Microwave Ovens Are Tops in Efficiency

First introduced as a practical kitchen appliance in 1965, microwave ovens have revolutionized cooking and offer substantial energy savings over standard ovens (They are 5 times as energy efficient as a standard electric oven). They work by producing non-ionizing microwave radiation (a certain frequency of radio waves) with a magnetron and directing that radiation at the food. The microwave radiation is absorbed by water, fats, and sugars, producing heat. Because the microwaves penetrate the food, heating is more rapid and requires less energy than in a conventional oven. Microwave ovens are about

5 times as energy efficient as standard elec­tric ovens and more than 10 times as energy efficient as gas ovens.

Increasingly, manufacturers are combining cooking functions with microwave ovens to produce a new generation of "rapid-cook" appliances. These models combine micro­waves with electric grilling elements so that food can be browned as well as cooked. Quartz elements are often used to create ra­diant heat, though General Electric’s Advan – tium® microwave oven (www. geappliances .com) uses a halogen-lamp element. Convec­tion is another feature offered by the Advan – tium and some others, such as TurboChef®’s Speedcook Oven (www. turbochef. com). In the future, most ovens likely will include multiple heating options to speed up cook­ing and to serve a wider range of functions, from defrosting to reheating to grilling.

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Tips to Cut Consumption

LID ON OR OFF?

If you use a convection oven, keep the lid off a casserole dish. Otherwise, it will cook no more quickly than in a standard oven. On a cooktop, closing the lid on a pot will retain heat and reduce energy use.

CONSIDER A CROCK-POT

Slow-cooking, plug-in crock pots offer an energy-efficient way to cook soups, stews, and other dishes.

Exhaust Fans Are Important to Health

Exhaust fans add to energy consumption, but their importance with regard to kitchen air quality—and the health of your home’s occupants—cannot be ignored. Chemical impurities in natural gas, along with incom­plete combustion, can result in dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO), causing headaches and fatigue at low levels and, at high concentrations, death. Because of this concern, gas ranges should be installed with quality, outdoor-venting range-hood fans, which should be operated when the cooktop or oven is on.

Exhaust fans are most efficient when placed above the cooktop or range. Down­draft fans, which are installed at the back or in the center of a range, rely on signifi­cant airflow (and power consumption) to ventilate cooking fumes effectively. Because fumes are more easily channeled into a fan installed in a range hood, fan performance is better.

If you can’t vent an exhaust fan outdoors, avoid the use of gas cooking appliances. Recirculating range-hood fans can remove odors but should not be relied on to remove combustion gases.

A significant energy-saving feature to look for in a range-hood exhaust fan is a variable-speed motor. This allows the fan to operate at a lower airflow rate when full ven­tilation capacity is not needed, thus saving energy and reducing noise.