Do you actually need natural gas in your home? And what’s up with the gas stove controversy? Is gas still safe to use? Find out here.
If you’ve been online recently, you’ve probably heard of the recent gas stove controversy. “Gas stoves are a health hazard,” says one source. “Gas stoves can be hazardous to children’s lungs,” says another.
In this guide, you’ll find answers to questions like What uses gas in my house?, Do I need gas for my house?, and—most importantly—Should I still use natural gas in my home?
Meanwhile, another report talks about the gas stove conversation as “the new range war.”
Gas stoves and…war? That’s scary stuff.
And, if you’ve been paying attention at all, you’ve probably been wondering: Is all this arguing justified? And is natural gas safe to use in the home?
We’ll be honest. While there’s been a lot of noise on the news and social media about this question, and a lot of it is just talk and hyperbole.
So, since we’re home energy experts, we decided to dive deep into the research to figure out what’s actually going on—including a real-life example from our team.
Plus, if you’re interested, Sealed can help you get hassle-free home energy upgrades, like improving air quality and home ventilation with expert weatherization, at no upfront cost if your house qualifies. Discover how.
Table of contents:
- What uses gas in the house?
- What’s the concern with natural gas?
- Is natural gas better for home heating and cooking?
- How seriously should you take the new natural gas stovetop study?
- Indoor natural gas pollution: A real-life example from our team
- How to make your indoor air quality safer with natural gas appliances
- Should you convert your natural gas stove?
- Should you upgrade to an electric heat pump?
- Final verdict: Do you really need natural gas in your home?
- Learn how to electrify your home—at no stress and no upfront cost
Before we dive deep into the subject, let’s briefly look at which appliances in your house could be using natural gas.
What is natural gas used for in the house?
Here are the three appliances that most commonly use natural gas in American homes:
A natural gas-powered stovetop
We’ll start with the most obvious appliance—and the one that’s the subject of all the controversy! As many as 1/3 of all US homes have a natural gas stovetop—up to 40 million houses. (1)
If you have a natural gas stove, there’s a decent chance your furnace is also natural gas. How can you tell?
Take a look at the front panel of the unit. If you see a small blue flame when looking through that panel, it’s a gas heat exchanger—which means you definitely have a gas furnace.
It’s also pretty common to have a gas water heater. If you’re not sure whether your water heater runs on natural gas, just look for a small pilot light (it’s usually beneath the water tank itself). (2)
Of course, these are just the most common uses for natural gas in your home, but they aren’t the only natural gas appliances on the market.
These appliances can also run on natural gas:
- Clothes dryer
So okay, you have one (or a few!) of these appliances in your home. What’s the big deal? Should you be worried about your safety?
What’s the concern with natural gas?
It probably isn’t news to you that natural gas-powered appliances carry more inherent risk than electric appliances.
(What homeowner hasn’t had the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning explained to them in lurid detail?)
But the headlines we’ve been seeing recently aren’t about the conventional risks we already knew about—they’re covering new (or, at least, less well-known) information from recent studies.
And that’s where things have gotten a little confused and controversial in recent months.
Below, we’re going to break down the risks of natural gas into two categories:
- Natural gas risks you already knew about, and
- Risks we’re learning more about right now
The natural gas risks that most folks already know
Here’s a quick refresher on the three most commonly-known natural gas risks:
Let’s get this out of the way: If gas is leaking from your appliance, it can cause oxygen levels in your home to decrease dramatically.
That can lead to a lack of breathable air. There’s no nice way to put that. Safety first, always: If you ever suspect a gas leak, evacuate and call your utility’s emergency line right away.
2) Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that’s released when natural gas combusts. The more carbon monoxide in the air, the less oxygen you will breathe (see problem above!).
But even if it doesn’t kill you, carbon monoxide can cause severe health issues, ranging from dizziness and nausea to coma. The CDC reports that more than 100,000 people go to ER each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning—it’s nothing to joke about. (3)
(Big PSA for both of the above: If you do nothing else after this article, please install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your house and keep them clean and well-maintained.)
The CDC reports that more than 100,000 people go to ER each year because of carbon monoxide poisoning.
3) Fire and explosion
The other big concern with natural gas is the risk of fire or explosion from improper use or leakage.
These disasters can be caused by lots of things: malfunctions in appliances, human error, or even just wear and tear on gas lines that results in dangerous leaks.
