To convert to gas or electric?

Scott Tong Jul 20, 2012

To convert to gas or electric?

Scott Tong Jul 20, 2012

Tess Vigeland: As we speak, the Olympic torch is zigzagging its way around London. The torch is powered by natural gas, this country’s latest favorite energy source. It’s now so cheap that people with electric stoves are mulling a switch. And it just so happens one of our reporters is in the market for a new kitchen range. So here’s Marketplace’s Scott Tong, doing some of the math for himself and for the rest of us.

Scott Tong: We own a legacy model electric kitchen range. Allow me to demonstrate.

Sound of water being poured

I fill the kettle, put it on the stove. And count how many things I can do before the water boils.

Sound of Scott running downstairs

I empty the dryer. Fold a load. Put away the clothes. Jump in the driveway hockey game with my sons Evan, and Daniel.

Boy: Goal!

Sound of lawn mower

I mow that strip of grass I missed last week.

Sound of chopping

I come back in, cut the watermelon. Start tomorrow’s coffee.

Sound of kettle whistling

Tong: OK, how many minutes was that?

Audrey Tong: Umm, 11 minutes.

That’s my daughter, Audrey, by the way.

Time to replace the old range. With gas or electric?

My wife Cathy and I both like gas cooking. It’s fast, it’s super hot. And as an energy reporter, I hear America’s full of cheap natural gas. Question is, are we sure it’s gonna stay cheap?

Jeff Harris: I think that’s probably a reasonable assumption.

That’s Jeff Harris at the nonprofit Alliance to Save Energy. He does warn, though, whatever the fuel, it’s not free.

Harris: It’s not going to be, as we once said about nuclear power, too cheap to meter. Whether it’s electricity from natural gas or from other fuels, or even renewable energy, all of those cost money and all of them can be important to use efficiently.

So let’s do a bit of math, to compare fuel costs.

The gas bill says we pay 50 cents per “therm.” Our electricity costs 10 cents per “kilowatt hour.” I’m stumped. It’s hard to do apples to apples here. So, I call this guy:

Michael Bluejay: My name Michael Bluejay. I run a website called “Saving Electricity” at

Michael Bluejay does a lot of home energy math.

Bluejay: You’re paying 50-something cents. You’re paying half of what the national average is. So your gas is very cheap.

And our electricity is kinda average price. So, in one year, gas cooking would set us back $65 in fuel. Electricity: $250. Yay gas!

Except, our gas pipes don’t connect from the basement all the way up to the kitchen. So I bring in the plumber.

Sound of a plumber talking

We’re talking $1,200 to do that work. And the projected gas savings versus electricn could make that money back in maybe seven years. Of course, there are other considerations.

Michael Bluejay, for instance, doesn’t have gas in his house, because:

Bluejay: If you have gas lines in your home, your home is that much more likely to blow up from a gas line leak. I was surprised when I read the manual for a gas range, and it warned that it could kill any pet birds that you might have.

The canary is always the first to go. Still, we vote gas.

And as a general rule, Bluejay says gas appliances do save on energy costs. Thing is, the big difference is not in kitchen ranges. Again, Jeff Harris at the alliance to Save Energy.

Harris: Something that you might pay more attention to: Use of natural gas or electricity in a furnace or a heat pump. That’s the single biggest energy use in most homes. Or for hot water, which is often the second biggest use.

And on the topic of hot water, here’s a money saving tip: Wash your clothes in cold. Michael Bluejay says they get clean just fine. His family does cold every single day. Well, almost.

Bluejay: On rare occasion if we have something that’s very soiled we might use warm. But it’s special. It’s like the Christmas of washing clothes. It’s a special day when we do that.

He says cold washing saves $100 a year. Want ore energy tips?

Bluejay: Using ceiling fans and then turning off your air conditioner, 400. Turning off unused lights. I figure if you turn off five lights, hat’s about $300 a year.

Now we’re saving real money, even if you’re not in the market for a new appliance. If you are, like us, think about a cheaper fuel. In our case, it could save money and time — for more hockey.

In Washington, I’m Scott Tong for Marketplace.

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