Oven Pilot Provides NYCHA Residents with Induction Cookers for Clean Air Project

Chef Sia Pickett works on an induction oven during a cooking class at Mott Haven. February 11, 2022 Photo by Hiram Alejandro Duran/THE CITY

This article has been originally published to through THE CITY.

The food was familiar at a cooking class in Mott Haven on Friday: baked chicken, rice with pigeon peas and spaghetti with vegetable sauce.

But the methods were not.

Chef Sia Pickett taught the sound of pans and a bit of sizzling and buzzing as she demonstrated how to use an induction cooker for a Bronx public housing tenant.

There’s a learning curve when it comes to cooking on an induction cooker, she explained. It offers the control of a gas stove but results in a “different kind of heat”.

“You have to play with it,” said Pickett, who owns a personal chef service called Malata Cuisine. “Everything cooks faster than you think.”

Shavon Marino, a home health aide and one of 20 residents at 1471 Watson Ave. who will be part of an induction cooker experiment for the next six months, recorded Pickett’s work with his phone. Ten will receive electric induction cookers, another 10 will use their old gas cookers, as a “control group”.

This is a program run by the non-profit organization WE ACT for Environmental Justice, in conjunction with the Association for Energy Efficiency, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, and Berkeley Air Monitoring.

The project initiates a transition from gas to an efficient electric kitchen, in what will soon become the first New York City Housing Authority building to switch entirely from gas to electric.

Pointing to the oven – which has settings for air fry, broil, convection bake and roast – Marino said: “I’m already in love. It’s drugs.

This week, Marino, 33, and eight of his neighbors are to get their own new induction cookers and special pot and pan sets to use with them. (So ​​far, a stove has already been installed.)

Marino said she was looking forward to cooking fish sticks for her 6-year-old daughter using the air fryer, as well as favorites like lamb chops and sautéed salmon.

“I’m not a chef, but I can definitely throw food away,” she said.

Even residents in the control group will have the opportunity to have new induction cookers installed after the program is completed. Each participant will receive $500 in cash at the end of the study.

The objective of the study is to test the air quality in social housing with and without gas cooking.

A device resembling a metal lunch box monitored the air in all participants’ units for a week before the stoves were installed, and further sampling will take place after three months and six months. Separate equipment will follow the use of the stove all the time.

As climate science has shown that moving away from fossil fuels is necessary to mitigate further environmental damage, the project seeks to understand the challenges and opportunities in one aspect of this change.

“We are looking at some of the underlying issues and the need for real support for building owners and residents to make this possible,” said Jeanne Bergman, director of programs at WE ACT. “It’s becoming a massive trend. We are at the tip of the spear.

The study findings will inform a political campaign to ease the burden of switching from gas to electric cooking for homeowners, tenants, landlords and developers, while prioritizing communities most vulnerable to climate change, to air pollution and high energy bills, Bergman said. .

Last year, New York City passed a law that essentially bans gas hookups in new construction, with a rollout starting in 2024.

1471 Watson Avenue in the Bronx.
Photo by Hiram Alejandro Duran/THE CITY

Electric Avenue

More than just a stove switch takes place at 1471 Watson Ave.

The 96-unit development built in 1970, housing 158 people, is expected to be the first all-electric building planned in NYCHA’s portfolio, according to Vlada Kenniff, NYCHA vice president for energy and sustainability.

“We are pursuing the goal of removing all combustion-based technologies – heating, space heating, domestic hot water, cooking – and moving all of that into electrified appliances,” she said.

The design process has already begun, with construction expected to begin in early 2023 and be completed by the end of the year.

With funds from the state’s Weatherization Assistance Program, a series of efficiency works have already taken place, including upgraded windows, showerheads and lighting throughout the building.

Five units will be part of a pilot project and will be equipped with air-source heat pumps — which will also provide cooling in the summer — with the goal of installing the pumps throughout the building.

Extensive electrical work, including the replacement of electrical panels in each unit and centralized panels in the basement, will allow the building to handle the widespread installation of pumps and induction cookers – “expensive upgrades” identified in NYCHA’s strategic plan to reduce its carbon emissions. .

The Association for Energy Affordability, which leads window and heat pump installations, has undertaken rewiring work in each of the 10 units that will receive new induction stoves as part of the pilot project.

With roughly $40 billion already needed to make improvements to NYCHA’s building stock, upgrades at 1471 Watson could justify investing in electrical upgrades — to “demonstrate that we can do it, and if the dollars go up.” were showing, we’d like to do that across the portfolio,” Kenniff said, referring to the funding that could come from the passage of the federal Build Back Better Act.

The stakes are higher than NYCHA. In addition to the gas ban in new buildings, existing buildings will need to be retrofitted to meet carbon emissions targets, as required by Local Law 97.

The pilot taking place at 1471 Watson “gives a more realistic view of what this job is like,” said Sahara James, senior sustainability consultant at Kinetic Communities Consulting.

Additionally, she noted, the work actively includes people who are not typically central to planning for the clean energy transition.

“When we talk about equitable electrification, we can’t do that without talking about low-income people in affordable housing and NYCHA housing,” James said.

Chef Sia Pickett leads an induction cooking class at the Association for Affordability, Inc. in the Bronx on February 11, 2022.
Photo by Hiram Alejandro Duran/THE CITY

what we breathe

Buildings are responsible for the majority of carbon emissions in New York City, with furnaces, boilers and water heaters responsible for most. Gas cookers generate a smaller share of emissions, but they present other health and safety hazards to those who use them – and offer an intimate interaction with climate change.

Lighting a stove means burning fossil fuel at hand – gas that has traveled through a network of pipes into the house from deep underground.

The simple act of lighting a gas stove can release harmful pollutants into the air that are associated with causing or worsening respiratory illnesses. Rising at stake in the study is the prevalence of asthma in the Bronx, where the highest rates of the disease are found in the city.

The gas that cooks burn to make food is mostly methane, a planet-warming greenhouse gas that is more potent than carbon dioxide. Gas cookers can leak methane even when not in use, a recent study has found.

Gas stoves also emit nitrogen dioxide, which, according to a 2013 study, means children growing up in homes with gas stoves are 42% more likely to have asthma symptoms than those living in homes with electric stoves.

The Watson Avenue project will measure particulates, nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, among other compounds, which will be analyzed by the Berkeley Air Monitoring Group.

“We need to be able to measure what we breathe indoors, and we need to make smart decisions about policies and interventions to address what we breathe indoors,” said technical lead Michael Johnson. of the group.

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