you turn the stove and this magnetic field "on" and place a ferromagnetic – meaning attracted to a magnet – pot or pan on top of it, you get heat directly through the pan. This means heat is more concentrated and doesn't escape the way it would with a traditional burner.
According to the Department of Energy, an induction cooktop can save energy as it is 12% more efficient at heating food than a smooth-top electric cooktop or range. There are a few downsides to induction. Because it requires that your pots and pans be ferromagnetic, Teflon pans won't work on it. They also tend to be more expensive than a gas or electric stove.
2. Update Your Refrigerator & Keep it Stocked
A home refrigerator is at the top of the list of appliances that use the most energy in an average home.
Which makes perfect sense; a refrigerator is always running in order for it to perform its basic function: keeping your food cold.
Continuous usage will take its toll on any appliance, which is why you need to keep an eye on your refrigerator to make sure it's not outdated. If you own a refrigerator made before 1994, then the odds are good that it is costing you big time in energy usage according to Energy Star. They also have a very useful refrigerator retirement calculator if you want to do quick health check on your fridge.
Also, there is a direct energy benefit to keeping your refrigerator well stocked with food and beverages at all times. The more items you have inside the refrigerator, the less energy it will take to keep them cold. This is all thanks to the wonderful 2nd law of thermodynamics. The 2nd law of thermodynamics states that heat is always trying to flow from a hot region to a cold region. This process is known as heat transfer. Your refrigerator's timing cycle is specifically designed to combat this process by cooling the inside of your refrigerator.
This means that when you open the door of your fridge, hot air rushes in and displaces the cool air. More cold food items in your fridge means less open air space. Less air space means less room for hot air to occupy. This means less time for the refrigerator to cool itself back down after you close the door. Less time to cool means you're able to save energy. Add to this the perk of always having plenty of food in the house, and you've got a win/win situation.
3. Make the Most of Your Dishwasher
Your dishwasher is another appliance that has the capacity to use a lot of energy. New federal standards require that all dishwashers meet certain standards of efficiency1 as of 2014.
In a nutshell, this means that all new dishwashers must now, by law, use the least amount of water and power to do the job of washing your dishes. An older dishwasher – one that dates back to the mid to early 90's – can use up to 10 gallons of water per cycle and cost you up to $35 dollars a year in energy usage.
According to Energy Star, the most energy efficient dishwashers use 12% less energy than non energy star certified models. They also use between 4-6 gallons. This means that unless you have an Energy Star-certified dishwasher, you may be using an excessive amount of water and energy to wash your dishes.
Even with a highly efficient dishwasher doing the job, there are still energy best practices you should follow. Make sure you have a full load of dishes when you run the cycle so you're not wasting water or energy running multiple loads. If you want to be really optimized to save energy, turn off the dishwasher when it hits the dry cycle and allow your dishes to air dry.
4. Fire up the Convection Setting
According to the California Consumer Energy Commission, using a convection setting on your oven uses up to 20% less energy than the bake setting does.
Convection settings in modern ovens are like power windows in modern cars. They all have them, and if yours does not, it might be time to look into buying a new oven. The scientific principle that allows a convection oven to both save energy and cook food more evenly is all in its name, "convection".
Convection – in scientific terms "convective heat transfer" – is a forced movement of heat from one place to another. Because the inside of an oven is uniform in temperature, the 2nd law of thermodynamics doesn't apply, and fans are needed to move the heat. That's what a convection setting does. It blows hot air around your food and cooks it faster, more evenly, and more efficiently.
The energy benefit should be enough to encourage anyone to use the convection setting when possible to save energy. But, when you factor in the often better cooking results, a convection oven makes even more sense.
5. Identify and Unplug Energy Vampires
The modern kitchen is full of appliances that use what's known as "phantom loads" of energy – which means they are drawing power even when turned off.
These "energy vampires" – as they are also known – can account for a significant drain on energy over time. Some well known examples of energy vampires are portable coffee makers, toaster ovens, and even your microwave.
The best way to identify whether an appliance is a possible energy vampire is to turn it off, then take a look at it. Are there any lights still on? A digital clock? A blinking light? If the answer is yes, than that appliance is likely an energy vampire, and it could be costing you.
If you think an appliance might be an energy vampire and you want to test it, you can use a kilowatt meter2 to gauge the energy usage when the device is off. The Department of Energy has estimated that a house full of unchecked energy vampires can cost up to $100 to $200 dollars a year.
The best way to save energy and combat your vampires is to put them on a power strip and turn them off at the source when they aren't being used. For the truly connected home, using smart plugs on energy vampires is ideal, as it allows you to control them at the source with your smart phone.
Bonus tip! Cook with copper pans: If you have an electric or induction cooktop, then using copper pans to do your cooking can help you eke out some extra energy efficiency. Copper is one of the most conductive metals on earth. In fact, one of the scales used to measure electrical conductivity in metals is the international annealed copper standard3. The only other metal that is better at conducting electricity than copper is silver, and we don't suggest your go melting down your grandmother's jewelry collection just to more efficiently cook your meals.
High conductivity means copper pans take less time to get hot. Less time to get hot also means less cooking time, which means you're using less energy. If you are cooking on a radiant or halogen stove, make sure your pans are flat and make good contact with the range. Warped pans take longer to heat up as they're not utilizing the full surface area of the stove.
The kitchen is a special place of gathering in many homes. It's also where most of a home's appliances are. Use these 5 tips to help you save energy in your kitchen and you'll be well on your way to running a smarter and more efficient home.