The Pennsylvania legislature is considering a bill requiring homeowners have a choice when it comes to their utility hookups–natural gas, electric, or propane. The measure is at odds with the Philadelphia city council’s goal to reduce the city’s reliance on fossil fuels.
Last January, the city announced its goal to be carbon neutral by 2050. As part of its effort to “generate net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in the buildings, energy, transportation, and waste sectors,” city officials hope to ban gas hookups in any new construction within the city limits.
Placing the environmental impact aside, Philadelphia is home to a growing population and a booming new housing market.
A study by the National Home Builder’s Association found consumers nationally prefer electricity (51 percent) to gas (33 percent) for their air heating and cooling systems, but prefer gas (51 percent) to electricity (39 percent) for cooking.
But in the Middle Atlantic region, which includes New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania, the preference for cooking with gas jumps to 68 percent.
Philadelphia real estate professional Denise Homich agrees with the data. “Selling today, in my perspective, if I said ‘an all-electric home,’ people would relate that to not modern,” said Homich, sales manager at Judd Builders and Developers. Homich said gas is the standard option at Judd’s newly-constructed Siena Place neighborhood in south Philadelphia.
“All the new residential construction I’m looking at has gas stoves,” said Ben Fileccia, a Philadelphia resident and first-time homebuyer. “They look great, and I love cooking on gas. But I recently read that cooking with gas could decrease the air quality inside your home, things like carbon monoxide.” During his home search, the construction experts he spoke to said the industry might head to all-electric soon. He has mixed feelings about that trend as a homebuyer with young children and as the senior director of operations for the Pennsylvania Restaurant and Lodging Association (PRLA).
Fileccia has opened and operated several restaurants, and all of them used gas cooktops. He has even renovated an electric cooktop out of a restaurant he operated. “[Chefs] really like gas for cooking,” Ben said. “They know exactly how hot a pan is going to get from how much gas they release. Cooking is so nuanced, it really is an art form.”
In his opinion, new restaurants–and their chefs–would have to make a lot of adjustments if they are forced to go all-electric in the future. And he is not alone in thinking so.
Rye BYOB owner and executive chef Ryan Sulikowski gave three reasons why cooking with gas in a restaurant is better. “It’s cheaper, we have more control over BTUs and cooking temperature, and our grills and stoves are literally stainless steel boxes with a gas line and a safety valve–maintenance and cost of repairs are minimal,” he said.
When asked to consider what an all-electric restaurant might look like, Sulikowski felt that gas offered a more stable business expense. “Would the city be open to changing the rates or subsidizing electricity?” he asked. “Especially seasonal rates through the summer? Would we have to change our pricing to reflect increased energy costs? Those are all questions I would have.”
While it’s possible to re-learn the art of cooking on an electric cooktop, chefs have other concerns about using electric appliances in a restaurant setting.
Lyman Winner, owner of The Frogtown Chophouse in the Poconos, was baffled by the idea of an all-electric restaurant. “Cooking on an electric range – I’m not sure how you would even execute that at volume” Winner said. “It would be really scary for me. Electric cooktops are almost all glass or coils. If you’re swirling a pan with hot cream, and it spills out on the electric cooktop, it would probably ruin the cooktop.”
The impact of the city’s proposed gas ban would not be felt equally across all new restaurants. Sulikowski said he believes independent restaurants would suffer more. “A lot of restaurants around that have big investors, they will keep expanding in the same way they have been. But when you’re talking about smaller, independent sole proprietors, this may be the biggest factor in new businesses like that opening up.”