Whatever the cause, though, these fires aren’t as uncommon as people think.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, as many as 4,200 home fires per year are due to the ignition of natural gas. (4)
And the stats for gas leaks are even worse: According to the American Chemical Society, there are up to 630,000 gas leaks in the US per year. (5, 6)
Again, these are the risks most homeowners already know about—they’re not great, but millions of Americans have already decided to live with them.
But what are these new risks? Should we be more worried about them?
According to the American Chemical Society, there are up to 630,000 gas leaks in the US per year.
Natural gas risks we’re learning more about now
Here are the two major risks of natural gas that have been highlighted in the news lately:
1) Major health risks to children
We’ll start with the big one—it’s now becoming extremely obvious that gas stoves play a causal role in childhood asthma and other breathing problems.
In a study published this year in a prominent, peer-reviewed journal, researchers found that nearly 13% of childhood asthma cases are directly attributable to gas stove use. (7)
The study doesn’t deal directly with the nature of the link, but there’s good, established science that shows how pollution can have a greater effect on children’s respiratory systems. (8)
In fact, Brady Seals, who co-authored the report, said that for “childhood asthma, exposure to gas-stove pollution is similar to being exposed to secondhand smoke.” (9)
2) Significant pollution—which can lead to health problems for just about everyone
Nitrous oxide, nitrogen dioxide, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, methane, hexane, and toluene.
These are chemicals and gasses you definitely don’t want to breathe in.
And, unfortunately, if you have a natural gas appliance in your home, you’re at risk to breathe in any (or all) of them if your:
- Appliances aren’t vented correctly
- House has airflow issues (ie, is under significant negative pressure) and flue gasses backdraft into your house
This is why proper appliance maintenance and home energy audits are so important.
Case and point: One home energy services company found malfunctioning gas appliances or gas lines in about 15% of assessed housing built after 1980 and in 25% of homes built before this period, as reported by Canary Media. (10)
In short, recent studies are pointing to the fact that gas stoves can pollute your indoor air far worse than anyone previously thought. (11)
And sure, we already knew about some of these pollution risks with gas appliances, so maybe this real-life example seems like common knowledge. But seeing the numbers are staggering.
Besides, we’re finding out even more now about just how much these dangerous gasses can create (or exacerbate) a host of other health problems, including headaches, eye and throat irritation, dizziness, and nausea. (12)
And new research indicates that the natural gas delivered to stovetops can contain other chemicals such as benzene—which is a carcinogen that has no safe level of exposure. (13)
If anyone in your house already has any kind of sensitivities or respiratory issues—or if you’re just worried about keeping your home air pure and clean—these are findings you don’t want to ignore.
The proper fix to avoid these major concerns? Ensure that:
- Your house is free of gas leaks
- All gas appliances are appropriately maintained and expertly vented
- You have the appropriate safety precautions in place, like carbon monoxide and smoke alarms
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So what now? And, maybe a more important question: Should you even take these findings seriously?
Is natural gas better for home heating and cooking? How seriously should you take the natural gas stovetop study?
A quick disclaimer: There’s obviously no guarantee that these issues will happen in your home, and the new studies are still being interpreted and debated.
There’s also been a lot of pushback on these findings (to say the least!), and scientists will need to do more research to verify the nature of the link between natural gas pollution, childhood illness, and respiratory disease.
But, at Sealed, we feel there’s reason to take this research seriously—especially if you have children (or older folks with breathing challenges) at home.
Why? These findings aren’t actually new. In fact, there have been dozens of studies over the past several decades that link gas stoves, indoor air pollution, and respiratory issues. (14, 15)
Basically, the natural gas risks everyone is arguing about now are risks that experts have known about for years—but older studies just haven’t gotten the kind of publicity and national coverage that this most recent finding has.
In short: This “controversial” study is really just the latest in a long string of scientific research that proclaims more or less the same thing:
Stoves powered by natural gas are not good news for your health.
At Sealed, we’ve actually witnessed in-home air quality issues firsthand. Here’s an example of what natural gas pollution can look like in real life.
Indoor natural gas pollution: A real-life study
Let’s look at a real-life example from one of the home energy experts at Sealed.
Martin Bures, a principal engineer at Sealed and co-founder of InfiSense, decided to get really technical in monitoring the indoor air quality in his family’s apartment that they’re currently renting.
Martin’s apartment has a natural-gas-powered stove, water heater, and forced-air furnace, and he lended us the data from his own air quality monitor for this article.
Martin installed a Milesight AM-300 indoor air quality monitor, which provides real-time feedback, in the kitchen of his rental.
As soon as he installed it, it was immediately obvious to Martin that he had a problem.
