Unlike many green building products, the term “energy efficient” may not to be the No. 1 selling point for induction cooktops. While these appliances are indeed efficient—so much so that they’re becoming a go-to staple in many eco-friendly kitchens—it’s their superior cooking capabilities that likely will be what seals the deal with most home buyers.
Boasting energy efficiencies higher than gas and electric along with precise temperature control and myriad safety features, induction cooktops pack a double-benefit punch for green building pros and consumers alike. The challenge, however, is a familiar one: Though popular in Europe for some time, induction technology is still largely foreign to many Americans, and comparative costs are high. Growing attention by green builders and new offerings from several big appliance brands, along with word-of-mouth marketing about the appliances’ chef-friendly features, are expected to shift attention to these super-efficient surfaces.
How They Work
Traditional electric or gas cooktops transfer heat from the burner to the pot and then to the food. With induction, magnetic coils underneath the smooth ceramic surface generate an electromagnetic frequency. This frequency stimulates molecules in ferrous-metal pots and pans (such as cast iron) that generate the heat that cooks the food.
The process transforms the pot—rather than the burner—into the heating source, so less heat is lost in transfer. As a result, induction cooktops are roughly 87% to 90% efficient, manufacturers estimate, compared to about 50% to 55% for gas and around 60% for electric.
“Since the energy is supplied directly to the cooking vessel, nearly 90% of the energy is used to cook,” says Juliet Johnson, manager of premium brand experience at KitchenAid and Jenn-Air. “Its energy efficiency makes it a natural for green building.”
What’s more, in most units, the magnetic coils under the surface only react to the size of the pot on top of it. “Because it’s actually having a reaction with the diameter of the pot, very little energy is wasted,” says Jennifer Park, marketing communications manager for Fagor.
Supplementary energy savings also can result because there is no excess heat coming off the surface that can overheat the kitchen.
While induction’s energy efficiency is what’s attracting the attention of green builders, remodelers, and architects, what will likely appeal most to consumers are cooking advantages ideal for anyone who likes to prepare masterful dishes at home.
Like gas, induction offers more control over heat output than electric units, along with faster reaction time when the temperature is adjusted. The precision, along with induction’s ability to hold exact temperature, allows for more controlled heating and easier cooking of historically difficult foods, such as melting chocolate.
Where induction also shines is speed: Near-instantaneous response times mean a pot of water will come to a boil more quickly.
And because there is no heat being transferred from cooktop to pot, the surface remains relatively cool to the touch—a helpful safety feature that also helps reduce cleanup. A range of other safety components are present on many models, including child locks and automatic shutoff systems in case of overflows. Fagor’s seven-point safety system also includes a temperature cutoff at 575 degrees.