It is often said that the kitchen is the heart of the home. It is where the food that satisfies and sustains families is prepared, and is often the room that leads directly out to the garden, being a ‘edge’ if you like between the outside and the inside of the building. With cooking, washing, food storage and many other activities taking place in the kitchen, it can also be a particularly energy-hungry spot in the house. Here is how you can reduce your energy usage in the kitchen.
Using a kettle to boil water uses less energy than boiling it on the stove. No heat escapes the kettle, unlike the stovetop, where heat escapes around the base and sides of a saucepan, making it less efficient. So, if you are cooking something that needs to be boiled – such as vegetables – it is beneficial to boil the kettle first and pour that water into the saucepan then switch on the heat. It will have to come back up to boiling temperature, but will have a ‘head start’, so to speak and use less energy to get there. In addition, when boiling the kettle, ensure you only boil as much water as you need for the task at hand. For instance, if you are making a cup of tea, don’t boil a whole kettle-full of water.
Dishwashers are one of the most power-hungry of household appliances, as they use electricity to function and heat water (as well as using large amounts of water, another resource we should try to preserve as much as possible). However, if you need a dishwasher, there are ways to minimize its energy consumption. The first thing is to only run the machine when it is full. It uses the same amount of water and energy whether it is full or only partially loaded. Running the machine on the economy cycle will also save energy. Sometimes, people feel running on the economy cycle and fully loading the dishwasher compromises the cleaning quality. Scraping and rinsing the dishes before placing them in the dishwasher can avoid this. You might also consider just using a wash cycle and opening the dishwasher door to let the dishes air-dry. Clean the machine’s filter regularly to ensure the most efficient performance.
If you wash up by hand, fill the sink with only as much water as you need, and avoid keeping the tap running (doing so can use as much water as a dishwasher). You might also consider reusing the water as irrigation for the garden; if so, make sure you use an organic detergent. Do the same when washing fruit and vegetables in the sink.
The fridge is unique among the appliances in the kitchen in that it has to run all the time (except when you are away from home for an extended period, when you can empty it and switch it off). So it is imperative that it is as energy-efficient as possible. The first thing to consider is the position of your fridge. Avoid having it in direct sunlight or next to other appliances that are sources of heat, such as ovens and dishwashers. You should also make sure that the fridge is well ventilated, particularly around the back where the condensing coils are (these coils should be kept clean to ensure efficient performance).
Given that every degree that you lower the temperature of your fridge by uses five percent more energy, consider turning up the thermostat. Many people have their refrigerators at a higher temperature than is necessary without even knowing it. The ideal is between 3 and 4 degrees Celsius.
A microwave uses less energy to cook food than a conventional oven, so utilize it in preference whenever possible. However, don’t use the microwave to thaw food as this takes a lot of energy to achieve; plan ahead so you can thaw food in the fridge overnight before use. Importantly, turn off the microwave at the wall whenever you are not using it. While the clock on a microwave may seem useful, it is drawing on power all the time to run. In fact, in general microwaves use more energy over the course of a year to keep the clock going than to actually cook food. Switch the microwave off when you are going on vacation.
Whenever possible, use alternative methods of cooking, such as a microwave, pressure cooker or eclectic fry pan, as large traditional oven use comparatively more energy. If using a traditional gas or electric oven, try to plan your cooking so that you can have several things in the oven at once. (You could extend this idea to cooking dishes in bulk and freezing.) Avoid opening the door too often when dishes are cooking; this allows heat to escape, meaning the oven has to get back up to temperature each time. It also slows down the cooking time. It is also important to keep your oven functioning well, particularly with regard to the seal around the door. A poorly fitted or degraded seal can mean heat and energy leaches out of the appliance every time it is used. A good, quick test is to try and slip a piece of paper between the seal and the door. It is can go through, you should look at replacing the seal for a tighter, more efficient one.
When using saucepans on the stovetop, try to use ones that are the same size as the rings. This helps concentrate the heat on the pan rather than letting some escape around the sides. This is particularly important with gas rings – avoid flames coming up the sides of the pan; turn down the heat if necessary to prevent this happening. (By the way, gas cookers use less energy than electric versions.) One of the simplest ways to preserve energy on the stovetop is, whenever possible, to cook with the lid on the pan. Not only will this save energy, it will cook the food faster as well.