Gas or electric? It may seem like a recent debate, but it’s a discussion that has been going on for decades. One part climate concern, another public health issue, the gas stove, once an American staple now has people wondering if it is perhaps overstaying its welcome. But that’s something for builders and designers to worry about, right? Well, no. As it turns out, smart home professionals have just as much skin in the game when it comes to gas stoves, and it’s all because of air quality.
What Are the Downsides of Gas Stoves?
First, let’s bring everyone that needs it up to speed. The criticisms surrounding gas can be broken up into two distinct parts. From a sustainability perspective, natural gas is a fossil fuel. Burning it releases carbon (among other things) into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. Additionally, the release of methane from its transportation and mining contribute to climate change as well.
From a public health standpoint, gas stoves have been found to have a prominent impact on respiratory systems. When burning gas, a prominent compound introduced into the air is NO2 which can lead to asthma through prolonged exposure and provoke asthma symptoms in the short term. There’s also CO2 and CO which can cause symptoms such as fatigue, dizziness and death in very high concentrations.
Unburned natural gas also slowly leaks into the home even when not in use, exposing occupants to Benzene, a known carcinogen in humans (to the point where it has been banned for use in common household products).
In addition to that, gas stoves come with all the baggage from cooking indoors as a whole. Even if you’re using an electric stove, cooking releases VOCs and particulate matter (PM2.5) into the air that, if not properly ventilated, can cause or exacerbate respiratory issues. It may not relate exclusively to gas stoves, but it is still an issue to consider with regards to air quality.
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Best practices dictate that a ventilation source like a fume hood be installed overhead and connected to the outside, but that’s not always the case, especially in older homes where a gas hookup is more likely to be found.
Will the Government Eventually Ban Gas Stoves?
Despite all this and despite what you may have heard, it is unlikely that a federal ban on gas stoves will come to pass. Language used by certain government agencies may indicate an intention to pursue legislation against gas stoves, however, many political analysts state that this conversation for a while with very little happening during that time.
Additionally, industry experts, even those outside of the gas industry like Oyvind Birkenes, CEO of Airthings, believe an outright ban isn’t the best way to approach the situation. Rather, it should be self-regulation through education and consumer demand. Essentially, education will get far more traction than an edict, and that’s been the case so far when looking at air quality.
Air quality education has allowed the product category to gain considerable traction over the few short years since people began REALLY talking about it. Aside from an opt-in challenge issued by the federal government, next to nothing in the way of legislation has pushed the industry in that direction. It’s all been consumer awareness and demand, and that’s the same story Birkenes sees playing out with gas stoves.
You’ll have your enthusiasts that want to hold on to them, and you’ll have others who will want to get rid of them, but regardless of which way the consumer leans, air quality is still likely going to be on their mind.
Why the Conversation Surrounding Gas is Important for Smart Homes
CE Pros should be fairly familiar with the topic of air quality at this point. If not experts in the field, everyone at least knows it exists as a category with air purifiers, HVAC units, central vacuums and monitoring devices filling out the ranks. However, Birkenes places special emphasis on how valuable air monitoring can be to both the integrator and the homeowner.
“If you’re monitoring the air, you’ll very quickly start to pick up on patterns, understand how air quality changes and what affects it. Then, you can determine when to initiate a remediation tactic like opening a window or running a ventilation fan,” Birkenes says.
Simply put, air monitoring helps one figure out the issue so one can better design a solution. Integrators can then take it one step further, connecting air quality sensors to remediation systems like an HVAC unit or an air purifier to illicit an immediate, appropriate response. For example, an air monitor detecting NO2 might communicate with a fume hood to activate while also telling the HVAC unit to intake more outside air.
“Many air quality monitors on the market now use Open API or IFTTT to make integrations with other systems,” continues Birkenes. “Integrations with Alexa and Matter are also common, making it even easier for integrators to sync remediation devices with air quality monitors for a smarter, more convenient, and more efficient system.
“This is especially valuable when pitching to homebuilders and property managers, who are now looking to differentiate themselves with healthy, energy efficient properties while also appealing to client design preferences.”
How Air Quality Sensors Can Open Additional Opportunities for Integrators
Birkenes also highlights the additional opportunities air quality monitoring may open up for the integrator. One might install a sensor for the stove, only to find out there are other issues regarding air quality in the home that may require additional solutions.
“Once you have a [air quality monitoring] device installed, there are many avenues that could be pursued based on the data received through air monitoring and that in turn leads to many different opportunities for the integrator to come up with a custom-built solution for the client.
“You may initially place an air quality monitor to show a client how much pollution a gas stove lets off, but that could also turn into a conversation surrounding humidity or radon in the home. Air quality monitors have become incredibly advanced over the years, and so finding a device that is able to track a wide range of markers for indoor air quality is incredibly easy. For instance, our View Plus can detect CO2, VOCs, PM2.5, Radon, Humidity, Air Pressure and more from a single interface.”
Certain air quality monitors also come equipped with occupancy sensors as well, which can play into other automations on a home system such as lighting and security routines.
What’s the Future of Gas in the Home?
This is a rough estimate, but as of right now, it is believed 80% of homes that will ever be needed already exist. In those homes, gas represents about 30% of cooking appliances.
Gas showing up in newer buildings is a rarity nowadays. It’s not out of the question, but it’s unlikely given current preferences. And while the market likes to focus on new builds and new construction as a reliable pulse, Birkenes states that managing existing home stock is a big trend that is ultimately going to overtake the market. We’re already seeing that to a very small extent as inflation and rampant housing prices tamp down appetites for buying newer homes.
Even if we were to remove gas stoves from every single house in America, that wouldn’t change the concerns with air quality that are going to crop up surrounding this debate. What a stove is doing to one’s health is only a small avenue in the greater discourse surrounding air quality, so for those interested in the market, or for those who are already there, it’s a debate worth paying attention to.
If a home is old enough to have a gas hookup, it’s likely old enough to warrant a quick peak at how healthy the house is.
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