When the existing gas range in his home began to malfunction, Brian Bunk considered replacing it with an induction stove. That decision, he says, was due in part to concerns about indoor air quality and a desire to switch to a more environmentally friendly appliance.
Bunk, a father and lecturer at University of Massachusetts Amherst, had heard that induction stoves were better for the environment than gas stoves, but he says he also “wanted to find out how difficult [they were] to use and how steep the learning curve was.”
Induction ranges, like their traditional gas or electric counterparts, heat foods and liquids to adjustable temperatures, but they do so safely and efficiently through an electromagnetic reaction that eliminates harmful emissions—including greenhouse gases like methane and toxic fumes that can be harmful, especially for children.
More than 40 million US home cooks have gas stoves. Induction—which has been around since the 1970s—makes up just 5% of the overall electric cooking market, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Partly impeding its growth in the US is that these ranges can typically run three times more expensive than their gas counterparts.
But Bunk was able to test this technology through a new program at Forbes Library (FL) in Northampton, Massachusetts. In February 2023, the library began lending induction cooktops for cardholders to try at home.
“Patrons are interested in energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies for personal and practical reasons,” says Mary Biddle, head of borrower services at FL. “Providing information about a new technology—and offering access to that technology if possible—is a core mission of libraries.”
Increasingly, US libraries—particularly those in areas that have begun regulating fossil fuel infrastructure in newly constructed buildings—are giving users the opportunity to sample induction cooking with kits that include electric cooktops and related accessories.
In 2019, Brookline, Massachusetts, became the first municipality outside the state of California to ban the installation of equipment that burns fossil fuels in newly constructed buildings. The law didn’t take effect right away because of legal challenges at the state level. Massachusetts’ legislature adopted a compromise in August 2022 that allowed for towns and cities to adopt or amend ordinances and bylaws to require new construction or major renovations to be fossil fuel–free.
“Brookline citizens are very politically and environmentally engaged,” says Amanda Hirst, director of the Public Library of Brookline (PLB). “There is a keen interest in reducing reliance on fossil fuels and, as such, they look for ways to advocate [for] reducing one’s carbon footprint.”
The Brookline chapter of Mothers Out Front (MOF), a national climate justice organization, donated three induction cooking kits to PLB in 2021. Local MOF members have also held induction cooking demonstrations at PLB, demonstrating simple tasks like boiling water—studies indicate high-power induction cooktops can do this 20%–40% faster than gas stoves—and melting chocolate, and informing patrons of their environmental benefits.
PLB has one induction plate kit available at each of its three branches. The kits include a cooktop, frying pan, and Dutch oven—each designed for induction—and instructions for use. The kits can be borrowed for two weeks at a time. Hirst says they fit nicely into PLB’s Library of Things collection, which includes items like cake pans, energy meters, and maker tools.
“The program has been really well received, and has been a successful partnership,” Hirst says. “[MOF] recognized the need for these kits before we did, and it has helped us fulfill community needs.”
MOF’s Northampton chapter also donated two cooktop sets valued around $250 to FL in collaboration with local climate organizations Local Energy Advocates of Western Mass and the Center for EcoTechnology. The sets come in a canvas tote bag and include—in addition to the cooktops—a small saucepan with a lid, a small skillet, a binder with detailed instructions, and a flat magnet that patrons can use to determine if cookware they already own is made of magnetic material that would work in induction cooking.
“Interest is still strong,” says Biddle. “There continues to be a waiting list for a hold eight months [since loans began].”
California’s made no secret about its commitment to eliminating fossil fuels from both appliances and vehicles. This includes releasing a state plan in 2022 to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045. In Sunnyvale, located in the Bay Area, this commitment has also meant introducing residents to induction cooking.
The 12 induction cooktop kits available for loan at Sunnyvale Public Library (SPL) were purchased with a sustainability grant awarded to the city’s Environmental Services Department. In addition to the induction cooktops, the kits include a NuWave-brand frying pan, a six-quart stainless steel pot with lid, silicone slotted and serving spoons, a testing magnet, and the cookbook The Best Induction Burner Recipes on the Planet by Ella Sanders.
There is a keen interest in reducing reliance on fossil fuels and, as such, they look for ways to advocate [for] reducing one’s carbon footprint.Amanda Hirst, director of the Public Library of Brookline in Massachusetts
The city partnered with local author Anne-Marie Bonneau, also known as the Zero-Waste Chef, to show off the induction cooktops at different community events, says Michelle Perera, director of library and recreation services. Bonneau had previously hosted sustainability-related food programs at SPL, including classes on fermenting vegetables at home and reducing food waste.
“Our patrons are passionate about the environment, as well as technology,” Perera says. “The popularity of our environmental programs gave us a starting point to discuss lending out induction cooktops.”
Librarians agree that the accessories and educational materials allow patrons to get the most out of testing this cooking method. Perera says SPL has already had nearly 300 checkouts of its induction cooktops since the beginning of the program in March 2021; only two of its initial 14 sets have not been returned.
“There was a bigger audience than anticipated for the cooktops,” Perera says. While this is normally a good problem to have, she says, a limited supply of the expensive items made it “difficult to control patron expectations and frustration” with wait times.
The transition for Bunk did, in fact, come with learning curves, he says. For example, FL’s cooktop doesn’t have the same settings as a regular stovetop. Instead of low, medium, and high heat, the stovetop has specific temperatures. After some research on ideal temperature settings for various cooking needs, like boiling or sautéing, using it became easier, Bunk says.
“Everyone in our family was impressed with the cooktop,” Bunk says, adding that they decided to purchase their own induction range. “I’m glad that the library offers this as a service and am grateful that we were able to try induction cooking before we switched.”