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Gas Stoves Be Gone

Selling a controversial idea to residents is a tricky challenge for any co-op or condo board, especially when a project costs money up front, involves cutting-edge technology and is not mandated by any law. But if a board is convinced it’s the right — and smart — thing, how do you convince skeptical shareholders or unit-owners?


The seven-member board at the 49-unit Prospect Seeley co-op near Brooklyn’s Prospect Park came up with an answer: Work together to make an airtight case that makes sense on every level — that it will save money in the long run and improve residents’ quality of life while helping to save the planet. In other words, prove that it would be foolish not to do it.


The idea was to swap out the buildings’ gas stoves for electric ones, a first step on the road to electrification, which is at the heart of efforts to address climate change. As the electric grid becomes greener — fed increasingly by renewable energy sources instead of fossil fuels — electrifying buildings, transportation and other infrastructure will reduce carbon emissions. That’s the goal of Local Law 97 (LL 97) of the city’s sweeping Climate Mobilization Act, which will impose carbon caps on large buildings and fine violators beginning next year.


The proposal, which originated with the co-op’s board president, Matt Barnett, was not motivated by Local Law 97 because each of the co-op’s three buildings is too small to fall under the law. Instead, Barnett’s motivation came from his job as co-owner of a home inspection company. Long before the city passed the rigid new gas line inspection rules of Local Law 152 in the wake of fatal gas explosions, Barnett had inspected countless old buildings that had suffered through a gas shutdown. 


That got him thinking about the precarious position of his own century-old co-op.

“I was telling my clients they would have to be prepared for gas shutdowns because their old pipes had never been tested,” he says. “So I was getting paranoid about our three buildings, and I started pushing the board to switch to electric stoves.”


Building an Argument


Barnett had a ready ally in McGowan Southworth, an energy consultant who had guided the board through a complicated project to install 294 solar panels on the co-op’s roofs, which now provide the electricity for all common areas. “Aside from questions of global warming,” Southworth says, “I think the thing people are missing is that induction electric stoves are more cost-effective and a better cooking experience.”


Another ally was Alison Poole, the board’s vice president. An architect with a master’s degree in energy conservation in architecture, Poole had helped push the solar project to completion, and dove into selling the switch from gas to electric.

She did a cost analysis and prepared an Excel spreadsheet based on three plumbers’ price quotes on replacing the co-op’s gas risers, and on quotes from three electricians on rewiring the building to accommodate electric stoves. It also included estimates on the costs of electric stoves. 


“The analysis compared keeping our cooking gas while testing and replacing risers as necessary against switching to electric stoves and upgrading the electrical wiring,” Poole says. “It was less expensive to do the electric option, and we wouldn’t risk a gas shutdown, which we wanted to avoid at all costs.”


Education, Education, Education


The board decided to let the shareholders decide. Before putting the question to a vote, board member Gideon Maxim drafted a one-page document that explained the benefits of switching from gas to electric, including comparative costs. The document mentioned the likelihood — some see it as a certainty — that LL 97 will be modified in the future to include co-ops as small as Prospect Seeley.


“The co-op needs to prepare for that probability,” Maxim says, “and also for the inevitability of having to replace our gas lines one day if we stick with gas. We can either get ahead of this or be chained by it.”


Also helping with the education of shareholders was Randy Hecht, a former board president and freelance writer. “Because I’m a researcher by profession, I looked into the ratings of electric stoves, both induction and radiant,” she says. “I put together a sheet that compared energy efficiency, cooking accuracy, the necessary cookware and medical considerations. I also explained the difference between induction and radiant appliances.”


Induction stoves use copper coils to create an electromagnetic field that is passed into iron-based cookware, heating the cookware while the stovetop remains cool to the touch. Radiant stoves use electricity to heat metal elements, which pass the heat to the cookware. While induction stovetops use less energy and cost less to run than radiant stovetops, stove usage accounts for only a small percentage of a household’s electric bill. And the energy differential applies only to the stovetops, not the ovens.


A Landslide


Not everyone was sold on switching from gas to electric. “We have some people who love cooking with gas, and a handful asked if they had to switch,” Poole says. “When we explained Local Law 152 — the mandated inspections every four years, the age of our gas risers, the cost and inconvenience of a shutdown — it was no longer an issue.” In fact, 90% of shareholders voted in favor of the switch, with 70% preferring induction stoves and 30% preferring radiant stoves.


After shopping around, Poole wound up negotiating deals with P.C. Richard & Son and Brooklyn's Appliances Connection for a bulk purchase of Frigidaire induction stoves and radiant stoves from General Electric at a cost of about $1,000 each. The money came out of the reserve fund, which meant shareholders did not feel a direct hit to their wallets. “A lot of people were happy to get a stove ‘free of charge,’” Poole says. “I didn’t realize that was going to be a selling point.”


A contractor ran electric wires alongside decommissioned gas risers, and each apartment was outfitted with a new outlet and a new 40-amp circuit breaker expressly for the stove. The cost of the wiring upgrade was $170,000, which was also paid out of the reserve fund.


Looking ahead, the board has its eye on installing a separate system to heat domestic hot water and eventually getting rid of the dual-fuel boiler, which is now burning natural gas. That would free the building to switch to heat pumps, the Holy Grail of electrification. But for now the board is enjoying the feeling of accomplishment that comes from successfully selling a controversial idea. 


“This building has very competent leadership,” says Southworth, the energy consultant. “They’re willing to follow the math. That’s one thing I’ve found about successful boards — they look deeper than what their professionals tell them. And they put in the work.”


Poole has her own ideas about the source of the board’s successes.  “Our board is open,” she says. “We disagree, but we’re willing to hear each other out. This is a building where everyone knows their neighbors, and people talked about this project. We’re not doing what we have to do. We’re doing what we should do.”

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