Each year people expend time, energy, and money designing the perfect kitchen. We choose beautiful countertops, incredible furniture, and color schemes. Yet, no matter how many chic San Francisco consultants they hire or Pinterest blogs they look at before the latest remodel, they’ve likely overlooked one critical design detail - the air.
The importance of proper kitchen ventilation cannot be understated. More and more studies are concluding that there is a link between indoor air pollutants from cooking and the development of cancer and other respiratory diseases. For example, a Berkeley Lab study claimed that the health consequences of our low residential air quality could be as severe as the effects from all infectious diseases or traffic accidents in the United States. Clearly, indoor air pollution is something worth thinking about.
It's important to note that this is a concern, regardless of the type of the stove that you are using. While gas stoves are at a higher risk than electric, it is the cooking fumes themselves that produce a large number of the toxic particulates in the air.
At the same time, researchers are discovering the ineffectiveness of many of our most widely used stove/food prep ventilation systems. One such study, the Performance Assessment of U.S. Residential Cooking Exhaust Hoods, was published by researchers from the Environmental Energy Technologies Division at the Berkeley National Laboratory. They discovered that the types of systems most homes use, small or microwave based ventilation devices, regularly allow a significant percentage of cooking based air pollutants into your home. Moreover, they stated that energy star rated devices regularly captured less than 30% of produced air pollutants. Only the large and exceptionally loud exhaust hoods were capable of capturing an acceptable level of harm causing toxins.
Another factor that impacts a hood’s effectiveness is the hood type. There are two different types of ventilation hoods (recirculating range hoods and range hoods that vent to the outdoors). A large percentage the exhaust hoods across the country simply recirculate the air already in your kitchen. While this may reduce odors a bit, it does virtually nothing to clean the air. Think about it this way: would you want a toilet that simply reused the same water again and again? I think not. Go and see if your ventilation system has access to the outside of your home. If there is no distinct pathway to the outside, then it is likely your ventilation does little more than blow the air around your kitchen a bit.
So everyone needs those large and loud exhaust hoods that also vent to the outdoors then right? Well not so fast. These hoods present a whole other series of issues that should concern eco-conscious individuals. Those big indoor fans suck out an extraordinary amount of air from your home - and while this may be beneficial in regard to the pollutants - it is a huge source of energy use. That air that is removed must be replaced, and if that means heating or air conditioning, that means a significant amount of energy is being spent.
Thus, the dilemma comes down to either using an enormous amount of energy for a relatively small space, or suffering from the adverse long-term health effects of indoor pollutants. Sometimes it can even mean both - most modern kitchens don’t even have the large fan close enough to the cooking source to truly be effective anyways.
So the current exhaust hood market is failing our communities. While it was likely not a conscious decision by the ventilation companies, our current kitchens are an unsafe environment for our families or our environment. The public awareness of this problem needs to be addressed - almost no one is aware of this health issue - only then can we begin to see substantial change across the country.
In the meantime, some entrepreneurial spirits have been developing clean air alternatives to our energy sucking and/or ineffective exhaust systems. Nouvair is a simple and portable invention that allows you to directly remove cooking fumes as they are being produced - with little energy wasted. You place it directly next to your cooking area and extend its are over your stovetop. It's flexible enough to directly intercept toxic fumes and powerful enough to remove them from the air before they have a chance to dissipate throughout your home.
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