The choices available in cooking appliances are almost overwhelming - gas or electric, coils or smoothtop, convection or quartz-halogen, dials or digital, slide-in or wall-mounted - not to mention the dozens of built-in features to choose from. But while you're considering all those options, don't forget about energy efficiency.
The first decision you'll need to make is fuel preference. Keep in mind that natural gas appliances cost less to operate than electric models, but there is a greater safety risk because of the open flame. If your budget allows, some manufacturers offer a combination unit with gas burners and an electric oven. You'll have the flexibility of complete control on the cooktop, and the benefits of regulated, even heat in the oven.
Some new technology available is greatly improving the energy efficiency of electric cooking - more than 60 percent in some cases:
- Convection ovens use fans to circulate heated air around the food. This reduces cooking times and temperatures, and allows food to be cooked on several racks at the same time.
- Quartz-halogen ovens use high-heat light bulbs to cook food faster and more evenly.
- Induction cooktops use magnetic heat instead of electric coils. This type of cooking is very energy-efficient, but may require special cookware.
- "Rapid-cook" appliances, offered by several manufacturers, combine several types of heating elements, including convection, quartz-halogen and microwave. These new units can cook in about one-fourth the time - lasagna in 10 minutes or a fruit cobbler in eight minutes - with no preheating.
- Cooking sinks allow you to cook rice, pasta and dishes right at the sink. When you're done, the sink drains with the push of a button - leaving the cooked food in this removable strainer.
These types of appliances will have a higher purchase price, but the energy savings can pay back the difference within a year or two, depending on how often the appliance is used.
Other new cooking features you might see include:
- Digital controls and electronic memories for storing recipes;
- Add-on grills, griddles and warming drawers;
- Down-draft ventilation to eliminate the need for a large vent hood; and
- Double ovens for cooking at different temperatures at the same time.
If your budget - or your family - is large, you might be tempted by the "restaurant-style" or "commercial-grade" cooking units shown prominently in decorating magazines and television shows. These appliances use significantly more energy than standard models, and often require structural upgrades and expensive (and energy-wasting) ventilation systems.
Looking for an energy-smart appliance retailer? Try Alliant Energy's online Dealer Locator to find experts in your area.
Easy energy savers
- Use lids on pots and pans to reduce cooking times, and don't put a small pan on a large burner.
- Use smaller kitchen appliances whenever possible. Microwaves, toaster ovens and slow-cookers can use 75 percent less energy than a large electric oven.
- Use your oven's self-cleaning feature immediately after cooking, while the oven is still hot. This will reduce a lengthy warm-up time.
- Keep the grease plates under range burners clean to reflect heat more efficiently.
Maintaining your cooking appliances
- Check the gasket that seals the oven door - if it's cracked, brittle or falling off, replace it.
- Clean your oven and range burners often. Baked-on messes can increase energy use and shorten the life of the heating element.
- Have your natural gas stove inspected by a professional every two years. If the pilot light or burner flames appear more yellow than blue, have it checked immediately.
- If a spillover occurs on your gas stove, clean the holes in the burner port with a straight pin. Avoid using a toothpick, which can break off inside the port.
- Replace the heating elements on electric ranges and ovens every ten years.