Now You’re Cooking With Gas!

Now You’re Cooking With Gas!

In Berkeley, California, they recently banned future gas hookups in new construction. It’s causing quite the uproar. Here’s a link to a discussion on it:  It seems there are already roughly fifty other jurisdictions considering a similar move. I’m in an interesting position as I’m a member of a decarbonization group, which is essentially against burning fossil fuels, (for a number of reasons, like people’s health and safety, climate change,

and saving money) and I’m also a member of an online community of technicians who do heating/cooling of all sorts (and life without burning any gas or oil would be a major shift for them). The views of the two groups are rather different, or perhaps I should say they are based on different sets of facts.

For decades, gas has been sold to us with the idea that it was clean. It has been considered clean compared to coal, and if you look only at emissions from combustion, that’s true. Now if you also consider gas leakage, the story is different. There are leaks where gas is generated, in the distribution system and where it’s being used. Looking only at the distribution system, it’s generally agreed that on average the leakage rate is 4% of what goes into the system leaks out before making it to the end-users. Natural gas is basically methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Depending on the source, it’s thought to be 25 to 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide, meaning that 4% leakage makes gas a dirtier fuel than coal. Who woulda thunk?! Gas utilities have not kept up with the maintenance of their aging infrastructure, so it leaks. A couple of big, unhappy examples of this are from San Bruno CA, and Aliso Canyon, near Los Angeles, CA. Here is a link to a document from the National Fire Protection Association:  Did you know that between natural gas and propane we get this?

   *168 civilian deaths per year

   *1,029 civilian injuries per year

   * $644 million per year in direct property damage

Perhaps Berkeley is different in that there just might be some residual memory of the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906. Leaking gas was the catalyst for the fires, which destroyed about 500 city blocks with 28,000 buildings, so perhaps the present inhabitants are more sensitive to the dangers of gas than populations in other areas.

And then we can get into the health effects of burning gas in our homes. Here’s a report on the effects of cooking with gas:  I'll quote this from the report: "The analysis showed that children living in a home with a gas cooking stove have a 42% increased risk of current asthma (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.23, 1.64), and a 24% increased lifetime risk of asthma (CI 1.04, 1.47)". Might it be time to consider induction cooking? (Let’s not forget to investigate any electromagnetic pollution these cookers may cause!) Lawrence Berkeley National Labs has done a bunch of research on the pollution caused by gas cooking.

Apparently it’s common for indoor levels of nitrogen dioxide and other pollutants to reach levels that would require abatement actions if they were outside.  Nobody would knowingly subject their children (or themselves) to this.

There is another concept floating around out there called bio-gas or renewable gas (or similar things). Landfills, cattle ranches and sewer plants all produce methane, which normally just escapes into the atmosphere. Capturing that gas and putting it to work could do plenty of good. It could fuel fleets and/or be used to generate electricity. As it wouldn’t need to go into a leaky distribution system, that problem would go away and the gas would go from being a source of climate change trouble to being a useful energy source. Monterey County has a landfill in Marina CA, which has been doing this successfully for years.  It clearly works.

I’m a proponent of efficiency. With some work, I’ve found that properties can be made from 60-80% more energy efficient. This isn’t pie-in-the-sky imagining, but rather just intelligent use of technologies we all have access to, along with plentiful helpings of elbow grease. Now if we begin by making things efficient, switching to electric heat pumps for both space and water heating becomes easy in part because the power supply system doesn’t need to be enlarged. Oh, by the way, those efficiency measures can pay for themselves at roughly 25%. That’s FAR better than most any traditional investment!

Looking ahead, I see there will be a need to make most of the existing buildings we have far more efficient and healthier to live in. We may also want to prepare for the inevitable change away from gasoline-powered to electric vehicles. Fixing up our buildings to make

them efficient and even capable of being self-powered, (or off-grid) while making provision for charging vehicles would drive an entire efficiency industry. Making our buildings safer and healthier would also improve quality of life while cutting health costs.

Here is where we can utilize those smart tradespeople who want to do the best for their clients. They already have a good grasp of the essential concepts of building science and can put them to use in the massive undertaking of making our world safer, healthier and more prosperous than ever before, while keeping an eye on the long term benefits to all of life. Now THAT’S “cooking with gas”*!

*“Cooking with Gas” Origin. In the 1930’s, the catch phrase Now you’re cooking with gas, meaning “you’re on the right track,” was heard on popular radio shows at the behest of the natural gas industry, as part of a quiet marketing push for gas-powered stoves.

Yours, Larry


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  • This blog is so filled with misinformation, I just had to comment.

    • According to the EPA, leakage rates in the natural gas system are below 1.5% and natural gas utilities around the country are investing billions to upgrade their older systems.  The leakage rate will do nothing but go down in the future.
    • Also from the NFPA: "Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges."
    • A study on over 300 houses in California found that NOlevels in homes were driven primarily by outside air concentrations of NO2, not by the presence or use of gas appliances.
    • A University of New Mexico study of respiratory illness and NO2 found no relationship between gas appliances andillness in children.
    • I agree that the advent of renewable gas will further improve and lower the carbon content of the gas system.
    • I'm also a proponent of energy efficiency, but also believe in sound science and reliable data.
    • We need to keep energy choice for customers.  
    NFPA report - Home cooking fires
    This NFPA report includes analysis of patterns and trends in all measures of fire loss for all types of home cooking equipment and all fuel and power…
  • Great piece Larry! I didn 't realize that bio gas was that much different, climate wise, than the "natural gas" that we ship around the country in pipes and in liquid form at sea. I see now that the realtively small transport system of locally produced methane makes a huge difference. And its a great use of methane that was going into the air.

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