The Kitchen, Unplugged: Elbow Grease vs. Kitchen Appliances

Are appliances or elbow grease the most efficient means of accomplishing your kitchen tasks?

| September/October 2004

The kitchen is a home’s most appliance-intensive area, next to the utility room or laundry. Add all the mixers, cookers, and other little contraptions to the larger appliances—the fridge, range, and dishwasher—and the kitchen wins the outlet-plugging contest, hands down. Personally, I loathe most of the gizmos available to the average home cook, choosing instead to rely upon cast-iron skillets and beat-up saucepans. Yet I wonder if some modern-day doodads might be truly worthwhile in the effort to save electricity or water. So I decided to evaluate common kitchen gadgets for natural resource consumption.

Back to the kitchen. I own the basics—a microwave, a blender, a toaster. I never use the toaster unless I have company, but I find the blender indispensable. And then there is one splurge: the bread machine (I adore freshly baked bread). Can I justify its presence by the two loaves a week it produces?

Bread Machine vs. Oven

It seems intuitive that a small bread machine would use less energy and waste less heat than the oven to bake one loaf. The bread machine uses about 430 watts for each hour of baking; rising periods use negligible wattage, so it operates for 2.5 hours after subtracting dough-kneading time. The two kilowatt oven, on the other hand, requires that I bake for one hour at 350 degrees.

BREAD MACHINE: 430 v 1,000 kW x 2.5 hours = 1.075 kWh
OVEN: 2 kW x 1 hour = 2 kWh

Verdict: The bread maker wins by a thick slice. Preheating the oven further widens the disparity in favor of the countertop bakery. But the machine makes only one loaf at a time. If I were to skip preheating, put several loaves at a time in the oven, and turn it off five minutes before done, electricity use for the two might be similar.

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