Cooking nutritious, veggie-focused, locally sourced, sustainably farmed meals at home is good for you and good for the planet.  Should you cook that with a “natural gas” stovetop, and if you do, do you need an exhaust hood? 

If you ever cook on a stove top at home, an exhaust hood is a great idea – and an essential, required part of the kitchen – for anyone who has a gas-fired stove top. 

What’s an exhaust hood (or range hood)?

An exhaust hood (also called a range hood, a stovetop vent, or a range vent or hood) sucks air and gas from above your stove and, with help from a filter, removes airborne grease, combustion products, fumes, smoke, heat, and steam through evacuation of the air and through filtration.  Even with electric stoves, commercial ovens require exhaust hoods to prevent excess inhalation of smoke and grease.

Most residential exhaust hoods are ducted, which means they have a duct or guided opening that passes air and fumes to the outdoors.  It is rarer to have a re-circulating, ductless hood in residential areas. But if you have a home with one (sometimes with a vent from a microwave serving as your only stove vent), then with a gas range, you will need a specialized filter in the hood to keep the re-circulated air clean and the home safe.  The microwave’s feeble filter probably won’t cut it.

Some Exhaust Hoods are Noisy; what’s the Big Deal?

Many cooks like the even flame present in gas stove tops, but the byproducts of burned gas are unhealthy.   They must be blown out of the air in your home with an exhaust hood that is forceful enough to catch a great deal of the flame’s exhaust.

Properly burned natural gas is cleaner, with less CO2 (a source of global warming) and fewer airborne pollutants and toxins than oil (gasoline). It is especially cleaner than wood and coal.  Nevertheless, natural gas is a dangerous source of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) before the pilot light burns it.  Even after it is properly burned, it still contains — in addition to carbon dioxide, which causes global warming – all of the following: carbon monoxide (a known carcinogen), sulfur dioxide (associated with asthma and pre-term births if insufficiently diluted), nitrogen oxides (harmful to lungs, a source of smog and acid rain), and some mercury (a known neurotoxin). “Natural gas” is an imperfect and non-renewable source of energy for you and the planet (see also below).

Many people who are handy will turn expensive kitchen projects into a more financially manageable “do it yourself” project to save money.  In that case, the job may not be done according to code, in part due to a lack of knowledge on the importance of the hood.  Again, especially with gas stove tops, the hood is essential.

What kind of hood do you need, and if you already have a hood in your kitchen, do you need a new or better one? 

I did a kitchen upgrade a few years ago, installing a range hood with a proper air duct in a kitchen that didn’t have one.  I did everything according to code and with a high standard, licensed and bonded contractor.  However, unfortunately, I didn’t realize that all hoods are not created equal.  The contractor knew the legal, bare minimum requirements, and thought he would helpfully try to save me some money.  So he recommended a hood at Home Depot for less than $200 (brand: Allure by Broan). It looked nice (in stainless steel) but it contained a hood that only blew at 220 cubic feet per minute (cu ft/min or cfm).  I cook all the time, almost always on the stove top, and the air above my pots seemed stale and heavy, with almost no noticeable ventilation from the weak fan of my range hood.  I found myself opening the windows even in winter.

If you are not on a very limited budget, you may wish to pay double or triple what I originally paid to purchase a hood that sucks the air in at as much as 850 cubic feet per minute (cfm).  Request the same from your landlord, builder, or contractor with any new project, and gently provide information about the importance of this if they value you as a client or tenant or are unaware of the importance of this to your health.

Is your home ready for a quality range hood?

Please note though that this may be a bigger project in some homes than just the cost of the range hood.  A powerful hood sucking in air at more than 400 cfm may need a 3½” X 10” metal duct, and not a smaller one, to work properly.  This is the equivalent of a 7” cylindrical pipe and hole in your roofing.  Ducts and exhaust pipes on the roof are likely to be this size, but if not, expanding your duct with a licensed HVAC company may make your kitchen safer, and may help your hood to function properly.  

