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Ethical Comparison - Cookers

Most of us won’t buy more than one or two cookers in our lifetime, so getting the right one is crucial. The ideal appliance will strike a perfect balance between convenience and efficiency, making light work of everything from a family meal to a dinner party, without impacting on the environment in the long term. The key question here is whether to choose gas or electric, and the relative merits of both are considered below.

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Convenience and efficiency

Ease of use is an important consideration when choosing a cooker, which is probably why the British public seem to prefer electric ovens to gas ones, while gas hobs (whose temperature tends to be more controllable) are marginally more popular than electric. Most manufacturers acknowledge these preferences and offer dual fuel products.

Unfortunately, popularity is no guide to energy efficiency, and government research shows that there is room to improve the efficiency of ovens and hobs alike. Selfcleaning oven features – which can be found in both gas and electric ovens – contribute to energy efficiency because they provide extra insulation. However, as the process itself requires an extra 1.4kW of energy each time it is used, in order to save energy overall the self-cleaning function should not be operated more than once a month.

Fan ovens also have lower energy needs because they cut the heating-up time and the amount of heat lost, which reduces the overall time used for cooking. The fan also creates an even temperature throughout, although models are available that allow the fan to be turned off in order to increase the temperature at the top of the oven.

Even if there is little to choose from in terms of functionality between gas and electric, the issue of carbon emissions may tip the balance. Gas is commonly accepted to be the preferable option, with lower emissions than electricity. A UK study calculated that the ‘carbon intensity’ of cooking with electricity was 0.12kgC/kWh, compared to 0.05kgC/kWh for gas. However, switching to a 100 per cent renewable electricity company would be a positive step in reducing your carbon emissions – see the Ethical & Renewable Electricity Suppliers section for more information.

Induction hobs

For electric cookers, the latest ‘induction hobs’ use less than half the energy expended by standard coils.

The induction system involves a high frequency coil being housed beneath a ceramic glass surface. Electromagnetic energy in the form of heat is transferred to the pan, which must be magnetic, with the cooker surface remaining fairly cool. These are currently an expensive option, particularly as aluminium and glass pans are not suitable for them, but prices look set to come down in future years.

Induction hobs have been assessed by the European Commission to be 82 per cent efficient. Ceramic hobs with halogen elements come next at up to 70 per cent, followed by sealed hobs at 50 per cent. Solid disc elements are the worst in terms of efficiency, using high wattages yet heating up slowly. Regardless of the choice of hob, there must be good contact between pan and element for them to work efficiently, so that battered old saucepan could be wasting more energy than you’d expect.

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We have created ethical comparison rankings for the following brands, based on the activities of the company group (see above tables): Ariston, Candy, Canon, Creda, Hotpoint, Miele, Rosieres, Scholtes, Stoves, Aga, Baumatic, Belling, Leisure, New World,Bauknecht, Brandt, De Dietrich, Ocean, Whirlpool, Electolux, Parkinson Cowan, Tricity Bendix, Zanussi, AEG, Bosch, Gaggenau, Neff, Siemens, GE.

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