Gas Stoves Emit Pollution Even When Not in Use

This blog was authored by Tokunbo Kila, NRDC graduate student intern.

It is widely known that gas production and transportation both result in methane leakage, but a new study found that appliances, such as stoves, leak dangerous methane—even when they are not being used. These results are concerning because methane is a powerful climate pollutant that has a global warming potential (GWP) 86 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time period.

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Methane gas is one of the most potent greenhouse gases and accounts for about 25 percent of global warming. Methane makes up 70-90 percent of natural gas, which is used in our homes for cooking and heating. Previous studies have highlighted the presence of a pulse of methane leakage every time a tankless gas-powered water heater is turned on and off, and this most recent study shows that this problem of leakage is even greater than previously thought as it occurs in gas stoves also.

The study found that the average natural gas stove is estimated to emit 0.8-1.3 percent of the gas used as unburned methane, and more than 75 percent of this leakage occurs while the stove is turned off. Just owning a gas-fueled stove, irrespective of usage, causes environmental harm. The emissions resulting from the usage of gas stoves in the U.S. are estimated to have the same annual climate impact as the tailpipe emissions of 500,000 cars.

Methane is not the only dangerous pollutant emitted from stoves and other gas appliances such as space and water heaters, as nitrogen oxides (NOx) are also released into our homes when gas is burned and have been shown to cause respiratory diseases, headaches, eye irritation, and loss of appetite.

Fortunately, there are easy things families can do today to reduce some of the health harms from this indoor pollution. Using a range hood and keeping the kitchen well ventilated while cooking will help mitigate the impact of these emissions on the indoor air quality. Opening a nearby window will help. Without ventilation, homes can surpass the health standard for NOx in a few minutes, especially in smaller kitchens.

However, ventilation does not mitigate the climate impacts of leaking and burning methane. Electric stoves avoid this harmful pollution. There are many types of electric stoves, like the coil top, ceramic glass top, and induction of different price ranges and size. There are also portable counter top stoves (less than $100) that can be plugged into any outlet, which is a viable alternative for renters. Induction stoves are the safest, most efficient, and receive high customer ratings due to the speed and control in cooking. Given the growing findings about the health and environmental harms of gas cooking, it is time to make the switch

About the Authors

Merrian Borgeson

Director, California Policy, Climate & Clean Energy Program

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