How to Save Energy in the Kitchen: 5 Tips for an Energy Efficient Kitchen

Inspire Clean Energy

Apr 7, 2020

16 min read

category: Sustainable Living

Our Tips for the Best Ways to Save Energy in the Kitchen

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 the average apartment electric bill can get high quickly. 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. Once you conquer the kitchen, there are many more tips on how to save energy at home available to boost your savings even more.

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 conserve 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will take its toll on any appliance, which is why you need to keep an eye on your refrigerator to make sure it's not outdated.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 efficiency 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 meter 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.

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How is energy used in the kitchen?

Kitchens use a lot of electricity, from the stove to the fridge, and every small appliance in between. As a matter of fact, kitchens are one of the most energy-guzzling rooms in the house, aside from the laundry room and the HVAC system. With 74.9 million households (63 percent) using electricity via a stove, cooktop, or oven, electricity is the most prevalent cooking medium. 

A household's cooking medium is frequently the same as its heating fuel: 59 percent of households said they used the same type of medium for cooking and main area heating. Food requires storage, cooling, freezing, preparation, cooking, and cooling again. Most kitchens house a refrigerator, freezer, range, dishwasher, garbage disposal, and various small items, like coffee makers. 

All these appliances require large amounts of energy, making kitchens electrical pits that increase your monthly bills. The room where you cook is a fantastic place to start if you want to lower your carbon impact.

How is energy wasted in kitchens?

If you have kids in the home, you know a lot of energy is wasted by lights being left on in every room. Start by switching your kitchen lightbulbs to LED lights to save on wattage. When you consider the LED bulb's lifespan (which is predicted to be 23 years compared to one year for an incandescent), the savings for both you and the environment are obvious.

Other ways energy is wasted in the kitchen include not putting lids on pots (as this slows down the boiling speed), using the wrong pan size for a burner, keeping the refrigerator or freezer doors open longer than necessary, leaving appliances with lights plugged in, and keeping the range hood fan turned on. Finally, using a large appliance when a small appliance will do the same job can increase your energy wastage. 

What uses the most energy in the kitchen?

Microwave ovens use roughly 215 kWh of electricity per year on average. A fridge/freezer combination can use up to 1,800 kWh per year. A contemporary 2,400-watt electric range can consume as much as 875 kWh per year. And range hoods use  25 kWh per year to function. 

Each year, your dishwasher consumes up to 855 kWh. The average coffee maker consumes 13 to 42 kWh per year. Per cup, your espresso machine uses a whooping 1.25 kW. A refrigerator/freezer, electric stove, and dishwasher use the most electricity, as they are frequently used. After these appliances, espresso makers use the most, although drip coffee makers use very little. 

What cooking appliance uses the least electricity?

An electric slow cooker, Instant Pot, or microwave will use less energy than an electric range for cooking. Usually, the smaller an appliance, the less electricity it requires to run (except for the espresso maker). However, everyone tends to use larger appliances like refrigerators, which is why it's best to use Energy Star appliances, as they are energy efficient. 

The basis behind energy ratings has not changed in a long time. The grades range from A (very efficient) to G (not at all energy efficient). If your appliances are due for an upgrade, it's a good idea to look into the energy ratings thoroughly from both a financial and environmental standpoint. For example, because your refrigerator and freezer must be plugged in at all times, they need more energy to operate, making them the heaviest electrical load in the kitchen.

Is it more energy efficient to run a microwave or oven?

Microwaves and ovens can be energy efficient. It depends on several factors, including the cost of electricity versus gas, as well as the relative efficiency of the equipment in question. On the other hand, a microwave is often slightly more efficient in heating water than a gas stove's flame and should use significantly less energy. The reason for this is that the microwave's heat waves are focused on the items inside the microwave, not on heating the air or container around it; therefore, the majority, if not all, of the energy generated is utilized to prepare your water.

As you can see, microwaves are definitely a better option than a gas stove and do not put out harmful chemicals into the air. However, electric stoves, especially those with convection (some new options even have air-frying capabilities), can use less electricity, as they cook food faster. When it comes to boiling a cup of water, researchers observed that an electric burner uses around 25 percent less electricity than a microwave. 

