Commercial and residential buildings in Chicago generate millions of tons of carbon emissions annually because of their reliance on natural gas. It’s clear that for Illinois to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2050, buildings must discontinue relying on fossil fuel and move toward full electrification. Community-wide electrification will also require simultaneous expansion of renewable energy sources. While the climate-related benefits of such a transition are clear, the related health benefits of electrification are often less well known. Cooking with natural gas presents high concentrations of indoor air pollutants, especially when stoves are not vented outside.1 In this regard, the City of Chicago is in the process of updating its construction requirements, which will include provisions that meet local code conditions as well as health and safety standards for buildings and structures. 2 However, according to the current provisions in Chapter 12, most buildings in the city still prioritize and refer to natural ventilation.
Gas stoves are household fixtures in the Chicago region and deeply rooted in the community’s cultural cooking traditions. Their prevalence, and people’s familiarity and ease with them, will create a major challenge to fully electrifying residential buildings. Conversion plans must center around helping home cooks adjust and adapt to cooking on electric cooktops. Preliminary qualitative research by Elevate has found that people tend to prefer to the types of stoves they grew up using. For low-income communities, this often means a mix of both gas and electric stoves. This dual cooktop competence suggests that electrifying small to mid-size rental buildings will be less daunting for residents. While it won’t eliminate educational and technical support needs, residents may adapt more quickly.
While stoves may seem a minor piece of equipment to focus our attention on, they are imperative to successful residential building decarbonization programs. Cooking has deep cultural roots and gas cooking is the centerpiece in this story. To get cooks to embrace electric cooking, we need to understand how cultural norms, personal preferences, public health, and utility costs encourage them to, or dissuade them from, switching to electric cooking. Additionally, our quantitative understanding of the impact that cooking has on energy, climate, and indoor air quality is critical for lobbying policymakers, developing utility programs, and partnering with and supporting building owners as they transition to electric power.
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