10 Ways to Squeeze Every Kilowatt Out of Your Kitchen's Efficiency

Take your highly energy efficient kitchen to the next level with a few simple modifications for greater sustainability.

Your kitchen is already a sustainable, energy efficient masterpiece that’s fully electric – no gas appliances to be found anywhere in your house, right? You’ve outfitted it with ENERGY STAR rated appliances that not only save energy but also provide durability for the long haul. You’ve switched to low-flow faucets to conserve water and LED lights to keep your electricity use as minimal as possible. But guess what? You can do more.

It may take a little time to train yourself to use different appliances and modify your kitchen behavior, but the sustainability benefits are worth the effort.

10 Ways to Squeeze Every Kilowatt Out of Your Kitchens Efficiency

10 Ways to Improve Your Kitchen Efficiency

Now that you’ve done the big stuff by replacing your appliances, it’s time to sweat the small stuff for a greater impact.

1. Strategize using your oven. Even the most energy efficient oven can be used in a way that increases its value and contributes to sustainability. Plan your meals for a week or longer and cook multiple meals at once in the oven so you only use it once. You can freeze them for the future and reheat your meals without turning the oven back on.

If you’re concerned about the timing and temperature for different dishes, consider this: casseroles and recipes that cook for a long time are more flexible than you think. You can calculate how long to cook recipes at different temperatures. You can start them while the oven preheats and turn the oven off for the last few minutes to finish off the cooking as the oven begins to cool. Glass and ceramic pans hold heat better than metal, so consider using them and turning down the temperature a few degrees.

2. Use your oven light. One of the quickest ways to waste energy is by opening and closing your oven door. The oven temperature can drop by as much as 150 degrees if you leave the door open for as little as 30 seconds. Once it drops, you’ll use more energy to get the temperature back up again. If you open the door several times while cooking, you may also have to increase your cooking time. Instead, use the oven light and look through the door. If you’re cooking with closed pans, consider using glass lids to make it easier to see into the dishes.

3. Cook seasonally. In the winter, your oven’s BTUs contribute to your home heating, so consider cooking with your oven more often in the colder months. In summer, the oven often competes with air conditioning, wasting excessive BTUs. On hot summer days, opt for cold meals or quick meals you can cook on your induction cooktop or electric indoor grill. If you have outdoor space, you can use an electric grill outside or cook outdoors with small appliances such as crock pots and rice cookers.

4. Target microwaves. Whether it’s winter or summer, use your microwave to reheat foods to save up to 80 % of energy compared to ovens. The savings are more important in the summer since you’ll also avoid making your air conditioning work harder to compensate for the oven. You’ll get a double benefit if you’ve cooked multiple meals in your oven and then reheat them in the microwave, too.

5. Use your smaller tools. Microwave ovens aren’t the only small appliance in your kitchen that increase your energy efficiency. You may think that running a slow cooker for hours could use more electricity, but the average slow cooker uses a maximum of 260 watts compared to a maximum of 3,000 watts for a large oven. 

If you need to heat an item that fits into a toaster oven, that’s a far better option than warming up your large oven. ENERGY STAR estimates that a toaster oven uses one-third to one-half of the electricity for an oven, at about 1,200 to 1,400 watts per use. An instant pot uses about one-third the wattage of an oven, according to CNET

While other small appliances offer better savings, even your indoor air fryer uses less electricity than your oven: about 1,400 to 1,700 watts per hour. It also cooks quickly so you won’t need to use it for long.

Make sure to check out the durability of your cookware and small and large appliances. Low durability is an environmental negative since these items typically end up in a landfill. Review consumer reviews to look for brands that will last. For example, some experts say rice cookers only last three years. Check out better quality rice cookers to find one with a longer lifespan.  

6. Thaw wisely: While microwaving frozen food before cooking it is safe and a common practice for most people, you’re wasting energy when operating the microwave. If you use the microwave to thaw food, be sure to cook it immediately to avoid allowing bacteria to multiply when part of the food begins to cook while other sections are still frozen.

