In preparation for our remodel, I had to upgrade and move my gas meter. This is the story of how and why we did it.
We ordered the new appliances for our kitchen last weekend. I’ll make a general post on how I bought the appliances, and I’ll also put up another post describing my other appliances but I thought the range deserved its own post.
|Image of a sealed burner.|
- Flame Pattern
When my wife and I first moved into this house, we wanted to add an air conditioner. Seattle is full of people who tell you that “you don’t need an air conditioner”. They’re in deep denial. The beauty of air conditioning in Seattle is that the cost of running an air conditioner is proportional to how hard it has to work. Since Seattle has generally very mild weather, it doesn’t cost much to run the air conditioner but on the other hand, it means my house is a happy 68 degrees* all year round.
Instead of adding an air conditioner, what we really did was install a heat pump. Simply put, a heat pump uses a little bit of energy to move heat from one location to another. In the summer, we use it to move heat from the inside of the house to the outside, in the winter, we move heat from the outside to the inside. If you want to know more about how they work, How Stuff Works has a very detailed explanation.
In addition to being able to cool in the summer, the heat pump has some other great properties: It’s inexpensive to run, it produces a nice mild heat in the winter as opposed to “bursting” high heat the way a furnace does, and, it’s “greener” than a conventional gas furnace.
Because they heat in the winter by pulling heat from the outside, they stop being efficient once the temperature outside gets too cold, you still need to pair it with a supplemental heat source. In my house we use the existing gas furnace, if you didn’t already have a gas furnace, you can add electric heat elements to the heat pump. The downside to the electric heat elements, is that you lose the efficiency when they turn on.
In my house the gas heat is set to turn on around 35 degrees. The good news is, that doesn’t happen all that often around here:
As you can see, the average low in this city never drops below 37. It’s only on the occasional cold nights that my furnace turns on. In the summer, we’re never really cooling all that much, relative to the outside temp so it runs pretty efficiently too. On the really hot days, we love having it!
A lot of people ask how much it costs to run, this is really hard to say since it isn’t separated on my electric bill. My entire electric bill for my house is around $80-$120 per month depending on whether or not I’m on winter rates, summer rates, and what time of the year it is (Fall and Spring are best for me). Of course, this covers a whole lot more than jut the heat pump, computers, lights, etc… on roughly 3200 sq. ft. of home.
So, we love our heat pump, the AC is great in the summer, we love how it heats in the winter, but is it worth the cost? It depends… In our case, we had a perfectly working furnace and while I believe AC is important, it’s definitely not necessary. Further, the heat pump isn’t so efficient that it’ll pay for itself over it’s lifetime when compared to keeping my gas furnace. However, if you’re already set on buying an air conditioner, buying a heat pump instead is only about $1,000 more and you will make up that cost over it’s lifetime. Definitely, if I were doing new construction, I would install a heat pump over any other source.
In addition to whole house heat pumps, there’s another type on the market: Ductless Heat Pumps. Ductless heat pumps have been around for over 40 years are very popular in Europe and Asia. These things are very efficient and work on a room by room basis. Seattle is tripping over itself to give people money to install them (http://www.ci.seattle.wa.us/light/Conserve/dhp/).
* A note on the house temp. I like the house cold, my wife doesn’t. For some reason this is the only argument I’ve ever been able to win. It also means that she wears a hoodie in August when we’re in our basement.
As part of our remodel, we get to pick new appliances. We currently have an electric glass top and it’s awful. Slow response time and imprecise heat control. When looking at appliances for the new kitchen I knew I wanted anything other than an electric range. There are two heating technologies worth looking at when picking a new range: Gas and Induction.
|Gas Burner (Wikipedia)|
People have been cooking with gas since the 1820s, it’s about as simple as it gets: gas burns, burning gas makes heat, heat cooks food. Not a whole lot has changed in gas ranges since the 1820s, the mechanics are basically the same: gas flows through a valve into a burner which disperses the gas and burns it in a pattern. Since the 1820s the ranges have gotten more efficient and safer, we have electric igniters, safety valves and smarter burner designs. Gas is also the way most restaurants cook. My last house had a gas range and I really miss it.
|Induction in action (GE)|
Induction heats in a way that’s completely different from the traditional electric or gas range. Induction heats by inducing heat in the cooking vessel rather than transferring heat to the cooking vessel. In induction cooking, the pot itself generates the heat! Induction works by using a high power electromagnet in the hob (the equivalent of a burner on a gas range) induces heat in the pan.
|Inside of an induction hob (Wikipedia)|
Induction is very responsive, heats up quickly, cools down quickly and since it only generates heat in the pan is super efficient. The picture at the top of this section is of an induction hob that’s not melting ice while boiling water. Induction is very popular in Europe and Asia and is developing quite the following in the US. One of the odd limitations of induction is that it requires pans to have some iron content. This is because induction only works with pans that respond to magnets. In my case this isn’t a big deal, all of my pans are either All-Clad or some form of cast iron (I’ll have a future post on cookware).
In looking for a new range, I had a few requirements:
- Responsive – Quick to heat, quick to cool.
- High Heat – We do a lot of searing, so I need to be able to get a pan really hot.
- Reliable – Nobody likes calling a service company.
Induction is clearly more powerful, but I think it’s a moot victory. I’m looking at a high end gas range or a high end induction and I don’t think it matters at that level which is more powerful.