New program at 3 libraries lets people try induction stoves before they buy

By Maddie Fabian

For the Gazette

Published: 02-12-2023 8:44 PM

NORTHAMPTON — A watched pot never boils, unless the watched pot is on an induction cooktop, in which case the water will boil in two minutes or less.

A new program at the Forbes, Lilly and Jones libraries is lending out induction cooktop kits to library members, giving people a chance to try them out in lieu of electric and gas stoves. Each kit contains an induction cooktop, pot, frying pan and meat thermometer.

Each library has two cooktops, purchased by Local Energy Advocates of Western Mass from Manny’s Appliances, which users can borrow for two to three weeks. The program is co-sponsored by Mothers Out Front, the Center for EcoTechnology and Local Energy Advocates.

“We’re hoping that more people will fall in love with these and decide to take advantage of all the incentives that are available right now to actually to transition to induction appliances,” said Adele Franks, treasurer of Local Energy Advocates.

One Northampton resident, Paige Bridgens, was among the first to lend out a cooktop from Forbes Library.

“I am going to spend the next two weeks seeing if it is the kind of thing I want to have,” Bridgens said.

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The program is a local response to state and national concerns over the environmental and health impacts of gas stoves. A 2022 climate bill in Massachusetts contains a section allowing 10 cities and towns across the state to adopt building codes banning fossil fuel use, including the installation of gas stoves, in new buildings. Similar policies have been adopted at 94 cities and counties across the country.

The safety of natural gas stoves was in the spotlight in January when a commissioner of the Consumer Product Safety Commission said that a gas stove ban was a possibility.

“This is a hidden hazard,” Richard Trumka Jr. told Bloomberg. “Any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned.”

Trumka later clarified that the commission would only adopt regulations for new products.

Induction stoves begin at about $1,000 and most brands top out at about $2,500, although high-end stoves can cost more than $5,000. Right now, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, through the Mass Save Program, is offering a $500 rebate for replacing a natural gas or propane stove with an induction stove.

Induction cooking uses electromagnetic conduction to heat cookware, meaning it uses the magnetic field of the stovetop and the magnets in the pot/pan to generate heat. Whereas gas and electric stoves indirectly heat cookware using an open flame or an electric burner, induction stoves directly generate heat within the cookware. Not only is the method more energy efficient, but it’s also less expensive to use.

“It’s taking fossil fuels out of the picture,” said Tom Bassett, a member of Mothers Out Front. “The more we electrify, whether it’s cars or cooktops, the better off we’re going to be from an environmental standpoint.”

Beyond environmentalism, proponents of induction cooking point to health and safety advantages over gas stoves.

A recent study by WE ACT for Environmental Justice found that transitioning from gas to induction stoves significantly reduces indoor air pollution, particularly levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide, both gases with adverse effects on human health.

Harmful emissions from gas stoves account for 15.4% of childhood asthma cases, according to a new study in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.

Further, the risk of burns and accidents is lower because induction cooking heats just the pan, meaning the surrounding area is cool.

“What’s happening is you’ve got the magnetic coil down here, and it’s waiting for something to complete a circuit,” said Bassett, referring to the electromagnetic functionality of the cooktop. Without the pot or pan, there is nothing to complete the circuit, meaning there is no heat. So, after boiling water in a pot or frying vegetables in a pan, the stovetop only takes around a minute to cool down.

For the same reasons, induction stovetops allow for faster and more precise cooking. Bassett performed an experiment at home to compare boiling times between his gas stove, microwave and induction cooktop. To boil one cup of water, it took around 70 seconds by induction, 140 seconds in the microwave, and nearly four minutes on the gas stove.

“I personally have a portable induction cooktop in my kitchen and I love it. I absolutely love it,” said Franks. “They’re so precise. You know, you can actually set exactly what temperature you want the thing to cook at.”

Of course, induction stovetops do come with their downsides. Because they use electromagnetic conduction, the stoves require cookware made of magnetic-based material like cast iron or magnetic stainless steel.

The push to switch from gas to induction cooking also begs the question: what will happen to all the displaced gas stoves?

Bridgens, the Northampton woman who is trying out an induction stove from Forbes, said she’s fond of the applaince and can imagine buying one for herself, but doesn’t “share the enthusiasm a lot of people have for swapping out old appliances for new ones.”

“There’s a myth that electric is emission-free,” said Bridgens. During the summertime, she uses a sun oven, which is a small device that harnesses the sun’s energy to cook food. “That’s another approach to cooking and it’s different from an appliance… There’s no gasoline; that beauty just shines down into it,” she said extending her hands toward the sun.

Once the program is underway, Bassett says the co-sponsors hope to expand to more libraries and eventually reach lower-income communities.