A more sustainable–and safe–practice is to thaw the food in the refrigerator, which won’t require any energy that isn’t already in use. According to the USDA, it typically takes all day to thaw a package of meat or a frozen meal in the refrigerator. That means you need to plan ahead and take out what you want for dinner in the morning. 

The USDA says food that’s been thawed in the refrigerator is safe to cook within a day or two or as long as five days depending on the food. You can even refreeze it from the refrigerator if you change your mind.

You can also opt to thaw frozen food in a sealed plastic bag in cold water.

For food safety, never thaw food on the kitchen counter.

And if you forget to thaw your frozen items, you can cook it for about 50% longer – although that won’t do a thing for upping your commitment to saving energy, and you’re better off using the microwave.

7. Crisp calculations: About one-third of all food is wasted globally. In the United States, Americans waste about one pound of food per person per day and 39% of all food waste comes from food tossed away at home. One of the biggest sources of this waste is fresh produce that goes bad in a refrigerator. 

Preventing food waste is an important element of sustainability, especially because food in landfills is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas. If you have relatively new appliances in your home, you already have a great tool at your disposal to waste less food. 

New refrigerators have special "crisper" sections that control humidity in that drawer to help your fruits and vegetables stay fresh longer. For items such as lettuce, leafy greens, broccoli and cucumbers, set your crisper to high humidity to prevent wilting. Your fruits that are prone to rotting, such as pears, apples and melons, are best stored at low humidity.

8. Fine-tune your cooktop. Chances are your most recent kitchen upgrade includes an . If not, it may be time to consider swapping out your electric cooktop (you already got rid of your gas appliances, right?) for a highly energy efficient induction cooktop. The technology for induction cooking provides quick heat to your pots and pans and precision temperatures, along with the safety of remaining cool to the touch.

9. Optimize your dishwashing: ENERGY STAR dishwashers and most newer models use far less water and energy than older models. Even so, it pays to learn the best way to load and use your dishwasher. 

You may be tempted to hand wash your dishes in the interest of sustainability, but modern high-performance dishwashers have been shown to waste less water than hand washing if loads are full. In fact, most manufacturers recommend just scraping your dishes and loading them rather than rinsing them first, which uses more water than needed. Pay attention to manufacturer recommendations for optimal loading of dishes to increase efficient use of the machine. 

Above all, run the dishwasher when it’s full so you don’t waste electricity and water on a mostly empty machine. If it takes a few days for you to fill a dishwasher, you can use the short “rinse” cycle that uses less power and water, so food doesn’t harden on the dishes.

Normally you should use the “eco-friendly” cycle on your dishwasher, which may run longer but uses far less water and electricity. If you’re in a rush, a one-hour cycle is often available, but that will use more electricity and water than a slower cycle.

Choose a nontoxic dishwasher detergent for a healthier household and to reduce chemical use. You can use vinegar as a rinse aid, but be sure to follow instructions to avoid damaging your dishwasher.

10. Don’t leave your lights on. When you’re heading to the door for the day with your frozen dinner thawing in the refrigerator or your slow cooker filled with a delectable meal to enjoy when you arrive home, don’t forget to turn out the lights. 

Leaving your lights on all day will offset some of that hard work you’re doing to save every ounce of energy. Install occupancy or daylight sensors to switch off your kitchen light when no one’s in the room or just make turning out the lights part of that mental list of remembering your keys and cell phone when you leave the house.

How much energy you’ll save depends on the type of lighting you have. If you haven’t upgraded yet and have incandescent or halogen lights, it’s extremely important to turn them off whenever you don’t need them. CFLs last longer if you don’t turn them off and on frequently, but if you’re out all day it makes sense to switch them off. LEDs aren’t affected by how often you flip them on or off.

Publisher’s Note: This content is made possible by our Today’s Homeowner Campaign Sponsors: Whirlpool and Carrier. These companies take sustainability seriously, in both their products and their operations. Learn more about building and buying homes that are more affordable and less resource intensive.