Lovely kithen but inadequate rangehood and vent?
Photo by Mike Marquez on Unsplash

If you have a very new house that is very tightly sealed to save on energy, you also may need to check if you have air dampers in your ventilation system that help the system function properly.  Air dampers help air that is clean to enter your house, so that unclean air can exit.

Without a quality circulation system in your home, despite the waste of heat and energy, you still may wish to open a nearby window, even a crack in winter, to ensure proper air circulation while cooking.

I’ve just replaced an old, functioning hood with a new one (despite the waste), and I confess I like the brand name of the hood and the company that sells it:  Typhoon, by Zephyr (zephyr means Western wind).  This was a hood recommended by a very knowledgeable salesman, Gregg Hanson of Fredericks Appliance Center in Redmond (425) 885 0000 ext. 101.  If you don’t live near Seattle’s Eastside, you can scope out the size of your hood space, cabinetry, or oven, and then buy a hood over the phone from a salesman closer to you, perhaps without even visiting a showroom.  This hood is comparatively quiet but not cheap; any comparison with this or another can focus on the power of the hood (cfm), and of course make sure you are buying a size that is appropriate for your kitchen.  Back to Fredericks:  They can arrange for a $150-$180 install if you live close by.

Should you even use gas-powered equipment in your kitchen (or laundry room)?

If you’re replacing your gas oven or stovetop, should you replace with a natural gas device just because the hookup is already in the kitchen, or just because that’s what you had before? 

“Natural gas” is not a renewable resource.  Fracking to extract it can cause natural toxins and pollutants to seep into nearby soil, drinking water, and streams.  And natural gas is mainly composed of methane, which can leak during fracking, at the source, from pipelines, and in residential pipes.  Methane is a very significant source of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, dozens of times more significant by volume than carbon dioxide (the primary byproduct of natural gas that is properly burned).  Meanwhile, even the fumes from natural gas that is flared or burned properly (on a stove top for example) are neither benign nor natural, as described above. 

However, the two main byproducts of natural gas combustion are carbon dioxide and water vapor, making it a cleaner fuel (if properly burned) when compared to coal and petroleum, which have higher carbon dioxide emissions, in addition to other harmful byproducts.  You should discover if your electricity is sourced, primarily, from renewable sources when trying to assess if you wish to install gas burners and ovens in your kitchen. Seattle, for example, has greener, more renewable electricity than its Eastside suburbs.

Photo by Alessandro Ranica on Unsplash

Other kitchen and outdoor grill safety tips relating to gas stoves and stove tops:

A Portland-based company, Northwest Natural, provides other kitchen and outdoor grill safety tips for anyone using natural gas or propane products to cook:

In your kitchen:

  • Children should be taught not to turn any range knobs.
  • Keep all combustible materials, such as paper towels, curtains, clothing, and electric cords, away from range burners.
  • Keep an all-purpose (ABC rated) fire extinguisher in a convenient location. In the event of a range-top fire, use the extinguisher. You can also use baking soda to put out a grease fire, and small fires often can be smothered with a wet towel or a large pot cover.
  • Keep burners and the range top clean. Boil overs and accumulations of grease can create a fire hazard.
  • If a burner flame goes out, shut off the range knob. Wait for the gas to dissipate, and then relight the burner.
  • When lighting a manually operated oven or top burner (no pilot light), ALWAYS light the match first, place it at the burner and then turn on the range knob.
  • Shut off the burners when not in use.

Outdoors:

  • Place your grill at least 10 feet away from other objects, including the house, combustibles and any shrubs or bushes.
  • Check the connection between the propane tank or natural gas line to be sure it is working properly and not leaking.
  • Never bring a grill inside your home or garage. This is both a fire and carbon monoxide poisoning hazard.
  • Always stay by the grill when cooking.

Lead photo by Camylla Battani on Unsplash