Cooking is the heart of the kitchen; choosing the right appliances saves energy and makes cooking a pleasure. Kitchens generally have either a range, comprising a cooktop and an oven, or a separate cooktop and one or more ovens. Which is better? Personal preference or budget may drive this decision. A range is generally the most economical; the more appliances, the higher the price. A range also takes up less floor area.
Fuel type is another consideration. If you prefer an electric oven but a gas cooktop, you’ll probably want separate appliances. And if you have specific wants or needs—say a steam oven, a convection oven, or a built-in cooktop wok—those needs may dictate your selections.
Buy New or Keep the Old?
Older appliances are generally much less efficient than newer ones. But if you don’t spend a lot of time cooking, the energy your appliance uses is unlikely to be a big enough slice of your energy pie to drive this decision. If, however, you are looking to buy new, you should certainly consider energy efficiency. Beware of restaurant- or professional-style residential ranges with standing pilot lights and high-capacity burners. They are huge gas hogs. If you want a restaurant-style cooktop, go for the more energy-efficient electronic ignition.
What Type of Oven?
Convection ovens, which use a fan to circulate air and keep temperatures relatively steady, offer shorter cook times and use 20% less energy than standard ovens. In general, self-cleaning ovens are more energy efficient than ovens that are not self-cleaning. Microwaves have the advantage of cooking the food without heating the cookware or the kitchen, and so use roughly one-third as much energy as conventional ovens to do the same job. There are also hybrid ovens (microwave plus convection, for instance) that have the same energy benefits as microwaves with better cooking results.
Be sure to provide adequate ventilation in your kitchen—both natural ventilation from windows and mechanical ventilation from a range hood. If your kitchen has no range hood, you should install one, particularly if you have a gas stove. Cooking with gas produces combustion by-products (such as CO) that are not healthy to breathe. Without sufficient ventilation, these by-products can accumulate in the home. Cooking also produces moisture, which should be exhausted in order to avoid mold growth and damage to building materials.
Some kitchens have extremely high-capacity fans. Makeup air must be provided for these fans in order to avoid backdrafting, because when a fan pulls large volumes of air out of the house, the vacuum created can draw contaminated air from other sources, such as the basement or garage. Be sure to have a qualified professional analyze your ventilation needs and specify appropriate equipment.