Good, normal outdoor ambient CO2 measurements are in the 400 ppm range.
(What does ppm mean? Well, ppm means parts per million, and 400 ppm of CO2 means that for every million air particles, 400 of them are carbon dioxide molecules.)
But the only time that his family gets close to that number in their home is in the spring, summer, or fall when they have the windows open.
Otherwise, the baseline CO2 levels in their home are somewhere in the 700-800 ppm range—double the outdoor ambient CO2 measurements.
Because the Bures family is renting right now, they can’t simply upgrade to all-electric appliances to solve this air quality issue (although they would like to!).
To reduce their indoor CO2 levels, they always run the exhaust hood—which is vented to the outside—when they have the gas appliances running.
But unfortunately, since their HVAC is not designed with fresh air intake, the hood is not very effective.
To mitigate the issue, the Bures family tries to keep their windows open as much as the weather or season allows, and they use a single-burner induction cooktop on their counter when they can.
Ultimately, Martin Bures and his family are facing what many American families are now facing: the reality that an energy source they assumed would be safe could actually be a health concern.
If that’s your situation, too, let’s talk about what you should do right now.
How to make your indoor air quality safer with natural gas appliances
If you have a natural gas appliance in your home and you want to make your indoor air safe and clean, there are two routes to choose from:
- Keep your current appliances and maximize your safety and their efficiency
- Replace your current home appliances with ones that run on electricity
Let’s look at both of these options
Keep your natural gas appliances and make them as safe as possible
This strategy includes:
- Installing and maintaining a carbon monoxide detector.
- Making sure your kitchen has excellent ventilation
- Use other kitchen appliances whenever possible
Installing and maintaining a carbon monoxide detector
Carbon monoxide detectors are affordable, and every household with a natural gas appliance should have them. It’s really that simple.
Making sure your kitchen has excellent ventilation
Turn that fan on every time you cook—and keep it on until well after everything is off the stove!
If you have a fan, you need to make sure it actually vents to the outside. Some fans simply recirculate the air, and that does nothing to keep your household healthy. (16)
Use other kitchen appliances whenever possible
If you can avoid using your gas stovetop, you should. That can mean firing up the microwave; using your air fryer, Crock Pot, or Instant Pot more; or investing in a countertop induction cooker. (17)
All of these strategies are ways to mitigate risk if you keep your natural gas appliances around.
But there’s no getting around the fact that even the most careful natural gas-powered household will still have to deal with some level of natural gas air pollution indoors.
And even if your house is properly, expertly vented, you’re then sending all those harmful gases straight into your neighborhood.
And if that’s unacceptable to you, there’s another option.
Replace your natural gas appliances with safer appliances
In other words, electrify everything!
That might sound like an intimidating task, but don’t worry—replacing your natural gas appliances can be a lot less stressful than you think. (You might even be able to get some replacements for no upfront cost through Sealed.)
Next, we’ll walk you through how to think about converting each of your natural gas appliances to electric ones.
Should you convert your natural gas stove?
Given the risks associated with natural gas stovetops, our professional opinion is that if you can switch to an electric stovetop, you should.
And luckily, there’s already a great alternative: The electric induction stove.
Electric induction stoves have been on the market for a while now, and they’ve already gotten the stamp of approval from professional chefs. (18) Why?
- Power and precision
- Energy efficiency
Power and precision
It’s a myth that gas stoves offer the most control over your food. (Hey, we get it! Change is hard.)
The truth is that the latest models of induction cooktops offer unmatched power and precision when it comes to controlling how your food cooks.
Just set the stovetop to the precise temperature you want, and… boom! Magic! A perfectly even, perfectly hot cooking surface. Fast. Every time.
Unlike with a gas stove, there is no risk of food splattering onto hot burners or flames when using an induction oven, making clean-up much easier and less time consuming.
(Also: No more scrubbing out the gross crevices of stove top burners.)
Induction cooking is much more efficient than gas cooking, as it uses up to 90% of the energy produced compared to only 40% with a gas stove. (19)
This means you’ll use a lot less energy to cook—and those savings add up over time (and could help offset the cost of converting your kitchen to electric).
Electric induction stovetops won’t pollute your air with benzene and other nasty airborne chemicals. Full stop.
But, in addition to that extremely useful benefit, it’s important to call out that electric induction stovetops have no open flames or burning-hot surfaces, making them a safer option all around—especially if you have young children or pets in the home.
(Or if you’re prone to clumsily burning yourself on hot surfaces, as is the writer of this article.)