Keep in mind, though, the difference in energy usage between a microwave and oven are negligible, at least for boiling water. Still, for heavier cooking, microwaves can save up to 80 percent of energy usage over a conventional oven, especially one lacking convection or the air-frying function. Microwaves also do not heat up a home like a conventional oven. 

On the other hand, microwaves aren't suitable for all types of cooking. They can cook food unevenly and cannot brown it. Microwaves are particularly useful for tiny portions or leftovers. Note that microwave ovens do not currently have an Energy Star category because all existing models have similar energy efficiency.

Gas vs. Electric Stove: Which Is More Energy Efficient?

The oven is the appliance that uses the most energy to create our meals when it comes to cooking. Aside from heating dishes to hundreds of degrees, some ovens include innovative features like self-cleaning capabilities that make meal preparation easier. However, electricity is required to do so. Furthermore, the heat generated by the electric oven travels through the house, prompting increased air conditioner usage. 

Gas comes out on top in the energy-efficiency contest between gas and electricity. Producing and delivering power to your stove consumes around three times as much energy. However, a gas stove will cost you less than half as much to operate, according to the California Energy Commission (provided you have an electronic ignition—not a pilot light). Although the government's Energy Star program does not assess ranges for energy efficiency, a gas range will cost you less annually depending on gas prices in your area along with usage of the range. 

However, induction ranges are now more energy efficient than gas ranges, without the horrible smell and danger from toxins being released into the world. Stovetops that use electromagnetic technology consume around 15 percent less energy than electric coils. On the other hand, electricity and gas take longer to heat food and are more dangerous than induction, although you may need new pots or pans for an induction range.

What are ways to save energy while using an oven?

Convection ovens are more energy efficient than conventional ovens because the heated air is continuously circulated, so you can reduce cooking temperatures and times. It's estimated that a convection oven uses about 20 percent less energy than its conventional counterparts. Throw in a self-cleaning model with significantly more insulation, and you have a pretty efficient cooking machine—just do not use the self-cleaning feature too often.

Moreover, purchase an oven that cleans itself, as it features superior insulation, which maintains the heat in the oven and makes it more energy efficient. Finally, consider investing in an induction cooktop. Induction cooktops employ electricity and magnetic coils to heat pans quickly while keeping the rest of the surface cool to the touch, resulting in a more energy-efficient stove.

What are ways to save energy with a refrigerator?

When it comes to refrigerators, there are several ways to save energy, starting with replacing an old refrigerator. Older models tend to guzzle electricity, while newer models are made with energy efficiency in mind. If you plan to remodel your kitchen, consider placing your fridge far away from your stove or oven, as the heat can offset the cold from the fridge. Ensure there are a few inches between the fridge and the wall, as the condenser coils need space to work properly. 

Keep track of the temperature, too, as the optimum temperature is 40 degrees. Be sure to monitor your children, as the longer the door stays open, the more cool air slips out and requires replacement and energy. Additionally, place room temperature or cold food in the fridge to avoid forcing the refrigerator to use more energy to cool it down. Furthermore, keep the fridge full but not too full, as this can help with insulation. If you overfill the fridge, the normal circulation of chilly air will be obstructed, and your fridge will require more energy to stay cool. 

Finally, check the door seal, as it can allow the cool air to slip out and constantly use more energy to maintain the proper temperature. You can also clean the back of the fridge and condenser coils to ensure the refrigerator is working at optimum levels. Finally, reduce excessive frost in the freezer section, as it can accumulate and force the fridge to work overtime. 

What are more ways to save energy in the kitchen?

When replacing old appliances in a kitchen remodel, it's a good idea to look at the Energy Star ratings. Energy Star appliances are designed to perform more effectively and provide long-term benefits, such as lessening your home's carbon footprint. Even a minor reduction in energy consumption can add up to significant savings in your electricity cost over time.

A few other methods to save money in the kitchen can help, such as using lids on pots and pans, filling the dishwasher before running, looking for blue flames on gas appliances, matching pots to the heating element size, and using a microwave whenever possible. Also, keep appliances clean, as this will help them to work optimally.

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 standard. 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.

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