Okay! You probably get the picture.
An electric induction stove is, by far, a better choice than a gas range—which is why many chefs are converting their kitchens to electric right now. There are a lot of tricky decisions in life, but we feel this isn’t one of them.
Finally, if you’re at all nervous about converting, keep in mind that you can buy a stand-alone countertop induction unit pretty affordably—less than $100 at time of publication!
And that makes it possible to try out all the benefits of induction without committing to a whole new stove right away. It’s worth a shot, especially if you want to reduce your usage of natural gas ASAP.
Next, let’s look at alternatives for the other two natural gas appliances that are often found in homes.
Upgrading from a natural gas furnace to an electric heat pump
There are plenty of great reasons to switch from a natural gas furnace to electric heat (specifically, an electric heat pump). Here are just the top three:
1) Electric heat is more efficient—by far
Heat pumps are up to 3x more efficient than your natural gas furnace. That’s a huge differential that you’ll absolutely notice in your energy usage next winter. (20)
(Related: Why is my gas bill so high?)
2) A heat pump is much safer than a natural gas furnace
No risk of indoor air pollution (you know, carbon monoxide or unreasonable CO2 levels) with a heat pump, since it runs on clean energy.
3) Your home will feel a lot better
With a heat pump, your home will have perfectly even temperatures year-round (even in the summer, since it also functions as a superb AC).
Heat pumps also expertly circulate fresh air throughout your home while also regulating your home’s humidity better than conventional HVAC systems.
Heat pumps are—very simply—a life upgrade.
We could say way more, but if you’re interested, we’ll just direct you to get the full scoop on converting from gas to electric heat.
(If you’re trying to ensure even heat in the winter, also check out our guide on weatherizing your home.)
Also, remember that you can switch to an electric heat pump for no upfront cost if you qualify to work with Sealed.
Switching from natural gas water heater to an electric heat pump water heater
One last appliance! If you have a natural gas water heater, is it worth the trouble to switch?
We think so. Here’s why:
You’ve read a lot about this already, so we’ll just restate: Electric heat pump water heaters don’t come with the pollution or anxiety risks of natural gas heaters.
Electric heat pump water heaters (sometimes called hybrid water heaters) are way more energy-efficient than gas models. How much more efficient are they? Up to 3 times more. (Really). (21)
Electric heat pump water heaters are more comfortable than even the most efficient tankless natural gas water heaters. Why?
Well, hybrid heat pump water heaters have a full tank of efficiently heated water ready to go for washing dishes, cleaning clothes, and still getting in a hot shower after a long day of weekend chores.
Learn more about hybrid heat pump water heaters here. (Or see if you’re eligible to get one at no upfront cost!)
Final verdict: Do you really need natural gas in your home? Can you move away from natural gas appliances?
Yes. And—as we hope you know by now—we’re not just saying that because of the recent studies and the controversy in the media.
In fact, there are plenty of great reasons to electrify your home—even if you take pollution and health risks out of the equation.
One reason? Electric appliances come with huge comfort and usage benefits.
- Induction cooktops are faster, more precise, and better looking (yes, we went there).
- Electric heat pumps provide amazingly even comfort—without any noxious fumes.
- Electric heat pump water heaters offer beautifully specific temperature control at seriously efficient energy usage.
Electric appliances are just better appliances all round. It’s hard to deny that electric appliances are the future.
Some states are already beginning to ban natural gas lines in new construction, and that’s a telltale sign of what’s to come, even if you don’t live in an affected area.
The HVAC and kitchen industries are already moving over to electric appliances en masse, because electric home technology is simply better and more efficient.
Everyone will have this technology in twenty years. Might as well start reaping the benefits now!
Finally, electric appliances are several times more energy efficient than their natural gas counterparts. (And as the cost of natural gas fluctuates—and gets inevitably higher over time—this isn’t a small benefit.)
Controversy aside, now is the time to electrify everything in your home. Because, ultimately, who cares about the culture war?
This is about what’s best and healthiest for you and the people who live in your home.
Electrify your home—at no stress and no upfront cost
Making the switch to electric appliances?
Do it without the stress (or the hit to the wallet).
With Sealed, you can get energy upgrades like a heat pump water heater, high-performance insulation, professional air sealing, or a super-efficient heat pump HVAC system at zero upfront cost if your house qualifies.
You pay us back for the work done, a little bit at a time, based on your energy savings rate from your new upgrades.
Sounds too good to be true? It’s not. See how the Sealed payment plan works.
Answer a few questions here to see if your house qualifies.